Birds of Prey 1: The Hand of the Wolverine
Huntress patrolled the night, leaping from building to building under the cover of darkness, pausing occasionally to look down on the city below, looking for any sign of trouble. So far, there hadn’t been any such signs. She was disappointed.
“Quiet night”, she commented, somewhat grumpily.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Oracle commented.
“It depends on who you ask, ” Huntress replied. “I was really hoping for some action tonight.”
“Some frustrations to work off?”
“Something like that, ” Huntress replied, glaring down at the city below.
“Well, it looks like you might get your wish. I’ve got an alarm at Gelden Engineering. It’s close by, and since nothing else is going on, maybe you’d like to take a look.”
Huntress shrugged. “Might as well”.
In minutes, she was at the building, and noticed four men running away through the back alleys that ran near the building. “This is going to be WAY too easy, ” she sniffed, chasing after them.
The four men pounded down the alley. “Hurry up, ” the leader growled. “We’ve got to get further away before the cops get here.”
And then he ground to a complete halt as he found his way blocked by an attractive woman in a leather outfit. “I don’t think the cops are your biggest worry right now, ” she said.
He looked her up and down. “What, you think that YOU are?”
“We don’t have the time to waste talking, ” one of his other thugs commented.
“That’s right”, he replied, dropping his load. “Let’s take care of her.”
It was quick all right, but not in the way they’d expected. She side-stepped the first guy to get to her, snap kicked the next guy in line in the stomach, rotated from that to deck the third guy with an elbow, leap-kicked the fourth guy in the face, dodged the second guy’s clumsy grab and dealt him a kick to the chin, and then finished off the second guy with a knee to the head.
“I was right, ” she said. “That was WAY too easy.”
Then she heard the sound of clapping coming from the buildings to her left. On top of that building, there squatted a man. He was wearing a brown costume, with a full-mask, that ended in some pretty ludicrous “ears” on the top of his head. A lit cigar rested in his mouth, and he was clapping sarcastically about her performance.
“Not bad, ” he said in a raspy, coarse voice. “‘Course, these guys ain’t the real deal; they’re just the decoys.”
“Yeah? And what makes you think that?”
He shrugged. “If ya really think that these’re smart enough to break into a place with the security of Gelden, that’s up to you. But I’ll bet ya that you ain’t gonna find anything in those bags but common office supplies and stuff like that; nothin’ that would be worth the effort of tonight.”
“So if they aren’t the real deal, who is?” Huntress demanded.
Again, he shrugged. “I think ya’d be better off not knowin’. As it is, I think ya’d better clear out; the cops are on their way.”
It was then that she turned towards the sound of the siren behind her, and then when she glanced back at the building, the stranger was gone.
“No fair.” she grumbled. “He’s not supposed to disappear like that; I’M supposed to disappear like that.”
And she ran away into the night.
“Well, he was right, ” Barbara Gordon (Oracle) said, looking over at Helena from her computer display. “There were a number of blueprints reported missing that weren’t recovered from the guys you took out … and those weren’t the sort of things that they’d have been interested in anyway.”
“Any chance that the thugs could have been hired out to get the blueprints?” Helena asked.
“Not likely. These are state-of-the-art, top secret plans. Even if they’d been trained enough to understand which ones were important and which ones weren’t, there’s no way they could have gotten through the security … or found a place to ditch them before you caught up with them. I think that they were just a decoy something to draw off pursuit while the real job was being completed.”.
“And I fell for it just like he said. Damn!”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s not like he did any great job stopping them himself.”
“I don’t know. I get the impression that the only reason he didn’t stop them was because he wasn’t trying to. He definitely gave enough hints that he knew exactly what was going on, so
if he didn’t chase them down, it’s probably because he didn’t want to. I wonder if he’s really on their side, trying to lead us on a wild goose chase.”
“Well, considering who he is I’d find that a little hard to swallow. Take a look at this.”
Barbara hit a couple of keys on the screen, and motioned Helena to look closer. “From the pictures we got during your conversation, I was able to come up with a match.”
“Wolverine? Never heard of him.” Helena commented.
“He’s an old-timer. He’s had a few run-ins with Batman over the years. Not too often, but they’ve worked together on occasion. He’s basically a metahuman, but he’s also got some extra, artificial abilities.”
