Paper Hearts, part 9

By Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0"



Batgirl carefully worked her way into a crawl space over a janitorial closet, navigating from the carefully memorized plans of Arkham Asylum. She engaged an infrared scan of the room below, satisfying herself that it was unoccupied. Then she opened her comlink. "Oracle."

The response, to her relief, was immediate. "Go ahead, Batgirl."

"Hatter in his cell," she reported in a whisper.

There was an explosion of breath over the line. "Ooo-kay. Trouble getting in?"

"No. Security grid faulty in section D-14. Slipped in there."

"D-14." The clatter of computer keys could be dimly heard over her earpiece. "Damn. I'm not showing the fault. Were you able to determine why the gap exists?"

"Nothing visible. Could be a shunt."

More key clattering. "That would make sense. What was Hatter doing?"

"Pretending to sleep."

"Pretending?"

"Breathing wrong, body too still."

"Nice. And here I was hoping to eliminate a suspect."

Batgirl allowed her mouth to quirk at the heavy irony in Barbara's tone. "Still have electronic problem."

"I know. What I can't decide is whether Tetch orchestrated with Crane or if Crane's escape was fortuitous."

"Fortoo-?"

"Lucky chance," Barbara clarified. "Where are you?"

"Crawlspace over closet M-3."

"Hmm. And between your entrance and there?"

"Security in place. Left my bypasses installed for quick exit. You read them?"

"Let me check... no. What the hell?"

"Think security grid and your link problem related?"

There was a pause as Barbara considered. "It would make our life easier if they were. Well, my life. There's a limited number of overlaps in the electronics."

Batgirl nodded to herself. Of course. Oracle's system was a post-building installation designed precisely to catch the kind of shunt work that would weaken Arkham's internal security. But given Bat protocols? The Oracle taps would be in the places least accessible to ordinary maintenance. "I investigate."

"Wait," Oracle ordered. "Two things first. Did you check Crane's cell?"

"Twenty minutes," Batgirl reminded her. "I good, but not miracle worker."

"Right. Sorry. Okay. I want to see if we can retrace Scarecrow's escape route. That might give me a better idea where to look for any electronic interference in our system. Once you've done that, then you can keep an eye on Tetch while I run my analysis of your data."

"Okay. Going to Crane's cell. Batgirl out."

She closed her channel and contemplated for a moment. The perimeter breach was in D-14. Scarecrow's cell was in section E. Best to back track to D-14 and try the most direct route. If Crane was out by fortu - by lucky chance, he wouldn't know he wasn't tripping security and would move quickly. She mentally traced her previous path. With only one more security bypass, she could get from M to E block in short order. Even given the bypass time, it would be quicker. Decision made, she moved forward in her crawl space and into a ventilation duct, shimmying through to a set of catwalks installed for maintenance work.

She hesitated at the edge of the ductwork, sharply watching the catwalks. No one. There should be, she judged harshly, given Crane's break out, but no. Not yet, anyway.

She slid out of her crawlspace and landed lightly on the catwalk. She jumped lightly from walk to walk to traverse the radial structure more quickly and position herself toward M block. She had almost reached her destination when a metallic clank sounded. By the time the security worker's head appeared over the lip of the access panel, she was deep in the shadows overhead, clinging to the support lattice work.

"-not going to find anything," the man groused to his companion below. He hauled himself onto the catwalk with a grunt. "I did the visual inspection myself last night. He had to get out some other way."

Another head peeked through the access panel. "CYA, brother. They're looking for someone to blame. Better for us if we can prove it wasn't our fuck-up."

"Yeah," the first man conceded grumpily, oblivious to Batgirl passing overhead in perfect silence. She positioned herself over the access hatch, confirming there was no one behind the second security worker. She double checked with the infrared. Might be worth taking the halls from here. A blip of bodyheat dissuaded her and she moved on. She let the noise of the still grumping security workers cover the slight sound of the ventilation duct cover sliding aside to admit her. Twelve feet, and then the security curtain for E block. She found the access panel by feel and slid it open.

She frowned. No telltale light. Off? Or already bypassed? Possibly off for the workers behind her, but after a breakout? Hard to tell. Arkham workers might tolerate the inadvertent tripping of the alarm by the workers, or they might want to spare their already frayed nerves. She slid the panel back in place and continued into the crawlspace over block E.

Crane's cell was crawling with guards and GCPD when she arrived and peered through a carefully placed peep hole. They couldn't see what she felt under her hand - straw. In the crawlspace. He'd made his exit through the ceiling, then, but how?

She narrowed her eyes. Each Arkham cell had a laser protected ventilation outlet in the fourteen foot ceilings. Not reachable by normal human effort, and any attempt to reach it by piling furniture or upending a bed was prevented by the fact that all such furniture was bolted to the floor. And no one on the Arkham staff would have allowed Crane to have straw. An accomplice? Likely. Which meant Crane had had time to discover the security failure and contact someone on the outside. Not a good sign. How long had he had to plan his escape? He wouldn't have waited too long once he discovered the possibility, unless...

If the security breach had been intermittent - observably so - Crane was smart enough to note it. Batgirl shook her head. This was something to report to Oracle, to work out somewhere other than here. For the moment, she had other orders.

Getting to D-14 took almost no time - security was still active at E-14, but clear pry marks on the access panel between blocks suggested someone already knew that. Crane? Or his accomplice? Or both? And how would they know?

She scowled as she stared out at the Arkham grounds from her perch just inside the air intake grid and tapped open her comlink.

"Hold on, Batgirl," Oracle's voice ordered. A minute passed, then two, and then Oracle was back. "Okay, go ahead."

"There was an accomplice," Batgirl stated grimly. She swiftly reported Crane's route to the outside, noting the security failures en route. She could hear Barbara entering the data as she spoke.

"Great," Barbara said as Batgirl finished her report. "Well, the good news is that narrows our search to five possible tap sites. I can probably thin that down to three in a few minutes."

"The bad news?"

"If Crane had an accomplice, this problem is old enough to raise our favorite Bat's hackles. And I can't tell if it means Hatter is working with him or not. And the night keeps getting worse."

"Worse?"

"Torque's active in Bludhaven."

"Nightwing?"

"On his way to deal with it."

"Scarecrow?"

"Batman has found his hideout and suspects a trap. I'm sending Canary to join him and the cover."

Batgirl grunted. "Stretched thin."

A short laugh answered her. "Tell me about it. So don't need backup, okay?"

"Robin," Batgirl reminded her.

Barbara's voice came back sobered. "Yeah, he's still standing by. But the way the night is going? I'm just hoping I don't have to send him out after anyone else."

"I go watch Hatter now. Call if you need me."

"I think we need you most where you are, but I will. Oracle out."

Batgirl sat for a moment longer, looking out over the path Scarecrow had taken away from the Asylum and into the city. Then she swiftly crept back through to the space over Tetch's cell. One glance, and she practically flew back to her space over closet M-3.

"Batgirl?" Oracle answerd her call. "Something wrong?"

"Hatter doing something," she hissed. "Stiff in bed, eyes rolled back, fingers moving like typing."

"Damn! Can you see - no. Where are you?"

"M-3 again."

"Okay - quickly, put one of your bypassers onto the grid at M-7, and activate the tracer on it. Then go back to Tetch and signal me when he stops what he's doing - if he hasn't already."

Batgirl was already moving. "Think we find source?"



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