Chapter 3: Halfway Through the Wood
"And then, he bolted," Dinah finished miserably.
"You couldn't stop him?" Oracle checked herself. "No, of course you couldn't. His memory's been affected, not his fighting skills." The computerized simulacrum vanished from the monitor screen, to be replaced by Barbara's face. The red-haired woman sighed. "I'm sorry, Dinah. I know you tried."
"Yeah. Not hard enough, though." the other woman responded. She considered for a moment, and then added, "either time."
Barbara was silent. For a moment, Black Canary wondered whether her former partner would rise to the opportunity. Then, "Dinah? What did happen that first time?"
"You don't know?"
"I know the bare facts. I've guessed a little more. But I don't know how you…"
Dinah smiled sadly. "How I could have gone along with it?" She shook her head. "I was still trying to prove I had what it took to step into my mother's identity. I kept telling myself that Ollie wouldn't go along with anything like that if it weren't justified." She shook her head again. "And taking a stand wouldn't have meant opposing him only—it would have pitted me against Barry, Ray, Ralph… Carter… Babs, I looked up to those guys." She grimaced. "I convinced myself that if what they were doing was wrong," she took a deep breath. "No. I went along with it. I'm as much a part of it as they are. If what we were doing was wrong, one of the others would have spoken up." She bit her lip. "Go ahead and say it, Babs. Whatever it is, it won't be worse than what I've already told myself." But it was a relief to finally have it out in the open, whatever happened next.
The minute it took for Barbara to respond felt like an hour. "I'm… glad you told me." There was a rueful tone to her voice—a note of sad humor. "Even if I'm not the one who really needed to hear it."
Dinah felt her heart plummet. "I knew you were going to say that. I'd have tried before, when he woke up; but when he…" She took a deep breath. "The only thing I could think of saying was, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' And… it—I knew that wasn't going to cut it." Another time that she hadn't made an effort—however futile—to do the right thing, she realized.
To her surprise, though, Barbara nodded. "No, you're right. It wasn't the right time." She let out a long breath.
Dinah waited for her to continue.
Barbara appeared to be lost in thought for a moment. When she looked up again, though, her eyes were clear. "First things first. Bruce is out there now, and we can't rule out the possibility that Black Glove is looking for him."
"But… if he wanted to keep tabs on Bruce, why would he have let him go in the first place?"
"We don't know that he did," Barbara replied. "All we know is, that the night before last, Batman was on patrol, business as usual. Yesterday afternoon, Bruce was in GCPD holding, coming down from a meth-and-heroin high. We don't know whether Black Glove captured him and he managed to escape while drugged, or whether Black Glove deliberately dumped him on the street. And if he did dump him, we don't know whether he was still keeping tabs. Did you happen to check to see whether Bruce had some sort of tracer on him?"
Dinah let fly an oath that might have curled Ollie's beard. "I can't believe I didn't think of that! Shi-!"
"Easy, Dinah. Relax," Barbara said gently. "The cops searched him. The hospital would have probably run X-rays. Even if he had something on him, you might not have spotted it. But if he did, it still might be there. And that would pinpoint his location for all the wrong people." Her expression was deadly serious. "And if he doesn't remember who did this to him, he probably won't know who he has to steer clear of."
Dinah nodded slowly. "His memory isn't totally gone, though. He knew I was Black Canary. He knows about the Justice League. He was… shocked when I told him he was Batman, but I didn't have to explain to him who Batman was. Like I told you before, he remembers the facts…"
"But, not the context for them," Barbara finished. "Except for what was starting to come back." She frowned. "So, semantic memory is there, and procedural—that's why he still remembered the door codes—but his episodic memory is," she bit her lip, "more affected." She took another breath. "It's obviously starting to return to him, so let's hope this is all temporary. Meanwhile, we have to find him."
"Would he head for the manor? I don't mean deliberately, but maybe just on instinct?"
"It's a likely possibility," Barbara agreed. "Off the top of my head, I can think of two other sites that he might subconsciously steer toward. One's Crime Alley. The other's more of a long shot, but the only other place in the city where Batman spends any quality time would be the roof of GCPD." She grinned. "I'd consider Wayne Enterprises, but I don't think he spends enough time there for it to factor." I'll tell my dad to watch the roof. And the boys are holed up not too far from Park Row, so either Tim or Roy can check out the alley."