“Unbreakable metal bones, and metal claws? You’ve GOT to be kidding me!” Helena exclaimed.
“I’ve never known Batman not to keep accurate records, and that’s where the info’s coming from, ” Barbara replied. “He’s also noted as having the tendency to fly into berserk rages at times. He’s never been squeamish about killing people, either, even if he managed to
restrain it most of the time while he was working with Batman.”
“Well, at least he has ONE good quality, ” Helena quipped.
“Don’t start, ” Barbara chided. “Batman’s listed him as probably one of the most dangerous and deadliest men he’s ever known, and from this and from what I remember hearing about him, I’m inclined to agree. He’s been out of sight for quite a while, so we don’t know who’s side he’s on, but I think we’d better hope that he’s on our side.”
“So what’s the next move? Do we wait for him to make another appearance?”
“I think the best thing for us to do is pretend that he isn’t involved, and just go on looking into this. The good thing is that those blueprints require some very particular materials, things
that you just can’t get on the black market, things that they’ll probably have to steal. This gives us a pretty good idea of where they’ll strike next. So, we can start by staking those places out,
and eventually they’ll hit one of them, and we can move in.”
Barbara looked at her watch, and then winced. “But not tonight. There are way too many unknowns here for you to go on patrol solo and I have to attend the ball tonight.”
“Another romantic evening for you and Wade?”
“Unfortunately, Wade can’t make it, so it’s going to be me all by my lonesome. But it’s the Policeman’s Ball, so I have to attend.”
“Well, maybe I’ll spend some time down at the bar, see if anyone there remembers this Wolverine and can tell me more about what he’s up to these days.”
“That’s actually a really good idea, although I doubt that anyone will remember him; it’s not like he was around much. But Helena … DON’T take Dinah.”
Later that evening, the ball was in full swing, and it had reached that part of the evening where almost everyone had decided that this was a ball and that they were going to spend some time on the dance floor. Even some of the ever-solicitous friends of her father’s had gradually drifted away with their wives or dates, and truthfully she was glad that they did. It made her uncomfortable when people felt obligated to hang around with her instead of going off and having fun, just because she couldn’t join in as well.
But it was times like these, when she was reminded of the little things that she was missing, like dancing, walking through wet grass, that she really began to feel bitter and angry over the deal she’d gotten from fate. At least, if Wade had been here, she could have had some distraction, but right now, all she could do was sit,
watch people having fun that she couldn’t have, and wonder why fate had dealt her the hand that it had. Sure, it was possible that she’d recover, and sure, maybe the suit could, if she could ever
get it working, give her some things back, but right now, right here, all of that seemed so very far away.
She’d always really loved to dance.
A voice startled her back to reality. “Care for some company?” a masculine voice sounds from behind her.
She turned around to face a short, stocky man, with light brown hair, plain glasses, and a friendly, if somber, countenance. “No, not at all, ” she replied, anxious from some distraction from her dark thoughts.
He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her, glaring morosely at the dance floor. “I’ve noticed, ” he said, “that there’s always a point in any of these balls where everyone, as if by agreement, decides that they should all go out onto the dance floor, leaving those who are not inclined to dance wondering how long they can stand around the buffet without looking like a glutton.”
Barbara suppressed a chuckle. His voice had a slight British clip to it and a formality that made the words seem even more humourous than they probably deserved, and the slight twinkle in his eyes belied his morose facial expressions and made it clear that he was, in fact, joking. “Well, ” she said, “since it should be obvious why I’M not out on the dance floor, do you mind if I ask why you aren’t out there? No date? Don’t dance?”
“I do dance, ” he replied. “But not often.” He paused for an instant. “And not well.”
She chuckled. “I haven’t seen you around at any of these social events before, and I think I can guess why.”
“Well, you’d be only half-right. The truth is that I’ve only recently arrived in the city, and my business partners thought it would be a good idea for me to go out and mingle with the movers and shakers, extend my company’s profile a bit. Personally, I’d rather they did that and I got on with the business of making things work, but that’s the way life is. So, Miss … I’m sorry, I never did get your name.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Barbara Gordon? Any relation to former police commissioner Jim Gordon?”
“He was my father”, she replied.
“Ah. I was going to ask why you were here, but that explains it.”
“You’ve heard of my father, then?”
“A … relation of mine had some dealings with him, a long time ago. He respected him a great deal; his passing was a great loss.”
