Casey voiced my thoughts perfectly. “What the hell is that?”
“It’s not a bomb,” Nightwing said, strangely calm. “Not quite. It’s more a of a key to make the bomb work. I’m guessing you know about this, kid? Something you planned out?”
“Actually, no, it’s not,” I told him. “I was kidding you guys.”
“Doesn’t look like it!” Casey protested.
I looked back at Nightwing. “You said a bomb.”
“Yeah. ‘Cept that it’s not in you. It’s in the car.”
“Aaaand it’s just our luck that you have it close on hand,” I confirmed.
He nodded. “It’s carrying eighty-plus kilograms of uranium.”
I felt a nervous thrill run through me. “That’s a lot of bang.”
“Enough to take out the city!” Casey hit me, a shot that caught me on the side of the head, slicing it open. “You’re insane! You’re no better than him, you freaking lunatic!”
Nightwing moved, suddenly at my side, catching hold of her arm and glaring into her eyes.
“Listen, Casey.” She tried to pull her arm free but he held her fast. “Look closer. The thing’s been sewn into him for years. He had no idea about it. He was bluffing. The only way this goes down is that we work together. Do you hear me?”
She glared into his eyes. “My grandparents…”
“I know. It’s not just them. It’s everyone in Gotham.” Nightwing turned back to me. “Are you willing to help us? Or are we going to have to fight you the whole way?”
I laughed at him. “Jeez. Took a nuke to make you see sense?”
“Are you with us? Or not?” Nightwing demanded.
“I’ll be with you when I get to stand up. And I get my clothes back.”
The chains came apart easily enough. I stood up, stretching, trying to get some feeling back into my shoulders and arms again. My clothes and hardware was sitting on a bench. I took a moment to glance around as Nightwing picked up my jacket. We were in a cave, dark, smelling like bats, an almost alien environment, complete with waterfall and metal platforms that looked like they were hundreds of feet off the ground.
“Nice place,” I commented.
My shirt, waistcoat, and jacket hit me, and I rapidly slipped them on, tidying myself up and tying my green handkerchief around my neck like a scarf. Casey watched my little masquerade with cold eyes. She was keeping herself in check, but barely.
“Much better,” I muttered. “Now all I need is green hair.”
Neither of them laughed. I didn’t expect them to. The stakes were too high.
“The trigger inside you set off a timer,” Nightwing told me.
“How long?” I asked.
“Less than an hour.”
I grinned humourlessly. “Not a lot of time.”
“No. You have to be within a hundred feet of the car, otherwise the trigger detonates automatically. We’re around the eastern half of Gotham.” Nightwing tapped a few keys on the gigantic computer. “I don’t know what Joker had planned, but it’s safe to bet that he wants Gotham a smoking hole. You have to drive out of here. You can drive, right?”
“I nicked cars to stay alive,” I told him. “Yeah, I can drive.”
“This isn’t a game. There’s millions of lives resting on your shoulders right now,” Nightwing said, looking into my eyes. I could see his fear, his desperation. “I’m going to follow you in the Batwing. Casey, you’re with JJ.”
She stopped short. “No.”
“I’m not asking,” Nightwing told her.
Arrow shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere near him.”
“You’re my guarantee that he’s not playing us. Your grandparents are going to die if you don’t do exactly as I tell you, Casey.” Nightwing sounded like he was lecturing a little kid. “Go with him. If he tries to run, do whatever it takes to keep him within a hundred feet of the car. Everything’s riding on this.”
Casey cursed, and picked up something from the bench, slinging it over her shoulder, along with a strangely square case of metal arrows and her extendable staff. I went to pick up my Rossi, but Nightwing’s baton crashed into the bench half an inch from my extended fingers.
“Arrow will protect you if you’re in danger.” Nightwing’s voice brooked no argument. He held up a syringe of glowing green liquid. The Titan formula. “I’ve heard of this crap before. It’s a supercharged form of Venom. I don’t know what you’re doing with it in your pocket.”
He tossed it to Casey, who caught it and looked a question at him.
“You might need it,” he told her.
“Great, now we’re all big damn heroes,” I muttered to myself. “Where am I taking the bomb again? A little cruise into the country isn’t exactly going to stop people dying.”