"So, I guess that leaves the manor for me."
"Uh-huh." Her expression turned serious. "Unless you want off this mission."
"I know this isn't going to be easy for you. I can pull you out, send someone else to cover—"
Dinah frowned. "No. Thanks for the offer but… I need to do this. Besides, I'm here already. I know what's going on."
"And if he lashes out again?"
"Then, I'll be ready."
Barbara eyed her searchingly. "Okay. But if you change your mind—"
Dinah smiled. "Now, that I won't turn down." She chuckled. "I'll take all the luck I can get."
Two hours later, Bruce still had no idea where he was going. Some unknown force seemed to be drawing him northward, through Coventry, across the Sprang, and onto North Gotham Island. As he plodded along, he couldn't shake the feeling that he knew this neighborhood better than he ought to. He looked around at the cross-section of humanity meandering along the sidewalks. Most were shabbily dressed. Quite a few were pushing grocery carts, filled to overflowing with trash bags, aluminum cans and beer bottles. He could see several people digging in garbage cans and dumpsters. Here and there, he could see others sleeping in doorways.
He frowned. He did know this area… but it wasn't home. There was no comfort here, only pain… thick and palpable like a damp fog. He had to get away from here, before it overpowered him completely. And yet… and yet, something tethered him to these streets. Perhaps he didn't live here now, but he wondered whether he had been born in this part of town. Of course. That would explain why this area both attracted and repelled him. Years ago, it must have been very different. He looked at the architecture. Yes, without the graffiti, minus the trash, if he could picture the broken and boarded-up windows replaced with new panes and the exteriors freshly painted, the Victorian-style townhouses and mews would have portrayed a neighborhood of a far better character. And, juxtaposing what must have been when he was younger with the reality before his eyes, yes, it was small wonder that a part of him felt at home here, even as the rest of him wanted to get as far away as possible.
He continued north, but the heaviness remained. And the frustrating thing about it was, he couldn't recall why.
Another hour of walking and his feet began to ache. The thin-soled shoes on his feet did little to cushion the impact of the hard asphalt. He could feel blisters forming. Although he tried to ignore the pain which grew progressively worse with each step, stoicism finally yielded to sense and he stepped off the road and onto the verge. Almost immediately, he noticed an improvement. He pressed on.
He took stock of his surroundings, searching for something familiar. When he'd crossed the Robert Kane Memorial Bridge, the urban jungle had yielded immediately to green fields, tall hedges, and high security fences. Geographically, it was only a short distance from the slums he'd passed through previously, but the contrast was shocking.
This area didn't appear unfamiliar to him, but he couldn't say that any feature of the landscape stood out for him, either. Did he pass by this neighborhood frequently, without really paying attention to the scenery? He closed his eyes for a moment. This was so frustrating! He knew that he was heading in the right direction, but he had no idea of his destination, nor of what he would do when he got there… or whether he would even recognize it when he did.
He rounded another bend in the road and found himself walking past tall elm trees, which stood on either side of the highway, branches arching overhead and nearly meeting in the middle. It's almost impossible to see the stars here, at night. He paused. At night? Did he… pass this way more often after dark? He tried to imagine what this road might look like then. The lights were fairly spread out along this stretch. If a car were driving along with its headlights off, its visibility would be significantly hampered here. He looked back the way he'd come. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed. In the distance, he could see a car coming towards him. It was probably of no concern, but he drew back cautiously into the trees.
A few moments later, he was glad that he had. He recognized the car—he'd been in it only a few hours earlier. And that had been Dinah at the wheel. She hadn't spotted him.
Bruce hesitated. Evidently, she knew where he was headed, even if he didn't. Perhaps he should continue ahead—since in all likelihood, whatever he was looking for still lay before him. He considered it. Slowly, he shook his head. He had no interest in seeing Dinah again, nor of listening to anything she might say. And if she was now standing between him and his destination, then it was time to change destinations.
He waited a few minutes longer, to ensure that the car was not doubling back. Then he turned around and began to retrace his steps toward Crime Alley.
