Too Many Long Boxes!

End of Summer

Nightwing: Black Ops - Part 3

Chapter 6: Playing God

"It looks like I have your military aircraft here boys." The pixilated version of Barbara Gordon's face appeared on the huge main screen of the Batcave's cray computers. It had been over ten hours since Batman and Robin had returned to Gotham and requested information reports of any Typhoon 313 B parts or service requested worldwide. Barbara was the best of the best when it came to cyber detective work but a request that big would take even the mighty Oracle time to correlate all her incoming data. When she finally contacted the cave she had even more information than Bruce, Tim, or Alfred had ever hoped for.

"What have you found Ms. Oracle?" Alfred asked.

"I have an actual picture of your phantom Typhoon aircraft. Chauncy. Am I the best or am I the best?"

"How did you manage that Barabara?" Batman asked, even he was clearly impressed by the black and white image that appeared on the monitor. It was indeed a picture of a Typhoon 313 B military aircraft, taken from above, it looked like a grainy satellite photo showing the aircraft on the ground in a large field with only one building nearby.

"Trust me when it comes to how I got these satellite photos, what you don't know they can't prosecute you for. Let's just say that Oracle is now wanted by the U.S. Government for illegal use of certain satellites."

"You're right I don't want to know."

"How do we know that this aircraft is the particular one we're searching for?" Tim asked. It was Batman who answered him as he looked at a printout of information that Oracle had sent them.

"Because every other Typhoon 313 B is currently on assignment in the Middle East according to this information. This has to be the people we're looking for."

"When do we leave?" Tim asked, obviously itching to resume the hunt for Nightwing. Batman rose from his seat at the computers and turned to his junior partner, placing a hand on Tim's shoulder.

"We aren't going. I am going ……. alone." Tim started to protest but was cut off before he could mouth a single word, "I know you want to help Tim, but this is something I have to do alone. These people are dangerous in the extreme and there are too many unknown variables in this situation. Not to mention I am trusting you with the task of looking after the streets of Gotham while I'm gone."

Robin couldn't protest any further. Bruce was right on all accounts and he was also leaving Robin in charge of the streets. This was a significant show or trust in the young man, one Robin didn't want to turn away from. Batman then turned back to Alfred, "Alfred I need a plane ready to take off in 90 minutes and my hunting gear." Alfred's lips formed a thin, knowing smile when Bruce mentioned his hunting gear and immediately began his duties.

"At once sir."

The picture of chaos could easily be found at this moment in a farmhouse in Crete……

"It's Judas!!! It's gotta be!!!!!"

"Where's the General???? Anybody seen the General????"

"I'm pinned down over here!!!"

Mere seconds ago the members of Impact Squadron were enjoying a friendly game of poker and discussing the merits of the Bludhaven vigilante known as Nightwing. Sito had just made them see the stranger in a brand new light. Maybe he was a hero after all, maybe he was the one to finally finish this mission and get them back to regular duty. The constant pursuit of Judas and his small army of psychopathic thugs had left them all weary and ready for early retirement. They had been so weary in fact they had failed to notice that they were being advanced on by an unseen group of Judas' best men. Without warning, bullets began to tear through the farmhouse they had been holed up in. Ripping the flimsy walls to shreds. Impact Squadron was lucky this time, they had overturned the card table and dropped to the floor, scrambling for their weapons. Most of them had managed to arm themselves, except for Brooks and Sito who were trapped together in a corner of the room, pinned down by a steady spray of bullets.

"RETURN FIRE!!!!!" MacQuarrie yelled over the din. At that command the men who had who had been able to arm themselves thumbed off the safeties from their Heckler & Koch G3A3Z assault rifles and returned fire through the small holes in the barn walls and through the now shattered windows. The G3A3Z was no lightweight weapon, it fired large 7.62mm NATO rounds which could reduce a person to shreds in seconds. The spent shells whistled throughout the small barn as they ejected from each man's weapon. Nonetheless, they were useless until they actually hit the target. They were in a well lit barn and their enemies were cloaked in the coal black night outside. They were on a bulls eye, completely pinned down, their enemy unseen. Until they could change the circumstances of their situation, all the spent shells on the dirty floor merely staved off their inevitable deaths.

"Romaine!!!" Cortez yelled, "Light up the night!!!" Romaine nodded to indicate that he understood the command and dove across the room for their weapons locker avoiding a hail of bullets by only inches. With the adrenaline coursing through his veins, the young man practically ripped the door off of the locker and pulled out a large long barreled flare gun. Bullets zipped and whistled past all of them, continuing to rip the walls to shreds. If something wasn't done soon, the old farmhouse would disintegrate around them and there would be no cover for them ti hide behind at all.

Cradling the large gun in the crook of his elbow Romaine rolled across the floor and crawled on his belly through broken glass up to the shattered window. Resting the barrel against the windowsill, he pointed in the general direction of the open sky. Romaine pulled the trigger and the gun made a hollow throaty sound as it fired. The seconds that passed felt like hours to the pinned down members of Impact Squadron as they waited for the flare to ignite and explode. Finally the charge exploded and light seared the night sky. It was time for Impact Squadron to give as good as they got.

"GO! GO! GO!" Romaine yelled as he threw the flare gun to the side and reached for his own G3A3Z. One by one the members of Impact Squadron popped up into the frame of the window and began firing and one by one they jumped through and out into the night. In the distance, behind an ancient stone fence it was easy to see their attackers in the light now being cast by the descending flare. They had about 40 seconds to get out of the farmhouse and off the bulls eye. Precious seconds ticked by as they jumped through the window and rolled to safety behind their parked jeeps. Spent brass shells dropped around their feet as bullets sang a song of death, whipping past the ears of every man in the squadron.

"I need grenades now!!" Cortez yelled, "MacQuarrie, Murrant, Johnson run around the other side of the barn and flank them!! When I give the command, we're gonna turn these guys into shit chowder!!"

At his command the three men broke into a run around to the other side of the barn. Within seconds they were out of sight. Dixon produced 3 grenades and handed them to Cortez. One by one, Cortez pulled the pin and lobbed the grenades towards the wall. The first he threw with enough force to land past the estimated location of their attackers. The second landed just a little short of the wall. The third landed at the feet of their attackers, who instantly stopped firing. Suddenly the night was silent again with only echoes of gunfire rolling across the hills.

"Fire in the hole!!!"

Mere seconds later the silence was again shattered by three explosions timed only milliseconds apart. One behind Judas' men, one in front, and one dead center on their location.

"Alpha and Beta teams engage!!" All at once the combined members of Impact Squadron charged the wall, firing all the way. Their H & K G3A3Z's tearing apart anyone who had survived the blast. It was over in seconds. Few had survived the three grenade blasts and the few that did put up very little fight as the members of Impact Squadron charged forth shooting to kill. When it was over, the silence compared to the gunfire and explosions only seconds ago was almost as deafening.

"Looks like they're all dead." Dixon reported as he examined the bodies.

"What's our status?" Cortez asked.

"Where the Hell is the General?" Francis added.

"Anybody seen Sito?" Johnson asked. They suddenly realized that their friend was no longer among them. Dread rushed in to replace the feeling of triumph as Sito stumbled into the open light through the shattered farmhouse door, blood running down his shoulder. He leaned against the door frame to support himself and looked at his friends with a smile, almost as if he was trying to reassure them that he was all right. He then promptly slumped over and fell to the ground.

"Man down!!! We need a med-kit over here double time!!!"

The picture of chaos could also be found inside the monastery turned castle that Kane calls home several kilometers down the coastline as Major Stacy Summers somersaulted forward and landed with both feet against the chest of a guard who had been looking in the opposite direction. The burly man turned towards Summers milliseconds too late and found the breath knocked from his chest and his body careening backwards down the hallway. Summers actually managed to snatch the man's gun from his hands as he fell and immediately released the safety and whirled around to fire blindly down the hall in the direction she had just come. Bullets chewed up the hallway as Angelica rounded the corner and immediately jumped into an alcove to dodge the hail of bullets.

"Damn!! I ripped my dress!!" Summers swore as she fired another burst down the hallway. When the echo died she heard Angelica's voice coming from the alcove, her tone was light and teasing as if she were discussing the Saturday night dance with a girlfriend.

"Come on now honey…. the guys are gone now it's just us gals. I know Kane and I would be real kind to you if you were to put down the gun and say…. come to the boudoir with us? Don't make me snap your neck like a little twig honey you are way too cute for that."

Summers felt her skin crawl as she fired another burst to keep the disgusting woman at bay. "I gotta get out of here."

