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Batman(R): Fear Itself

Written by Michael ReavesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot AltmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Steven-Elliot Altman

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Batman strikes fear in the hearts of criminals, but there’s a killer stalking Gotham who’s even better at inspiring fright–and his method just might be unbeatable . . . because it’s invisible.

Unbeknownst to the general public, a powerful new designer drug has hit the streets of Gotham, courtesy of an evil genius determined to turn the expression “scared to death” into lethal reality. Unlike the Caped Crusader, who petrifies only villains, this mastermind is targeting decent citizens–and he’s come up with the ultimate delivery system. After all, the public can’t refuse something they can’t see, hear, or smell. That’s the beauty of a terror toxin that is undetectable by the human senses. And with all of Gotham’s super-villains incarcerated, Batman must hunt down a mystery madman about whom he knows nothing.

Maybe the Dark Knight should be afraid . . . because there’s plenty to fear when you go head-to-head with fear itself.

Excerpt

1

Trust the night.

The sensei had told him that, not long after he had gone to Japan to study under the old man’s tutelage. He’d no idea at the time—he still didn’t—how Master Yoru had divined his intention, his purpose . . . his Plan. But somehow, he had. Bruce Wayne had known that from nearly the first day they’d met, in the peaceful dojo of lacquered wood and painted shoji, and he knew that the martial arts master had known he knew.

Eighty years old, at least, and nearly blind in one eye, judging by the cloud of cataract tissue that had spread across it. Yet he’d still been able to move like water between rocks, strike like iron against rice paper. No one in the dojo could touch him. Bruce doubted that any- one in the East could touch him.

He had learned much.

Trust the night.

The phrase always flickered like heat lightning through his mind as he entered the shadows. He quickly descended the rungs of rusted and verdigris-crusted iron, his cloak draping him. The tunnels were almost large enough to stand in upright; the storm drains and sewers that snaked below Gotham City rivaled those of Paris or Vienna in their size and complexity. They—and the rooftops—were by far the quickest and easiest way to get from one area of the city to another.

He moved swiftly along the relatively dry embankment. The sewer stench didn’t bother him; he was used to it, plus he had daubed mentholated salve beneath his nostrils before leaving the car. It was a practice he had learned watching coroners and forensics investigators working over cadavers.

The darkness was nearly total, but his footing was sure, despite the occasional patches of slime and offal on the wet concrete. The wafer-thin white gallium arsenide plates that hid his eyes were Generation Five light amplifiers, developed, as was so much of his personal arsenal, by the R&D staff of Wayne Technologies. Their primary clients were the armed forces and private security firms. Their customer satisfaction quotient was high, largely because he field-tested most of the prototypes himself.

There were occasional cryptic combinations of numbers and letters stenciled on the curving walls, or at intersections; often these were nearly obliterated by decades of water and mold. They spoke, to those who could read them, of drainage levels, basin and sub-basin locations, outlet control junctions, and the like. They also gave directions. Following these, he turned left at a T-intersection, left again at a branching conduit. Eventually he was stopped by a rust-weakened iron grid, which one thrust of his booted heel easily reduced to chunky powder.

He was now in what the city infrastructure plans called the North Corridor Project. This had been originally intended as a linking commuter line, but had been abandoned in the late 1960s, when it was decided to put the Diamond Express Line in at a deeper level. The corridor now served as an emergency runoff drain during severe storms.

It would also, in this case, serve as an emergency access to the runaway train.

A small heads-up display blinked on just above his left eye plate, summoned by a subvocalized command. Along with a compass, temperature gauge, and air toxicity sampler, it gave him a digital time readout.

He had less than thirty seconds.

From one of his belt compartments he took a small quantity of plastic explosive and quickly molded it in a three-foot-wide circle in the center of the corridor’s floor. The material was another WayneTech development—it had a TNT equivalence 20 percent higher than C4, and a brisance factor of thirty thousand feet per second. He moved back ten feet, shielded himself with his cloak, and triggered the built-in soft-circuit detonator.

The flash was dazzling, even with the Gen-5 polarizers. The audio circuitry in the cowl dampened the sound of the blast, and the shaped charge directed most of the concussion wave downward. Even so, it was not an experience he cared to repeat anytime soon.

Through the mist of aerosolized concrete and masonry he could see a ragged hole, its circumference punctuated by torn rebar. The eighteen-inch-thick floor of the drain was also, at this juncture, the ceiling of the Diamond Express tunnel.

Even as he stepped forward, he could feel the vibration beneath him begin to build, could see the faint light of the approaching train.