The first thing Dick saw when he opened his eyes was a gray stone ceiling. He turned his head quickly and saw dark brown bricks. His head was pounding as he tried to think back. He'd been in… Arkham. Dick fought down a rising swell of panic. He was in one of the cells in the Intake unit. He turned his head to the other side and his breath caught. Not the Intake unit, at all, he realized. He knew where this had to be. From what that doctor had told him…
Even drugged, he remembered, he'd put up one hell of a fight, but they'd finally gotten the straightjacket on him. All the while, the hunchbacked doctor had looked on with a gloating smile. He'd been the last to leave the cell after the orderlies had trooped out. As he'd administered the final injection, he'd pulled a very familiar domino mask out of the pocket of his lab coat.
"You won't need this any longer, Monsieur Lunaire."
Dick had struggled to explain that he wasn't this 'Lunaire' person, but whatever they'd shot him with had made his tongue swell up so badly that he hadn't been able to do anything but drool.
"Please, Monsieur," the doctor continued, "you must allow the sedatives time to work." He smiled again, but the smile did nothing to reassure Dick. "You won't need them for long," he'd continued. "Just until after your… lobotomie."
As the doctor walked off, chortling, Dick had found, to his horror, that he couldn't even summon enough energy to make a last-ditch effort to get free. But inside his mind, he had been shrieking.
And now, he was lying on a cot, only a few feet away from the medical equipment. He had to get out of here! He struggled to his feet and tried to walk, but his feet seemed to get in the way of each other and he stumbled and fell heavily to the concrete floor.
"Dick!" Robin ran toward him. "You okay?"
He tried to stand again, but he was too far from the bed, and there was nothing else nearby that he could use to help pull himself up. "We gotta get outta here," he managed. "Fast. 'Fore someone comes."
Confusion flitted across the younger man's face, then gave way to comprehension. He placed both hands on Dick's shoulders. "It's alright," he said. "Relax. This isn't Arkham. We're in Batcave Five."
Dick blinked. "Batcave… Five?" He repeated. "You got me out of Arkham?"
Tim began to look nervous. "Yeah. Are you okay?"
Dick nodded slowly. "I think so. Head's throbbing, though." He grimaced. "They… drugged me."
Someone laughed. "You bet they did. How else were they going to get you to stay put, Robbie?" Roy strode into view. "Feeling better?"
A wave of dizziness washed over him. "I'll get back to you."
"Only place you're getting back to right now is bed." Roy attempted to guide him back to the cot.
"Can't." He fought to clear his mind. "They grabbed me in New York… brought me to Gotham. So… it's about… Bruce. Gotta warn him."
"Got to find him first," Tim said. "We're working on it."
"You'll rest," Roy countered. "Or I'm telling Alfred."
Dick sniffed. "Very funny."
"Do I look like I'm kidding around? Those drugs aren't out of your system, yet. You've got enough to deal with on that front alone. Now get back to bed before I start thinking up things I can threaten to do if you don't." He grinned. "Even in the shape you're in, you've got to know that you won't like it when I start getting imaginative."
Had Dick possessed Superman's heat vision, the look that he shot Roy would have burned two precise holes through the red-haired archer. When the sole effect of his glower proved to be causing Roy to grab one of his arms while motioning to Tim to take the other, Dick gave in.
"Another hour," he said.
Dick nodded to Tim. "I'll lie here for another hour. Then, you're going to fill me in."
"Agreed," Roy said before Tim could respond. "As long as you're awake for it."
After they'd managed to get Dick settled again, Roy motioned to Tim to follow him to another part of the cave, well out of their companion's hearing.
"He thought this was Arkham when he woke up," Tim said quietly.
Roy snorted. "Batman always was a lousy interior decorator. Maybe this'll push him to hire someone after this is all over." His expression grew serious.
"Oracle called," the archer continued. "Dinah found Bruce, but he gave her the slip." He gave the younger man a brief rundown. "Stay here with Dick," he continued. "If he dozes off again, you might have to remind him where he is once he wakes up. I'm going to keep an eye on the alley, for now."
Tim nodded. "Maintain radio contact. If you find Bruce, Dick's going to want to know."
Tim waited until Dick was resting once more on the cot. Then, biting his lip, he walked toward the computer center.
