Monday, September 5, 2011

Time out of Place - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Bruce Wayne descended by another private elevator, a small elevator put in as part of the emergency system of Wayne Tower and its sub-basements in the Vault. It was one of the very few systems that needed little maintenance and he ensured that any maintenance done under contract was via the firm that installed it. That was before they became a minor acquisition of Wayne Enterprises, at the time just before it became Wayne Corporation. That staff, past and present, knew about penalties for endangering those who ran the company be it WE or WC. He had, in fact, used it a few times with starlets who wished to remain out of public view for their comings and goings and he stopped it at the last non-Vault sub-basement for that. That exit came out on one of the last of the underground parking levels, and such people who were let out there would give the 'secret' away, so that the society of the glamorous had a minor thing to envy Bruce Wayne about.

They marveled at the hand-print recognition system and single, express button on the panel. That was luxury. That was for show. No one had been on-board when just the palm print was put on it, nor wondered at the low railing at their feet. Bruce Wayne slid the fronts of his shoes under that railing and palmed the hand print area once the doors shut. This elevator had a true 'express mode' and a more stately 'everyday' mode and when the 'express mode' was functioning it felt as if you were flying down the elevator shaft in a very fast sports car. The top seal to the Vault had an entrance for the elevator and that was interleaving doors that weighed nearly one ton that snapped open, then closed behind it. You never did hit true free fall, although you could feel the tops of your toes start to press on the low railing. Once the elevator passed the doors it slowed, recapturing much of the energy it had gained while in that descent, and the small electric motors served very well as generators. For this was an elevator without a cable, but a self-powered one that also tripped the self-powered doors to the Vault. Even during a full black-out of the entire building, Bruce Wayne could easily, quickly, move from the highest penthouse area to the lowest parts of the Vault in one trip lasting barely over ten seconds. The railing was more to calm nerves than for any real need, yet Bruce Wayne approved of that simplicity of function for psychological impact. It gave one confidence in the equipment and design.

Bruce Wayne stepped out of the elevator on one of the lowest areas of the Vault, just two levels below the old central control area. This area had been converted into a document archives section. An internal door sealed that off from the equipment prototypes sections, which took up most of two levels, leaving part of the last level as a test and evaluation area. The old administrative and survival functions had been removed from the lowest levels of the Vault and there was no way that it could now maintain 150 people for one year without need of external food and water. It could be powered that long, and newer generators replaced the originals, but for survival it was only for short term use. Kyle Reese's future had shown some folly in that, but his future was not that of this world, this time, this place.

Passing through the internal doors to the prototype section, Bruce Wayne walked amidst shrouded vehicles, locked equipment bays, metal safes that stood floor to ceiling and would not be out of place in most banks. Another door brought him to the access-ways that would lead to curving ramps ending in sliding, concealed walls that went up into the sub-basement parking area of not only Wayne Tower, but to the older, adjacent building of the old Wayne Enterprises. Here, too, were vehicles with shrouds over them, but there was a smell of fuel, lubricant and recent use. A set of spiral concrete stairs took Bruce Wayne to the last level of the Vault, the one that directly accessed the old subway tunnels. This, too, was a wide area filled with document shelves, vehicles, safes and the truly open test area that was nearly the size of the parking garage floor layout just twenty five feet above it.

It was here that Bruce Wayne found Lucius Fox.

Lucius had been busy, going through drawers and Bruce had noted that some of the equipment areas one level up had been opened. Lucius had used the dedicated elevator for the Vault to move equipment, carts and many other items from that floor to this one. Bruce had been thinking about what he might need, while Lucius had the history of Wayne Corporation's research and development cycle at his fingertips, once he became the head of Wayne Tech. Lucius looked up at him as he walked in amongst the darkened alcoves, and closed safe doors. The overhead lighting was dim, in this area, and left pools of darkness that seemed to move on their own just when you weren't looking at them. Lucius had one tray of equipment on a large table before him and turned to Bruce as he entered.

"Bruce, I've always understood your stance on firearms for these activities. I never thought that you would find something immune to them, by and large. I always thought of that as a 'back-up' for you. Now its gone."

Bruce stood under the light, shadows cast over his face and his eyes peered out of those dark shadows. The dust and chill in the air always made his voice raspy, and it was soon something he used for his night-time forays.

"I never considered them a back-up, Lucius. Crime is a foe that has many faces, and yet only individuals use guns and Crime, itself, remains immune to them. I knew that one day I must face one or more foes that were not effected by guns. Ones in which the use of explosives must not be done in populated areas. Ones in which bombs, missiles and other weapons would be thwarted by its being. That is Crime, Lucius, it lives in the hearts of men, but exists apart from them, too. Now I must rely on that greatest of all weapons to confront this foe."

