ISSUE #14 (February 2020) Written by Emma Woods Featuring:
"BLINDED BY INDIFFERENCE" PART 2
“I know what you’re thinking,” the figure broke the silence, well-tailored and immaculate in appearance, a man at stark odds with the squalor of his surroundings. With steel girders and metallic walkways, the air was thick with the musk of rust, the heat alone cause enough for a man to perspire. He seemed to be unperturbed, idly tinkering with the objects laid out across the table, his demeanour at insufferable ease. “You’re thinking that ‘Dante’ is far too melodramatic a name to have in a place such as this.”
He smiled then, turning half way to face his guest, the expression almost bashful in his humility, “I’m afraid our benefactors can be as grandiose as they are varied. Over the last decade or so, they have become more fanciful in nature, more colourful. I blame Superman myself, but opinions differ.”
Dante made the smallest of frowns as the lights flickered, casting the room into an even deeper gloom before the ambient light returned, for all that it was worth. He shook his head in resignation before returning to task, tapping the tip of his finger against the table.
“You want to know why you’re here?” he questioned, looking to his guest across the room, one who didn’t answer. They couldn’t, tightly bound to the chair as they were, their mouth wrapped in a gag. So covered in grime was his guest, their own filth, Dante couldn’t tell if they were male or female. Truth be told, he would have difficulty discerning the truth under the best of circumstances, he had lost seeing the point of the distinction a long time ago.
“You want to know why you’ve been separated from the others?” he continued to observe idly before plucking an object from the table, carrying it with him before he crouched before his guest.
The entrapped figure squirmed to get away, it was a pointlessly futile gesture.
Dante made the smallest of sympathetic expressions, “I’m afraid it’s not because you’re special. We have requirements, you see, necessities to keep the Inferno running. If it’s any consolation, this does mean that you’re not destined for a far more ambiguous fate.”
The expression passed, and Dante became all the more sombre, “Unfortunately, you are not suitable enough the way you are.”
His guest squirmed all the more, panic rising, a whimpering emerging from their chest.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Dante repeated, his tone dangerously even, “you’re afraid, but there is no need to be concerned. By the time we are done today,” Dante raised his hand, both revealing and igniting the blowtorch he grasped, his guest crying profusely, “you will feel nothing at all.”
Unlike Red Robin, patience was not one of Batgirl’s strong suits.
She remained out of sight as she perched upon a ledge overlooking the pier, humming to herself as quietly as she could, the night performing a commendable job of obscuring her purple and black attire. Stephanie crouched, making her silhouette as small as it could be, her cape blurring her outline as she held up a sleek visor to her cowl, gazing through it to perceive with greater clarity the scene playing out before her.
She stopped humming soon after, nothing about what she saw sat well with her.
A mass of humanity was being herded through the crowded streets, citizens of the Narrows, the homeless, the destitute, the forgotten, bullied into a line and herded into shipping containers. They looked about themselves with fruitive, frightened glances, clinging to one another for any sense of comfort as men strapped with enough hardware to wage a small war kept them in line.
Batgirl was not amused.
“I’m not seeing the Underground Men,” Stephanie whispered, keeping her voice low as she spoke into her commlink, relaying her observations back to her handler. She was referring to the assailants that she had encountered earlier in the evening, disturbing figures she was hesitant to refer to as human.
“Unlikely to be a positive development,” Bette Kane, the former vigilante known as Flamebird pinged back, her voice audible within Batgirl’s cowl alone. “It would be more satisfactory to be aware of their position.”
“Agree to disagree,” Stephanie relayed, feeling a shiver pass through her slender shoulders, “gave me the creeps.”
“Who do you see?” Bette inquired. “Visuals are murky on this end,” she confessed, sounding less than happy about the development, “some kind of interference.”
Batgirl smirked ever so slightly at her Handlers irritation; they didn’t always get along even at the best of times.
“Goons, heavily armed, regimented, can’t see any of their faces,” she squinted, zooming in with her visor for a better look. “I’m not seeing any insignia. Whoever it is they work for, they’re not advertising.”
“That’s inconvenient,” Bette observed, her tone deadpan.
“I’ll be sure to let them know,” Stephanie bounced back, cramp beginning to creep into her thighs. Crouching, it turned out, was not her favourite thing to do. “I can tell you who is advertising though, those shipping containers belong to Wayne Enterprises.”
That was unmistakeably so, the giant ‘W’ logo printed across their sides giving the game away, subtly wasn’t exactly that companies watch word.
“So does the ship,” Bette clarified, “manifests have its cargo listed as humanitarian aid.”
