When Bruce Wayne opened the door and entered into his apartment in Wayne Tower, he didn't know what to expect. He caught the faint fumes of chemicals and followed those back to the kitchen where he saw the old man with a cloth spread out on a table before him, a few small bottles of chemicals, a couple of small brushes, a darkened rag, and the parts of a pistol laid out in front of him. The man who was cleaning some of the interior parts of the pistol with a brush and using the rag to clean off the parts he had just been brushing.
"Good to see you, Bruce," said the man.
"You should know better than to volunteer, Sarge."
The older man, with dark hair slowly going gray at the temples, with chiseled features that had not gone soft with age, and a fuzz that would be a 5 o'clock shadow pointing to the need for actually having shaved in the morning on any other man, looked up at Bruce Wayne. His hands had not left the pieces spread out in front of him and he was methodically placing each of the pieces back into the frame of the pistol.
"AP asked if I knew anyone up for an odd-job that might or might not get violent. Real violent. I know a half-dozen guys like that and another two dozen I could call a personal favor in who would gladly do it for the old Sarge. When my wife was still alive six years ago I would have contacted any of them. Her cat died three months ago, so I figure I'm off the hook on caring for her, now. I remember you, AP, Lucius, Jordan... all at her funeral, Bruce."
Bruce Wayne nodded and sat down opposite the old veteran, who was still watching him, still placing parts back into the pistol and deftly making sure that it was secured. All by touch.
"Your father picked shrapnel and a couple of bullets out of me that should have had me dead a couple of times over between '43 and '45. You were a good kid and I remember the couple of months me and my wife and kids spent at Wayne Manor, helping AP sort things out. I couldn't figure out who the killer was, and that debt never went away, Bruce."
"Being there to do that was more than enough, Sarge. I barely remember a visit you had before that. You, my father, my mother, Alfred, your wife, young children... that memory stuck and still does."
The older man grunted, nodded.
"Good times for a guy from Pittsburgh, Bruce. You and AP remembered us over the years and the few times we did get together showed that you did understand what had happened. AP even asked for a couple of guys to do the basics with you while you were boarding out. Good guys, good reports. Same with AP when you were out, he did his volunteer time and he learned enough to survive those couple of years, not that it was regular duty, mind you. Still, good jobs. So when AP comes around and asks if I know anyone who can observe and handle himself if things hit the pot, I was at the top of that list."
Bruce smirked and shook his head from side-to-side.
"Alfred should have known better. I never would have asked for you to put yourself up for this."
He was screwing the grips back on with a small screwdriver, then adjusted an internal part of the mechanism and fitted the slide on over it, while holding the pistol pointed to the side wall. It slid into place and snapped forward with a smooth hiss of metal on metal.
"Yah, I know Bruce. You said 'no cowboys' and that got a lot of the list, right there. I know when to fight. When not to fight. And when to pray to God you hope you've decided right between the two. And always be ready for danger in case you didn't get it right, because it never fails that when you think you have, you didn't. Always seems to be on one side of it, too. Lost some real good men like that, not expecting to fight when we needed to."
Another rag received a drop or two of oil from one of the small containers, and then that was rubbed over the exterior of the pistol. He deftly placed a loaded magazine in the gun, checked the safety and then put the pistol into a chest holster. Then the small bottles went into pockets in the larger cloth, the cloth was folded, rolled up and a small button snapped to close it up. That was slipped into a lower pocket in the jacket placed over the back of his chair.
"You run a good range, Bruce. When AP dropped me off he told me where it was and handed me an extra tag to carry around here. Guy named Keith down there, saw that and just asked me what I needed. Regular warehouse down there, Bruce. I approve. Had to clean old reliable down there," the man gestured to a black, rectangular case next to the refrigerator in the kitchen, "it hadn't been given a work out for a few months. Asked what else you had down there and got the tour. Yah, 'light arms'. Didn't see a Panzerfaust, but that's about it on the 'light' side."
Bruce pressed his lips together, nodded.
"Its necessary for the Defense Group and Civilian Safety courses. There is a separate area for the stuff that isn't firearms, but are just as lethal. The heavy weapons had to be put out in the ATC East complex near the smelter and the old quarry."