Lucius smiled, grimly.

"Much of what you have used the past few years won't serve you here and would even endanger your life. I've slowly been reconverting the CBRN scout prototype and it is, generally, ready for use as the Army had always intended a German design team and offered a solicitation only for appearances. Now its ready for a new role."

"The day of the Long Nose and concealed armor ended today," Bruce said, nodding.

"I'll take you over to that in a bit. Your hardshell suit with kevlar/nomex backing of two years ago won't serve, nor will the larger, sectional plate and ballistics fiber system you have been trying recently. You need something that can not only take knives and bullets, but also sheer, powerful blows from equipment. I've looked at some of the dynamics of human physiology and mechanized exo-armor, but that is years in the future if not decades, but the lessons from that is the large amount of power that can be transmitted to a small area. We actually do have something in prototype stage as I had the team working on it, and had them send me their back-up suit, which I explained would be needed for another equipment test."

"Let me see it." Bruce said.

Lucius turned and walked down a dark hallway with spare lighting and to an alcove that had a dim light above a cylindrical capsule. He pressed a button and the capsule swung open. The suit was a full body suit. It was done in white with a red cross on it.

"Wayne Medical?" Bruce turned to look at Lucius, who was smiling.

"This is a suit being designed for military and civilian uses, Bruce. It is an 'undersuit' made of a series of overlapping plates similar to forms of ancient scale armor. The team working on this as the 'medical safety suit' are quite proud to have looked at bronze age designs and updated them for the modern age. Each scale is a small, normal, ballistics plate in miniature, backed by the same polyweave that you are used to. There is internal and external nomex polyweave cloth, but that is pretty standard for what Wayne Corporation offers in these areas and the scale mail ancient but easy to update. What is new, and innovative, is the use of a substrate rheological fluid cell system that increases in density and resistance to exterior blows and disperses that force over a much wider area. The cell system is self-sealing against knives and standard firearms penetration. The white exterior is purely for identification and a standard Wayne medical cover suit normally worn under clothing."

Bruce Wayne walked around the suit as it hung and was highlighted via top and side lights. Lucius slipped a finger into a seam and slid the outer, white, garment off. Underneath it revealed a dull, matte black suit covering scales with the very faintest of outlines of a bat on the center, chest portion.

"That is one of your standard stealth sheaths you put on over normal suits. Beneath that is the normal dark gray fabric of the medical suit. While not as substantive against large bore weapons, anything below a 45 caliber round will not penetrate in a single shot, and the suit will even dampen the impact shock as its force is passed into the cell system beneath the scale armor. By changing the density of the fluid with a very small electrical charge triggered by the scales, the fluid changes its state and it acts immediately. The cell system has one other benefit: it uses waste body heat and shifts it evenly over the suit and can even generate small amounts of electricity so that you don't have to worry about its operation. There is a small battery system that can be attached to it for any extra energy that the suit doesn't need."

Bruce Wayne was nodding. All of this was technology in development, and Wayne Corp. brought it together to fashion something new.

"Like all suits it has weaknesses at the joints, but this one improves mobility, greatly, while dropping almost one-third of the weight as each scale must only have to take initial impact and spread that force out to surrounding scales, then to have that absorbed into the cell system. The cell circulation system shuts down a few degrees below average body temperature so the user isn't frozen in cold climates,and will even slowly move heat out to extremities. That is in theory, only, but the lab tests show it should do that, at least. Beyond that there is one other, special thing, this suit does and it is only in pure prototype test in this suit, not in the main suit. Slide your hand under the suit, palm up."

Bruce did so.

"Now step to the side, while I turn the feature on."

Nothing happened and Bruce looked at Lucius.

"Step in front of the suit."

Bruce did so and was surprised, clearly.

"I felt that, Lucius!"

Lucius nodded.

"There is a very small sensor network of low power sub-sonic devices woven into the scales. Each cell beneath them can be activated by changes in echo return and give you a feeling for the general size and distance of an object from you when it is turned on."

Lucius turned it off and Bruce slid his hand out from underneath the suit.

"Sonar! Lucius, that group deserves a promotion when this is done. And this is a perfect suit for doctors in hazardous areas, or medics in the field for the military."