He'd been typing for about twenty minutes before Oracle appeared in the upper right quadrant of his screen.
"Antsy," Tim admitted. "Roy told me what to expect from Dick as the Thorazine wears off, but I'm trying to figure out if that's all they gave him." He grimaced. "I mean, Roy knows something about all this, but he's no doctor."
The computer pinged, announcing a file download.
"Next time, ask!" Barbara laughed. "I've read it," she added, sobering. "You can see for yourself, that's all they administered."
"If the report is accurate."
Barbara sighed. "The report is pretty thorough. If you read what the next step of his treatment was supposed to be—"
Tim's jaw dropped. "Oh, my G—"
"If they included that detail, it doesn't make sense that they'd leave out one of the meds."
Tim sighed. "That's something, anyway." He paused. "Was there something you were calling about?"
"I was checking Bruce's files for recent activity," she said. "I wanted to see if Black Glove had managed to download anything before you locked down the systems."
"And?" He felt perspiration beading on his forehead.
"Well, they didn't copy any files, and they didn't transmit anything out."
Tim exhaled. "So, everything's fine."
"I didn't say that." Oracle took a deep breath. "They slipped something in."
Night was falling by the time Bruce made it back to Park Row. It was quieter now, eerily so. Most of the residents were behind locked doors for the evening, while those who were not were keeping to the shadows. Although nobody approached him, Bruce sensed that he was being observed, sized up, and passed over.
He tried to remember the last time he'd eaten. They'd given him breakfast before kicking him out of the hospital. Apart from a cup of coffee at the 'safehouse', though, he'd had nothing since. His stomach rumbled. He needed to find food and shelter, that much was sure. His steps grew heavier as a miasma of sadness seemed to surround him. With every step, his mood darkened as he drew closer to… to… where exactly was he going again?
A memory surfaced. Yesterday, he'd been here with Honor. And Honor had told him that if he walked eight blocks from… from… They'd been standing in front of… the MM Good Donuts! He could see the logo in the distance. Bruce quickened his pace, as he recalled what the homeless man had said. Come eleven o'clock tonight, walk eight blocks in that direction and tell Lone Eye Lincoln… Honor Jackson sent you…
Dick stepped carefully into view. Tim noticed that he was sticking close to the wall. Every few seconds, he rested one hand against it to steady himself. He was trying to look casual about it, but it was obvious that walking was an effort.
Dick smiled ruefully. "Truth? I was feeling better when I was doped to the gills. Right now, I feel like hell. But," he raised a finger for emphasis, "since that means whatever they gave me is starting to wear off, let's just say that I am better—appearances to the contrary, and all." He winced. "Mind you, if you've got another chair… I think it might be a good idea for me to sit down."
Tim kicked the wheeled swivel chair across the floor toward him. Dick sank into it gratefully. He closed his eyes and, with one hand, massaged his forehead. "Thanks," he said quietly. "For getting me out of there. Another few hours and…"
"Don't thank me, thank Roy," Tim cut in. "The whole thing was his doing—I didn't even get out of the car." He took a deep breath. "I know it was a close call."
"Oracle told you?"
"Hey!" Tim put on an injured air. "I do know a little something about computer hacking. I don't have to depend on her for everything, you know."
"She punched through their security while you were still trying to decipher the preliminary coding."
Tim sighed. "That's about the size of it."
Dick placed his hands on the armrests and wheeled himself closer. "Catch me up."
"In a nutshell? The main cave has been compromised, someone tampered with the computers, Bruce got taken out early with a mix of street drugs, and he's now wandering somewhere in Gotham, minus his memories. We'll find him," he added quickly. "Roy and Dinah are out looking now. Oh, and I've implemented the Salem Protocol," he said at a rush.
Dick nodded slowly. "Sounds like a good idea." He winced. "At least it does to me in the state I'm in."
"I didn't have much choice, after Black Glove turned the cave's defenses against us."
Dick mulled that over. "I think you'd better give me the longer version, now."
Tim hesitated. "You sure you're up for it?"
"We'll know in a minute. Start talking."