Nodding the older man reached to a khaki colored satchel, opened it and put down the manila envelope and opened it. Bruce had rolled his up and stuck in a pocket in his jacket, and took that out and its contents.
"Bruce, are you straight on this?"
Bruce Wayne nodded, and slid his file over to the older man.
"Frank, its on the level. Just came from the meeting with Kyle Reese. He knows far too much and in the right ways to be fabricating this. I want an observation team out tonight."
The older man leafed through the new material from Bruce and picked out the new pages and examined them.
"We will have the meeting transcript in about an hour. Had a trusted secretary doing shorthand via closed circuit. Most of the principles are still here, fifth floor dining area. Any who want to stay have rooms available to them. Right now you're the first to respond from Alfred's contacts, and that is probably because you moved out of Pittsburgh after your wife died."
Reading the man nodded. He was obviously old, but didn't need reading glasses. The deep crows feet at the corners of his eyes pointed to a long life of squinting into the distance, but he never did need glasses, even now.
"The 'Burgh is half-dead. Can't stand that, Bruce. Can't stand the crooked pols, either. Anywhere. Her brother handed me the keys to their folks old summer home on the Isle, its good, has plenty of space and no neighbors. The Sound makes a good backstop, too."
He had the new pages in his hand and looked at Bruce who nodded, and then he interleaved them with his set of papers and put them into the satchel. He stood up putting his coat on from the back of the chair.
"Yes. If you need me, I will be making a few calls and catching up on things I put aside today. Alfred can find me."
The man slung the satchel over his back and went over to the case and picked it up. Bruce stood up and walked up to him.
"You really don't need to do this, Rock."
Frank Rock looked at Bruce Wayne.
"A man's got to know when to fight, Bruce. I don't like the looks of the next World War. We all lose. A war machine is a war machine, and I'm not liking the looks of that future or the war machines. I can fight now or everyone fights later. Good thing I don't need to fight, right Bruce?"
Bruce looked at the case he brought with him.
"And you're ready in case you got it wrong."
"That's it, Bruce. It probably isn't enough, but its better than nothing. Thomas made a bad decision on one night. He knew better and wasn't prepared with anything. Make sure you are prepared, Bruce."
The old veteran walked by Bruce Wayne and out of the kitchen. Bruce turned slowly as he heard the front door to the apartment open and close.
* * *
"Naz, just what the hell are you complaining about? You got over fifty for the damned truck. Now you want to scrap the guys car, too?"
The woman was 'Marty' and she lived in a trailer next to the consignment shop.
"He ain't coming back for it, Marty, thats plain as day," said the unkempt, black haired man, who was wearing an old dark plaid shirt and jeans which had seen better days.
"How can you say that, Naz? Maybe he just needed to get a few things fixed on the truck. It wasn't like you took care of it, and that's for sure. Mighta had a breakdown on the highway. So give it at least a day, wouldya, before you think about what its worth. Besides you got no title to it. Might be hot. You know better, Naz."
He pressed his lips together at the kitchen table, where they were having a late supper.
"Yeah, but a guy can think about it, right?"
"Uh-huh, just don't be calling Denny at the yard first thing tomorrow to have him come around for a tow, ok? You'll want to get Charlie out to do a run on it, just to make sure it really is abandoned. Although who in their right mind would abandon a new car for that old wreck is beyond me..."
"Can't read the name he scrawled no-how, no-way, Marty. Starts with a 'T.' and then looks like 'Th...' something and then 'De...' but shit its just a real scrawl. German, maybe. So, yeah, the money is good, but you have to figger he was on the run, too? Maybe he just didn't like the Jap job car he had and saw as worth a POS Fix Or Repair Daily job farm truck."
Marty was shaking her head.
"You know better, Naz. Have Charlie run by tomorrow and run it. You know that's the right thing to do."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not going to do something that stupid, Marty. Keepin my nose clean. Still... I really could get some decent cash for the car, even at Denny's."
The woman pushed her plate from her, used her napkin and stood up.
"I'm the one who made the sale, Naz. The car wasn't in it. And if you did something and it IS hot, you aren't the one liable."