"You really don't have much to learn, save a try-on fitting and adjusting sensitivity on the sensors. Really, they use very little power and the small battery pack for this can be broken down and distributed. There are some internal velcro adjustments that can be made, but your frame should, generally, fit it pretty well as-is."

Bruce was checking it over, noticing slide catches and seams.

"It's sectional?"

Again, Lucius nodded.

"Damaged pieces can easily be swapped out with new ones. Your stealth skin can't do that, and I will see about getting that fixed if this becomes your new, long-term suit."

Bruce was shaking his head as he punched the suit on its humaniform backing, and saw the ripple shockwave radiate out in a circle to about six inches.

"Now, as you dropped all that weight in suit, it is time to head to the cowling and cape, follow me."

Lucius again walked down the hallway, turned to another hall and turned the alcove light on over another cylinder, which he opened.

"Initially the medical suit had a balaclava arrangement to it and this is a modified form of that. They tried for tiny scales, but our machining isn't up to that with the ceramics and firing them that small presents too many problems. Instead they chose a standard kevlar polyweave with nomex and recommend a lightweight helmet which they made in the Greek style, but put a positive section over the nose and reinforced the side cheek areas under the thin ballistics plating that is between the multiple cloth layers. They used the Greek style that had full side slits for letting you hear, and then put on slide coverings with simple acoustic resonators to both increase soft sounds and dampen harsh ones above 90db. I've hand adjusted those to be more appropriate to your forays."

Lucius fitted the dark helmet arrangement over the balaclava, then slid on the ear pieces which rose above the top of the helmet. Bruce watched and saw the definitive outlines of his previous cowls, but this had a different, overall, shape to it.

"They have another one that they are working on, but it will follow the more traditional helmet designs of ancient Greece, including a resilient bronze layer beneath the ballistics material. Now the eyes holes can fit standard Wayne Corporation goggle types as insets which can slide up and down as needed. Unfortunately only one inset can be used, and must be swapped out if you want a different one. The nose piece was extended to fit air pad extensions under the cheek guards, for work against chemical and biological attacks. The nose piece has padding and fits over the nose and can be used by closing your mouth and breathing through your nose. Pads last about 300 hours before needing to be replaced and are standard Wayne Defense chem/bio scrubbers fitted to the helmet."

Bruce Wayne was no slouch in producing innovative equipment, but even he could not keep up with the vast advances being made in recent years in so many areas. And while the suit, as a whole, might lose some functionality if it went unpowered, it would not lose all of its functions. He reached out and picked up the helmet and looked inside then fitted it over his head. Almost instantly he could hear the air circulation system and its vents, a drip from something into a puddle in the distance.

"To lower sensitivity raise your hands and cover your ears and press with your palms. That changes the internal geometry. The reverse of pressing with your fingers raises sensitivity."

Bruce did so and experimented with the sound system and realized how the purely, defensive and normal action of covering one's ears also would serve here. He pressed to a soft 'click' and it was very quiet as the only sound he could hear had to come through the front of the helmet. A press up gained a 'click' and normal sound returned.

"Now the cape is a separate piece by a different group. We have had a very hard time making a rheological cloth, that will respond in changing rigidity with applied current. In theory it is possible, but in fact it will take a long, long time to develop that. Believe me when I say that our fashion group could make a good return just on Phantom of the Opera, but they and our materials people just can't do it that way, and needed another way to do it."

Taking the helmet off, Bruce Wayne looked at Lucius Fox.

"We have a fashion group?"

Lucius nodded.

"You didn't know that? Fashion Magnate brand with the Fashion Fiend sub-lines? The Magnate group works with higher end clientele, theaters, Hollywood studios and the like, while the Fashion Fiend sub-markets popular clothing from such places. You know, Wayne Materials Marketing which actually not only shows a profit but funds the fabric sciences organization, responsible for polyweave?"

"WMM? We Make Money? They made this?"

Lucius chuckled as the group did, indeed, have that moniker amongst the budgeting and accounting staff. It was hard to explain how mass marketing low cost cloth in interesting shapes and colors could make so much money to the engineering staff, until they were asked the cost of what they paid for their clothes and the actual cost of making it, plus shipping and distributing. Wayne Industries also knew where the money was. No question about it.

"So without a rheocloth, they went with a highly flexible rheoplastic, that changes rigidity under small electrical current. You can, actually, feel those if you bend the cape past ninety degrees, and their breaking point is at one-hundred twenty degrees or so. And when the fashion group finished with it they had the 'pop-open cape' which got such notice amongst theater goers."

Bruce was feeling the fabric and then the lightweight plastic rods or bars in it which were, he was surprised to find, very flexible.