"Lone-Eye Lincoln?" Bruce approached the shadowy figure with some trepidation. He was a day late for whatever rendezvous Honor had set up, and he had no way of knowing whether the man standing under the hoarding was the person he was looking for.
The person whom he was addressing looked up, and walked forward several paces, but remained clear of the street lamp. "Who he?" The man demanded. "Is there a problem, officer?"
Officer? Bruce shook his head. "I'm not a cop," he said wearily. "Look at me. Honor said I'd find what I needed here."
The other man blinked. "Honor? Honor Jackson?" He snorted. "You been rollin' with that dude, you need hardcore medication. Honor Jackson died… lessee… two… or mebbe three… no, no two days ago. Blew a hundred bucks on smack and went out like a king."
A hundred…? His thoughts reeled even as a memory flashed into his mind, bright as a magnesium flare—a memory of his hand reaching into the pocket of an expensive suit, pulling out a stingray leather wallet and handing a one hundred-dollar bill to a homeless man. Honor! And Bruce had been on his way to…
…As quickly as the door to his recollections had opened, it slammed shut once more. Bruce shook his head. If he'd given Honor that hundred, then… then he'd had money and a home less than three days ago. He couldn't have gone from that state to this one so quickly. It wasn't possible. And how was it possible that Honor could have helped him yesterday, if he was already…
Bruce shook his head. "No. I met him yesterday morning… he saved my life. He told me to come to… to… this place…" His breath caught. "I know this place."
The man, whom Bruce assumed was Lone-Eye Lincoln after all, smiled tolerantly. "Crime Alley. Hell's main drag. But don't sweat," he added, as he bounced a small bag in the palm of his hand. "I got the keys to Heaven right here." He tossed the bag to Bruce.
Bruce caught it automatically, then stared at Lincoln, eyes wide.
Lincoln shrugged. "You know a better way to take away the pain?" He turned on his heel and strode away, leaving Bruce standing there, only a yard or so away from the mouth of a dark alley.
Pain. He knew all about pain, didn't he? Drugs weren't the answer, obviously—they'd only mask it. Masks. He knew about those, too. Intellectually, he knew that he should throw the bag away, but something stayed his hand. The glow of the street lamp was suddenly too bright for him, and he ducked quickly into the alley.
When Roy happened on the spot some twenty minutes later, he discovered Bruce, standing just within the narrow lane, still staring at the bag held aloft in one shaking hand.
"How," Dick started. He stopped, frowning and shook his head. "No, that's the wrong question. Who could hack the bat-computers?"
"Oracle, for one," Tim said. "Or… me. Or even Bruce."
Dick shook his head. "They grabbed him, did something to his mind and… made him hack the computers so…" He broke off. "I know I'm still not thinking clearly, but that doesn't make any sense." His eyes narrowed. "Unless…" He snapped his fingers. "Post-hypnotic suggestion! Without reinforcement, it fades. So, someone grabs Bruce," his face fell, "overrides every mental technique he mastered in the Far East to make him do something totally foreign to his character at some point in the future, and…" He passed his hand over his forehead, "not one of us notices. And… no. It doesn't make sense."
Tim looked up. "But the computers have been compromised before," he pointed out. "Remember when Hush rigged them to influence Bruce subliminally?"
"With Harold's help," Dick countered. "Harold's dead."
"Guys," Oracle interrupted, "can I cut in for a sec?"
"You have something?" Tim asked.
"Just a thought. It's always harder to start up a program from scratch than to maintain an existing one. If the old one worked so well…"
"You think Hush is involved?"
"He's been in Gotham, and recently. Not that location means anything in cyberspace," Barbara added.
A soft ping drew Tim's attention to a small pop-up window. The new anti-virus update was ready to download. He was about to click on 'accept' when Dick stopped him. "What?"
"Just a hunch," Dick said. "Babs, are you hooked up to the computers in the main cave?"
"I can be. What do you need?"
"Can you give me a log of all the files that Bruce would have downloaded from the net, going back," he thought for a moment, "going back to the time he and Tim returned to Gotham, last year?"
"Last year?" Barbara sounded thoughtful. "It may not be in the main databanks, then. I'll have to search nearline storage backups, too." She paused for a moment. Then, her voice brightened. "Sure, just give me a few minutes." She grinned. "You onto something?"