“It’s too heavy for the Batwing,” Nightwing told me. “I can’t fly it out of here.”
There was a pause.
“The docks,” Casey said finally.
“What?” I said, looking at her.
“My dad’s speedboat. We might be able to get it far enough out to sea…”
“In what, ten minutes?” I laughed. “Must be one hell of a machine.”
Nightwing shook his head. “I don’t see any other way.”
He charged down a flight of metal steps, and I followed him, Casey close behind. Parked on a metal platform was a sleek purple Cadillac, a beautiful car, from the era when cars were hand built and gorgeous because of it. I reminded myself that the thing was practically a nuke on wheels, and any appreciation of the bodywork suddenly vanished. I rapidly started doing checks, lifting the bonnet and checking the engine.
“What the hell are you doing?” Casey demanded, hysteria edging her voice.
“You want to get this thing out of Gotham?” I asked her sarcastically. “I’ve driven cars before, and I’ve taken them to pieces and put them back together. I know exactly what I’m looking for. At the moment, it’s an engine that’s going to take a nuke out of the city as fast as it can go. Two minutes now might save the city later.”
Finally, I decided it was fine, and Nightwing tossed the keys to me.
“Drive fast,” he told me. “Casey…”
“I know,” she said coldly. “Don’t let him out of the car.”
“I was going to say don’t kill him,” Nightwing pointed out.
“No promises,” Arrow Girl said.
A door slid open, leading into the night, hidden behind rocks and bushes. A clever way of getting in and out. I glanced over at Nightwing, who fixed me with a glare of hate that ran the whole way through my entire body.
“You screw this up, and both of us survive…”
“…then we’ll be glowing,” I finished for him. “Yeah, I know.”
“You’re not funny,” Nightwing growled.
I grinned at him. “I’ll grow on ya. Just wait.”
Then I opened the door of the Cadillac and started up the engine.
Moments later, I had it out of the cave and onto a perfectly respectable stretch of mountain road that overlooked Gotham. Casey sat beside me in tight-lipped silence.
The radio crackled into life after a few minutes. I had the Cadillac in the highest gear, screaming down the road, the only thing keeping up on the asphalt being my reflexes and a hell of a lot of luck. I could hear Casey hyperventilating beside me, but I focused my attention on the road. It was the only way that we were going to get out of this alive.
“Hey, kid! Miss me?” Joker’s voice, over the radio. Another pre-recorded message. “Well, as you never really met me, guess not, hey? So, I’m guessing you’ve figured it out by now. I don’t think the boys would’ve managed, but if you’ve survived this long, then you’re sharper than them. This beautiful little machine is now a rolling circus of death. On a clock.”
“Is he…?” I could see Casey, white-faced, out of the corner of my eye.
“No. He’s dead. It’s just a recording.” My hands tightened around the wheel.
“So, what are you going to do? That’s really the meaty question here. I mean, I’ve never really had a nuke to play with. They sound fun! But you might still be clinging to notions of right and wrong. Ridiculous notions of good and evil.” Joker laughed. “Consider this my little victory trumpet. Because, let’s be honest. You’re only thinking about survival right now. Which is not looking that good. Because you’re the trigger. You step too far away from this car and… poof. Say goodnight to half the city, maybe more. And I’m going to be here with you, every step of the way.”
Finally, the radio went silent.
I slewed around a corner, and then gritted my teeth as I realised that I was barely a quarter of the way there. Arrow Girl pulled a com-device from her belt and I heard Nightwing’s voice crackle over it. Then I remembered he was flying over us.
“You’re making good progress,” he told us.
“How much longer?” I asked.
“You’ve got forty minutes.”
“Not a lot of time,” Casey said quietly.
I risked a glance at her. She was shaking, pale, and looked like she was about to be sick, but she was keeping on an incredibly calm face. I dropped back a gear, slid around a street corner, and then heard a crunch of metal and glass behind us as a car spun out of control.
“This driving isn’t putting you off at all, is it?”
“Do you ever shut up?” she demanded shakily.
“Not often.” I yanked the wheel to the left and narrowly avoided a park bench.
Joker’s voice crackled back on. “Doesn’t seem very sporting, does it? A nuke? But I had to make a point here. Kinda like a final goodbye for the city of Gotham. No more Batmen, no more four-year olds in tights. Just hell. Just a good ol’ dosage of fire and brimstone. Heh.”