There passed a small moment of uncomfortable silence, and then Barbara jumped in, “I guess since you know who I am, it’d only be fair for you to return the favour.”
“Oh, how rude of me. I’m Anthony Corrigan. I’m the head of Cybercore Software.”
“A software designer by trade. I should have guessed.”
“Oh, please don’t tell me it shows that much.”
“Actually, it shows surprisingly little, but it shows just enough.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. I think. So, what do you do?”
“I’m a caterer.”
“A caterer?!? I’d never have guessed that. I’ll have to look you up the next time I need a good caterer … which is rare for me, since that would require that I entertain. And there’s always a list of friends of high-placed executives when you require corporate catering.”
“Well, I appreciate the thought, anyway, ” she replied, laughing.
“So, is your escort enjoying the dancing?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it tonight. Isn’t yours disappointed that she doesn’t get to see just how good a dancer you are?”
He shrugged. “As I said, I’m new in town, and haven’t met many people yet, and I don’t enjoy these things so much that I wanted to have someone who might actually be having fun tagging along. It would make sneaking out that much harder.”
As they had been talking, the dancing was starting to break up. “Speaking of sneaking out, ” he commented, “my partners will be most upset with me if I did so without taking the opportunity to schmooze with the head of that equipment company, so I suppose I should go and get it over with, and then quietly take my leave. If you will excuse me?”
He shook her hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you. Hopefully, we’ll meet again sometime.”
And then he disappeared into the crowd.
He seemed like a really nice guy. And interested in her, too, which was something that was rare; most guys weren’t interested in a woman in a wheelchair. He was very good at hiding his emotions, but she detected the slight look of disappointment on his face when she had said that her date just couldn’t make it that night. He was not really handsome, but was in a rugged sort of way, funny, and seemed fairly nice, and if she hadn’t been dating Wade, she might have been tempted to flirt a bit more with him. Maybe she should try to set him up with Helena …
She had to bite down to control her laughter. No, she thought, that would never work out; they were just way too different.
The next day, back in the Clocktower, Helena and Barbara were discussing their plan of attack. “So, did you find out any more about Wolverine?” Barbara asked.
“Nope, ” Helena replied. “All I heard is that he’s legendary even more legendary than Batman, in the vague, awe-inspiring sense. ”
“Well, from what I know, he wasn’t in Gotham very often, and whenever he was here some massive carnage followed. That’d be enough to make someone a legend.”
“I’d imagine, ” Helena replied. “So, what’s the plan?”
“It turns out that we’ve gotten lucky; two of the unique components are made by companies that happen to have their offices close together or, at least, close enough for you to get to either of them in a hurry. We’ll stake them out, and hope that they’ll hit at least one of them tonight. Then maybe we can get a better idea of what’s going on.”
“Do you know what it is that they’re actually trying to build?” Helena asked.
“The information I’ve been able to get on the plans isn’t complete. I’ve got most of the components, but not what they all do. I’ll work on that while we’re waiting.”
“Hopefully, we won’t be waiting too long, ” Helena grumbled.
“Helena, don’t let your desire to do things get in the way of your common sense. This is a very dangerous situation here.”
“Not as dangerous as I am, ” Helena replied.
That night, she crouched on a building, looking over the city, waiting for the thieves to strike again. “How much longer are we going to wait?” Huntress asked. “If I hurry, I can probably still catch a mugger.”
“Just be patient. This is more important.” Oracle replied.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not the one getting leg cramps out here.”
“Ahem?” Oracle replied.
“Oh, um, sorry.”
“Well, apologize later. We’ve got some action. Alarm at Teledyne corp.”
“I’m on it, ” Huntress replied, dashing forward.
Minutes later, she was chasing three men in ninja outfits through the alleys near the Teledyne corporate HQ. “Oracle, how do I know that these are the right guys?” Huntress asked.
“You don’t, but they’re our best bet and there aren’t many ninja common criminals in Gotham.”
She came around a corner just in time to see them dive out into a deserted street. When she came around that corner herself, though, she had a bit of a nasty surprise. Facing her were
about 20 men in ninja suits each armed with what seemed to be razor-sharp katanas.
“What I wouldn’t give for a machine gun right now, ” Huntress grumbled.
“Huntress, what’s wrong?” Oracle asked.
