Gotham City, Snyder Stadium
Starling Fashion Show
The light is blinding.
Feels like my whole body is on fire at first, before the cold quickly overtakes it and begins making it harder for me to breathe. The feeling in my limbs go with the numbing pain, and I desperately try to keep my fingers moving in some vain attempt to fight off the effects. But it's no use, as rigid ice binds my legs and begins working it's way upward, encasing me in a shell that feels like solid concrete. The worst part about all of this is, I genuinely don't know whether this all originates from the absurd circumstance I find myself in - pinned to a wall, in the midst of being frozen solid by a madman who is aided through advanced cryogenic technology - or if that's just what happens to the body before it dies. I can already feel my heart trying to overcompensate for the intense drop in temperature, but the frequency of it's beating is beginning to slow down. I don't see any way out what feels like an inevitability, at this point. This is where death takes me, and I perish a fool that a city hates. A monster that the innocent and the guilty fear in equal measure.
It's not how I would've wanted to go, but I can't necessarily say that it's much of a surprise. I always figured that one night would see me lying on the streets as stone dead as my mother and father, bleeding out after being shredded apart by a torrential hail of bullets or an attack from an enemy that I didn't have the forethought to see coming. Thoughts of my childhood come first, in too many shattered fragments for me to fully discern. I can only remember vague emotions. Happiness, warmth, and all of the feelings associated from when I was apart of a family that was still whole. The horror of losing them at such an age. The anger, the guilt, and the sense of righteous indignation that pushed me into adulthood. That overpowering instinct that came with a lack of purpose, bringing me onto the streets and getting me beaten half to death. The sense of clarity that came to me whenever I first saw it. The Bat. I knew what I had to do then, and that decades of suffering hadn't been in vain.
Was I wrong? It's hard for me to say. Alfred recently told me that if I hadn't stepped up to make a difference, many would have died and become victims of the Five Families. Others would've succumbed to the rising metahuman threat and found themselves at the forefront of something many still believe threatens to wipe mere humans off of the face of the planet. So The Batman served some purpose, I suppose. But with everything said about me in the press after Harvey's shooting, compounded with difficult choices that I had to make for what I believed was the greater good, I can't fully believe that my legacy will be remembered as one of nobility. They'll likely believe I had gone mad at some point and carried out this crusade in some vengeful, spiteful act of transgression against the same type of people that led to a man like Joe Chill. And I can't even tell myself that it was ever anything otherwise. That's the part that bothers me the most, as I swallow back a shallow breath.
I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to.
I'll have died a failure. A disgrace to my family name.
All of these thoughts come rushing to my head within the span of seconds, as I realize that I don't want this. The thought of death used to leave me in a neutral position, with my general position being that if it happened, it was going to happen and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It wasn't too long ago that I even told myself that I'd have accepted it, that I held no fear of it's eventuality. It's something that none can avoid, and with the path I chose, it was a given that I would probably go sooner than the expected timeframe of an average lifespan. But to die like this, trying to defend the innocent and failing, leaving others to the fate that claimed me? It's unacceptable. And therefore, I realize that I never truly held off the fear at all.
"Oh, god. Oh, god, you're not doing good. Can you hear me?"
I let out a grunt, hearing a voice. In the moment it happens, I think that it's another, final hallucination. Some demented cosmic joke that the universe doles out to me in light of my condition. I'll never know what caused this affliction of my mind, but it's been the bane of my existence for years. Never able to wake up knowing the difference between what's real and where reality begins.
But as I realize that I'm still breathing, despite the trauma, I manage to make out the tone. It's a familiar one, recent and vibrant in my mind. My eyes widen as it dawns on me that this isn't a hallucination.
"I don't know if you can respond, but I'm looking at the vitals attached to your suit. Everything's in freefall right now. The tracker's telling me that you're at the Stadium, and I know about the guy with the ice gun. He's the one that's doing this, isn't he?"
