The proximity alarm yanked Barbara out of the computer file she was reading. She glanced at the security monitor and frowned. The visitors were unknown to her. She'd never seen the tall man or the shorter woman before. The woman turned her head and the high resolution camera showed the sunlight gleaming on the rich copper color.
Babs answered the doorbell in a neutral voice, asking who they were.
"Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the FBI," returned the man's voice.
FBI? Barbara wondered. What brings them here?
She let them into the lobby. Then she quickly wheeled herself out of the computer room and locked it. She was at the apartment door by the time the elevator brought them up.
"What brings the FBI to my doorstep?" she asked.
"I understand you've worked as a research consultant for the Gotham police department," Agent Mulder began.
"Ye -yes," she responded warily. "My father's the Police Commissioner."
"Adoptive father, actually, isn't he?" the woman inquired crisply. "Your uncle?"
Barbara bristled. "I call him Dad, not that it's any business of yours."
Agent Mulder laughed softly. "Don't mind her. She thinks we're on another goose chase."
"So what do you want from me?"
"Well, given your expertise, we're hoping you can help us."
"I'm sure you've heard stories about a giant bat that lives here in Gotham."
Barbara returned the man's regard evenly. But her heart stopped for a moment. Were the Feds after Batman?
"Giant bat? Well, we have our share of weird stories. Urban legends and such."
Babs was surprised at the humor lurking in Agent Mulder's eyes. "We've found that there is often a kernel of truth in urban legends."
Oh, no, Barbara thought. This one isn't going to be an easy brush off.
"I still don't understand what makes you think I would help you. Who referred you to me?"
Agent Scully threw her partner a look that clearly said "I told you so." Babs couldn't figure out why Agent Mulder looked sheepish. "Do you know a Dr. Langstrom?" Scully's voice sounded weary.
Relief flooded through Barbara for a moment. Not after Batman! But she wasn't about to expose the Langstroms to the FBI. They'd only recently gotten themselves back to normal, but they still needed to protect their little boy.
"Langstrom? I may have heard the name. I'd have to do some research, though."
Mulder looked disappointed. Scully studied Barbara for a moment longer.
"Thank you for your help, Ms. Gordon," the red-headed FBI agent said. "Come on, Mulder."
Barbara turned on the audio in the elevator. "The Lone Gunmen were sure she could help us, Mulder."
Ha! thought Babs, that's one thing to track down.
"No one has seen Dr. Langstrom in a long time, Scully. And yet money goes in and out of his bank account."
"You realize she wasn't telling us everything she knows, don't you?"
"Scully, did you notice how relieved she was when we mentioned Langstrom's name? Do you think there's more to this?"
"What now, Mulder? Vampires that fly through the air?"
"Are you going to pretend we've not encountered vampires before?"
The pair exited the elevator and took their intellectual bickering out to the street.
Barbara was chilled by what she'd heard. This pair might be a problem. Back at her computer she checked up on the agents and what she found alarmed her. They were very good. Reading between the lines of their official reports on cases, it was obvious that they were old hands at investigating unusual events. Further searching turned up personal information on Mulder: he had an Internet following. A fringe area. But it indicated a high degree of persistence on his part.
She decided to hold off dealing with the agents. First thing she needed to do was hammer these so-called Lone Gunmen.
It was late when she finally found her way into the trio's system. She shook her head. Didn't they know there's no firewall like simple physical isolation? She dumped her Hungry Virus on them. It would eat all references to Barbara Gordon and Gotham.
She started to sit back, but one of her alarms chimed. Her fingers flew over the keyboard. Ah! Not so stupid after all. The Lone Gunmen were counteracting the virus and trying to back track its source. She pulled back all her probes, playing cyber phantom.
She shrugged the exchange off, and set about changing the Langstrom's records. That was the primary concern. And she took the time to e-mail Batman about the FBI inquiry.
Scully left Mulder to his phone call with the Gunmen. They were buzzing about a cyber attack they'd just thwarted. She wanted to get some fresh night air. Gotham's reputation as a rough town didn't bother her. She found her way back to Barbara Gordon's building. Scully looked it over before she rang Ms. Gordon's apartment. In spite of indications of other residences -- mail boxes, lights on -- she had the feeling that no one else lived there but the woman in the wheelchair. She spotted the camera lens as she rang the doorbell.
"May I come up?" she asked when Ms. Gordon answered.
As the elevator rose, Scully wondered why she'd come back. Beyond her curiosity about the other woman.
Barbara opened the apartment door. The two red-heads regarded each other solemnly for a moment. Then Barbara smiled. "Why did you come back?" she asked, letting Scully into the apartment. "I thought your partner would be the more likely one to do it."
Scully shrugged. "You actually know more about Dr. Langstrom than you led us to believe, don't you?" she asked as she sat down.
"Why do you say that?" Barbara asked.
Scully looked at her hands for a moment. "I'm a doctor," she said finally. "I mean, I have an M.D. I've read Dr. Langstrom's early work on mutation and genetic engineering. And then, he disappeared. Professionally, at least." She stopped. The silence got heavy between them.
"Why are you looking for Dr. Langstrom?" Barbara asked at last.
"Actually, we are looking for a man who seems to be hunting Dr. Langstrom. A scientist in Massachusetts was murdered two days ago, and his records made reference to Langstrom. We suspect the murderer is looking for Langstrom and anyone who knows the doctor."
While Scully was speaking, Barbara's pager, keyed to her alarm system, vibrated in the small of her back. She was both alarmed by what Agent Scully was saying -- for Langstrom's sake -- and wondering who now was on her doorstep. She wanted to get the FBI woman out of the apartment as quickly as possible, without seeming to be pushy.