Summers threw off her high heel shoes and sprinted down the hallway slinging the machine gun over her shoulder. Despite her concern over her own situation, Summers felt more than a pang of regret. She felt regret over what may be happening even now to her comrades in arms that comprise Impact Squadron. And she felt regret at leaving Nightwing alone with Kane. She had seen the records on Kane compiled back when he was known as "The Darwin Experiment". He was designed to be the ultimate killer. He knew all types of self defense and offense as well. He was proficient with every known type of weapon. On top of all that he could use any household item to kill a person from a candle to a kitchen fork. When he had decided that he was above the human race as a whole he escaped a maximum security army laboratory, killing thirty seven people on his way out with extreme prejudice. No one man had a chance against Kane. And yet General Walker had insisted that Nightwing was the man for the job. Summers could only barely tolerate The General at the best of times, but Colonel Young had taken a shine to the young man, and the Colonel's instincts she trusted completely.

Suddenly another large man jumped out from behind a marble statue firing an automatic weapon. Without hesitation Summers dropped to one knee and fired her own weapon. The attacker danced as if a puppet as the bullets hit him in the chest before falling to the ground. Summers took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief when she felt two strong hands seize her by the neck and pull her to her feet.

"Here kitty kitty." Angelica said as she thrust her knee into Summers back.

"You must be very good to have breached my defenses like this Nightwing. The General chose his agents well this time." Kane said as he removed his jacket and tossed it nonchalantly to the floor.

"It wasn't that hard Kane believe me. For a genetically engineered man with superior intellect you have a lot to learn. How old are you anyway? Four or five years? You should be in kindergarten not in charge of armies. You're an infant, and not a very smart one at that. I'm going to put you over my knee and spank you." Nightwing replied as he too removed his tuxedo jacket and tossed it away. Both men then started to roll up the sleeves of their shirts as they prepared for battle.

"Do you have any idea what I do to people who speak to me as if I were their equal?"

"Don't talk about it Kane. Just try it. I'm standing right here and I'm not going anywhere."

At first Nightwing thought Kane could actually fly. The genetically engineered man seemed to actually defy gravity as he jumped high in the air with seemingly little effort. He didn't know how Kane got from the point he was standing at the head of the table to having his hands around Nightwing's throat. It happened so fast his brain didn't actually have time to register the movement, Kane was simply there, his insane eyes twinkling with fury and his hands tight around Nightwing's throat. That was when Nightwing realized there was more to Kane than his appearances belied. He may have looked like any other man who took part in moderate physical exercise, but he was at least as strong as Bane or The KGBeast. Of course, that was how he was designed, to look just like anyone else. Bulging muscles attract attention, and Kane was designed to operate covertly. Reacting on pure instinct Nightwing brought his knee up with as much force as he could muster into Kane's chest. The blow drove the air from Kane's lungs and loosened his grip. Nightwing brought both feet up to Kane's chest and pushed with all the strength his legs could muster. At the same time Kane was pushed backwards into the table and Nightwing was able to somersault backwards and land on his feet across the room.

Kane regarded Nightwing with something akin to respect, his lips actually formed a smile. "No one has ever done that to me before."

"You mean you didn't foresee this happening in your crystal ball Kane? You're like The Wizard of Oz, all smoke and mirrors. Not nearly the perfect God like creature you present yourself to be."

A feral growl came from somewhere in the back of Kane's throat as he once again charged Nightwing with such speed that the Bludhaven vigilante barely had time to react. The two men grappled and fell to the floor, each managing to dodge the others blows. How long this could go on neither man knew for sure. Eventually one of them would get the upper hand, Kane smiled as he threw a punch at Nightwing which the vigilante evaded by only a hair. With his superior conditioning and genetic superiority, Kane knew he would eventually wear Nightwing down and kill him. Despite himself, Kane was impressed by this young man who had the gall to insult him not only in his own home, but in front of Angelica as well. Kane had never before experienced a challenge in this manner, everything had always been very easy for him. He found himself enjoying this encounter.

Nightwing dodged a kick from Kane and leaped in the air attempting a roundhouse kick on his foe. Kane blocked it as he had most of Nightwing's other attacks and redoubled his own efforts to break through Dick's defenses. The two men moved as if they were on a film moving at double or even triple speed. Punching, kicking, spinning and whirling almost as if they were in an intricate dance rather than trying to take each others lives. Nightwing knew that he was taking a risk staying here in the dining hall to face Kane alone, but he knew that this was the risk he had to take in order to get Summers to safety. Kane began throwing dinner plates and ripping paintings off the wall to throw at Nightwing, luckily he managed to avoid most of the thrown objects and back flipped further away from the rampaging madman. Dick counted off the seconds in his head, if Summers was as competent as she seemed she must be well away from the dining hall by now and hopefully out of the building. It was time to lead Kane on a little chase in the opposite direction. Just as Kane was about to throw a platter of food at Dick, he somersaulted high over Kane's head and landed behind him, the two men were back to back now and Dick knew he had to seize this split second opportunity before the impossibly fast Kane could turn around. Dick reached back with his hands and grabbed on to Kane's ponytail. Summoning all his strength, he pulled and Kane was lifted off his feet and flipped over Nightwing's back by his own ponytail. Kane landed in a heap screaming in pain.

"I thought you were supposed to be fast….. I don't think The Flash needs to worry about you stealing his reputation as the fastest man on Earth." Nightwing taunted.

Kane reached back and grabbed the hairs that had been pulled out of his head by Nightwing, examining them in his hand. "I'm going to eat your heart……."

"IF you can catch me." Nightwing replied with a smile as he broke into a sprint down the main hallway. Kane immediately followed.

"You're playing God Kane." Nightwing called over his shoulder, "No one can do that."

"Who says I'm playing God? I am a God compared to you." Kane replied.

"Funny how I just whipped your tail, not very Godlike is it?"

Kane jumped with all his might and covered over fifteen feet in one leap, he landed on Nightwing's back. The two toppled to the ground and skidded along the marble floors trading bone crunching blows as they went. Nightwing rolled onto his back and landed several kicks against Kane's chest. Dick knew that here in closed quarters, Kane had the advantage and he would use it to his full ability. Kane was pushed back by the impact of Nightwing's kicks and Dick again leaped to his feet. Kane retaliated by moving with his blinding speed and grabbing Nightwing by the throat once again. Nightwing reached out with both hands and grabbed his foe by the wrist in his own iron grip. Kane refused to let go of Nightwing's throat and continued to apply pressure. Dick felt his air supply being cut off and in desperation he pulled on Kane's wrist with both hands, pulling the man off his feet once more. Nightwing had no idea where he was throwing Kane, he had assumed it would be into a wall. Instead, Kane was sent through a stained glass window depicting Jesus with several children at his feet bathed in sunlight. The glass shattered at Kane's impact and he fell through into an adjoining room. Dick expected that the impact would make Kane release his grip on his throat, he was surprised to find that Kane had no intention whatsoever of letting go of him and was pulled through what remained of the window by his own throat.

Nightwing landed with as much weight as he possibly could on Kane, driving a wedge of shattered glass into the genetically engineered man's arm. Kane howled in agony as he finally let go of Dick's throat. Dick scrambled backwards and his chest heaved as he fought to fill his lungs with much needed air. Without even stopping to pull the glass from his arm Kane charged Nightwing and tackled him once more. The two stumbled backwards into another stained glass window which they shattered together. This time Dick felt a piece of glass pierce his own skin and he yelped with pain as the two fell into an adjacent hallway. Both men paused when they noticed they had come upon Major Summers and Angelica exchanging karate kicks.

"I thought you were leaving!!!" Nightwing yelled to Summers.

"I thought you were keeping him busy!!!" Summers responded as she punched Angelica in the mouth.

"Men!!!" Angelica exclaimed in frustration as she back kicked her opponent in the ribs, sending Summers reeling.

"All is ready Master Bruce. Your hunting gear and anything else you may require is in the cargo hold." They were gathered at Flanders Airfield, a small recreational landing strip seven miles outside the Gotham city limits. Bruce's plane was a commercial version of the Typhoon 313 B that they had been following, recently purchased by Wayne Enterprises. The small airstrip suited their needs perfectly and had been mostly abandoned since the quake. Bruce wore a leather jacket over a dark blue shirt and black cargo pants, his Batman uniform was stored in the cargo hold. Alfred, Tim, and even Barbara Gordon had gathered there in the wee hours of the morning to wish him luck.

"Bring him home to us…. and be careful." Barbara said with more than a hint of worry for both Dick and Bruce in her voice.

"Ditto from me." Tim said as he handed Bruce his sunglasses and gloves.

"Godspeed sir." Alfred added.

Bruce climbed up into the cockpit and put on his gloves as he spoke. "Don't worry, I won't come back without him."