Naz's face reddened.
"Aww... Marty, you know..."
"Damned right I know, Naz. You got dishes and cleanup. Don't forget the shotgun on taking the garbage out. You know that was mountain lion tracks yesterday, out in the yard, so keep yourself alive, ok? I'm going to watch some tube. Lock-up when you leave."
"Yeah, sure it was, Marty. I'll take it with me..."
She settled down while he cleaned up the dishes, put the scraps into plastic garbage bags, then did the dishes. She heard him open the door and dump the trash bags into the metal garbage can, then heard him put a new liner into the inside can.
'Some day he just might get housebroken...' she thought, and heard him close and lock the door.
A few moments later she heard an animal roar, a man scream and a shotgun go off.
"Naz!!" she screamed running towards the door and taking up the old rifle from the rack, while turning the outside lights on. She opened the door to see a flash of eyes just above the sprawled form of Naz and she lowered the rifle and cracked a shot off at it. But it was already in motion, running as only a large, wild cat could run. She took up the heavy flashlight and went out going to Naz who had claw marks across his face and chest.
Probably leaped from the shadows and he shot wild. Naz was still breathing and it didn't look like very deep wounds, but he was bleeding. Opening the shirt told her that she was wrong as the back claws had a single pass at him. She slung her rifle over her shoulder and dragged the form of Naz back to the trailer and made a phone call.
She was soon explaining herself to the local Sheriff, and what had happened. He saw that she was upset and that they had been arguing. Still, those claw marks were mountain lion and one had been spotted in the area, that being some vague area from the mountains to the flats around town and outlying areas. He sat Marty down and his Deputy arrived and they checked over Naz and did what bandaging they could until the ambulance arrived.
He sat with Marty for awhile and let her talk it out... and learned about the car. He had his Deputy run the plates.
He didn't like it, but Marty would need to give two statements. One on the mountain lion. The other on the car.
Marty didn't know it, but she had a close run-in with two killers today.
* * *
It had the radio on when it was in Denver. And after Denver. Part of its programming was sorting through the news, songs, commercials, commentary, quizzes and on-air personalities. Almost all of it was worthless. Parts of news and commentary were non-conforming with its historical record storehouse. This was fed into the programming for infiltration and human cultural references. It was running out of space to organize new structures in its programming due to the limitations put in by Skynet.
This mission now had more than one dozen non-conforming parameters, and that number was growing as time went on.
The truck continued at speed heading East.
The mission had non-conforming parameters.
Limited hardware access in its own structure could not be countered as it was programmed against that. It reviewed its options as the miles went by.
* * *
Frank Rock in a dark blue suit coat, dark blue trousers and white dress shirt, with worn, brown, wingtip shoes did feel out of place in the Executive Dining room, until he saw the motley assortment of people there. In a single scan he saw Father Jordan, AP and a few others that he more or less recognized. AP and the two Priests were sitting together at a table, and he walked over to them and they stood as he approached.
"Rocky, thank you for coming. You know its been ages and let me introduce to you Father Casull from Los Angeles. Father, this is Frank Rock, an old friend of the family," said Alfred, shaking Frank's hand as he got to the table.
"Its good to meet you Father Casull," he said shaking the Priest's hand.
"Bless you, my son. Easy in, Easy out and the Hard Parts In-Between, right?" said Father Casull
Frank Rock nodded.
"Thank you for sharing that part of your life with us, Sargent Rock. I let some of the younger gang members seeking to find their way read that, and it does help."
Sgt. Rock smiled.
"Good that someone gets something from it. Had to make sure that the men were remembered."
"They are, not to worry, Sgt. Rock,"
Father Jordan had moved next to Father Casull.
"You see, Rocky? I told you that would help some people and you put off writing it for years."
"Leroy, you know I'm no writer. Just a soldier and steel worker."
"Nonsense, Frank. I'm just glad you did it when Lucy was still around to help you with it. Her notes made that book special."
"She did the hard part, Leroy. She made it so you could read it."
"You are a hard man to compliment, Frank."
Frank Rock nodded and lowered his case next to his chair and sat down with the men.
