9

It didn't take long for Anne to scale her way to the roof and an even shorter time to find the maintenance hatch. After fiddling with the lock, she clicked on her flashlight and followed the ladder down.

She ended up in a small room filled with tools and mundane supplies. The musty stench of cleaning chemicals burned her nose and stung her eyes.

"I'm in," she whispered, hoping the communicator caught her voice.

"Well done, Annie!" Hatter cheered in her ear. She winced at the shout but continued to listen. "Follow the hallway to the left. Eddie is scrambling the security cameras on our end but be careful of any wandering guards. And do be quick about it, dear, we are on a tight schedule."

Anne bit back a retort, letting out a short, "Okay," before trying the door.

The handle turned easy and silent. She nudged the door open a bit, checking the hallway before slipping out of the room. The halls were dim and empty, only a quiet hum filling the air around her. Anne tiptoed down the corridor, checking every turn as she neared the security room. Twice, she was forced to duck around a corner as an unwary guard wandered by.

Finally, Anne reached the security room, the door ajar as men's voices discussed something about burnt coffee.

"I found it."

She could almost see Hatter's smile through the coms. "Very good. Now hurry and get those doors open. We don't have all night."

Anne took the pellets from her belt but hesitated. "It's not going to kill them or anything, is it?"

"Oh don't fret, dear. It's just some knockout gas. I would suggest clearing yourself of the vicinity when you set them off, though."

With a sigh, Anne crept towards the open door. She braved a peek inside where three men were seated around a set of monitors.

"Where's Sal at? I haven't seen him since he went to check the back doors," one grunted, sipping his coffee with a grimace.

"Who knows. Probably went for a smoke or something."

The third tapped on his keyboard, the empty hallways of the building flashing onscreen. Anne froze when the outside of the security room was broadcast but relaxed when it showed nothing but the empty hall.

"Radio him and see if he's on his way back. I want to hit up the breakroom."

"Good. Make a fresh batch of coffee while you're at it. The last pot was terrible."

"It wasn't too bad."

A snort echoed through the room. "That's because you made it. I still can't see how you managed to burn coffee."

"You're tastes just aren't as refined as mine."

Anne palmed the pellets, nudging the door open just enough to get a clear shot, and threw them against the floor. Immediately, ashy smoke billowed through the room with a loud bang. Anne backpedaled into the hall and slammed the door shut.

"What the hell?!"

"What is this stuff? I can't see!"

"Someone open the door!"

Coughs and uncoordinated clattering echoed from the room. Two thumps hit the floor right before the door swung open. Anne jumped back as the third guard stumbled into the hallway, hacking and rubbing his eyes, right before falling over.

When she was sure all three were out, Anne stepped over the fallen guard and swung the door open. The last of the smoke was lingering but cleared enough to enter. Edging around the other fallen men, she took a seat at the monitor.

"Okay the guards are out. Now what?"

She was surprised when Ed answered instead of Hatter. "Find the override switch to the locking mechanisms. Don't hit the emergency protocol, though, or the whole system will slam into emergency mode."

Anne rolled her eyes, the mask tugging at her skin with each movement. "How about English? I'm not a hacker, you know."

A weary sigh echoed through the radio and Anne resisted the urge to march outside and slap him. "Search for 'Security' and see if there's a program for door locks."

She managed to find the programs and clicked the on 'Security' file. "This one says 'Building Lock Down'."

"Is it activated?"

"Yeah."

"Turn it off."

The instant she clicked the 'disengage' button, the clanging sound of opening locks echoed throughout the building.

"You did it, Annie!" Hatter suddenly shrieked, leaving a ringing sound in her ear. "I knew you could do it! The Answer to all my little problems. Now do hurry to the front door, toot sweet! We still have much to do!"

As Anne turned to make her way to the front doors, the sound of running footsteps echoed from the hallway. In a panic, she ducked behind the door and held her breath.

"Oh god, Jake! Come on man, wake up!"

Another man walked into the room, shaking the unconscious guards and checking their pulses. He was wearing the same uniform as the other guards, complete with a radio and gun.

"Requesting backup at the Power Plant," he said into the radio, flicking through the security screens with a frown. Anne shrunk further into the shadows as he drew his weapon. "I have three men down and no visual on hostiles yet."

The guard listened as the police responded to his call and didn't notice Anne creeping up behind him. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, she smacked it against his head just hard enough to knock him out.

"Sorry," she said, kicking his gun under the desk. "I'm out of smoke pellets."

Grabbing his radio, she ran out down the hall towards the front of the building.

wvw

Robin frowned at his gauntlet. The tiny screen on his arm kept a continuous feed of the Nygma apartment. He refreshed it over and over, checking the signal and double checking for hacks but the apartment remained unchanged.

"Everything alright?" Batman asked, watching the boy fidget with the screen again before huffing in frustration.