"I'm not sure," Dick admitted. "But why go to all the trouble of breaking into a house, when you can get someone to open a door for you?"
Tim frowned. "You mean by sending some kind of Trojan virus? But Bruce uses the most cutting-edge anti-virus software there is." He looked up at the screen. "Babs, you write the programs, for crying out loud!"
"I wrote the initial programs, sure. But not the upgrades. I let some copies of an early version fall into the hands of a few Waynetech programmers, and they've been modifying it ever since."
"So," Tim turned to Dick, "you think there's a mole at WE?"
Dick raised an eyebrow. "At any given time, there are between one and six moles at WE. Bruce knows who they are, and controls what they find out. No… I was thinking more of a spoof site."
Tim leaned forward in his chair, then settled back down. "Okay. I know what those are, but what do you—"
"Here you go," Oracle interrupted. "Took less time than I thought."
"Thanks!" He began to scroll down through the flickering lines of green type.
"Dick," Barbara asked after a few minutes, "you know, this might go faster if you told me what you were looking for…"
"I'll know it when I see it, Babs," Dick said. "Is this all?"
"No, this is about three week's worth. There's loads more." Her voice softened. "You sure you can concentrate enough for this?"
Dick hesitated. "Can you narrow it down to files coming from any url related to Aegis Exclusive?"
"Not a problem."
The display went dark for a moment, then came back up.
Dick nodded. "Thanks again." He went back to scrolling. Five minutes later, he stopped. "You see that?" He asked Tim.
Tim looked where he was pointing. "WT Aegis Exclusive," he replied. "Yeah, that's WayneTech's program. So?"
"You still have the popup for the upgrade notification we got on this system?"
"Click it. Then click on the one I just showed you and compare the urls."
Tim obeyed. Then his jaw dropped. "The one in the log is WT Aegis," he started to say.
"And the alert we got here is for WE Aegis." Dick smiled grimly. "It's also a 'dot-net' instead of a 'dot-com'. And the time of day when it was downloaded," he added, "was five-seventeen a.m. Bruce would have been back from patrol and almost finished logging his reports. Most mornings he is finished by then, so he must have had a long night."
Tim keyed instructions. "Whoever sent this program knew it," he said after a moment. "There's coding in here—it only pops up between five-fifteen and six-forty-five a.m. That's a time that Bruce would only be in the cave if…"
"If he were exhausted and pushing himself." Dick closed his eyes. "WayneTech or Wayne Enterprises. Net or Com. It's so easy to confuse them. And when he clicked the link…"
"He got routed to another site entirely," Tim said. "Look, it's even got the Wayne Enterprises webpage layout." He frowned, incredulous. "Right down to WE's actual contact phone numbers and email address. You know, I think this would fool me, wide awake."
"It's a spoof site," Dick reminded him. "It's meant to fool people into thinking they've clicked on the real McCoy. And this is a very good one."
He looked at Tim and then up at Barbara's image. "Can you figure out what he downloaded here?"
"It'll take time." Barbara and Tim spoke in unison. They smiled, a bit self-consciously. "Look," Barbara said, "as important as it might be to find out the answer to that, it's not the main priority. Finding Bruce, stopping Black Glove… those are your primary goals. I'll tackle this, on an isolated terminal—where I won't risk infecting any of my own systems. If there's something in there that might help us figure out how to snap Bruce back to normal, I'll let you know. Otherwise…"
"We need to focus more on fixing the problem than analyzing it. Got it."
A new window popped up. Tim swore softly. "I was hoping I was wrong."
"See for yourself." The window showed a frequency domain graph. Dick looked at the two spiky wavelines rolling slowly across the screen. Superimposed over the data, read the legend: correlation—96.41 per cent.
Dick felt another attack of dizziness and closed his eyes, waiting for it to pass.
"Yeah. I should probably lie down again in a minute. What is that?"
"While we were talking, I asked the computer to compare the current programming with the stuff Harold did in the cave a couple of years ago. As you can see, the odds are pretty good that they were programmed by the same person."
Dick took a deep breath. "So Hush's return to Gotham a couple of weeks ago wasn't a coincidence." He exhaled slowly. "I think this just got a lot more complicated."