"Had a talk with Bruce, AP. Its what you'd expect. I'm scout mission and need to find out who I'm working with and get transport. Not that he said that directly. Didn't have to."
Alfred nodded and smiled. Frank Rock was, indeed, an old friend of the family, for all that there wasn't much contact between the steel worker and playboy, they still had shared experience.
"Beside himself, I expect, Frank. I knew he wouldn't want you, of all people, for this. And I really did have to ask, with you being close not just by distance, either."
Frank turned to Father Casull.
"You've seen Kyle the longest, Father. What do you make of him?"
Father Casull glanced at the table that had Kyle, Sarah, Martin Carstairs and Loren Seifert at it. They were talking in low tones, but animatedly.
"He is a serious young man, Sgt. Rock," Father Casull had wracked his mind for a second in protocol of address, then remembered highest military rank is the proper form when you knew it. "Troubled and dismayed. I think, for awhile, he saw his entire reason for coming crumbling in front of him. Now it appears he understands the idea behind the orders, even when the mission, itself, can't really be carried out."
Sgt. Rock said, "Yeah, just like Italy."
The other three men nodded.
"He does have the look and feel of someone who has been in combat, Sargent. Its not something you can define, but I've seen enough men from Vietnam to know what it looks like. He's not from that war, but a war and not a good one."
"None of them are good, Father," said Frank, "still have to be fought, though."
"Frank, I've had long brief that Bruce got today before the meeting, and after meeting Kyle Reese, I am left with no doubt that the future he described is the one he came from. It is not the one we are going to, I think, and the machine thing that developed time travel, this Skynet computer, may have used it as a last ditch operation to abort the ability of humans to respond against it effectively. I don't think it really understands the nature of what it did. That is complicated, Frank, but it can't really control what happens to the past when it sends someone back in time. All the parts to make that future are here... literally in Wayne Corporation. Yet I can't think of a man better suited to recognize the dangers of it, can you?"
A slow smile came over Frank Rock's face.
"No one else I would trust, Leroy. No one, anywhere, not even myself if I could figure it out. And that makes this machine killer's mission a failure, too."
"Yes, Frank," said Alfred, "but it can adapt. If we can find another way to win, so can it."
"Sure, AP. It could be a long war and the enemy always has a say. Finding it and tracking it is top priority. That is why I'm here, AP. You can probably get someone younger, but I can't think of anyone in the Tri-State that will do the job on 'an odd jobs, could be lethal' basis, no matter what the pay. And they would laugh when they heard the mission."
Alfred scowled distastefully.
"Yes, Frank, my next contact can make it in about 6 hours, and he will be here in the morning. He is good, but a lot can happen in six hours and getting him up to speed..."
"Its good to have back-up, AP. Now, who else needs to be in on this little fiasco?"
"Well, what do you need?" asked Father Jordan.
"A driver. A good one since I can't spot and drive at the same time. Probably need someone used to speed."
"Ah, yes, we have just the person in Wayne Corporation for that, Frank," said Alfred,"and I think Father Casull can attest to those skills in flight."
Father Casull's face went pale.
"Not... her..." he said in a soft voice.
"The very same, Father, glad you approve!" said Alfred.
Sgt. Rock looked between the two men, particularly at the reaction of Father Casull.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"May God have mercy on your soul, Sgt. Rock," said Father Casull.
* * *
Vivian Rose dreamed vividly. She was dreaming of jets, rockets and cars... boyfriends came and went in her dreams, but those first three always were there. She was dreaming of being the daughter of a jet pilot, who ran missions over Vietnam. Her father had done that, from the USAF Reserves program, and he got one of the nastiest and most deadly to its pilots to fly aircraft you could get in the F-104. She loved hearing it overhead and while she never did get to fly in one, her father had wangled her a seat on an old F-86 which was a beast of a jet. A lovely beast.
