Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Counterconspiracy: Up in Flames

Vasilissa looked around, trying to maintain her composure.

Mr. Falcone had called asking for some time with her -- on short notice. Though apprehensive, she agreed to get ready, as Carmine explained his driver would pick her up.

After the phone call, in her room by the closet, she looked around, then pulled the device she had been given from her pocket. She looked at it. This was it, she thought. She had been around long enough to know. They were going to dinner at a nice, upscale restaurant; Falcone only took her to places he controlled, and she knew he didn't control this place. Very unusual... this was definitely it. He was on to her, and her time was up.

She firmly pressed the red button on the Batsignal, knowing that now, nothing would stop the meeting -- Batman would know she was in trouble, and would be on his way.

He casually looked at his watch -- a light lit up in one corner of it indicating the Batsignal. It was an emergency, and it had to be from Vasilissa.

Come on, Sasha, he thought.

Looking up at Sandra, he resumed the conversation.

"They deserved a trial."

"What about the families of the heroin addicts? What about the people who are victimized as the addicts commit robberies, muggings and carjackings to raise money to support their habits? What about the girls who get trafficked in, injected with drugs, beaten into submission, and raped, all as preparation to make them prostitutes? What about all these people, Bruce? Don't they deserve a trial?"

"Well, believe me, I see your point, Sandra," Bruce Wayne answered.

"I think of all people, Bruce sees your point," Rachel interjected with a smile, trying to soften the moment.

Just then, Lucius Fox took his cell phone out and looked at it. "Excuse me, please, I have to take this call," he explained, as he answered the phone.

An alarmed look came across his face.

"Yes, I understand. We're on our way. Thanks!"

The call ended, and he urgently looked across the table.

"Bruce, there has been an emergency at Wayne Enterprises. You are needed there immediately. May I suggest that your driver take our companions home when they are done with dinner, and I can drive you to the office?"

Perfect, thought Wayne. Way to go, Sasha! And, that will give Sandra and Rachel a chance to compare notes!

Standing up, he looked around the table. "Ladies, I hope you'll excuse us. If it looks like we'll be able to make it back, we'll call you. Meanwhile, please stay and enjoy your dinner – my treat." Pausing, he added with a smile, "We'll have to continue this conversation later."

Before the ladies could protest, Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne were already walking toward the door. The woman who was Wayne's driver and bodyguard met them by the host's station near the door.

Silently, Rachel Dawes and Sandra Villanova watched as Bruce Wayne gave some quiet instructions to his driver, who returned to her station near the bar, and to the host and headwaiter, who nodded reassuringly, smiling in the direction of the table where the ladies were.

With that, both Fox and Wayne were out the door, walking quickly.

Turning to Sandra, Rachel wondered aloud, "What do you suppose that is all about?"

The fortune-teller looked at the crystals on the table.

"He is having some doubts about himself and his mission, but angels minister to him."

The fortune-teller looked a little more closely.

"He is surrounded by women," she explained, as the master, hearing this, rolled his eyes, wondering if things would ever change. "Some of the women are torn between him and his enemies, but there is one in his midst who will betray him."

Worried, the master asked, "And what will happen?"

Looking up, her eyes closed, the fortune-teller answered slowly.

"The outcome will be as it was decided anciently: in defense of justice, the warrior will work magic, and he will execute the punishments ordained by Heaven."

"Here it is, Bruce. Now, pay attention, because it has a few new upgrades."

The dark figure, dressed in flowing black, paid close attention to the man who had always been his friend, and much more.

"The laser rangefinder has been completely redesigned. It now duplicates much of the capability of the infrared search and track system. It is tied in to an experimental version of the WomBat, which has a laser beamrider guidance scheme -- just point and shoot."

"How does that work?" the figure asked.

"The laser beam rapidly sweeps out a grid, tracking the target and keeping the target inside the grid."

"Then the system has an autonomous target acquisition capability?"

"Yes. The WomBat has sensors in the back of the missile, detecting the energy from the laser. They will keep the missile in the middle of the grid; it is fire-and-forget, invulnerable to conventional countermeasures -- but watch out for excessive smoke or steam in the air!"

The figure nodded.

"There is now a 5.56mm Gatling gun with 1000 rounds of ammunition. Heads-up! It takes a moment after you depress the trigger to get up to full RPM, so there is a slight delay before it actually begins to fire; the same is true as you release the trigger, there will be a moment when it is still firing."

"So one long burst would be better than several short bursts?"

"Exactly. And, at full RPM, you have ten seconds of Gatling gun."