I can't speak, let alone comprehend anything that the electronically distorted voice is saying. Generalized confusion is one of the first signs of mild to moderate hypothermia. Instead, I simply start taking deep breaths. Conserving the little oxygen that I have left to hold onto it for as long as I can. I've practiced holding my breath under intense simulated circumstance in the past, and made it to the five minute mark before having to go up for air. If I can hold it that long now, maybe... just maybe I won't have to fear dying after all.
"Hold on, I'm going to try something to buy you some time. You'll want to keep your eyes closed..."
Reluctantly, with no choice left to guarantee my immediate survival, I comply to this by inhaling as much as possible and forcibly shutting my eyes before all of the remaining nerve endings are completely numb. The next sound that I hear verbereates all around me. It's the bulbs attached to the lights of the Stadium - the ones that I had Ace shut down to give me some leverage in the dark. Somehow, likely in the same manner that was used to hack into my server, Oracle is overriding those commands and turning the lights back on. And with another hum of electricity, I hear something else. An escalation in their vibrancy.
Freeze lets out a cry of agony, likely blinded by the sudden light returning to the room. The ice stops building, as does the general feeling of numbing force that left me overpowered. Slowly, I open my eyes again, and immediately see the madman flailing about on the stage below, thrusting his cannon in every possible direction as he fires off stray beams of his weapon's freezing agent. Feeling for any retained movement left in my body, I manage to slowly get my left arm back to working again. Thrusting my spine forward, trying to push myself free of the ice, I begin pounding on the sheet of it that's covering my waist, feeling for a weakened spot through my fist. Have to... have to get my belt. There's a plasma cutter in there that I used to melt the metal and ice that had covered the roof of the building.
"K... K-Keep him... d-distracted..."
Oracle responds by upping the voltage of each light in the room. Everything goes brighter, even blinding me to an extent, but I begin to hear several of the lights shattering. Considering the amount of lighting that was equipped to the stage itself, I imagine that Freeze is currently suffering even worse than before, having broken glass pound against his armor and unable to see anything to prevent it from hitting. Striking down at the ice again, I feel a pressure point begin to form.
With one swift motion, my hand straightens and I go in for a hard jab. The ice shatters under the impact of the blow, freeing my waist and allowing me to finally grab the item that I need. Wasting no time, I exhale the breath that I was holding in and strike the plasma torch with my thumb, lighting it up with a hiss. With as much precision as I can maintain, I get to work in freeing myself entirely...
"The electrical grid for this place is a little confusing, so bear with me..."
Gotham City, Precinct 27
"...but I think I can re-activate the security cameras to get a better sense for the room. Looks like they were all shut off from an outside source. Betting you weren't the one to do that, either."
Cracking her knuckles, Barbara Gordon begins excessively typing at the keyboard of the computer ahead of her, rerouting several commands embedded into the Stadium's electrical systems with manual coding, script doctoring, and every hacker's trick in the book that she can think of. She had originally intended to simply contact The Batman to let him know what was happening at the Stadium in order to get him there before her father and the GCPD threw themselves in harm's way, but breaking back into his systems had taken more time than the young technological prodigy had anticipated. It was easy to imagine her surprise when upon finally getting through, not only was the vigilante already there, but he was in the midst of nearly succumbing to acute hypothermia. She breathed a sigh of relief as she looked over to the active readout of his vitals, which all seemed to be steadily improving by the second.
Barbara grinned as one of the security cameras finally cleared up from a wave of static after implementing some basic commands. Not only did it give her a clear picture of the main Stadium itself, but it assured her that Batman was alive and nearly free of his frozen bindings. The maniac responsible, covered head-to-toe in a glowing armor suit accompanied by a protective dome, was still reeling from what she had done. For the first time since deciding to use her knowledge of computers to prevent as much criminal activity as she could from the comfort of her chair, the young Gordon felt a sense of victory. Looking over her shoulder to make sure that no one could see her, she went for another fist pump.
"Yes! Score one for the good guys!"