“I’ve got some company, ” Huntress replied. “I’ll have to call you back”.
A voice that spoke with an obvious Japanese accent said, “You should not have followed us, gaijin. It will mean your death.”
“You probably should have brought more men, then, ” she replied.
But inwardly, she thought that he was probably right. She didn’t have any weapons, and even with her metahuman speed and strength she probably wouldn’t be able to fight them all off
and the ninja stars on their belts made her think twice about trying to run.
At that moment, a figure dropped down in front of her. She pulled back from a quick attack when she realized that it was, in fact, Wolverine, who faced her attackers with his claws glinting in the moonlight.
“<Do not interfere, Wolverine. This is not your battle>.” the leader said in Japanese.
“<She is under my protection. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Your choice>” Wolverine replied.
“<Do you really think that you can defeat us all? To defend her will result only in death>”
“<You’ve got that right, but not mine>” Wolverine replied.
He turned back to her. “Get out of here. I’ll take care of these guys.”
“Do you really think I’m going to run out and leave you here to take them on alone?”
He glared at her for a minute, and then said, “Have it your way. Yer battin’ clean-up”.
“Clean-up?!? What do you mean, clean-up?!?”
He grinned. “You’ll see.”
And then he exploded into action. He dashed straight into the middle of the melee, slashing with his claws, and lashing out with kicks and headbutts, obvious to the blades that flashed around him. Whenever his claws struck the whirling katanas, the katanas shattered.
Huntress was quick to realize that this levelled the playing field for her, and she started to take on the now disarmed ninjas. They were skilled, but she was better. Soon, it was all over, and all of the ninjas lay unconscious on the street.
“Let’s wake some of them up, and find out what they know, ” Huntress commented.
“No. We’d better go. The guys you were chasin’ are long gone, these guys don’t know much, and the clean-up crew’ll be along in a little while, ” Wolverine said.
As she turned to look at him, she noticed all of the cuts and wounds he’d taken from the swordsmen. “We’d better get you to a hospital, ” she said.
“I’ll be fine, ” Wolverine replied.
“You don’t look fine.”
“Trust him, he doesn’t need to go to a hospital, ” Oracle said.
“What she said, ” Wolverine said.
She was about to demand that he explain how he’d heard what Oracle had said, but her attention was distracted by the sight of his wounds starting to heal over. “That’s … amazing, ”
“Listen, babe, yer gettin’ in over your head here. Stay out of this. I may not be here to save you next time.”
And then he ran off into the night.
Huntress started after him for a minute, and then exclaimed, “Babe?!?”
“So what do we do now?” Huntress asked.
“Well, staying out of it has never really been an option, so it looks like we’re going to have to stake out the OTHER company tomorrow night, ” Oracle replied.
“Much as I’m NOT known for being the voice of reason, are you sure that’s the best plan? I’m not really equipped to deal with dozens of sword-swinging ninjas.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Since it looks like this Wolverine guy is in this mess up to his eyeballs, why don’t we just track HIM down?”
“I think you have a better chance of surviving the ninjas.”
“Oh, come on. He’s not that tough, ” Huntress protested.
“According to Batman’s notes, Batman was always worried what he’d have to fight him if he went berserk. He didn’t know who’d win. Although it might not be a bad idea, since I’m not certain that that IS the real Wolverine.”
“I was looking at the video I had from the fight last night … ”
“Don’t you ever sleep?”
“… and the fighting style doesn’t match the video Batman left in the archives. His Wolverine was much more primal, more uncontrolled, than this Wolverine is. This Wolverine is still primal and reacts as quickly, but his actions and moves seem much more planned, much more intellectual. Where Batman’s archives showed someone who fought more by reaction than by plan, especially in major fights, this one fights more by plan than by reaction. Every move leads to the next, and the next, almost like a logic puzzle. What would account for such a radical change in style?”
“Maturity?” Helena suggested.
Barbara sighed. “Since Wolverine was probably about 70 or so years old when he hung around with Batman, I don’t think that another few years would do it.”
“Well, that’s another reason to think that this isn’t the same Wolverine; that wasn’t a feeble old man out there.”
“His healing power slows his aging, so there’s no telling how old he is or how long he can live.”
“That’s a really, really useful power.”
Barbara sat back away from the screen. “You’re right. Finding Wolverine probably is our best shot at solving this thing.”
“So, where do we start?”