He shut the cockpit hatch and started the engines as Barbara, Tim, and Alfred moved back to a safe distance from the plane. Bruce looked out the window one last time at his friends and gunned the engines. The plane raced down the short runway and seconds later lifted off. Barbara, Tim, and Alfred watched as the plane went airborne, silhouetted by the rising sun. Finally Bruce was alone with his thoughts, he banked the plane out towards The Atlantic Ocean and straight into the rising sun. He forced himself to relax his tense muscles as he settled in for the long flight. Dick could be in serious danger at this very second, and there was nothing he could do to help. He had spent his entire life being in control of everything. Every situation, every detail was put under a microscope to prevent what happened to his parents from ever happening to anyone ever again. This situation was beyond his control and he hated it. He reviled it. There was nothing Bruce Wayne liked less than when fate choose to remind him that he couldn't control everything.

He reminded himself that Dick was trained at his feet. As Robin, he had become a hero, as Nightwing he had become a man. Bruce had been forming a theory about why Dick had been kidnaped. Tim was right, they didn't mean to harm him. They needed him. For what Bruce didn't know yet. He knew however that the task they would need Dick's talents for would be dangerous in the extreme, something no one else could do. He felt rage well up inside him as he thought of Dick being put in danger for someone else's purposes, to fulfill someone else's agenda. Dick had become everything Bruce had hoped for him and more. He was a detective, a fighter, a friend, and a son. When he arrived in Crete he would hunt down Dick's captors and make them wish they had never heard of Nightwing….. or Batman.

At first Nightwing counted his blessings that the majority of Kane's men were out attacking Impact Squadron but then he realized that some if not all of The Squadron would be injured or even killed by the attack. Whatever they had done to him personally, they didn't deserve that. Nonetheless there were only a few interruptions by gun toting guards which either Summers or Nightwing dispatched with ease. The real threat was Angelica and Kane, who fought like demons possessed. The entire plan was to escape Kane's stronghold and come back for Colonel Young as soon as they could get some backup and come up with a plan. Now that Summers was fighting Angelica and Nightwing more than had his hands full with Kane, all they could possibly hope for at this moment was to survive.

Without a floor plan of the castle they were in they had no way of knowing if they were fighting their way to freedom or if they were fighting their way to a dead end hallway. Something had to be done. Dick knew their chances would improve greatly if they could get outside. The foursome battled their way towards another large area of stained glass windows and Nightwing decided it was time to take a chance. Snapping out a quick one two punch at to Kane's nose, he somersaulted backwards and threw a vase of flowers at Angelica. The vase connected with her leg and the voluptuous redhead fell to one knee. Seizing the opportunity, Nightwing grabbed Summers, her weapon from the floor, and threw the major over his shoulder.

"Get back here little man!!!" Kane bellowed as he ran for Nightwing and Summers. Nightwing hurled himself at the window and heard it shatter in a dissonant symphony as he shielded Summers from the breaking glass with his own body. The next instant they were airborne, two stories above the ground.

"We're gonna die!!" Summers yelled.

"No….. we're not." Nightwing replied calmly as he twisted in midair. "Just go limp. I've got you."

The pair tumbled for what seemed like an eternity to Summers. She was well trained in weaponry, explosives and mortal combat but this was completely new to her. Nightwing moved through the air as if he was a fish moving through water. Completely at home, and his fighting skills impressed even her. He had battled Kane to a standstill, something no one had ever done. This handsome man was obviously far more than his appearances indicated. He could be deadly if he choose to be, and he could have left her there at Kane's mercy and escape on his own. But he didn't. Nearby there were several locust trees, Summers swore that they were too far out of reach and that they would fall to their deaths. Amazingly, Nightwing's arm reached out and grasped a branch firmly. Together they dropped down branch by branch until they hit the ground. That was when she noticed the shards of glass sticking out of Nightwing's back, blood was running profusely now.

"Oh my God…. your back!!!!" She exclaimed as he finally set her on her on the ground on her own two feet.

"It's going to be a lot more than my back unless we keep moving.. COME ON!!!"

Above them, Kane and Angelica were watching them land. Once again Kane's lips formed into a smile. Unlike earlier, this smile was not devoid of joy.

"Impressive." He whispered to Angelica.

Angelica whirled around to shout orders to the remaining guards, taking one of their automatic weapons for herself. Together they all broke into a run for the main doors. Nightwing and Angelica would not get far.

"What are we doing?" Summers whispered to Nightwing as they broke into a large secondary building on Kane's compound. The building was much newer looking in appearance than Kane's castle and Nightwing assumed there must be some form of transportation within.

"We're getting out of here. We have to regroup with Impact Squadron and think up a new plan. Kane knew we were coming."

When they entered the darkened room they both could feel that the air temperature in the room was much lower than it was outside. The room was being refrigerated. Nightwing found a switch and turned it on. One by one a series of lights flicked on and they saw what they had hoped to see… and more. Sitting there besides several helicopters, jeeps, trucks and cars, sat barrels stacked three high. Each one marked with the universal sign of the skull and crossbones, meaning that this was where Kane was keeping at least some of Ebola Omega Virus here.

"Am I correct in thinking the best way to destroy this stuff is burn it?" Nightwing asked.


"Then we need to burn it."

Across the compound, Kane, Angelica, and eight armed guards burst through the main doors to the castle, weapons firing.

"We don't have much time and this might not be all of it."

"It's a start anyway!!" Nightwing replied as he started to syphon gasoline out of a nearby jeep using a hose he found in the emergency equipment locker in the jeep's cab and sprayed the barrels with it. Summers popped her head out the door and fired off two three round bursts at Kane and his group as they ran across the compound, causing them to run for cover.

"My weapon is about to run dry here!!!" Summers called to him. Nightwing emptied the contents of the gas tank on the barrels and looked around for an appropriate vehicle to get away in. His eyes immediately feel upon the Bell AH-1W Twin Engine Super Cobra Helicopter. It had been far too long since he had used his piloting skills but it was there best chance for escape. He rushed over to the panel of switches where he found the lights and turned them all on. As he suspected, one of them retracted the roof. He heard a sharp metallic snap as if locks were being undone, which was followed by a loud hum as the roof itself began to slide away. He ran to Summers and took her by the hand.

"It's time to go." Kane, Angelica, and the oncoming guards were only a few feet away.

"Any idea where Kane gets these great toys?" Nightwing asked as he belted himself in and started the engines.

"The man's a genius as well as a killer. He invests his money with more skill than the best stockbroker and he buys a lot of this stuff on the black market."

Kane and Angelica burst through the door just as they were about to lift off. From inside the cockpit they couldn't quite hear what Kane was saying, but the look on his face said it all. Kill them. The helicopter lifted off the ground and straight into the air. Angelica aimed her weapon and fired not at the cockpit, but at the fuel tank. A small light on the main board started to blink, telling them what they already knew.

"We're losing fuel." Summers said.

"That's ok they're too late to stop us and we have enough fuel to get out of here. Not to mention this…" Nightwing replied as he banked the aircraft forward and thumbed the safety off of the trigger on the main firing switch. Seconds later, two rockets hurtled away from the helicopter and towards the cavernous garage. Below them, Kane, Angelica, and the guards all ran as quickly as they could for safety. In the blink of an eye the garage erupted in a conflagration that was noticed on spy satellites miles above. Flames billowed high in the air, aided by the gasoline Nightwing syphoned from the jeep. What stores of Ebola Omega that existed in that garage were now being swept up in flames, destroying it completely. Nightwing guided the helicopter out over the sea. He planned on flying straight down the coastline to rendezvous with whatever remained of Impact Squadron. That was when Kane played his final hand of the evening.

On the ground, Kane fumed with anger. He would have Nightwing's head on a platter for his amusement. He would perform his operations on Nightwing without using anaesthetic. He would show him his own heart just before it stopped beating. Regaining his control, Kane grabbed the guard nearest to him. He reached down and undid the man's webbed ammo belt. As a rule, Kane insisted that each guard patrolling the perimeter carry a flare gun to warn others that an attack was imminent. He grabbed the flare gun and aimed it directly at the fuel tank for the helicopter, which was now well over the two story drop down to the rocks below. Kane pulled the trigger.

Once again on the main board a light started flashing with more urgency than even the fuel light had a moment ago. Below the light a small panel lit up with one word, "Incoming"

"We have to get out of here!! I hope you know how to swim!!!" Nightwing yelled as he freed himself from the belt restraints and opened the cockpit door. Summers' eyes widened as she opened the cockpit and looked down at the churning water below.

"Are you crazy?" She yelled over the wailing wind.

