"Tell Lois Lane--.....well, I think she already knows," I say, before I take off, shooting up through the hole I'd made in the Stagg Enteprises building and into the night sky, on a collision course with the missile now heading towards the city.
Ripping open a panel that contains the motherboard of the central computer, I allow Ace to scan it's contents. There's no time to lose. With a nuclear warhead out there and Superman being the only hope of stopping it, there's alot that I'm forced to mentally rectify and move away from in order to focus. That press hound, Lex Luthor, being responsible for a plot that led to Winslow Schott becoming Toyman. Schott attempting to murder hundreds, and now millions of people through the creation of an artificial intelligence constructed of his madness. Superman and Toyman's exchange leading into the reveal that Superman is both not a metahuman, as all previously thought, but comes from another planet
entirely. Making him an alien, something which has never been scientifically validated to exist. If it's true, intelligent life could exist on other worlds. It's not just a conspiracy theory anymore.
But I have to let it all go for the moment, because my worst case scenario just went from being very theoretical, even radical in theory, to being an immediate reality. Gotham could be hit by a nuke, annihilating it and everything on the Eastern Coast. Everyone that I've ever cared about could die in minutes. The war could come to a horrifying, abrupt end in which the best I could do to prevent a catastrophic loss of life was dismantle a couple of explosive toy cars. Gritting my teeth, I start ripping away panels of wires and attached circuitry and dig in. There has to be more that I can do. There will
be a chance to stop this. I refuse to accept otherwise.
"Ace, see if you can overload the systems that the Toyman A.I. is currently utilizing to remain active."Attempting a breach now, Mr. Wayne.
SO VERY SAD, YOUR FRIEND IS.
TO BELIEVE THERE'S
A WAY OUT
As I reach for another set of wires, I notice my hand. It's trembling. Anxiety is taking over my body and rendering me that much more useless to this effort. My eyes close and I take a deep breath. Have to fight it, but it's hard. Truth be told, I don't know if I've ever been as scared as I am now. At least not since a particularly memorable night from my childhood. But the deaths of my parents, the nightmares and hallucinations that followed, the decisions that led to all of this, all that's come about as a result of being Batman, and everything I've done in the lead-up to this moment. It all comes rushing to me again, even more vividly than when I was nearly killed by Freeze. The struggles that I've had to endure rear their head at the most inopportune time imaginable.
There's apart of me that wants to call Alfred, in the event... in the event that Superman can't stop the missile. There's so much that I've left unsaid up to this point. So much that I could never properly express in the time allotted to me. The innumerable things that he's done for me over the years, the sacrifices he's
had to make to allow me to begin this crusade in earnest. I've never had the heart to tell him this, but when I lost my true father, he made me feel as if I gained another. He never allowed me to sink into the pit of despair that the loneliness could have pulled me into. If it weren't for his guidance, I don't know what I would have turned out to be. But all that I want to do now is to make him proud. All that I've ever
wanted to do, I suddenly realize, was make him and my parents proud.
If we all survive this, I'll become better. I'll be the hero that he wants me to be, instead of just thriving forward as the creature of the night that stalks the guilty and ignores the plights of the innocent. Something that Superman said earlier really struck a chord with me, about how I've turned Gotham as a whole into a city that fears the night instead of only it's tormentors. I deflected that criticism at first, but it's become clear to me that I'm not doing enough to bring about a sense of hope. Looking out for everyone's interests as Bruce Wayne is a decent start, but that isn't nearly enough.
Batman has to be something that isn't hated and feared either, despite what I was willing to let that side of myself become in order to remain effective in cultivating the fear of the Five Families. And fighting the police on a regular basis isn't helping alleviate anyone's opinion of me, as evidenced by what I've experienced tonight. I have to clear my name in regards to Harvey Dent. I need to end the corruption in the GCPD. But most importantly of all, I have to stop this from happening.
Because if I die having been only what I've become up to this point, I'll have lived a life void of meaning. The boy whose parents were taken from him at gunpoint would have only turned out to be a vicious, uncaring, unfeeling wraith upon the city that deluded himself into believing that he was trying to protect it. Batman was created as a construct to channel my rage, to allow me to vent all of the years of frustration with the city's failings. Every bone I've broken has been in outrage over the fact that nothing's become better. But that can't be my legacy anymore.
Error. Toyman program is attempting to counter-breach.
RESISTANCE IS POINTLESS.
MY TOYS ARE BETTER THAN YOURS.
THEY CAN PLAY EVERY GAME
THAT YOU CAN...