She remembered her mother saying that if she hadn't wanted speed, she wouldn't have married dad. He loved flying, racing, driving and her mother did more than put up with it, she supported it and was the second driver in a few races for him. In her early teens Vivian rose wasn't getting her driver's license but her pilot's license. She had both as soon as she could and really hated the Air Force rules on pilots... still she studied, learned on trainers, checked out on live planes and her parents, now in the globetrotting phase of their lives, supported her even though her father couldn't get into a Mach 2 jet, they suffered with Porsche, Saab, Mustangs and an old P-51 salvaged in some god awful part of some island in the middle of nowhere, Pacific.
Memories of boyfriends past and present went through her head. Many she liked weren't interested in her, some that had mutual interest were long-term dull, at the first sign of abuse she would take the guy out for a spin over 100 and demonstrate some fun skills, which usually cut that out immediately from her life. She wanted, dreamt, slept and ate wanting to be a test pilot as she grew up. Other girls hung out at the mall, she was out at the hangar getting parts, checking out equipment, and basically running her ass off having fun. She knew that turned on some of the guys, but what the hell? By the time she got to college she had more aircraft time than most guys in the USAF for a year or three. And more planes. Her love and her knack and her wanting to learn it all came together and she admitted she was a 'hot shot' and bowel mover pilot.
Cars were flying at a certain level and their own time and fun. She and her mom did the mom'n'daughter races when she was in her late teens and their shared love of that life was a stronger bond than any father had to any son doing the same, she was certain. It never got much money, but as long as it paid expenses, who cared? And dad was the best pit crew you could ever want.
College was doing the basics to back the practical, and she knew she was way out of place in physics and chemistry courses, and even doing her best to hack the math. As soon as she realized that calculus was something you did with combustion chambers and constantly changing volume, that all clicked and made sense. She rarely went to parties, rarely had dates and her car may have been some beast to get to and from places, but it was a beast that shook the hood and the road, that Camaro was. Still, no USAF, no dream, no chance, and Vivian Rose remembered that in a flash. The vitriol was still there, a few years later, and having to fly either corporate or commercial was not what she wanted from life. A glamorous truck driver was freight. A glamorous bus driver was passenger. And corporate slickness and knowing she would have to face up to the sleazy moves of the rich and idiotic was the best of possible solutions.
Wayne Enterprises was turning into Wayne Corporation and the new boss, son of the founder, had started a grand 'kick the bastards out' campaign. She had been applying all over, and when the head pilot at WE was found to be a drug smuggler on the side, well, she applied there, as at least the bastards were getting kicked out. She had put down everything she had flown on her resume, but expected the 'Gender' answer was going to be 'Failure'. She was floored when she got a call from Alfred to meet them out at the complex that WE had used to store its aircraft of various types, either made at WE or acquired.
Bruce Wayne was there, already in a flight suit and looking good. Well, she had thought, if there is candy to be had its hard candy and there are worse places and people. She was told she was to fly a demonstration run to test out her skills in an aircraft. She nodded, as nothing like this was normal in anything she had applied for. She was told where the locker room was and to get a flight suit from the rack and suit up. She had wanted to know which plane she would be flying, but that was cut-off and she ran to the storeroom just outside the locker room, got her things and used an empty locker. Round trip was 5 minutes.
She really wanted to know which one she was to fly. She knew so many of the ones she had seen and there was an old F-105, an even older P-40, one of those lovely race fliers tucked in amongst the big brothers but agile as all hell, an Me-109(!), a Lear jet (old style, but very nice), an F-4, a P-51, and just how long was this airfield and how many hangars were there? She looked around at the closed hangars in the hills and started to get an idea of what Wayne Corporation was like. She knew the P-51 as her dad had one and she had racked up a ton of hours on it and they were a joy to fly. She chose it and put it through its paces, with Bruce Wayne behind her. She loved that plane... but she loved them all. She was itching for the Me-109, but would need a test-out first, but the P-51 was the outclass to it and deadly foe.