"No time to argue!!" And they both leaped from the vehicle only seconds before the flare found the fuel tank of the helicopter, which was promptly engulfed in a ball of flame.

Chapter 7: Dead AND Alive

"With the power of this discovery comes the responsibility to use it wisely." - British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the completed mapping of the human genome. - June 26th 2001

Major Stacy Summers was not in the best of shape as she stumbled down the deserted dirt road that led to the farmhouse where she had last seen Impact Squadron alive. If the circumstances were different she would be enjoying herself immensely as she walked through the countryside at night. Frogs were chirping, the weather was warm and inviting, and the magnificent coastline which the road followed could be breathtaking under normal tourist circumstances. These were, however, not normal circumstances by any means. She paused for a moment to rip away another tatter from the dress she wore which was supplied by Kane earlier in the evening, after what she had been through in the past two hours the garment was completely ruined. She had torn away the ripped areas making the ankle length dress now end well above the knee.

"Someone's going to think I'm a hooker if this dress gets any shorter." She mumbled to herself as she tossed the ripped piece of dress to the side of the road and continued on. She could now see the farmhouse in the distance and she broke into a brisk jog as she took in the scene. There were no sounds of gunfire, and the lights were on. She hoped that was a good sign. As she ran her she reviewed in her mind all the things that had happened in the past several hours. She had met this Nightwing character, who had saved her life several times in just one day. With his aid, they had surpassed anyone else's efforts to get at Kane and his supply of the biological weapon known as Ebola Omega. They had destroyed a great supply of the vile bug, but they had no way of knowing if that was the extent of Kane's deadly cache. She marveled at Nightwing's fighting ability as she remembered seeing him go one on one with Kane and actually survive. No one had ever done that before. Then she remembered going up in the helicopter with him, which exploded only minutes later as they were over the sea. That was when she heard the footsteps rushing out of the nearby woods and the voices she knew all too well. Her face broke into a smile as she heard them, she knew if Impact Squadron was alive, someone would be doing a perimeter patrol.

"FREEZE!!!" It was Johnson's voice.

"Stand down Johnson, it's Major Summers!! Clearance code Alpha-Charlie-Nine-Nine-Omega!!" She yelled as she raised her hands in the air.

"Major?!? Damn we thought you were dead!!!" At the proper clearance code from Summers Johnson holstered his weapon and removed his communicator from his belt which he used to signal ahead, informing Impact Squadron that Summers was alive and he was escorting her in. Erupting from the farmhouse in an excited crowd, the men of Impact Squadron ran out to meet her, they were obviously shocked to see her, but pleasantly so.

"I don't believe it!! You're alive!!!" Cortez whooped in triumph as he hugged Summers, obviously thrilled to see her alive. When he was done hugging her he let everyone else in the Squad do exactly the same thing as he yelled over the triumphant din, "Captain Emilio Cortez relinquishing command to you Major Summers!!" He then gave her a stiff military salute, which she felt ridiculous returning in a tattered evening gown, nonetheless she did so.

"You're returning command to me Emilio? Where is General Walker? Is he hurt?"

"We don't know where The General is Major. It's like he disappeared into thin air." Cortez replied. This spiked Summers curiosity, but first she wanted to attend to the men under her command.

"Is everyone okay here?" She asked, "What is our status?" At this question the crowd of men became silent.

"I think you better see this Major." Cortez replied as he put his hand on her elbow and guided her into the building. When they were inside she saw Sito, lying on the floor, his side covered in blood soaked bandages. He was conscious, but just barely. She rushed over to him and dabbed a cold cloth on his forehead as she examined his wounds. She asked Cortez what had happened, Cortez replied in an efficient manner that did not betray his concern for his fallen comrade.

"A small army of Judas' men hit us pretty hard. It was Sito who heard them first. We were pinned down here and Sito was unable to get his weapon. He was caught in a crossfire and a couple of bullets chewed up his right side pretty bad. Corporal Murrant really had his medic training put to the test but he managed to patch him up." Summers turned her attention to Murrant, "Will he live?" She asked.

Murrant stepped forward and cleared his throat before he spoke, "I managed to get him stabilized but he needs more than I can do for him here with this equipment. He's out of any immediate danger but he will die if don't get him to proper facilities."

Summers closed her eyes and rubbed her temples at this, even more bad news. "Damn."

Cortez was the next one to speak, "Major, may I ask, where's the Colonel and Nightwing?"

Summers sighed as she recalled the details of the last few hours before she responded to the question. "Emilio, Colonel Young is currently a captive of Judas, who is now calling himself Kane. He was alive and apparently unharmed the last time I saw him, but just barely. As for Nightwing….." She paused before she answered, almost physically injured by the memory. "Nightwing and I managed to destroy a supply of Kane's Ebola virus, but when we tried to get away in a helicopter, Kane destroyed it. We were forced to jump into the sea, we were separated after that. I couldn't find him when I broke the surface of the water, I think he must have died when he hit the water, probably broke his neck. Although it seems strange that the fall would kill him, he moved through the air like a trapeze artist, but there was no net to break our fall here."

Silence hung over the room like a funeral procession as they realized the implications of her news. Nightwing was supposed to be the man who would bring down Kane. Walker believed it, Young was beginning to believe it, and Impact Squadron was beginning to believe it. With him dead, what hope there was for the mission to succeed died as well.

"And now the General is missing? What the hell is going on Major?" Cortez asked as he handed her a spare uniform to replace her tattered dress.

"I don't know Cortez……. I just don't know."

Kane slammed shut his copy of The Torah as Neil Anderson entered the room, his gun in hand and a smile on his face. The entire complex was buzzing as Kane's remaining men packed all his necessary belongings in crates and barrels, obviously preparing to leave the abandoned monastery. Kane sat in a leather massaging recliner specially outfitted to massage his muscles more vigorously than a normal massage chair one would buy on the retail market would.

"Sorry to interrupt." Anderson offered.

"What is it?" Kane asked.

"You have a visitor. He just showed up at the front gates and asked for you. He is unarmed." Anderson stepped aside and their visitor stepped into the room. Kane smiled and jumped from the chair as he rushed to greet the man. General Douglas Walker, dressed in full Class A military dress uniform, entered the room and embraced Kane while Anderson left the room.

"Judas, it has been too long my son." Walker said as they embraced.

"You still think of me as a son? After all I have done General? You humble me, and please call me Kane. I much prefer it to Judas." He replied as he led Walker to a bar where he poured them both a glass of wine and offered one to The General, which he accepted.

"Always with the Biblical references Kane?" Walker asked as he took a drink of wine, "We code named you Judas because he is seen as history's greatest traitor. I did feel betrayed when you left us. I didn't think you capable of turning on the man who gave you life."

Kane smiled even more broadly at The General's reasoning, "You were indeed in charge of the Darwin Experiment which gave me life General, but you did not specifically give me life. You're teams of lab technicians did that for you. I killed them all when I left you because they saw me as nothing more than a lab rat, when I was quickly becoming their superiors."

Walker walked across the room and sat down in the massage chair where he noticed the copy of The Torah on the table beside the chair. He picked it up and examined it as he sipped the wine. "Have you perfected your ability to use The Bible Code to see the future? You were only beginning to experiment with it when you left me."

"Indeed I have father. I have taken it to new levels only imagined by scientists. How do you think I knew when and where you and your men would attack? I can see the future just by looking at the pages. I don't need computers like Dr. Rips did."

Walker shook his head in amazement at Kane's accomplishments, " I sometimes wonder what part of me is inside you Kane. We both know some of the DNA fragments in your genetic makeup belong to me. I can't help but wonder if that part of me which is in you caused you to do brilliant things like this, or if it is because of me you have become an unprincipled killer?"

Kane took a sip of wine and walked to the other side of the room as he admired an Escher painting hung on the wall. "Yes it is true, there is no one else who is closer to being my father than you General. For all intents and purposes, I am your son. You headed the project that created me, some portions of my own DNA are modeled on yours. I suppose that's why I can't understand why you keep hunting me down and trying to kill me."

"Son you must understand, I have people I must answer to. People who see The Darwin Experiment as a complete failure and hold me responsible. I had two choices, kill you or bring you back. That's why I'm here."

Kane walked around behind Walkers chair as he continued to sip his wine, "You have led Impact Squadron to me father, you did that. They tried to kill me here tonight, they must have done that under your orders."

Walker actually began to laugh at Kane's statement, "As good as they are, Impact Squadron never had a chance against you my boy and you know it. You're too smart for them."

"And this Nightwing character?"

