Paper Hearts, part 12

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Barbara pulled up the GTA schedule a split second before Dick asked for it, glancing at the time as she answered him. ""Red eye express comes through in 15 at the Sprang Bridge. He started the clock to his next victim about 10 minutes ago."

Damn Torque. She hated Bludhaven. What had happened to the days when they could ignore that armpit? That was unfair, she knew - Dick felt like he could make a difference there, and it was a noble - if ultimately futile, in her opinion - cause.

It didn't help matters that they really did need Nightwing in Gotham, but Batman was right. Save life where you could. And Dick didn't need to have the fight he left behind weighing on his mind. "I'll call in reserves if they need them," she reassured him.

"Where you sendin' me, boss-lady?" a voice behind her queried as Black Canary entered the war room. She held up her hand as she listened to Dick's answer.

"I know you will. I just hope they don't need them."

She glanced at the unscrambled GPS signals on her monitor, showing one rapidly departing blue dot and the rest of the team scattered through the city. "Me, too, Hunk Wonder. Me, too."

She closed the signal with a sigh and inched the volume up on the monitor channel she'd set. Quiet for the moment.

"Bad news?"

"When is it not?" Barbara replied, glancing at Dinah. The other woman was leaning back against a work station, a deceptively casual pose. She knew without words that Dinah was ready to jump into action. "Trouble in Bludhaven."

"So Nightwing's going," Dinah interpretted. "You want me to cover his position?"

Barbara scowled thoughtfully as she considered the activity on her screens. Batgirl still at Arkham, her own signal still obscured to Oracle's computers but her bypasser at M-7 sending a report of electronic activity in the block. Robin was still on standby. Bat-scale criminal activity in Bludhaven and Crime Alley. The way this night was going, it wouldn't surprise her to suddenly see a new flare up closer to home, and as good as Tim was, she didn't want to send him into anything alone. "Wait," she decided.

Dinah shifted uneasily. "You sure?"

A ping sounded, and Barbara opened the channel.

"He stopped," Batgirl reported, and a sudden squeal from the computer punctuated her words. The bypasser, it's signal now wildly fluctuating.

"Got him!" Barbara exclaimed, her fingers flying over the keys as she interpretted the incoming data. "He's definitely using the Arkham grid. Damn!" She tried another key combination, flashing views of the Arkham blueprints at dizzying speeds on the monitor. "Stay put for a minute," she ordered. She launched a new program, setting it to work on the data. "Or five," she amended. "I'll call back with directions."

"Understood." A click signaled the closing of Batgirl's line.

"What the hell was that?" Canary asked.

"Hatter," Babs replied, frowning at her screen. He had definitely been sending a signal using the Arkham system, but where was his transmitter? She was not sending Batgirl on a wild goose chase.

"So it is-"

The cover's voice sounded over the monitor channel, and Dinah stopped speaking as Barbara turned up the volume.

"People on stage. Appear unconscious."

"Damn it all!" Barbara cursed, switching the Arkham data to another screen and replacing it with a map of Crime Alley. The cover somewhere in or on the Monarch, Batman across the street. His raspy order filtered over her speakers: "Hold."

Barbara glanced at Dinah, already picking up her helmet. "Crime Alley?"

Barbara nodded and turned back to her screens, opening a channel to Batman. "Batman, I'm sending Canary." Clocktower security showed Dinah already entering the elevator to the garage.

"Can't wait," Batman replied tersely, closing the line. She bit her lip as she watched his tracking dot move across to the Monarch. This was not good. He was right, they couldn't wait, but going up against Scarecrow with a virtually untested partner? Dinah's signal showed her already gunning out of the parking garage below the Clocktower. Barbara pinged her.

"Go ahead, Oracle," Canary answered.

"Ditch the bike and go rooftop when you get in the neighborhood," she ordered. "I'll tell you if something changes."

"You got it," Canary agreed. "I'll call when I get nearer."

"Good. Oracle out."

She forced herself to look away from the Crime Alley map, turning her attention back to the Arkham data. In three minutes, the program had already eliminated several of the potential tap sites, but not enough yet to give Batgirl any direction. Her stomach felt twisted. She could only wait...

A blaring alert sounded suddenly, causing her to start in her chair. She slapped the alert control, and the police band opened. "...fired. I repeat, shots fired at the Wayne penthouse..."

Barbara's heart leapt into her throat. The penthouse. J'onn and Alfred.

Another whooping alert, this time with a flood of red light. The media. Crap. She stabbed another button on her console, angling her chair to face the Channel 3 news feed flaring on. Roger Alomar's face gazed seriously from behind his anchor desk as he reported the breaking news: at least three shots had been fired in the Wayne penthouse and preliminary reports were indicating a cop had been responsible.

Hatter.

She considered and discarded the idea of calling the penthouse. Oracle channels would not be discreet enough if there were cops everywhere, and she should leave the phone lines free in case Hatter had an associate planning to make demands. Unlikely, but still...

She muted the sound and twisted her wheels back to her control console, checking the Arkham data as she did so. Three possibles. Close enough.

She opened a channel. "Batgirl."

"Oracle."

"He's after Bruce Wayne. God only knows why, but we've got to stop this before he tries again."

"Where?"

"I've got it narrowed to three junctions. Closest to you is M-21. Then there's possibles at A-6 and at K-12."

"Think more than one?"

Good question. "Probably not," Barbara decided. "But I can't rule it out. Just check and call me at each site."

"Got it."

Barbara turned back to the police band, automatically quieted when the media alert had sounded. "... suspect at alpha six and take him to gamma squared..." Crispus Allen's voice, using a code to thwart the inevitable media support teams who would also have their scanners tuned. Probably was a cop if they were so keen to keep him out of the public eye - and were taking him to Gotham General. She scrolled back through the transcripted exchange with dispatch. No ambulance called. That was good news, at least.

She looked up to the Crime Alley map. Canary, now making slower time through the neighborhood. And...

Her brow furrowed as Batman's signal suddenly flew from the Monarch, heading south. Fast. Faster than he could with the cover in tow.

Which she wasn't. Sasha's signal remained stationary in the theatre.

Something was wrong.

Very wrong.

She bit her lip, her fingers hesitating over the computer keys.

Screw it. So the cover found out about Oracle. Better that than dead.

She swiftly reconfigured the monitoring link she had to the cover to a proper communication channel.

"Cover," she hissed.

No answer.

"Cover," she tried again, insistently.

Not a peep from the bodyguard, but instead a sound that made Barbara's blood run cold: the menacing laugh of Jonathan Crane.



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