Gotham City, Snyder Stadium
Starling Fashion Show
Hearing the excited tone of voice to keep me going, I grimace as the last bit of ice keeping me pinned to the wall is melted away enough for me to break through. With enough force to potentially tear a couple of layers of muscle under any other circumstances, I force my shoulder to the side and smash the brunt of my wrist into the weakened ice. Finally, I fall from the static position that I was forced into and hit the platform below squarely on my back. It doesn't feel pleasant, but it lets me know that I'm still alive enough to feel the impact. My heart's pounding in my ears, at this point, trying to pump enough blood throughout my system to regulate my body temperature back to something resembling normalcy.
As I fight off the shivering, I look up towards the rafters, remembering that I have another threat awaiting me - only to find that Selina is long since gone. Probably assumed that Freeze had finished me off for her and was content to get to safety. I'm not sure that I feel so relieved by that, in light of her showing what appeared to be true colors.
That betrayal's going to stick with me for a long time. I had put my faith in the idea that she was truly nothing like her father, but she turned out to be just as manipulative and blood-hungry as The Roman. And given that she mentioned a bounty, I can't simply say that she wanted to kill The Batman for trying to murder her friend. This wasn't personal. It was strategic.
"Probably not the best time to mention it, but I think this time, you officially owe me."
Allowing my head to rest on the metal of the platform for a brief moment, I reach out and pull my body upwards, finally able to stand again. Freeze is beginning to recover aswell, evident by the fact that he's stopped frantically firing upon the crowd in a blind panic. As soon as he sees me, our eyes meet, glaring hatefully at eachother. He doesn't register his surprise at my survival, but he does make it clear that it's an unwelcome development.
"So you've spared yourself but for a second longer. It does not matter to me. You and everyone in the crowd will almost certainly die here before I have finished."
Unlike our last encounter, there's no debating that Oracle is right and that I owe the anonymous voice my life. They may be an unknown element, at the moment, but they're the best chance that I have in stopping Mr. Freeze.
"You're still connected to the Stadium's power grid."
"In the middle of getting it back online, actually. Someone seriously didn't want it to be active in any way that meant outside interference. Security cameras were down, the alarms are inactive. Probably why the ice guy managed to barge into the place without anyone suspecting it."
I narrow my eyes as I leap off of the platform and fire a grapple line into the air. Freeze attempts to catch me with another blast, but his aim is off enough due to the disorientation to spare me from a repeat incident. Swinging up to the barrier between the front stage and backstage, I dive away as another beam of ice blasts through and covers that area.
"Alert the police. They need to know what they're in for if they attempt to breach the area."
"They already left to respond to the attack a few minutes ago. Trust me, if they're not already in there, it's because they can't get through any of the entrances. And I don't think they'd stand much of a chance against this guy even if they did."
Searching the backstage for any sign of something that can help me combat this unusual threat, I realize that it's fruitless to consider anything back of to be of use. The most that I can find are abandoned dressed, mannequins, and beauty supplies. My anger only increases as I notice, towards the back of the room, that there are a series of corpses left standing in place, frozen solid. He must have torn through the security staff before he made his grand entrance. These people had families. They were just trying to do their job. And that bastard didn't care.
"Then I'm on my own. None of the security staff are still alive, and I don't know what more that you could possibly do from a remote position."
There's a pause as I continue searching.
"Maybe not. But I've got an idea that you can try. Just a shot in the dark, but do you happen to carry an EMP in that belt?"
My eyebrow raises, as I try and rationalize why I didn't think of that before. Freeze's suit and cannon run off of an electrical power source. Shutting that down may render him immobile, not to mention take the cannon out of play entirely.
"In my belt? No."
Spotting one of the dressing stations near me, I notice a pair of large scissors sitting astray among the scattered items. Rushing towards it as I hear Freeze's massive footsteps growing closer to the backstage entrance, I grab the scissors and immediately begin tracing the side of my uniform with the blade. Once it hits a certain piece beneath the armor, I start cutting away at the fabric.