"You have to understand, I was under pressure to bring in a special operative to finish the mission. He was very very good, but still no match for you. I understand that you have probably slaughtered the remaining people under my command. Nightwing is probably dead as well. The entire mission is a total failure because I made you TOO well. Now I'm here, in person, asking you to come back with me. I swear you will never be treated as a curiosity or lab rat ever again. You will be my most prized operative, and a son that I am very proud of."

Kane dropped his glass of wine to the floor and reached out, grabbing Walker with both hands on either side of his head. Walker immediately panicked and tried to get out of the chair, but Kane's awesome strength held him in place. Walker felt Kane start to apply pressure on his skull and he struggled to get away.

"I'm sorry father, there's nothing you can offer me that would make me forget how I was treated. Nothing could make me see the human race as anything but a virus to be eliminated."

In his chair Walker squirmed and thrashed around as he tried to escape Kane's grip and the increasing pressure on his skull, "Please!! Let go……. I can help you……" he pleaded as tears began to stream down his face.

"Don't you see father? You have helped me. You created me, you taught me how to do what I do best. Allow me to demonstrate." Kane applied even more pressure and felt Walker's skull implode, blood gushed from The General's eyes, mouth, and nose as he went limp. Whatever spark of life existed in Douglas Walker left him and his body slumped over in the chair. Kane released his grip and wiped his hands on a towel. Once again Neil Anderson entered the room, this time joined by Angelica, who was dressed in camouflage attire similar to the rest of Kane's men. They both grimaced slightly at the sight of the dead man in the chair.

"What are your orders my love?" Angelica asked as she removed several of Walker's medals from his uniform jacket and pinned them to her own uniform. Kane thought a moment and turned to face them. "I have consulted The Torah, and it cannot tell me whether this Nightwing is alive or dead. Have we recovered their bodies?" Anderson informed them that they had not recovered any bodies and were not likely to for some time considering the strong currents in the water. Kane continued, "I have a hard time believing they survived the fall. Even I would be hard pressed to survive it. Call off the search for their bodies, we don't have time to deal with that right now. We are vulnerable here, but fortunately my superior intellect has allowed for me to continue on according to schedule. Continue loading everything we need onto the planes, we'll leave in an hour for the rock and our new home. Nightwing managed to destroy some of my supply of Ebola Omega but not all. We have enough in the basement storage room to carry out the main objective of my plan. We just won't be able to carry out the second objective but in any case, the second objective is only a safety measure, to make sure the human race is destroyed. Overkill on my part really. Sedate our captive and take him with us, he will make a valuable informant and hostage." Kane continued as he pulled a large map and a ruler our of a nearby desk and started to line up the ruler with certain coordinates. "Do you have the currency I requested?" Kane asked Anderson. Anderson nodded and left the room only a moment later to return with a large suitcase which he placed on the table next to Kane.

"Excellent. Should we have any problems with locals we'll certainly be able to smooth them over with this. Load the planes and hurry, I want to be set up and running at our new home by this time tomorrow, when no one can find us, no one can stop us. Oh and have somebody get rid of…. that." he said as he indicated the former General Douglas Walker. Having received their orders, Angelica and Anderson left the room and started shouting orders to their men. Kane finished his examination of the map and looked across the room at his creator. After a moment's contemplation he sneered in disgust and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Nightwing could not believe his eyes as he watched Kane leave the room. As he peered in the window he could plainly see the former General Douglas Walker dead in the chair which continued to massage his dead body. The scene was macabre to say the least. Still, he had no regrets about his chosen course of action. After leaping from the exploding helicopter he managed to hit the water cleanly, just barely avoiding a spinal injury. Luckily the water was deep enough that both he and Major Summers could survive. The currents posed another problem, the tide was going out and he was hampered by the glass still embedded in his flesh. Thrown against a rock outcropping by the waves, the Bludhaven vigilante was momentarily stunned and separated from Summers by the currents. He recovered consciousness to realize he was drowning, gasping for air he made his way to shore. In the distance he noticed Summers sprinting down the coastline and into the nearby woods. Good. At least she survived the fall. One of Kane's armed search parties prevented him from yelling out to her and he quietly made his way up the cliff face once again and approached the house under cover of darkness.

Ripping away the rest of his tuxedo shirt he managed to remove the shards of glass without passing out from the pain and wrapped the garment tightly around his wounds to slow the bleeding. He noticed the buzz of activity around the courtyard and noticed several of Kane's men in the distance removing a camouflage tarp from three medium sized aircraft bigger than the plane Impact Squadron had been using. Kane was obviously bugging out now after the dent he and Summers had put in his operations. Luckily everyone was too busy to even notice Nightwing. When he came across the window where he found Kane, he hid behind some nearby shrubbery as he watched and listened. What he learned was very enlightening. Kane did indeed have more of his Ebola Omega virus in a basement storage area. Across the yard he noticed several men in containment suits carrying out similar barrels to the ones he destroyed earlier on a medical trolley of some kind. He knew that each barrel probably only contained a few vials of the foul virus surrounded by a coolant and containment fields, but there was more than enough to cause a plague of global proportions. His skin crawled at the thought of people exposed to the virus, their skin melting and their bodies in spasms so violent they broke their own backs. He had some experience with the plague unleashed on Gotham City months ago, but this would make even that disaster seem like an outbreak of the flu.

He also learned that Colonel Young was, thankfully, still alive and would remain relatively unharmed for the time being. "He's a good man," Nightwing thought to himself, "Too good to be harmed by Walker's betrayal." He made a silent resolution to himself to somehow get Young out of Kane's clutches. How he would do that he didn't know quite yet. As Kane left the room Nightwing popped the window open silently and climbed into the room. Ignoring Walker's dead body he walked over to the desk where Kane had been working. The map and suitcase where Kane had left them. He had heard Kane mention their "new home" which he referred to as "the rock". That still gave him little to work with. If Kane got away now they would lose him forever. He could strike at any time. Nightwing knew Kane thought he and Summers were dead. Walker was dead and Young was his hostage. All the senior officers of Impact Squadron were eliminated in his mind and who knows what remained of Francis, Cortez, Sito and the others? Surely they were not all dead, but enough of them to reduce Impact Squadron to an ineffectual part of the equation. At least, so Kane assumed. He and Summers were dead to Kane, and that gave them some breathing room. You don't hunt someone who is already dead.

Nightwing examined the map, it was a map of the entire globe. They could be going anywhere. He remembered Kane's referral to their new home as the rock and looked at the map again. There were several possibilities. He then noticed the ruler with which Kane was triangulating coordinates. It was a standard metric ruler with a metal edge, an edge that would leave an impression on the map if he was lucky. He picked up the map and held it up to the desk lamp, his eyes straining to see what was barely visible. Time was running out he knew. Kane would be back very soon. That's when he saw it. A straight line starting from their coordinates in Crete in a Southwesterly direction. He followed the line downwards to Australia. Mentally he made a note of the latitude and longitude where the indentation ended. It was a location in an area known as the Great Sandy Desert in Northern Australia. It was then that the picture crystallized in his mind, suddenly it all began to make sense. "Oh my God….."

"Kane would need huge crowds of people from all over the world. A multinational event." He whispered aloud as he mulled the idea over in his head, it made more and more sense as he thought about it. "The Summer Olympics in Australia…… he could release it in airports, Olympic pavilions, even concession stands, tourists and athletes would take it back to their home countries." He realized that the supplies of Ebola he destroyed earlier were probably backups. A smaller store of the disease to be released on other continents perhaps, to ensure the fall of humanity. Kane was correct, it was overkill to be sure.

At that moment Nightwing heard the doorknob turning. Someone was entering the room, he had only seconds to hide. Coiling the muscles in his legs, Nightwing jumped backward toward the bookshelf along the wall and with catlike agility scaled it to the top. Beneath him Neil Anderson entered the room and unlocked the suitcase. He opened it to reveal that it was stuffed to capacity with Australian currency, confirming all of Nightwing's suspicions. Anderson let out a low whistle as he surveyed the case full of money and carried it with him as he left the room. Seconds later two men came in and carried out Walker's body. As they left he dropped to the floor. He had learned all that he could here. He was in no shape to take on Kane right now, he had to get away and find Major Summers and whatever remained of Impact Squadron. Together they had to come up with a plan to defeat Kane and eliminate the threat his Ebola virus stores presented to the entire world. Silently he climbed out the window just as Kane entered once again with Angelica.

"Make sure the charges are set Angelica. I want this place completely destroyed, and make sure we have enough warheads on board so that no one will dare try and stop us should we be discovered." She acknowledged his orders and ran out of the room. Nightwing spared a moment for one final glance at Kane and disappeared into the garden. Before long he was climbing back down the sheer cliff and on the shore. He began a steady jog down the coastline where Summers and the rest of Impact Squadron would be. When he was almost a half a mile away he heard the roar of jets and he watched as three silver painted military type aircraft roared out over the water followed seconds later by an ear splitting explosion at what once was Kane's compound. He knew from the size of the explosion that the place would be leveled leaving little or no clues to be found. He was glad he had taken the opportunity to get information on Kane's destination when he did. If he had not, they would have virtually no chance of finding him.