Just then the agent's cell phone rang. Scully shot an apologetic glance at her hostess as she answered it. "Scully. ... Mulder, where are you?"
Barbara watched the other woman closely. Although she didn't reveal much in her statement, Barbara noticed a sudden tensing in the other woman's muscles. "How did you --? Never mind. ... Look, Mulder, don't do anything --" Obviously the other agent had hung up on her. Scully frowned at the cell phone for a moment, as if this was a far too frequent happening. She sighed.
"Look, Ms. Gordon," said the agent briskly. "I don*t want to alarm you, but I'm going to ask you to secure your apartment after I leave. Our suspect is in the area, and... well, your name was in the victim's records as a contact for Langstrom. We... we'll contact you as soon as we can."
Barbara rolled her chair to the door as Scully departed. She supposed that the proximity alarms were triggered by the murderer. She needed to get the agent out of the place as quickly as possible.
Scully stood in the elevator foyer, mulling things over. Mulder had said he was on the roof of this building. Apparently, the elevator gave access to the roof. A curious architectural feature, she thought as she took the elevator upward. She pulled out her weapon, standing cautiously to the side as the doors slid open.
"Mulder?" she called out softly. She stepped out onto the roof, and found the wind tossing about. She moved cautiously. The elevator closed, and she heard it descending. She frowned, since the sound of the elevator was much quieter than she'd expected. "Mulder?"
"Scully! Over here!" She noticed Mulder crouching behind an air vent casing. She joined him. "I think he's climbing up the fire-escape," he whispered to her. "He'll be here in a moment."
"Mulder," said Scully softly, "there's something odd going on here. That woman was less concerned than she should have been when I told her she was a possible target of a murderer."
"Well, she is a cop's daughter, Scully."
"But even so --" She broke off, because she heard the elevator again. There was very little light on the roof, and she couldn't clearly make out the door of the elevator.
Just then a hand came over the ledge of the building, and a figure in dark clothes climbed up. He was obviously armed, and the FBI agents held themselves ready. The dark figure stealthily made its way to the elevator shaft, obviously familiar with the lay out. Mulder started to move to follow the intruder, when a second figure climbed onto the roof. Scully pulled him back. This was going to be more difficult.
The first figure reached the elevator. He paused. Everything seemed to stop for a moment.
A stick flashed out of the dark elevator, whacking against the intruder's wrists. He howled with pain. The second figure shouted and started to run toward the elevator. Mulder stood up to take aim at the second figure.
Suddenly a dark shape swooped down out of the darkness, landing on the second intruder. The two shapes rolled across the roof. The newest arrival, hidden in a swirl of fabric, apparently, easily decked the intruder, and quickly confined the perpetrator's wrists behind his back. Almost before this event had registered on the watching agents, the figure flew across the roof toward the elevator. It paused briefly over the prone form of the first intruder. Scully heard a hissing sound, and the dark shape shot upward over their heads.
Mulder watched the form disappear into the city shadows, distant window lights winking as the shape briefly obscured them.
Mulder checked the second intruder, who was out cold. Scully stood over the first one, also unconscious. But her attention was quickly diverted to the elevator. The doors were closed, and she was certain they had been standing open when the intruder had approached them.
Mulder came over to stand beside Scully. "Well, we've got our suspects," he said. "I'll call for a transport." She nodded and took out her own phone. While Mulder made his call, she dialed the number she'd found for Barbara Gordon.
"Yes? Oh, is that you, Agent Scully?" Scully listened to the other's quick breathing. She made some guesses, but she wasn't going to mention them to anyone, not even Mulder.
"Yes. You can rest easy, Ms. Gordon. We've apprehended the suspect."
"Terrific. My dad will be pleased to know that."
"Is that Ms. Gordon?" asked Mulder. Scully nodded as she handed her phone to her partner. "Ms. Gordon," began Mulder. "Can I ask you again about those stories of a giant bat here in the city?"
"Not much I can tell you," Barbara's voice came over the phone. "Gotham has the largest urban population of bats in the United States. Some people mistake large groups of bats for a single figure. Why do you ask now?"
"Oh, just something I saw. Thanks anyway." He ended the call, and handed the phone back to Scully. "She was very ready with that explanation."
"Somehow, Mulder, I think that's all you're going to get out of her."
They heard the sirens of their approaching transports. "It's an interesting city, Scully. More than one X-File here, I'd think."
"But none of them we can work on right now, Mulder."
Barbara watched the police activity from her monitors. She'd already had her reassuring encounter with her father. She told him she'd followed the FBI agents' instructions about securing her apartment, so the intruders had come nowhere near her. It took her some minutes to convince him, but he eventually left with his men and the agents.
As always, she never heard the visitor come in. It was a competitive irritation. She was going to catch him at it one of these days. She could feel him watching the surveillance tape of the FBI agents on the roof, listening to the replay of their conversation. "That Agent Mulder saw you, you know," she said to Batman.
"Nothing he can prove," said the deep voice. "I noticed you wiped his friends' computers of records about you, Langstrom and Gotham. That's going to pique his curiosity."
"Nothing he can prove," she returned. The silence was easy between them, as they watched the end of the replay.
"You took a risk there on the roof, Barbara," he said softly.
She smiled at the lurking concern in his voice. That protective streak in him used to irritate her greatly. It still twitted her from time to time. But tonight, she could overlook it. There was something about defending her own territory that satisfied her.
"Nothing you can prove," she said. And had the satisfaction of hearing his rare chuckle.
"Then, this large group of bats will make off for its cave." And he was gone.
Barbara thought about checking some on-line message boards, but decided that she'd had enough for one night. She rolled into her bedroom, humming to herself.