While he never built anything that I could use as a projectile to render enemy forces without power, Lucius Fox did manage to install a low-level EMP underneath one of the kevlar pieces of the Batsuit that casts an outward frequency. It was put there to prevent security footage, photographs and video from being taken of me whenever I operated in the field. Ripping the small emitter from my side, I produce it in-hand and squint as the video feed from my cowl begins to distort from the exposure.
"But I have one. The problem is that it's a low-frequency jammer. It wouldn't affect Freeze's suit or cannon with much potency."
There's another pause.
"Okay. I know that what I'm asking is alot for a man with many secrets, but... just this once, can you trust me? Because I'm going to need to access your gear's electronic output to allocate some alternative sources to boost the EMP."
Looking back at the entrance, I dive ahead and place myself behind a large speaker to escape Freeze's light of sight as he enters the area. My voice goes into a whisper as I respond to Oracle's request.
"I thought you were already inside."
"I am. But I'm asking your permission to go further. Because I know that when I did it the first time, I messed up whatever trust you could've placed in me if I'd have just come to you directly."
Whoever Oracle really is, they're the only person in Gotham that have proven themselves to be genuinely looking out for my well-being. I was so overtaken with paranoia whenever they originally hacked into my satellite connections that I never even truly considered the fact that what they had done was in an effort to save me.
And now that it's happened twice, I'm beginning to wonder if I was wrong to have told them to stay out of this whenever I shut them out the last time. As Selina already proved tonight, trust comes with the risk of misplacement. And aside from Alfred, I've never really had to place my trust in anyone. I still can't endorse what they're doing by aiding me. This can't become a regular reliance, as I'm still convinced that this person is relatively younger than me and more vulnerable to criminal prosecution if they were ever to get caught.
But for this specific instance, I have to put all of that aside. When I thought I was dying, all that I could feel was regret in the way I had handled everything up to now. Maybe if I change one thing, I can start to change everything...
"You'll get in easier with the passcode. Two-seven-one-nine-three-nine. Look for the tab under equipment, and only look there. There are safeguards put in place in other program files that'll lock you out if you try to access them."
Gotham City, Precinct 27
Mouth agape and eyes widened, Barbara's lips curled into a wide smile as the man whose actions she had idolized gave her an immediate access into his inner-workings. She couldn't help it, as this had been exactly what she'd been hoping for from the beginning - lending those who are far more capable than the police an even better fighting chance against the enemies of justice. She had known for a long time that Gotham was a breeding ground for criminal misconduct, and until The Batman had began acting against the mob, Barbara had been given no idea of how to help her father fight against the same type of evil that had taken her mother and her own mobility away from her. But as soon as she saw that signal of his in the sky for the first time, she knew that she could create one of her own on the digital landscape. Because of his direct inspiration, The Oracle was born.
"I'll try to stay clear of those. And thanks. I won't let you down."
Accessing the specific files that she'd been instructed to go for, Barbara began to break down the firewalls that had been encrypted to ensure that no one could access Batman's gadgetry and shut it down for themselves. She knew she had to work fast, because if this channel remained open for too long, someone could seize the opportunity and make things significantly worse. Feeling a bead of sweat drip down her forehead as she typed, the daughter of Captain Gordon wiped it away as she typed in a series of commands that finally granted her access to the EMP.
She noticed the word 'Fox' among the data read-out, but elected to ignore it. After all, Barbara didn't want to know who Batman really was. As long as he was out there and keeping the people that her father had to face at bay, weakened to the point that they couldn't harm him, that was all that mattered to her. So even if she accidentally discovered something incriminating, she was determined to keep it to herself.
"Okay. There's a fiber optic wifi connection in a building near you that's sending terabytes of data back and forth. If I can expand your EMP's data input, it's frequency output should get alot stronger. It'll take a few seconds to bridge the connections..."
Gotham City, Snyder Stadium
Starling Fashion Show
"A few seconds is all I have."
Peering from the right of the speaker, with my back pressed against it to ensure that I don't cast any shadows to reveal my current location, I watch as Freeze smashes through equipment in an effort to find me. Oracle has to be allowed to do their work, which means that it's my turn to come up with a suitable distraction. Placing two fingers against my throat, I manually shift the pitch of my voice modulator so that it sounds as though it's coming from a different direction.