"When I went to see the play I really did wonder how that was done. I assumed hidden lines and such. And I had wondered how they got it to shift around the actor like that...."

There were times when Lucius didn't know if Bruce's abysmal ignorance of the social set he was supposed to be in was true ignorance or a put-on. He was beginning to suspect the former.

"That was where the cape started and the actor actually fell off of a scaffold once, after normal performances and he wanted to check some rigging, activated the cape as he fell and glided across the stage area and hit a piece of scenery where he collapsed the cape, destroyed the scenery cut-out and came away unharmed. That then moved it over to Wayne Aerospace and they added a few things to the basic design, including full extension arm rigidity and full leg rigidity and have snap clasps there so all you have to do is put your wrists and ankles into them and you have a controllable airfoil of sorts. They put in a few semi-rigid cross pieces just up from the end of the material, and they prefer that to a full rigid system there as it helps get 'a feel for the air'. Its not a true airfoil and more of a very controlled drop and you still have to work hard to get rid of speed. Stopping is a problem."

Bruce Wayne looked at it, felt the material and still couldn't identify the extremely thin wires that would connect all of this together.

"Controls are simple microswitches at the base of the clasps out on the upper ends. The green one is available when it is off, that then slides under the fabric and the red one is available to turn it off. Simple enough for an actor to use. While the material feels like silk, and it actually does have a high silk content, but it is stranded with coarser nomex which will activate before the burning point of the silk. It is a specially made fabric we haven't brought to market yet. The underside is backed with nomex covered kevlar polyweave and interstitched between the layers with the fine mesh to control the system. Fashion Fiend intends to put out a very simple three rod version some day, but that is a trade secret we really don't want to divulge just yet, so they are working with a camping group on aluminum rods for the cape to start with for costuming markets. That will not have the functionality, just the look from the play."

Bruce touched the green button and the cape flapped open, revealing that some sort of triangular pieces of cloth came up and down near the ankles.

"Has it been tested?"

"Yes, the Aerospace team on this had a field day at the quarry a few weeks ago, reported that it is fully stable after a drop of ten feet although forward motion is not that high at start. They had standard inflatable safety landing pads but people started to hit the edges of that at twenty feet and were sliding off of it. One person wanted to do the full drop starting at the other side of the quarry, but wasn't allowed to due to indemnities we would suffer."

Bruce nodded.

"That is only a fifty foot drop and he thought he could get a quarter mile with this?"

Lucius smirked.


Bruce nodded and chuckled.

"Vivian would."

Bruce touched the red button that was now the only one available and the cape fell to a draped position.

"That actually does weigh a pound or two more than your old, fireproof and kevlar cape, but I think the trade-off is one you would like."

"It is, Lucius. It will get a field test."

"Follow me..." Lucius walked away from the balaclava, helmet and cape and back to the main table area. There was a belt, harness and other pieces spread out and other items on other tables with cases open.

Lucius stood by the main table.

"Bruce we are dropping nearly twenty pounds in armor, losing some of the big bore protection but shifting to higher protection for other forms of attacks, plus adding in some extra capabilities. None of these really address the Terminator directly."

"It is a very tough opponent, just by what we know about it. And I assume it will have some higher level abilities not easily known, Lucius. I have a few ideas, but I could see you took this as a serious challenge, so show me what you have and I'll tell you about what I would like to get, if possible, by tomorrow night."

Pursing his lips, Lucius nodded.

"First off, you may want to consider an additional storage harness beyond the belt. It is a suggestion, only, as you know what will work best for you. The best we have is segmented and offers a snap-in system for pouches, pockets and small sacks. It is a couple of grades up from camping gear, but not as rugged as military gear." He slid the black harness with its attachment points on the table.

"Next up is your drag lines. None of the systems you normally use are rated for anything above five hundred pounds, and that at a very, very slow drag of a foot per second or so, and exhausting the individual system in ten seconds. To go up in drag mass you have to either go up in line diameter or go to braided line. Single line is very ductile, but one break and that's it. Braided line is less ductile and offers multi-line resistance. To keep the current drag motors we can only go up to triple braid and fifty feet of line, but I put in a reduction gear and larger charge pack to ensure you do get the full fifty feet at a rate of a half-foot per second. Top is single, bottom is braided, your orientation."

Lucius moved the dark oversized clamshell containers to one side. And pulled forward a slightly wider container and snapped it open.