"See you down under Kane." He said softly as he resumed his jog down the coastline. He was beginning to feel weak, no doubt from the blood loss earlier. He had to make it back to Impact Squadron, Nightwing quickened his pace.

45 minutes later……

Stacy Summers didn't like doing what she was doing but she had no choice. They had lost their two top ranking officers and their special recruit on whom all their hopes for a successful mission were pinned. On top of all that, Sito was wounded and needed medical care. Sito was one of those men that comprised the backbone of any group. Easygoing, dedicated, talented, and reliable, she had always liked Sito as did everyone even if they made fun of him. Sito always knew it was good natured ribbing. She wasn't about to let yet another person be killed thanks to Kane and his men. Impact Squadron was now hers to command and her first priority was the well being of those under her command. She knew that Colonel Young would agree with her. His first concern would be the men. Get them to safety, see to their well being, and them come after him. It was difficult for her, she admired and respected Colonel Young. He was a born leader, when his men felt pain, so did he. When they bleed, he bleeds as well. He was also proud of them, they all knew that he saw them all as his children and if they were to die, he would be proud to die by their side. That's what made it so tough for her to leave him in Kane's hands while she got the men to safety.

"No one ever said command would be easy." She thought to herself.

She watched as they loaded the plane with their weapons and other gear, they had already stretchered Sito onto the plane where he was resting in relative comfort. They would have to get new orders and find Kane all over again, or so she thought. That was when she heard MacQuarrie, who was walking perimeter, "YO!!! Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen, somebody's coming in along the road. Identity unknown!!"

Within seconds they had all armed themselves and took up firing positions around the farmhouse. The silhouetted figure ran up to the farmhouse and collapsed in a heap just as Impact Squadron jumped out from their places and prepared to fire. "Hold your fire!!" Summers yelled. Her jaw fell in surprise as she laid eyes on a totally exhausted Nightwing, still bleeding from the cuts on his body. With extreme effort, he raised his head from the ground and smiled at her, "Glad to see you found something else to wear, not that the dress was all that bad………." he said as he faded in and out of consciousness.

Nightwing floated back to consciousness and allowed his vision to adjust to the minimal lighting of his surroundings. He slowly became aware of several things, first that he was on a stretcher inside Impact Squadron's aircraft, the second was that he felt much better, and thirdly Stacy Summers was sitting beside him.

"Are you all right?" She whispered to him.

"Australia……. he's gone to Australia." His voice was hoarse and his throat sore.

"Are you sure?" She asked.

"Yes…. we have to get there as soon as possible. General Walker is dead too. He showed up while I was watching the place, Kane killed him." He choked out the words.

"It sounds like you have a plan." She replied as she gave him a drink of water from a canteen to soothe his throat. "But we have an injured man here. Sito has been shot and I need to get him to a medical facility as soon as possible. We're prepping for takeoff right now. As for The General, he abandoned us in our time of need and The Colonel is in Kane's hands now thanks to Walker. I can't say he's at the top of my priority list right now, you and Sito surviving are my main concern. I need to get you to a hospital facility."

Nightwing tried to sit up and immediately fell back again, his head throbbing. "Take it easy, you lost blood and you need to rest." She cautioned him.

"How bad is Sito?"

"He's stable but he needs more help than we can give him here."

"We'll only get one chance to capitalize on this Stacy, he thinks we're dead. I know what his plans are now, I think I know how to stop him."

Summers was quiet for several minutes as she considered their situation, Dick could tell that she was weighing the pros and cons of the situation. As ranking officer it was her decision to make. The burden of command fell directly on her shoulders and no one else's. Sito was a good friend, but he was one man, the fate of the entire human race was at stake. Finally, she lowered her face to Nightwing's and pressed her lips to his in a soft, tender kiss.

"What was that for?" He asked when she broke off the kiss.

"That was for surviving. We're going to need you in Australia." She smiled as she turned her attention to Cortez in the main cabin, "Captain Cortez!! Once we're in the air get us to Australia ASAP. Have our finest medics ready as soon as we touch down for Sito and Nightwing, and get Professor Quartermane to meet us there too. We'll have need of him and his toys when we get there."

"Aye Major." He replied as he shut the pressure door and the engines began their startup process.

"Feel free to kiss me again anytime." Dick whispered to her.

"Don't make me give you a sedative."

Chapter 8: Lock and Load

Barbara Gordon wheeled her chair across the floor so fast that she ran into her work desk with enough force to almost knock her to the floor. Her haste was a result of the flashing icon on her computer desktop indicating that she had an incoming message. A small window popped up on the screen informing her of the callers identity, when she saw who it was she dropped her cup of coffee that she was in the midst of pouring to the counter top and wheeled herself across the floor with all the strength in her arms. Her chair hit the desk hard and pushed her backward slightly, causing her to curse under her breath as she scrambled for the keyboard and opened the line. If Batman was contacting her he must have news of Dick and his whereabouts. She hadn't been able to sleep properly since she was informed of his kidnaping, and any news was preferable at this point to not knowing anything about his fate. Dick and Barbara had become much closer over the past months, culminating in a passionate kiss in her apartment. She often wondered what would have happened if that kiss had not been interrupted by The Huntress, Petit, and his squad of goons looking to raid Oracle of her knowledge and resources in No Man's Land. She had admitted to Dick that her feelings for him were stronger than that of simple friendship, and they always had been. She also told him that she wasn't ready to give in to those feelings due to her disability. Now that Dick was missing, she wished with all her might to have that time back so that she might tell him she did love him, and that she wanted him more than any other. She sighed in despair over the precious time wasted as the line opened. The message was audio only, and within seconds Batman's deep resonant voice filtered in over her speakers, interrupting Barbara's thoughts.


"Did you find him?" She asked with no preamble.

There was a moments silence on the line as he tried to form the words he needed, immediately her heart began to sink, it was bad news. Please don't let him be dead.

"I'm in Crete, I just landed twenty minutes ago. Nightwing isn't here, and neither is the Typhoon 313 plane they were using. I missed them." For a moment, Oracle allowed relief to wash over her entire body. There was at least a chance that he was still alive. He wasn't dead. Thank God he's not dead.

"What's your plan?" She asked.

"I'll need you to find that plane again. I know it's a huge favor to ask. They could be anywhere." Oracle immediately brought up another window and initiated her search as she spoke to the cowled crime fighter. "I can do it, I found it once I can do it again. It's going to take some time though. What are you going to do in the meantime?"

"Nightwing may be gone but there are lots of clues left in his wake. There are some dead bodies here, and wherever they came from they left tracks leading up the coastline. I'm going to backtrack them and see where they lead. I think there is plenty I can learn here while I wait for you to find them again." Oracle sighed with relief as she began her search, obviously wherever Nightwing was he was giving as good as he got. "Okay my search is initiated, I'll let you know the moment I have something, do you want me to pass on this news to the manor?"

"No reason to alarm them until we know something concrete Oracle. Contact me the instant you have the information we need."

"Will do. Good luck."

"To us both Oracle." And as Oracle began yet another search program, an ocean away, Batman broke into a sprint along the coastline, following the tracks left by Kane's henchmen, his mind on constant alert, his body ready for action at a moment's notice. Dick may be gone from this place, but he was determined to use this time to learn as much as he could about the current situation. He had learned that whoever these dead men were, they were not the men that kidnaped Dick. They did not wear the same footwear as that which left the footprint on the floor of Dick's apartment, and yet those same footprints could be found in the area surrounding the farmhouse at which he had landed. There was also a copious amount of spent shells from many weapons. Whatever had transpired here, the forces that kidnaped Dick seemed to come out on the winning side. In the distance he noticed a small fire around a series of buildings that looked both modern and ancient. He picked up his pace and ran at full speed toward the scene of destruction. The tracks seemed to lead directly back to the scene of destruction in the distance.

