"Welcome back, Master Bruce," Alfred Pennyworth greeted in his proper English accent as he stepped out of the elevator and into the dimly lit Batcave.
The squeaks and rustles of nesting bats echoed around the cavern, but the human occupants took no notice. For the few people who did know of the seclusive cave system hidden beneath the foundations of Wayne Manor, the bats were a normal part of their lives. "I see you and Master Dick have returned earlier than usual. It's barely four a.m."
"Oh, hey Alfred." Bruce turned from his high tech computer to glance at the butler. Still dressed in his dark cape and menacing cowl, the sight of Batman in the dark was intimidating but the butler knew better than to be scared. At the dark knight's side, a masked teen in a bright uniform and dark cape gave him a questioning look.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?" the boy asked, brushing back his black hair.
"You should know, Master Dick," the elderly butler replied, stepping into the light of the monitor, "that I only get as much sleep as the two of you."
The masked figures turned their attention back to the computer. A blond man in colorful clothes filled up most of the screen. Alfred recognized the villain tipping his hat politely. "Jervis Tetch, sir? I thought he left Gotham months ago."
"He's back now," Bruce replied, tapping some keys, "and he brought a friend with him." Replacing Tetch's picture was a new man in a green suit sporting a question mark shaped cane. Behind his purple mask twinkled intelligent blue eyes and short red hair showed beneath his green bowler hat. "He's calling himself the Riddler."
"I've never seen him before."
"That's because he's new." Wayne tapped another key. A similar but unmasked version of the man shared the screen. His clothes were different but his blue eyes still sparked with the same cleverness.
"His name is Edward Nygma. Used to work at a computer software and gaming enterprise before he was let off two weeks ago. Tonight, he and the Hatter tried to break into Star Labs."
"What were they after?"
"No clue." Bruce slid the cowl back and stared at the screen with fresh blue eyes. "Security was too tight and they disappeared empty handed."
"But why would the Hatter want this Nygma character working for him?"
"Nygma has an extremely high IQ. Tetch must have a job too complicated for him to solve alone. But Nygma doesn't have any police record and doesn't seem the type to suddenly start working for criminals." Bruce rubbed his chin in thought while Alfred studied the computer.
"Perhaps he is being blackmailed. Does he have any friends or family?"
"He has a younger sister." Wayne tapped the keys and the two criminals were replaced with the image of a teenage girl with long, brown hair and green eyes. "Anne Nygma. After their parents died in a car crash, she went to live with him."
"Then it would make sense for this Nygma guy to work for the Hatter. They probably have his sister," Robin pointed out.
"No one from her school has filed a missing persons report to the police?" Alfred asked.
"Says here she takes online classes. The only place that would notice a disappearance is the Gotham Sports Center downtown. She has a scholarship there for gymnastics but she hasn't missed any days."
"Gotham Sports Center? Isn't that where you attend classes, Master Dick?" Alfred asked, glancing at Bruce's ward.
"Yeah sometimes," Richard answered. He studied the girl for a moment but eventually shrugged. "I don't think I've ever seen her."
"Well you'll be seeing her tomorrow," Bruce concluded, turning from the computer. "She has a class and I want you to be there. The Hatter may not have taken her but he's probably having her trailed to keep Nygma in line. I'll check out the apartment while you keep an eye on the girl."
Dick nodded, taking one last look at the picture on the screen.
"Blast!" The Mad Hatter slammed his gloved fist down on the table angrily. Across from him, the Riddler regarded him coolly through his purple mask.
"Well what did you expect?" he asked snidely, twirling his cane. "That we would waltz in and take what we wanted?"
The two men were sitting in the middle of an old warehouse by the docks. Abandoned for years, the rickety wood building served as a good hide out. Other than the oil drums shoved against the walls, it had a homey charm to it if you could get passed the smell.
"I assumed you would be able to get us in," the blond man barked crossly. Their plan to break into Star Labs had failed when the alarm systems were set off. Without the targeted item, they were forced to run before the cops showed up.
Nygma tugged his purple gloves tighter, unimpressed by the Hatter's temper.
"I'm just the brains. What about you're goons? Aren't they here for this very reason?" Edward gestured over his shoulder to the thugs standing near the door, armed with guns and dumb muscle. There were only five of them but five was all that was needed to cover an escape.
"None of them can get through the security. We need a cat burglar for that."
"Why not get Catwoman?" Hatter just shook his head irritably at the suggestion, almost toppling his color patched top hat in the process.
"Already tried. Catwoman hasn't been seen in months. She's keeping under the radar and no one knows how to find her. Word is she may not even be in Gotham."
"Ah, well that's too bad. I guess we're out of luck," Riddler sighed but the Hatter suddenly had an idea.
"You know another thief for hire?" Riddler asked. Something about the Hatter's sneer made him uneasy.
"Not a thief but an acrobat." The Hatter stood and walked around the table, studying Edward with his beady eyes. "And I'm sure they'll be willing to help."
"Oh really? Who?" Riddler leaned on his cane, puzzled and suspicious of the colorfully clad man.
"Your sister is a gymnast, right? Perhaps she would be a valuable member to our little team."
Nygma was on his feet in an instant, blue eyes flashing with anger. "No Hatter. You leave her out of this."
"Now now, Eddie, don't be like that," the Hatter chuckled darkly. Even with Edward looming over him, he remained unruffled. "All I need is for her to steal the parts and for you to put humpty dumpty together. Once the device is complete, you and your sister can walk away with all the money you need without any problems."
"You still haven't told me what the device is."
"Ah ah ah," the Hatter waved his finger, chastising him like a child. "That's my little secret and I told you not to worry about it. All you need to know is it will make us rich. But before we can get paid, we will need your sister."
"I said no Hatter," Edward growled, pointing the end of his cane and wielding it like a weapon. "And if you drag Anne into this I swear I'll…"
"You'll what, Eddie?" Hatter challenged, taking a remote out of his pocket. He flicked a button and Riddler's bowler hat gave a fierce shock. With a groan, the red headed man slumped to the floor unconscious.
"Sorry about that Eddie. You might be valuable to me but I can't have you interfering with my plans." Turning to the thugs behind him, he gave a sweet, menacing smile.
"Bring the Nygma girl to me. I have a business proposition for her. She may just be the answer to our problem."