"Did you take out the fuel-air munition system, and the flamethrower?"

"That's the best part. It was difficult, and it isn't exactly like you wanted it, but here's how the replacement system works...."

Rick shook his head.

The boss had not been happy tonight, and he had looked like he wanted to kill someone.

Donovan was there at the meeting -- he had been especially requested, and Donovan looked a little scared.

The boss began to accuse Donovan of not doing his job.

"This is all leaking out in the alternative news media," the boss pounded his desk, looking at Donovan.

Of course, Falcone had strings he could pull with all of Gotham's mainstream media, so they wouldn't print anything too explosive. But, the alternative media was alive with stories about Batman's recent attacks on Falcone's "Roman Empire", with a great deal of analysis. Some of it was paranoid, but some of it was right on the money, and it was the analysis that was right on the money that was resounding the most in Gotham City's cybersphere.

"It's not coming from GPD, boss. I've got connections, a good network, thanks to you -- you give me plenty of favors to spread around. If it were coming from GPD, I'd know."

Truth was, if it was coming from GPD, the boss would know, too, thought Rick -- Donovan wasn't Falcone's only man at the Gotham Police Department, and Donovan never knew when he was dealing with somebody who also reported back to Mr. Falcone.

Frustrated, the boss asked where all the information about the crime scenes was coming from? Who was the leak passing this to the alternative media? And, there had to be more than one leak.

After a long, ominous silence, Rick -- who did not like speaking at these meetings -- asked the simple question.

"Boss, how many Gotham Firefighters are on your payroll?"

It got deadly silent in the room, as everyone realized -- that was why Batman had been torching Falcone's establishments! It meant firemen were on the scene of every attack, and obviously, nobody had thought to bribe firemen to keep them quiet about what they saw at the crime scene!

Inspector Gordon paced the balcony at his apartment.

The hurried phone call from Rachel Dawes, who was his contact at the DA's office to prosecute this Batman, had been very interesting.

Gordon knew that she was honest. She was perhaps a little naïve at times, but she was hard-working, reliable, and above all, honest.

Gordon had been wondering how, in the midst of a "War on Crime", with law enforcement watching everyone and everything -- especially with the new powers that the mayor had appropriated for law enforcement -- how could all the heroin be moving around Gotham City?

Rachel suddenly had an outrageous idea, but, of course, it was the only explanation that made sense.

The heroin was being transported to Gotham City in official law enforcement vehicles!

The more he thought about it, the more Gordon saw how it was the only explanation that made sense, and it had the advantage of explaining many other observations Gordon had made.

And, if that was true, then it made sense that it wasn't Batman who was the pyro, torching all of these establishments that connected Falcone to the Mujahideen!

The dark vehicle approached the restaurant, moving very slowly and silently down the alleyway behind it. The vehicle was still far enough away that people near the restaurant couldn't see it.

The vehicle's operator engaged the infrared search and track system, bringing its information up on a multifunction display, then correlated that with the location of the Batsignal. Vasilissa was in a room in the back of the building, and it looked like there was one other person in the room with her.

Inspector Gordon thought long and hard.

It wasn't Batman at all -- it was Falcone!

Falcone was trying to kill all the witnesses and destroy all the evidence connecting him to Aladdin. Not only that, but Gordon now knew -- thanks to Batman -- that Falcone had been in on the attack that destroyed the Gotham Towers. Falcone was connected to the heroin trafficking, the corruption in city hall, the mayor, the two candidates running to replace the mayor in the election that was four weeks away... Falcone was connected to all of it.

And now, Falcone was trying to erase it all, by burning down the buildings, killing the witnesses and destroying the evidence in the fires.

And, Batman kept showing up in the nick of time, saving the witnesses and keeping them alive, and saving the paperwork and computers that held the information tying Falcone in to everything, and keeping it all from going up in flames.

That was why the mayor was so adamant that Batman needed to be stopped. The mayor accused Batman of being a pyro, and wanted him locked up, but the truth is, Batman was saving the evidence that connected Falcone to Aladdin in one direction, and Falcone to the mayor and to a whole bunch of others in the other direction.

The dark figure looked at the multifunction displays.

"Bruce..." a feminine voice cut in.

"I see it. I'm getting good coverage from the Batbot."

In addition to Vasilissa, who Falcone now wanted dead, the restaurant was full of innocent people, and Falcone's men were outside it, locking the fire exits from the outside, while three men hurried inside, obviously to torch the place -- and obviously planning to blame it all on Batman!

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