When he got there he saw that the buildings were surrounded by a large wall which he easily scaled. As he alighted on the other side he saw what remained of the buildings, they were all burning to the ground and he quickly determined by the patterns of the explosions that the destruction was caused by a series of explosive charges throughout the buildings, no doubt set deliberately. Despite himself a quick smile passed across his face, this has Dick's fingerprints all over it he thought to himself. He scanned the debris and could see only one body which he cautiously made his way to through the flaming debris. As he turned the body over he felt the bile rise in his throat and willed himself to keep from vomiting. It was a disgusting sight to say the least. The first thing that struck him was the man's face. It was completely misshapen and dried blood had been pouring from his eyes, nose, and mouth. His exposed flesh had been charred by the explosion. Someone or something had literally squeezed this mans head like a grape until it literally exploded. Even Batman had rarely come across a death so gruesome. What truly intrigued Batman was the remaining clothing that hadn't been burned away. The man had been laying face down when the explosions had been set and the front of his clothes survived the explosion. Batman recognized the military dress uniform immediately. He searched the mans pockets and found a wallet, it contained a partially melted identification card, according to the card his name was Douglas Walker and he held the rank of General. In the upper right corner of the card there was an insignia exactly like the one Nightwing had ripped off the uniform of one of his attackers in Bludhaven, a skull with a knife through it. The lower half of the card was melted in several spots and poked with soot and grime. The remaining legible words read:

Special Operations Division


Colonel Phillip Young awoke with a start from a slap across his face. He couldn't remember where he was or how he had come to be here. There was nothing about his surroundings that were familiar. He tried to get up and found he was in leather restraints which bound his wrists and ankles to the metal bed. His back ached from laying on the thing, which he assumed he had been doing for quite some time. The walls were covered in white tile, devoid of any pictures or decorations other than a detailed map of the human body. In a far corner of the room three people dressed in surgical gowns and masks worked over instrument trays. Around them were heartbeat monitors and all manner of surgical equipment. Most of all however, he noticed Kane's face, only inches from his own. Inspecting him throughly. When Kane noticed that his captive was awake he smiled.

"Welcome back to the land of the living Mr. Phillip Young. It is entirely up to you how long you remain living."

Young rolled his eyes as he tried to get up and felt pain wash over his entire body like a tidal wave, "I have no idea what you're talking about or who this Phillip Young is." he lied as he strained against the leather to no avail.

"Your fingerprints say otherwise sir." Kane said as he reached to a nearby surgical instrument table and produced a printout that had a small picture of Young's face from several years earlier and data concerning the important statistics of his life.

"General Walker was smart enough to bury your military file as he did with all members of Impact Squadron, but your fingerprints are still on file from your days many years ago as a police officer with the New York Police Department. You were quite the hero back then so I have read. From there you were recruited into the service and rose through the ranks I imagine, but your files after leaving the force are of course, nonexistant. I'm content to know your name, and I am assuming your rank is rather high considering that you're here after breaching my defenses. Young was suddenly blinded as a surgical light was turned on directly over his head. "Not that it matters but the rank is Captain." It was a lie, but he wasn't giving up any information without a fight.

"A Captain you may be sir but you must understand, I cannot take your word for it. I need to know all the information that is locked up in your head." His body betraying his fear, Young swallowed hard as he listened, he was in this operating theater for an obvious reason. Torture. Skilled torture at the hands of experts and under the watchful eye of Kane There was no point in dignifying Kane's words with a reply.

"How much pain you experience Mr. Young is entirely up to you but you must understand, some pain will be necessary so that I know you are telling me the truth." Kane said as he put on a surgical mask and scanned the instruments, deciding which one he should use first. "Shall we begin?"

"This mission began with one objective, now there are several. When you began the hunt for Kane, it was simple, kill him and be done with it. That's no longer the extent of it however. Kane has Colonel Young, he has a small army behind him, and a supply of a deadly virus that could wipe out the human race. Kane thinks Major Summers and myself are dead, I saw him kill General Walker, and he sent even more of his men to kill you. He believes Impact Squadron is leaderless and without a clue as to his whereabouts. That gives us a very small window of opportunity. We have to move fast. He's going to want information from the Colonel and he won't be playing truth or dare to get it. If we don't move within the next twenty four hours Young may be dead or at the very least damaged beyond repair. I don't want that, and having served with him longer than I have I'm sure you don't want that either.

What we're going to have to do is split into two groups, myself and Major Summers on one team and the rest of Impact Squadron led by Captain Cortez on the other. The Major and I need to take point and enter Kane's compound covertly, where we will find and rescue the Colonel and disable his control over any warheads he has in his possession. We will also mark the location of his virus stores with a laser beacon, when it's activated, that's the go ahead for team two under Captain Cortez to hit the place with everything you've got and blow the place to hell while Summers and I get Young to safety."

"I have a question." Romaine said as he put up his hand in mock schoolboy manner.

"What's the question?" Nightwing asked.

"Who the fuck put you in charge?"

The question was crudely put, but very worthy of an answer. They had only been in Australia for an hour and a half when Summers, along with Nightwing, had begun issuing orders. They had arrived in the coastal town of Roebourne, Kane's Australian compound (they still had no idea what type of stronghold it was) lay directly west of them according to Nightwing's information. Murrant had stitched up his wounds and disinfected them while Summers had graciously nursed Nightwing back to health during the flight with blood transfusions, vitamin compounds injected straight into his bloodstream, and a massage (which took place in the same rear cabin Nightwing had used to talk with Walker and apply his disguise) behind closed doors. Dick couldn't believe how well this woman took care of him. She told him back in Kane's compound that she was under orders to take care of him and she was still doing it. As he lay face down on a stretcher with Summers straddling him and massaging the ache from his muscles, he smiled ear to ear with satisfaction. This woman knew what she was doing when it came to ridding a body of pain.

"I'm going to miss this treatment once the mission is over." He said as she kneaded his back muscles.

"You mean there's no Mrs. Nightwing back home to do this for you?" Dick swore he could detect a note of apprehension in her question. Was she that interested in him?

"There's no ring on my finger if that's what you mean. Usually I just sleep my aches and pains away."

"I'm amazed. A man as handsome as yourself. You should have women falling all over you."

"What about yourself? Is there a Mister Summers?" Dick asked, trying to steer the conversation away from himself.

She laughed at that and the laugh had more than just a hint of strain, "No there's no Mr. Summers except for my father. I was recruited into the Squadron from the FBI actually. I've never had time for much of a social life, much like yourself I guess. Can I ask you a question?"

Beneath her he mumbled an affirmative, she smiled at his total relaxation under her ministrations, "I do this for a living, but I don't wear a mask, I don't have a secret identity. I don't have to hide what I do and pretend I'm someone else during the day. What do you do when you're not being Nightwing?"

"Actually….. I'm a cop. Newly graduated from the academy and looking for a permanent posting."

Suddenly she began laughing, throwing her head back and filling the room with a full bodied musical laugh that was entirely genuine. "What's so funny?" he asked. It took her several minutes of laughter before she could finally answer him.

"Surely you're aware of the irony of that. By all rights you should be putting yourself in jail. Vigilantes are illegal and you enforce the law." Her laughter was infectious and he began laughing himself. He managed to turn around on his back so that he was facing her, Summers was still straddling him and her face beamed as she laughed with him.

"Maybe I should arrest myself. I can testify for the prosecution and the defense." She broke out in a renewed fit of laughter and he joined her. It was a wonderful respite from all the action and serious nature of the last several days. After a time the laughter died away and they looked into one another's eyes, not knowing what to say next.

"You know, we may be dead in the next few hours. Once Kane and his men find out we're alive they won't play nice, they'll want to make sure we're dead."

"Reminds one to live every day like it's their last doesn't it?" Again she fell silent. Dick could feel that she was trying to get up the nerve to ask him something.

"Your name really isn't Jason is it?" She asked. He was silent for a few minutes as he considered her request.

"No. I can't tell you my real name. Not that I don't want to, but if you know my name, others may be at risk, people I care for."

"I can tell you care for them a great deal." She said as she traced a finger along his shoulder, "Do you think that if you and I met under different circumstances, we could be…. close? Maybe even… more than friends?"

Nightwing reached out and traced his index finger along her cheekbone and down across her chin, making her smile. "You are….. so incredibly beautiful. Not to mention intelligent, capable and independent." He replied.

"And that means?"

"It means absolutely."

She leaned forward and kissed him passionately. Despite himself and his better judgement, he kissed her back with equal force. They pressed their bodies together as their hands roamed one another's bodies freely. Dick kissed her hungrily as she chewed on his lower lip. Summers began kissing Nightwing's cheeks and forehead as he took tiny nibbles on her chin and ran his tongue to the base of her neck. Dick felt his body start to give in to lust. He had been through a lot in the last few days and this beautiful, courageous woman was the only bright spot in the entire affair. As he kissed her again and their tongues searched each other out, one lone image flashed into his mind. A beautiful redhead he had known since childhood, one he had trusted with his most intimate secrets. An image of Barbara Gordon's beautiful visage filled his mind and would not go away. He knew why. It felt like cheating on her. Although there was no spoken commitment between them, the bond between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon went far deeper than the spoken word, the bond was spiritual. This woman, no matter how beautiful and perfectly suited for him she might be, was not Barbara.