He would have only one shot at this.

He gathered the cloak around him, stepped forward, and dropped through the hole.

Trust the night.

For nearly five years now it had been his best ally; better than the R&D team, with their white lab coats and their computer modeling and their solemn expressions; certainly better than the GCPD, by turns brutal and blundering, with one of the lowest credibility ratings of any city in the country; even better than Alfred Pennyworth, esq., that irreplaceable and irrepressible butler who was also a certified field medic, a fair mechanic, a passable cook, and many more things, not the least of which was surrogate family and confidant without peer. It was the truth, pure and simple; he could not have done any of this without Alfred’s help and support. He wasn’t sure the butler would take that as a sterling character recommendation, but it was true nonetheless.

Yet even so, the darkness remained his first and foremost ally. It sheltered him, created and maintained the fear his enemies felt for him—even, in an odd way, nourished him. After all, he had lived with it for so long . . . ever since the age of eight.

Now, as he dropped through the hole, the darkness once again welcomed him. He landed lightly, one foot on either side of the third rail. The light was increasing steadily, as was the vibration. He leapt quickly to the narrow maintenance walkway that ran the length of the tunnel.

The roar of the wheels against the track grew louder. The cowl’s circuitry automatically dampened anything over eighty-five dB but could do nothing about the bone-jarring vibration. The light filled the tunnel with stark, flowing chiaroscuro. He estimated the train’s speed at better than sixty miles per hour. Faces in the windows flickered by, less than eighteen inches from him, a magic lantern of terror.

The timing had to be perfect; he wouldn’t get a second chance.

The instant the last car shot past, he jumped.

His fingers locked around the rear guard railing; his feet found the plate. His cape snapped out to its full length behind him. The network of aramid polyfibers woven into his suit tightened in response to the sudden stress and kept his shoulders from being dislocated, although just barely. He pulled himself forward, fighting the momentum of the train. In situations like these, the cape was more a hindrance than a help, although it was light enough not to seriously impede him.

He tried the door but, not surprisingly, it was locked. He could see through the car’s rear window that the interior was empty, save for an old couple huddled in one of the forward seats. He motioned to them, gesturing that they should let him in, but it was obvious that they were too frightened to move.

The train’s momentum and sway made it impossible to try to cut or force the door open; the same applied to the reinforced window. He had to find another way to stop the hurtling juggernaut.

There was but one way, insane though it seemed. He had to reach the front of the train, and only one route was even remotely possible.

He reached up, seized the edge of the car’s roof, and pulled himself up. Another moment and he was spread-eagled on the convex surface.

He kept himself flattened out as much as possible; there was less than two feet of clearance between the top of the car and the tunnel ceiling. Emergency light boxes mounted at regular intervals narrowed the gap even more.

He inched forward.

There were six cars; it felt like sixty. He crawled toward the lead car with agonizing slowness, acutely aware of the light boxes, piping, and other obstacles whizzing by so close overhead. Occasionally he glimpsed large, illuminated signs marking emergency exits flashing by. It seemed incredible to him that thrill-seeking teenagers would voluntarily seek out situations like this, yet he knew they did. “Subway surfing,” they called it. A boy had been killed only last week on the Opal Line, his head crushed to a red ruin when he had misjudged the clearance.

He wondered why the system fail-safes had not automatically applied the emergency brakes when the routing computer first logged the runaway. He recalled that there had been a collision last year due to a switching mistake. The computer had applied the emergency brakes; the system had worked, insofar as programming went. Due to city budget cutbacks, however, the signal spacing and safety parameters—set back in 1907 when trains were slower, shorter, and lighter—had never been updated. The emergency brake system had not been able to stop the train in time, and thirty-six people had died. Perhaps something similar had gone awry this time.

Or perhaps there was another, more sinister reason for this.
Michael Reaves|Steven-Elliot Altman

About Michael Reaves

Michael Reaves - Batman(R): Fear Itself
Michael Reaves is a renowned screenwriter who has written, story-edited, and/or produced more than three hundred teleplays for various television series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Twilight Zone, Sliders, and Monsters. He was also a story editor and writer on Batman: The Animated Series, for which he won an Emmy Award for writing in 1993. He has worked for Spielberg's DreamWorks, among other studios, and is the author of several fantasy novels and supernatural thrillers. He is also the author of Hell on Earth. Michael Reaves makes his home in Los Angeles.

About Steven-Elliot Altman

Steven-Elliot Altman - Batman(R): Fear Itself
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