“How much further to the dock?” I asked, partly to distract myself from Joker.
Nightwing spoke over the comlink. “Ten minutes, give or take.”
“We’ll be lucky if we survive half that time,” I said.
Right on cue, sirens began howling behind us.
I glanced in my rear-view mirror, and saw blue and white cars beginning to gain on us. Typical. Try to save the city and the cops decide to try and slow us up. I spun the wheel, sliding around a corner, popped the Cadillac up a gear, and then slammed my foot to the floor, trying to get some distance between us and the police.
I glanced at Casey. “Please tell me you brought a gun.”
In answer, she held up a strange pistol-carbine-crossbow hybrid. I shook my head, swerved around a mail-stand, and clipped a parked Volvo, spinning it sideways and shaking the entire Cadillac. Muttering a curse, I dropped back a gear and took another corner. The police were beginning to get closer, and before long, they’d have roadblocks set up.
“Right. No gun. What’s that thing shoot? Twigs?”
In answer, Casey smashed out the passenger window with her elbow, and then leaned out of it. There was a solid thwip sound, and one of the police cruisers behind us suddenly spun out of control. I glanced behind us, and then spun the wheel again, piling on the speed. The traffic was getting steadily heavier, and the kind of antics I was getting away with here were not going to last long if we didn’t improvise.
“So, explosive twigs?” I asked, grinning.
“You’re doing great,” I reassured her.
“Tick tock,” said Joker over the radio. “Fifteen minutes.”
Casey fired again, but she must’ve missed, since no cop car suddenly spun out behind us. I rounded a corner, and then realised there was a traffic pile-up. Cursing, I pulled the Cadillac up onto the sidewalk, slamming down the horn. Pedestrians scattered, and I kept my hand on the noisemaking button. I lost the left rear-view mirror as we whipped past a pole, shearing it clean off. A trashcan skipped up off the sidewalk and slid over the bonnet, scattering crap all over the pristine purple paint.
“Nightwing! Where the hell are we?” Casey shouted.
“Less than a mile to go,” Batman’s apprentice called back.
I swung around a corner, bounced off the curb and onto the asphalt again.
“They’ll have a helicopter here in a minute,” Casey said, sliding back into her seat. “But we lost the cruisers.” Her face was flushed under her mask. “Thank God, we’ve found the piers. We’re looking for a silver boat. It’s got red lettering on it, looks like a luxury cruiser.”
“That’s our ticket out of here?” I asked.
“It’s the bomb’s ticket out of here,” Casey said.
I tapped my chest. “Forgetting about this?”
She stopped short, just as I found the boat that we were looking for. A plank had been lowered down, but it probably wouldn’t be wide enough to take the Cadillac up onto the deck. I spun away from the piers, pushing the car hard, before spinning it around again and shoving it into its highest gear. I slammed my foot to the floor and raced at the plank leading up to the boat, angling it ever so slightly, before suddenly wrenching on the handbrake and counter-steering. The Cadillac hit the ramp on an angle, sliding up sideways, before hitting the edge. We were moving way too fast – the world spun as the car caught on the rail of the boat, and the Cadillac smashed into the cabin. There was a bone-rattling crash, and then everything was still. I ripped my seat-belt off, and then kicked the window out, crawling through the glass to get free. As I stood up, I could see Gotham’s proud towers looming over us. I turned back to the car, and saw Casey drag herself out of the wreckage, shaken, but looking unharmed.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
“And you beat meatheads done up in a green outfit,” I quipped.
She laughed, more a relief at being alive than my actual humour.
“Get the boat moving,” I told her. “Then get off.”
Casey ran into the cabin, and I rapidly removed the heavy tethers keeping the boat attached to the pier, dragging them to the edge of the deck and dropping them over the side. I felt the entire yacht lurch, and suddenly start moving backwards, deceptively fast. I turned and headed into what was left of the cabin. Casey was backing the ship up, spinning it around.
“As soon as this is pointed out of here, you’re gone,” I told her.
She laughed, but it sounded hollow. “I’m not leaving you out here by yourself.”
What the…? I shook my head. “It’s not a request, Arrow Girl. Get off.”
“Not happening,” she told me, her smile tight.