Freeze doesn't seem to be someone that's as headstrong and volitale as Deadshot, so any attempts to prey on his ego won't work. I have to get to the root of what he's after. Which, as I recall, was something about a wife.
"Do you really think she's here, Freeze? If you loved her, do you really think she'd want to stay and see what kind of a monster you've become?"
That immediately gets his attention, as he looks to the far left of the room. Readying his cannon, he fires an intense blast at the wall that he thinks I'm hiding behind, covering it in jagged frozen spikes and a more than lethal encasement of ice.
"You know nothing of my affairs, Batman. My wife has nothing to do with your interference. And hiding in the dark will not grant you clemency from my wrath."
Vaulting for a change of cover while he isn't looking, I change the pitch so that it echoes out through the right of the room, this time.
"It has everything with it. You killed innocent people to get to her today. Do you really think that barbarity is going to win her heart back, or are you too far gone to see that it was never going to happen in the first place?"
That elicits a reaction resembling anger. He takes another shot, but to my surprise, it isn't in the direction of the voice this time. It's at the ceiling of the Stadium. Watching as the blast coats the area above us with a thick sheen of ice, I start to realize what his plan in doing so is. Before I can react appropriately, however, he's already enacted it. Large, stalactite-sized icicles form and fall as soon as they appear, striking down at the ground around us. At first, I only have to dodge the ice that shatters upon impact. But eventually, one forms directly above me.
Dammit. Can't wait on Oracle any longer. I have to move.
Vaulting over one of the dressing stations, I dive directly into Freeze and ram into the dome of his armor with my shoulder. It sends him stumbling back, though far from injured or compromised, and I watch as the ice-ridden chunk of metal meant for me smashes into the ground and destroys everything around it. I fall against the floor and throw a high kick against his cannon, knocking it away as he attempts to fire upon me. Enraged, he takes one of his massive boots and attempts to stomp down. I roll just out of the way.
"You may be more resourceful than I initially gave you credit for, but the time of this quarrel has come to an end. I shall scattered the shards of your frozen remains upon this accursed city that you love in tribute to this effort of valiance."
Stopped in place by the barrel of the cannon as it's placed directly onto my forehead, I stare up as he readies his finger on the trigger.
"But valiance is ever fleeting."
Pulling out the EMP emitter that I had tucked away in my belt, I hold it up and watch as Oracle finally boosts it's output to the point that all of the lights begin to black out around us. Freeze looks around, clearly confused, as I grit my teeth in anger.
"So is chaos."
Placing the EMP directly onto his suit, I watch as the light from Freeze's dome begins to flicker on and off. He panics, realizing what I've done, and takes a few steps back to try and remove the emitter before it can do any lasting damage.
"No! No, you cannot do this! I need the suit! It gives me life... prevents me from..."
The light finally goes out, and he begins gasping for air. I get to my feet and approach him as he doubles over, tossing his freezing cannon aside. I start to realize that the suit he's wearing isn't just to enhance his strength and protect him from bodily harm. Not only was his armor some sort of coolant storage tank, it was a life preservation system. With the fog clearing from his dome, I can see it in the veins of his skin. Freeze isn't a metahuman. He's a man afflicted by some sort of disease. A disease that he can only keep at bay with the cold. Which means that unless I don't remove the EMP, he'll likely die.
"No. You're not getting out of this that easily."
Rushing to sever the massive cable that attaches his cannon to his armor, in the very likely event that he tries to use this attempt to spare his life against me, I take a batarang and cut into the cable as hard as I possibly can. It's thick and tough, made out of a reinforced material, but eventually I start to see sparks fly out once the cables short circuit. Stabbing the batarang in, I place my boot on one end of the cable and rip the other half from it. The cannon should be useless, now.
Turning back Freeze, I reach down and rip the EMP from his suit. The coolant starts to rush again, as I place a boot on his chest, attempting to hold him in place. He stops choking, eventually, and breathes in the cold air as if it were fresh oxygen.