He broke the kiss and gently eased her away from him, an apologetic look on his face. For several seconds she merely looked at him, wondering what she had done wrong. "It's not you Stacy. It's me. I told you there is no Mrs. Nightwing back home and that's true, but there is someone I care for a great deal. A woman I feel more than friendship for, and we've just recently found our way back to one another. It wouldn't be fair to her." He looked deep into her eyes, "I would be all over you in a second otherwise, but she deserves better." She was silent for a time and he worried that she might be angry with him, he worried that it might affect their usefulness as a team. "Please don't be offended." She finally smiled at him.

"Believe it or not, I think this makes you even more adorable."

She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead as she rolled off of him and strapped on her ammo belt. Dick rose to his feet and donned the remainder of his Nightwing uniform. It felt good to be wearing it again. Before they went to brief the rest of the team, he took her hands in his and asked her again if he had offended her. She assured him that he didn't and that she respected his devotion to his loved ones. The two exited the rear cabin and began a through briefing of the others with all the information Nightwing had uncovered. Summers informed them of General Walker's death at Kane's hands and how Nightwing had discovered Kane's destination. She also informed them of Nightwing's hypophysis regarding the release of the Ebola Omega virus at the Summer Olympics in Australia. They all agreed that while there was no proof, the theory was sound and if true, the results would be disastrous.

After landing in Roebourne they received even more bad news. Three medic teams were standing by to take Sito into their care, one of the medics passed Summers an encoded communique. After decoding it and reading it over three times she swore and threw the communique to the ground. She informed them that with General Walker dead and Colonel Young missing they were being given this one last show of support with medical care before they were completely disavowed. The government was cutting them off from further resources such as weapons, current intelligence on the area, and military backup. Summers was infuriated by the response from her superiors and regretted ever sending Washington an update on their condition during the flight.

"Well at least they had the good taste to tell us we were being cut off." MacQuarrie joked as he set up his computers in the main area of the warehouse they had rented as a safe house. Summers, Cortez, and Nightwing were not amused. Some backup would have been nice, a lot would have been even better. Now they were completely on their own as the medics finished their work on Sito within two hours and left, leaving him in the care of Impact Squadron. The one member of the team who didn't leave with the medics was a rail thin man with thinning hair and a disinterested look. Summers introduced the man to Nightwing as the chief armourer for Impact Squadron, his name was Professor Quincy Quartermane.

"Just what in the hell are you supposed to be?" Quartermane asked him as Nightwing reached out to shake the man's hand. Passing behind them with an armload of weapons, Cortez answered the question, "He's our last best hope professor."

"Dear God we're in more trouble than I thought." He replied.

"Nice." Dick mumbled under his breath as Summers tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile.

"Now pay attention Nightwing I would like you and the rest of these hooligans to take extra special care of my equipment if you please." Quartmane went on to explain how the laser beacons worked and informed them that no matter what jamming devices may be in the area, Impact Squadron's computer expert MacQuarrie would be able to pick up the signal on his computers. Nothing could block the signal sent out by the beacons. He also presented Nightwing and Summers with special wrist units that, when attached to the a computer panel, would instantly fry the operating system no matter what security systems would in place and no matter what the operating system was. Nightwing knew he would have to inform Oracle of this piece of equipment the next time he saw her, if he saw her again. Despite his gruff demeanor the professor was obviously very talented at what he did.

After an hour of explanation of the inner workings of the devices he was giving them, Quartermane packed up his things in an overstuffed briefcase and left knowing that he had already spent too much time with the now disavowed Impact Squadron.

That brought Nightwing back to the present and Romaine's "Who the fuck put you in charge?" question. Thankfully, Summers answered the question for him.

"I am in charge Romaine and if it wasn't for Nightwing we wouldn't even have a chance to finish this mission successfully and get ourselves off of the disavowed list. He has risked life and limb for us and he doesn't even know us. He could get up and leave right now but he doesn't. He even volunteered to go into Kane's Australian compound with me. So heed this order from the ranking officer in the room and stow it!! We can't save the Colonel without him." Throughout the room everyone in Impact Squadron nodded in agreement. Dick couldn't help but feel more at ease around these men as they accepted him more and more into their ranks. He even noticed Johnson elbow Romaine in the ribs to shut him up. Under pressure from the rest of the group, Romaine did indeed shut up.

"What's next Major?" MacQuarrie asked as he flipped open a laptop and booted the computer up.

"Nightwing and I are changing into street clothes and renting a jeep, we're going to drive out to the coordinates he indicated and just do some simple recon."

Colonel Young opened his mouth and tried to scream but found that he could no longer had the strength to make any noise. He looked down at his blood soaked leg and tried again to scream as he watched Kane take off a sliver of skin with his scalpel. Kane let the sliver of skin fall to the floor in an increasing pile of flesh that collected at his feet. Kane spoke for the first time since the torture had begun as he prepared for another incision.

"I have become quite well read in my short life Mr. Young. I'm particularly a fan of Shakespere. Tell me, are you familiar with The Bard's work The Merchant Of Venice? The infamous pound of flesh? I am drawing my inspiration from that very play with you now. Of course I'm sure you will tell me what I need to know before I come anywhere close extracting a pound of flesh from you don't you think?"

Young tried to lift his head again and decided that he couldn't take the sight of his bleeding leg and merely stared at the ceiling as his body trembled. "I prefer the sports section." he responded in a weak voice.

"Why am I not surprised? Well you'll soon tell me what I need to know Mr. Young. As soon as I start removing skin from a less fleshy area like your face for instance, I think you'll be telling me everything I need to know."

"And if I don't?"

"Well I won't let you die before I get the information I need from you to be sure. If this particular method doesn't work, I have a special mixture of curare and certain other drugs that will guarantee an honest answer to my every question. However, it will render you quite brain dead. I may have need of hostages some time in the future if the governments of the world try to stop me again and I would prefer a hostage with a fully functioning brain. Now, in a very short while, I will be asking you some questions, I do suggest that you answer them to the best of your ability. If you don't, things may become……" He paused and smiled as he removed another sliver of skin and let it drop to the floor as blood streaked the Colonel's leg. "Rather nasty."

A single tear escaped Young's right eye as he felt the sliver of skin rip away from his leg. He had never felt so alone and in so much pain, and yet he hoped with every fibre of his being, that Impact Squadron would not try and rescue him. He would rather die than see any more of the people under his command suffer this fate.

"Damn, Kane gives the term living in the lap of luxury a whole new meaning."

Major Summers and Nightwing were dressed in casual clothing and peering out across the desert at Kane's compound through powerful binoculars. Through an optical linkup the magnified image was being fed through to MacQuarrie's computers back in Roebourne. Anyone who saw the duo of Summers and Nightwing (who had resumed his disguise that he wore on Desolation Island) would be tourists driving the only road through the arid desert. Nightwing drove the black Jeep they had rented and immediately stopped the vehicle when he noticed the huge building on the horizon. It appeared as if it was made of crystal as the huge structure glistened in the sunlight. MacQuarrie sent them all the available information he could find on the structure back through the link and the data scrolled along in one corner of the binocular display so that both Summers and Nightwing could see it.

"According to this," Nightwing began as he read the information, "it's a biosphere. Designed and built to be completely self sufficient by a firm known as Buckley's Drugs Incorporated, a pharmaceutical company that sponsored the whole thing in 1994. The company was bought out by another larger company in 1996 and the project was abandoned. The inside of the place is a maze and houses a three story high jungle like arboretum. The pane glass has the ability to become completely opaque to simulate night and day environments. It's completely self sufficient."

Summers shook her head as the data streamed in. "I suppose it was easy for him to buy after the project was abandoned."

Over her headset, she heard MacQuarrie confirm that this was indeed the case. Kane had purchased the biosphere with the money he had made using his significant intellect on the stock market.

"How do we get into that thing?" Summers asked, "According to this information, the place is impenetrable and even removing a pane of glass will cause alarms to go off.

Dick pointed to a small structure to the left of the immense cathedral like building. The small grey building was tiny compared to the huge biosphere and went almost unnoticed. "It's the water supply for a large pool in the arboretum. According to this data it wasn't part of the original plans but the new owner had it installed merely because he liked the way it looked. If we can get in there and follow the main pipes, we should emerge in the middle of Kane's own personal jungle." Over his own earpiece, Dick heard MacQuarrie quite clearly questioning his sanity and the possible success of his plan.

"Negative thinking we don't need," Summers interjected, "Impact Squadron, it's time to lock and load."

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