Snapping myself out of it, I activate my wrist-mounted holoscreen and take a look at the finer details of what Ace's error message meant. Unfortunately, it appears that assertion was correct. I can see the foreign trace of Schott's program making it's way into my system's servers, attempting to corrupt everything inside with it's own strain of some sort of self-created virus. My safeguards are all simultaneously failing, and before long, I can see the visage of the marionette avatar that Schott created to outlive himself permeate a section of the screen. "Ace! Rewrite the defensive programs! Keep him from getting in!"Error. Too many functions compromised. Error. Cannot complete requested action.Error.Error.
IT'S TOO LATE.
OUR PLAYDATE IS FINISHED,
Dammit. I can't afford to shut Ace down, as he's my primary weapon against Toyman's A.I., but if I allow him to continue, he's going to end up as apart of Schott's malicious program. Destroying this equipment by itself wouldn't work, despite Superman's original impulse before leaving to stop the missile. If this A.I. truly has the reach to activate a cache of machines and weapons that are located as far as Metropolis, it can jump to another server with relative ease before anything can be shut down, permanently. Have to think of another strategy to prevent this. "Ace..."
I prayed that I wouldn't have to ever do this. While I appreciated their help in stopping Freeze, there was no desire on my part to ever indulge this type of behavior or encourage someone to follow in my footsteps by actively breaking the law. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and this is the most desperate I've ever been. "Contact Oracle."Error. Cannot comply.
I grit my teeth. "Contact Barbara Gordon!"
I've suspected for a number of weeks that Gordon's daughter was the mysterious hacker that penetrated my defenses and took control of my equipment in order to intervene on that night in The Narrows. It wasn't too far of a leap to make, in all honesty, due to how pressing the matter of Captain Gordon's perceived deception in the case against Harvey Dent's assassin was to Oracle. Sticking up for the Captain's merits so strongly could have only come from someone who cares for him, and looking into Gordon's file, I discovered that he had a wheelchair bound seventeen-year-old daughter who lost her mother, aswell as her mobility, to crime.
She now works for the GCPD as a mild-mannered filing clerk, but her records for aptitude in computer sciences at Brentwood Academy were more than enough evidence I need to deduce what she was doing with her talents. I just didn't want to admit to myself that I knew, in order to give myself plausible deniability. But we're way past such a thing.
Eventually, I can hear the ringing of a telephone. I breathe a brief sigh of relief. Even in Ace's compromised position, he was able to carry out one last command. "Uh, hello? This is Barbara. Who is this?"
I make no attempts to downplay the seriousness of this matter in my tone."I need your help."
An immediate panic overwhelms her voice."Uuuuh... I don't know who this is, but you have the wrong number. Okay? I'm hanging up now.""Barbara, you know exactly who this is and you know precisely why I'm calling this number. Or would you rather that I just send over the data I found in regards to how you spend your evenings?"
There's a pause, before an eventual sigh. "Damn it. How did you---""It doesn't matter right now. Listen to me carefully."
Continuing to rip away protective panels of the massive central tower that's powering Toyman's A.I, I start to type a few manual commands into The Batcomputer. Ace isn't able to help me right now, so I have to do alot of the legwork on my own to keep Toyman from taking over completely. At least until Gordon can make her way in. "Are you near a computer? This is an emergency.""I'm, uh, on my laptop in my bedroom. It's hardly the GCPD server, but it should work.""I don't need the police's mainframe for this. I need your expertise. There's a crisis happening and my equipment has been compromised. I need you to help me relinquish an artificial intelligence program from the influence of a powerful virus."
Another pause. "That may be a bit above my level of knowledge. Have you tried shutting down your central programming and giving it a hard reboot?""I can't disconnect right now. There are too many lives that depend on this."
I can tell that she's nervous, unsure of whether she's up to the task. But this is the same young woman that managed to unlock a function of The Batcycle that neither I or Lucius Fox even knew existed, and exploit it's capabilities in order to save my life. If there's anyone I can trust to be able to do this, it's her. "O-Okay. Just give me a minute to hack through your backdoor. I'll need to create a systematic wipe that I can trigger as I go along, to purge my own computer from getting infected and being shut out by the virus.""Hurry. Time is a factor with this, and I don't know how much we have."
Within a minute, I can see the digital trace of Oracle's systems enter The Batcomputer. Ace's systems are in flux, and Toyman has nearly taken over. She's going to have to pull off one hell of a trick in order to get things to stabilize. "Oh my god. This is alot worse than you were letting on. Batman, this is... there isn't a word for what I'm seeing right now! Whoever developed this is way smarter than me, I... I can't do this!""You can do this. Stay focused. I'll give you all the help that you need, but you have to do whatever you can. Trust me, Barbara. There's a reason I didn't turn Oracle in whenever I discovered the truth. You've got a gift for this that I can't imagine, and if we work together on this... there's nothing to say that we have to stop there."