"No one's come home yet. What if Hatter and Riddler still have her. Or worse, she's the one helping them. What if she's actually a criminal and I just didn't see it. What if–"

"No time for 'what if's'. If Hatter does have her, we'll find out when we catch him. If she is working for them…"

"Then she's just another criminal." Robin frowned, turning the screen off.

Batman set a comforting hand on his shoulder. "We'll get to the bottom of this. One way or another. I'm sure she's fine, wherever she is."

Robin nodded slightly. "I hope so."

Just then, the police scanner switched on, filling the car with voices. "We have a break in at the Power Plant. All units respond. Suspects are considered armed and extremely dangerous."

Before the broadcast ended, the Batmobile was already speeding across Gotham towards the Power Plant.

wvw

Anne didn't see Edward or the others by the front door but a frantic search found them in the open space of the plant, Ed fiddling with a smaller device hooked up to one of the humming generators.

"Ah there you are, my dear," Hatter greeted her with a grin. "We were thinking you weren't going to join us."

"We have to go!" Anne wheezed, skidding to a halt by the others, gasping for breath. "One of the guards managed to radio for the police. They don't know who's here yet but they're on their way."

Hatter's face fell from a smile to a thunderous rage. "What?! I thought you knocked them all out!"

"There was one on patrol. He came back when I got the doors open."

"And you just let him call for help?!"

Anne tensed, clutching the radio hard enough to break it. "I snuck up behind him and knocked him out but it was too late."

Hatter sneered. "Well isn't that convenient."

"If I wanted you caught by the police, I wouldn't have come to warn you!" she shouted, smashing the radio to the ground. "I don't even want to be here but I'd rather leave with you guys than in handcuffs. So can we hurry up and get out of here before the cops show up and arrest all of us!?"

They stared at each other in silence, the seconds ticking by uncomfortably as Ed continued to work on the machine, either blatantly ignoring the argument or too brainwashed to take notice. Suddenly, Hatter burst into laughter, slinging an arm around Anne in a one-sided hug.

"Oh dear, sweet Annie. You're starting to sound like a first rate burglar now. I'm sure it was just an honest mistake and it won't happen again." He squeezed her shoulder tight enough to bruise at the last words. Anne nodded mutely. "Good. Now, gentleman, our lady friend has a point. Time is fleeting and the hounds of the law draw near. How's it coming, Eddie?"

"Almost done," Ed grunted as one of the connecting cables came loose and fell away. The constant humming from the generator slowed to a grinding whirl. Edward started working on another cable.

"Very good. I'll bring the van to the loading dock. You gentlemen, and lady, meet me there. I'll alert you if our boys in blue pay us a visit."

The goons nodded while Ed continued working. Anne only crossed her arms, studying the other generators with mock interest.

"So why is there a battery here anyways?" she asked, hoping Ed was still cognitive enough to answer. His silent, robotic actions were unnerving.

"It's a backup power source," he answered after a moment. Anne sighed in relief, turning an ear to listen to her brother. He disconnected the second cable and moved to the third without looking up but continued to explain. "Star labs has only made a few and dispersed them throughout the city for test runs. This one is mostly used for maintenance purposes."

He fell silent and Anne glanced down at him. "So what happens when we take it?"

Edward didn't answer, disconnecting the last cable as the generator halted silently. Instantly, the flashing red and deafening whine of alarms filled the room.

"That's our cue to leave!" Ed called over the noise. The goons grabbed the large device, balancing it between them as they carried it out of the room and towards a smaller back room.

Edward strolled ahead of them, twirling his cane as he hit the button to the dock door. Anne lingered in the doorway, glancing back into the room with the broken generator. Through the flashing lights, she saw someone enter across the huge room. Then start running their way.

"Oh shit," she gasped, turning back to where the goons were shoving the battery into the back of the van.

"Careful now," Edward scolded. "It wouldn't do to break it after all this trouble."

"Batman's here!" she yelled, slamming the door shut and running to the dock.

"Everyone in the van!" Hatter shouted from the driver's seat. With one last shove, the battery was loaded and Ed and Anne jumped into the back with the henchmen. The van peeled off, one back door still open, just as Batman and Robin busted into the loading bay.

"Better luck next time, Bats!" Hatter cackled as they sped away. The heroes stared at the retreating van in irritation. Surprisingly, the sidekick seemed the most upset at the escape.

Anne sighed, equal parts relieved and dejected they hadn't arrived sooner, and pulled the van door shut with a clang.

wvw

Batman and Robin stood on the loading dock as the van skid around the corner and vanished.

"Did you set the tracker?" Batman asked. Robin nodded. "Good. We'll follow them when they think they've lost us."

He turned to leave but paused when the boy didn't move.

"You okay?"

Robin's scowl deepened. "That was her. She's helping them."

Batman gave his shoulder a sympathetic squeeze before walking away. Robin stood in the silent room, barely listening as Batman spoke with the Commissioner. He glowered at his gauntlet, the apartment still empty and unchanged in the video.

With a frustrated growl, Dick punched the button on the wall, storming out of the room as the overhead door closed with a satisfying crash.