Stephanie snorted, immediately regretting the noise that she made, immediately thankful that Tim had not be around to hear it. She frowned after a moment, thinking the development over, “I should have known that the Prince of Gotham would have it in for the Narrows.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” her Handler advised, “you have no proof concerning Bruce Wayne’s involvement.”
Stephanie scrunched her nose for just a moment before sighing in resignation, conceding the point. It was entirely possible that Gotham’s favourite son was oblivious to his own companies’ dealings. When it came to his appearances on the news, he rarely came across as the sharpest tool in the shed.
After observing for a few moments longer, Batgirl had seen enough.
“I’m getting on that boat,” she decided, seemingly apropos of nothing.
“The hell you are!” Bette shot back.
“We need to know where these people are being taken, and we need to take it out at the kneecaps,” Stephanie refused to be deterred, determined to follow her gut instinct, unwilling to leave these people to their fate.
“No, you’re not,” Kane remained just as adamant. “At best, this is human trafficking, which is beyond your level of experience. I’m passing this up to Batman.”
“Is Batman in Gotham?” Stephanie inquired, already suspecting the answer. The pause that followed her question was all the confirmation that she would need.
“No,” Bette confessed.
“I’m getting on that boat,” Batgirl decided, her mind already made up.
Stephanie cut off the link, feeling a giddy combination of both rebellion and trepidation, hopping down from her perch before she could think twice about her decision.
Largely because she suspected that it was a bad idea…
“Sh*t!” Bette cursed with a great deal of venom as she removed her headset, feeling an intense need to hit something. Unfortunately, there was nothing suitable enough nearby, only the bank of monitors before her, and she needed those to remain functional. Instead, she released a further string of vulgarity that would have made her charge blush were she still listening to her commlink, exhaling deeply as she did so.
Bette cursed one final time her as right knee flared with a fresh spasm of pain, the braced limb reminding her all too acutely of the source of her frustrations. Of her worries.
Following a deep inhale, Bette returned her headset to its proper place and called the last person that she ever wanted to. Some rivalries died hard, and her current circumstances only exasperated her unwillingness to reach out.
Stephanie Brown would pay for this dearly.
She waited impatiently for the link to be made and then, when the chime occurred, Kane grit her teeth before she began speaking.
“Oracle,” she greeted less than warmly.
“Flamebird,” the reply came somewhat more cordially, although there was only so much she could do to disguise her own displeasure. Barbara Gordon wasn’t always quite the saint that the others liked to make her out to be.
Bette cut straight to the point, “I need a direct line to Batman.”
“I don’t care where he is, I need a link to Batman,” Kane cut off any potential run around at the head, knowing precisely what to say to get the redheads undivided attention.
“Batgirl is about to get herself killed.”
While she never had any intention of admitting it, Stephanie was beginning to regret her most recent decisions.
Being a stowaway on a crowded ship she knew nothing about was already proving to be a far more difficult task than she had anticipated, the young woman darting down one corridor and then the next, searching for some manner of nook she could secret herself away in. More than once she had already been nearly discovered, coming within a hairs breadth of being caught as the guards she had been observing earlier only seemed to be growing in number the deeper she ventured into the ship.
She forced herself to remain calm, Batgirl crouched as she poked her head out from around a corner, preparing for a moment that she could launch into a swift dash…
A startled yelp would have erupted from her slender frame had Stephanie possessed the time to do so, grabbed as she was from behind by a figure that was both at least twice her size, and significantly heavier. A meaty hand was wedged heavily over the top of her mouth to prevent any sound from escaping, whilst a thick arm encircled her waist and pinned her own limbs to her sides. She kicked out with both of her legs as she was dragged backwards into the shadows of an alcove that she had not even seen, but her neck was twisted just severely enough to convince her to hold still.
Not a moment later, a second figure walked past where she had just been standing, heavily armed and vigilant, someone who would most certainly have spotted her had Stephanie not been forcibly removed from sight. A pregnant pause hung tensely in the air until the sentry continued on his way, oblivious to the two figures crouched in darkness but a few feet away.
Batgirl blinked as she remained still, flexing only her fingers as she remained forcibly restrained, her heart beating a mile a minute as she considered her efforts to wriggle free. She decided against it, conceding her lack of leverage, and instead forced herself to observe what she could, spying out of the corner of her eye that her captor was obscuring his own features with what appeared to be a modified gas mask, the lenses of which were opening and closing slowly.
Eventually, he slackened his grip of the Batgirl ensnared within his grasp, but did not yet see fit to release her, his voice emerging like gravel as he exhaled quietly.
“For a bat,” Killer Moth scolded as though he were disapproving parent, “you should be more mindful of your surroundings.”