"Now. You're going to tell me everything about why you really came here. What was there to gain in this attack? Answer me!"
Freeze stares up at me and doesn't so much as flinch.
"I did not mince my words, Batman. It was about her. It was always about her. My Nora is here. She was to be the star attraction of this show, and I know that she didn't make it out of the building. I can still feel her warmth radiating from the crowd."
Grabbing me by the ankle, Freeze's strength returns in it's full form, gaining some leverage and tossing my entire body against one of the mirrors. It cracks under my spine, leaving me to fall against the table and shatter that aswell. Freeze manages to get to his feet, looking toward his cannon. He doesn't go for it, confirming that without it's power, he isn't willing to carry on with the attack. But he looks towards me nevertheless, seemingly satisfied as I weakly try and pull myself back up.
"But if we are to remain apart for now, so be it. There will be time later for a reunion. A time after Gotham is rendered to ash, and the people that gave me a second chance at life will reap the rewards of the conflict to come."
Conflict to come?
"What the hell are you talking about?"
For the first time, a smile seems to creep upon Freeze's face, narrowing his eyes at me.
"There is a war coming to the streets. By the time you and the rest of the city realize it, it will be far too late. He will bring an end to the Five Families, as he will to those caught in the throes of their deaths. And when you try and mount your retaliation, I assure you, Batman..."
Having hidden something behind his back, Freeze produces a glowing object in hand and tosses it my way. I throw my cape up infront of me to steer clear, hoping that it's not a grenade. As the burst of cold lashes out at me, I realize that it's not, but it is a distraction that works off of a similar technology to his cannon.
"Your city will fall to the light."
For a few seconds, I'm rendered partially frozen again, but to a much lesser degree and in a manner that still allows me the freedom of mobility. Shaking my cloak loose of any remaining ice, rubbing the lenses of my cowl of any condensation and fog that came with that attack, I finally look up again to find, to my surprise, that Freeze has entirely disappeared. Knowing that my connection to Ace was severed whenever he caught me in a blast of his cannon the first time, there's no way for me to scan for any potential signs of his escape. He could have rushed the crowd, or more likely, utilized the same method that he used to gain access to the backstage door. Whatever his method was, I can't even hear him anymore. He's well and truly gone.
First Poison Ivy, now Mr. Freeze. That makes two dangerously unstable individuals with control over a particular element loose in Gotham. With Ivy, it was the mind taken over through nature, using an airborne pheromone extract that I traced at the scene of my encounter with her handiwork. I went back after feeling as though it were too convenient that she could only take control of a metahuman like Jessica Jones to carry out the murder of Deadshot's daughter, especially when she could have easily taken control of the mother or the girl herself.
And now Freeze is out there with a control over cryogenic ordinance. In both of these encounters, I barely survived against them. Because I wasn't prepared for anything like either of them. That's going to have to be rectified if I hope to continue protecting Gotham from as many threats as possible. My enemies are only getting more powerful by the day.
"Hey, so... did we win?"
Oracle's still here. I place my hand over my comm-link in the ear of the cowl.
"Freeze escaped. But he won't be harming anyone again today."
Firing a grapple line towards the rafters above, I begin my ascension.
"Dammit. Then whenever he shows back up again, this scenerio's going to play out somewhere else."
"Perhaps. But I'll be ready next time, since you gave me insight into his weakness."
Landing atop the rafters, I look out towards the front entrances of the Stadium. GCPD's SWAT unit has been using a battering ram to smash through the ice covering the front of the building for the last few minutes, and they seem to be just now getting through. I had better make myself scarce, before they realize I was here aswell.
"Wait, was that your way of saying thank you?"
I smirk to myself. The need for validation definitely confirms Oracle's age to be in the late teens, at least.
"No. But it was my way of saying something else. Good job."
Were it not for the both of us, Freeze would've caused more damage than he did. For that reason, I'll leave Oracle to remove themselves from my servers of their own accord.
After all, a sense of trust can only start with practice.