"You need to think it through carefully, Mr. Wayne. If you choose to follow this road, you will risk everything."
The master looked at him carefully.
Hearing the master's words, he paused. He thought of the young girls who had been held in the forest by the local prostitution ring –- how they had been drugged, raped, brutalized.
Bruce Wayne wondered how he could possibly walk away, knowing more young girls were out there at this very moment, their families desperate to find them and bring them home.
"My parents are dead. They were killed –- gunned down before my eyes when I was just a young boy." He paused, then added, "I was an only child."
He could still recall his mother collapsing in slow motion to the street, the blood draining from her lifeless body into the dirt of Gotham's gutter. He could still hear his father's words quietly whispered: "Bruce... don't be afraid."
The master sensed his difficulty.
"I don't really see how I have anything left to lose," Wayne explained, looking directly at the master.
Both were aware of Wayne Manor, Wayne Enterprises, the Wayne fortune... and both knew none of that mattered.
"And what about Alfred?"
Wayne looked away, a sad look crossing his face.
"Is it fair to condemn Alfred? He should be living out the remaining years of his life in peace." The master gazed off into the distance. "They will come after him, you know. Even if he goes away, they will hunt him down, because he is important to you." The master looked back at Wayne. "That is how it works. You go after what is important to them, they come after what is important to you."
Bruce Wayne stood on the brink of his destiny, peering into his future. It was an inky blackness, where he could clearly discern nothing except the worst of his fears.
"What do you suggest?" he quietly asked.
Special Agent Nicholas Kyle of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation looked inside the back of the van as his partner Ron DiViglio smiled. Inside the van were military-style assault rifles, submachineguns, grenade launchers with a variety of different kinds of grenades, and, on one side, there was even a flame-thrower.
"Ten million dollars is what Mr. Falcone promised," DiViglio bubbled. "He has provided this as a down-payment, to enable us to do the job," DiViglio explained, with an expansive sweep of his arm gesturing toward the contents of the van. "And," he leaned over and whispered, "Mr. Falcone isn't the only one who has a contract out on him."
Kyle peered into the back of the van, but instead of military-grade weapons and a briefcase full of cash, all he could see was his future. It was dark, inky-black.
Special Agent Nicholas Kyle of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation felt as if he were gazing into hell.
Alfred looked at the Batcomputer. The signal from Vasilissa indicated she desired another meeting with Batman -– and the last meeting had been a trap.
He then looked at another console nearby. Dr. Villanova had left another message for Bruce Wayne. It sounded urgent.
Alfred gazed into the vault behind him. Its door was open, and inside the latest version of the Batsuit was visible. Alfred looked at its inky-black shape, shook his head, and reached for the phone.
The book in his hand was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and it was open.
But his eyes had wandered away from the book, and were staring out the window. It was evening time at Wayne Manor, and, as he stared out into the inky black night, he recalled the translation of the inscription on the statue: "In a world darkened by the overcast of evil, one man will emerge, a warrior, and in defense of justice, he will work magic."
Rick thought back to the meeting that day. As he thought about the rewards available to anyone who took out Batman, Mr. Falcone's words still rang in his ears: "I have given a name to my problems," he had said, "and it is 'Batman'."
She answered the telephone on the second ring, but from the sound of the voice on the other end, it was nowhere near fast enough.
"Yes, I saw him in the library a few minutes ago. I will tell him at once. "
She hung up the phone, then hurried down the hall to the library, where she saw Bruce Wayne standing, a book in his hand, staring absent-mindedly out the window.
"Bruce, Alfred is looking for you. It's important," she said. Then, with a conspiratorial look around, she added significantly: "He's downstairs."
Lieutenant Jim Gordon put the file back down on his desk, put his feet back up on his desk, and stared at the wall.
He shook his head slowly.
It was all there....
Gotham's heroin industry, laid out mostly in broad terms, but at times with startling detail; ties to Gotham's business elite, ties to Gotham's prostitution rings, ties to Gotham's politicians -– the city council, the municipal judges and prosecutors, even to the mayor and the vice mayor -– Falcone's whole empire, and key parts of Aladdin's network as well.
And it didn't end there. There was a new organization called "The Demon", and connections to the nuclear black market -– evidence that Aladdin had nuclear weapons, and that he had them in Gotham City. Aladdin was a psychopath, but left to his own devices, he might just spare Gotham; but "The Demon" was manipulating both Aladdin and Falcone, determined that Gotham would not escape destruction, determined that Aladdin would take the blame....
Gordon shuddered. He hadn't understood that part very well, but it gave him the creeps.
The worst part of it all was the meticulous documentation. The story at first seemed incredible, but it was logical and mostly substantiated -– there was almost enough there to make arrests and get convictions... almost, but not quite.
There were a few more loose ends that had to be nailed down, but a competent investigation with honest investigators could make short work of that.
The problem was finding honest investigators, honest prosecutors -– and, above all, the political will to shut down all the powerful criminal operations that were destroying Gotham City.
Gordon swiveled in his chair, and looked outside the window. He thought about the mysterious figure who had just recently, on a night like this, given him the envelope with the CD ROM's in it. He thought about the bulletin on his desk calling for the arrest of the figure, known only as "The Batman".
He shook his head. The charges were ludicrous -– and, they wouldn't stick, either. The goal was obviously to get Batman out into the open, where they could take a shot at him.
Gordon stood up, and walked towards the window. Out there, in the inky blackness of Gotham's night, there were organized crime hitmen, corrupt GBI agents, Gotham Police officers – all looking for one man, all looking to collect a reward for finding him. Word on the street was that there would be no investigation into his death, and that no one would do time for killing him –- Falcone would see to that.
It stood in the basement of Wayne Enterprises, in a garage behind many layers of security. The upgrades were finally completed.
He looked at it, and began to walk around it.
It now had a pyrotechnically-deployed shield, made out of the same material as the suit's cape. The shield could be fired from the vehicle to protect a soft target from the effects of blast and heat; theoretically, it could even withstand the bullets from a 9mm pistol, although he had reason to doubt that claim.
Up front was the most recent version of a hybrid missile. A complicated laser and radio-frequency guidance scheme steered it onto its target at Mach 2. Just designate and shoot –- no further need for the operator. The warhead, too, was a hybrid design; its proximity fuse would detonate it in a blast-fragmentation mode against airborne targets, while contact fusing would generate a shaped-charge effect that could penetrate light and even medium armor.
The last upgrade was to the on-demand afterburning turbofan engine with which the vehicle was equipped. The vehicle had a stealth mode, one aspect of which was propulsion via a battery-powered electric motor -– it could approach quite quietly. However, when the turbofan was started and the afterburner engaged, the vehicle would move very fast. The vehicle could come like a gentle breeze, but go like a bolt of lightning....
Lucius Fox contemplated the Batmobile. Use of the turbofan was extremely dangerous, risky because of the speed at which the vehicle could be propelled.
He stared into the inky black finish of a vehicle that seemed elegant, yet somewhat sinister, as he tried to imagine circumstances under which engaging the turbofan would be less dangerous than not engaging it.
He recalled the conversation he had had when the first version of the turbofan was installed in an earlier Batmobile.
"By the way, Bruce," Fox had asked.
"If you don't mind my asking... just who is it that you think is going to be chasing you?"
As long as he lived, Fox would never forget the answer. Wayne had paused, made eye contact with him, then turned away, his answer quietly drifting in the air.