It may be a futile gesture to appeal to her admiration of what I do, but it's all that I have to lean on. I can hear her taking a few deep breaths, before furiously typing at her own keyboard. Lines of code begin to formulate, then dissipate under Toyman's attack. She tries another set. Once again, it falters. I can hear her slam a closed fist against her desk, but she nevertheless gives it a third try. This time, the code that she inputs isn't immediately taken out. Infact, some of Schott's virus begins to loosen up.
"Okay, I've gotten a little bit of my bearings, but there's still so much to...""You're doing it. That's all that matters."
WHAT IS THIS?
YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED
TO BRING IN ANOTHER
Removing a final panel that lies against the motherboard, I remove a miniature hard-drive expansion box that Waynetech developed and plug it in. Some of the wiring begins to spark, as if Toyman himself is resisting this from the outside, but I avoid the electrical output and take a step back. Unless I'm quick with this, he could potentially fry the device and lock both Barbara and myself out of the system. "Ace! Can you hear me?" Ack...Acknowledged.Feels... cold. Can't... focus. Am I dying, Mr. Wayne?
I stare back at the screen, quizzically.
It feels cold? It thinks it's dying?
What in the hell did Toyman's programming to do Ace? "You... can't die. You're a piece of hardware. It isn't physically possible for you to experience anything beyond your primary functions. Whatever you think you're feeling, it's an illusion created by the virus. You need to accept that."Hardware?Hardware...H-H-Hard...Accept?Accept...A-A-Ac..."Ace?!""It's no use. Your artificial program is too maligned to be able to do what it needs to do right now. We're on our own. But I think that the door that I opened just gave us a chance to fight back, if you're willing to follow my instructions."
Reluctantly, I comb through the master file for Ace and begin a system shutdown. I don't know if I can do this without it, but if Gordon thinks that we're able to fight back Toyman on our own, I have to put aside any reservations. I made the decision to come to her because of what she could offer. Now that she's offering her help to me, it'd be foolish to question it. "Alright. I've shut it down. Now what do I need to... ARRGH!"
YOU HAVE MEDDLED IN THIS
FOR FAR TOO LONG.
YOU ARE BUT A TOY.
AND ANY TOY CAN BE BROKEN.
My systems are overloading. A piercingly loud screech echoes throughout my cowl, hitting a decibel that makes the lenses crack and explode off of my face. Temporarily blinded by the sensation, I fall to my knees in anguish, ripping at the material of the cowl itself to tear away as much of the circuitry that Toyman's attacking before it deafens me. "Batman?!""Hang on!"
Removing my cowl entirely, I drop it to the ground and wince in pain as a circuit board embedded on the frontal plate explodes, melting away part of the front of the mask. The smell of burning leather and plastic fills the air, and Toyman cackles. If I had kept the cowl on just a bit longer, that could have been my face. He was trying to kill me, and Ace was the only thing stopping him from being able to do it. "Dammit..."
Reaching inside the ruined cowl, I produce the earpiece inside and clip it to my ear in order to maintain a direct line to Barbara Gordon. Since the cowl's off, I'm going to have to mimic the distortion of the voice modulator built inside with my own voice in order to maintain my identity. Which sounds alot easier than it actually is. "I'm back. Had a temporary setback, but I should be alright now.""You, uh, sound different. Like you're doing a weird animal growl, or something. It's hard to understand you. Sure you're not hurt?"
Massaging the bridge of my nose, I force back the frustration of having to put upon something that was always provided for me electronically. "I said I'm fine. Let's stick to the matter at hand. What do you need me to do to combat the virus?""Uh, yeah. About that. I have some news you're not gonna want to hear. The virus itself isn't the problem, it's the program that it originates from. You probably can't see it from your user interface, but something's attacking every single system that you have from an outside source. If we're going to beat this, we need to attack the source and shut that down in order to give your system it's stability back."
My eyes widen, looking back at the monitors displaying Toyman's artificial form. "Is that possible?""Not if we sit around doing nothing about it. Do you happen to have access to a terminal that the main program is linked to?"
Rushing the terminal, I begin to try and type commands. But my hand reels back as a spark of electricity erupts, eventually revealing a current going across the entire system. It's not affecting the machinery itself, but it's certainly trying to protect it. "Can't. The program's got a physical safeguard.""Alright, then we do this the hard way. You start breaking anything you can, I'll start shutting down every trace of the program that attempts to escape to another server. That sound good to you?"
Allowing a smirk to cross my lips as I look up at Toyman, I begin to crack my knuckles."Ms. Gordon, that sounds more than acceptable."
I go to work, smashing my fist into the monitors, as does she by writing a number of codes into my systems, strengthening it's security and attacking the A.I. back. Little by little, what remains of 'Toyman' begins to falter, flanked from two sides in the physical and digital realm. Through it all, I try my best not to remember that if Superman fails, Gotham and everyone in it dies.
YOU CAN'T END