They had air space reserved between 5 and 10,000 and that flight was as vivid to her as any. She was nervous. She was worried. She was tentative. Bruce Wayne said through the comm, 'whenever you're ready', and that tripped her off. That plane had ability and so did she and they matched up into some of the classic maneuvers that men had used to save themselves over the skies of Germany. She had met them. She knew what they were talking about. She had done them. And she did them again. An hour later they were back on the ground and she was hired, on the spot. It was going to be mostly corporate, she knew, but this... Mr. Wayne loved aircraft, cars and speed. Yeah, she would have the candy stuff to worry about... though she never did and the rumors weren't true. And when the next senior pilot got canned for doing stuff like the one indicted... well... Vivian Rose was soon the top pilot in Wayne Corporation. And when Wayne Corporation restructured one of its acquisitions and Wayne Avionics became Wayne Aerospace, with both air and space and Bruce Wayne meant it....
Now she had the space bug, too.
And Bruce Wayne and her had done the 24-hour of Le Mans, and that was a blast as experimental cars were something of a stock and trade for Wayne Corporation. They made a mint off of some of that technology when they licensed it to automotive manufacturers. Pure and absolute gravy. She had her dreams met... and would never, ever turn back on that. And if Bruce Wayne ever wanted the candy, well, she wouldn't object.
He was a damned good driver.
An excellent pilot.
And had a dream, too... though she never did figure out what that was.
* * *
She woke up with Richard speaking softly next to her. She had fallen asleep in the sleeping cabin of the Journeyman and could taste space, still.
"Yeah? Whats up?" she asked.
Only Richard knew she would sleep here. Her regular apartment in Gotham she got to, perhaps, all of twice a week in a good month.
"I've got Alfred on the phone in the control room. Says he has a job for you. Needs a good driver," he said, smiling.
"No shit? Great!" she was, now, fully awake sliding her legs over the slide-down bed, and into her shoes. Apparently she had forgotten, yet again, about modesty, clothing and something more than a night shirt. She would protest that Richard had seen it all, was fun and good in bed, but couldn't keep up. He admitted that, actually.
"Viv you might need more than a night shirt, you know?" he mentioned.
"Nope. Not until I know where I'm going. Say is Tom-Tom on tonight?" she asked as she moved out of the cabin and referred to one of the air traffic controllers.
"Jake tonight," he said.
"Yeah, I hear ya. Sucks when its just you hanging around the place, isn't it? Not a big op, though, and I like it. A lot."
They were striding under the Journeyman in its swept wing configuration, and over to the elevator to take them up to ground level and the control center. Vivian was trotting down the hallways and Richard knew he couldn't keep up. He didn't even try any more.
She picked up the phone off the desk.
"Alfred! What's up? You need a driver? YOU?"
She nodded, her hair, now no longer done up, tending to fly off to the sides while going over her shoulders.
"Yeah... what? Observation? What the.... killer? Well, shit, why didn't you say so? Yeah... uh-huh... WIST is on automatic I think now... ohhhh.... uh-huh.... whats the car, Alfred? What? I... uh.... geeze is this a proposition or something, Alfred? No shit? Ahhh... god lemme think a moment... gotta be something we can get like, you know, middle of nowhere... ummm... dunno that Porsche Coupe would be good, but not much in the rear window department... say, how about a screamin' chicken... well, yeah..... uh-huh... probably does, yeah, if you don't know where we're going.... uh-huh... well send him out here, and we will get a destination, then. Yeah. Ok, Alfred... explain as we go? Well.... ok... you know the longer you talk here, the less time I get in the air... ok... send whoever, I'll get Mikey out of bed. Bye-bye, Alfred."
"So what's up, Viv?"
"I have got the bestest employer ever, Dick! Not only do I get to fly out with some old guy to find a serial killer who is on the road, but I get to figure out what kind of car to get, too!! Alfred is gonna send the guy and probably that Kyle and one or two others to explain, but it all boils down to a good car, a great job and the, number one, best employer on the planet!"
"So I need to get Mike up so he can co-pilot back, huh?"
"Yup. Actually, might just snooze out on the way there. Need to round up lerts when I'm there, ya know?"
"Sure, Viv. But you gotta get some decent clothes on..."
"What? You don't think I can outdrive someone dressed like this?" she said with a beaming smile.
"Oh, no, Viv, I know you can. The car might be a bit embarrassed, though..." he walked quickly out as she started giggling.
Richard mused that he did care a lot for Vivian Rose. He just could never, ever picture living with her.