"This is a dual arrangement, single battery, somewhat larger single diameter lines. This requires that both grappling hooks are secure, but offers five hundred pound drag at nearly two feet per second and even one thousand pounds at one foot per second. The firing arrangement is the same with just slightly outward positions starting at three degrees and adjustable to ten degrees from the axis of firing so as to avoid line tangling. It is a heavier unit, but will do the full fifty feet of line against gravity for one thousand pounds at a foot per second."

He slid that one to the side, and took out a flat hardshell clasp pouch then slid over a pair of goggles.

"Put those on, IR goggles."

Wayne did so and saw the somewhat blurry heat outlines of Lucius, the light and some of the equipment in the room.

"You may have seen mirror films used in movies to make someone seem to be two places at once?"

Bruce nodded.

Lucius opened the container and walked over to a cabinet and took out something that he flung out and open that adhered at its top two points to the cabinet. Bruce saw an IR figure standing next to Lucius.

"If you take the goggles off, you won't see anything. It is transparent to the normal spectrum and visible only for reflections in infrared. I'm thinking you may want subterfuge and misdirection, and there are three of each type in the container. Three normal, three IR, with the normal having the mirror sheen to them. You can do IR backed by normal, if needed. Materials research developed this about three or four years ago, it is simple to make, but they couldn't see any real market for it. Another in-house trade secret."

Lucius took a replacement folded film from a drawer and put it into the container, and slid it over to Bruce.

"Bruce, this next one I don't like. It isn't safe to carry this material and your suit will not protect you against a drop of it. The fumes will eat at your skin, etch metal and if you inhale it you will soon be dead. Your chem/bio pads aren't made for this, either, but should allow you one or two breaths before they are eaten away by the fumes."

Lucius slid a thin, plastic container with a buckle clasp out on the table and opened it.

Within were three small plastic syringes that fit into form fitting foam that was, itself, covered in waxed paper.

"These each have 3cc of hydrofluoric acid in them. It will not erode this plastic of the syringes, that wax paper or the foam, but will eat through the plastic container if any gets to it. The stoppers are wax and the needles are the hardest plastic that is nonreactive to it. These needles are actually covering a metallic structural member for extra rigidity. They will not break off under pressure. One of these, into its brain case, as Kyle said, should seriously disrupt a Terminator unit. If its interior really is standard semi-conductors and conductors, it will have no chance of stopping this. A drop on exposed skin is something you do not want, ever. The fumes are deadly and inhaling them lethal. I have three of these containers like this, three with high molarity hydrochloric acid, another three with sulfuric acid. Unfortunately you have to be very close to use these as no dart gun will get you penetration or accuracy, if they could hold this stuff, which I wouldn't recommend trying to do, as a single leak is deadly."

Bruce slid the container over, and looked at its contents.

"There are some forms of rubber and plastic gloves that will stop this, right?"

Lucius nodded.

"The plastic version is packed with twenty pairs in this container, and they are the largest size I could find and should fit over your hand sections of armor." He slid another thin container over to Bruce who popped it open to see thin plastic gloves, rolled up and held in place by inserts in the case. Carefully he closed both cases, noting the large 'HF' impressed on the sides of the case with the acid syringes.

Lucius moved a cylindrical case, about the size of a can of cat food, but done in the standard flat, black plastic of much of the equipment, out in front of Bruce. He opened the container and there was a small, metal container with a plastic ring on it, and the container sat within form fitting foam. There were three of the smaller containers stacked on top of each other for a total of three pull rings.

"This is a thermite incendiary device. When you take it out, the side that was down has an acrylic based adhesive that is then activated. Put it on what you want the thermite reaction to go through and pull the pin. Run. Do not look at the reaction."

Bruce Wayne had, of course, heard of thermite, not only from Sgt. Rock but in the welding area of Wayne Industries. It was simple, hard to start and once it started nothing would stop it.

"That is a small machine destructive device, suitable for attaching to an engine block of a Mack truck and rendering it partly melted and wholly useless. Good against tank armor. Our materials group makes up many sorts, and this is the finest powder of iron oxide and aluminum, with thin strips of magnesium and a pull striker inside. Not very much withstands 2,500 degrees, and 5,000 degrees is what this burns at. I doubt a Terminator's skeleton will and if you can get one of these on its brain case or over its chest or back area that should do enough damage to either destroy it or cripple it severely. It will go molten in less than a second when you pull the ring and burns for three minutes."

Bruce snapped the container closed.

"Emits in the UV, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Yes, and intensely bright, it will damage your retinas if you look at it for more than a glimpse without welding goggles on. I have a case of 50 just like that, the slap applicator is something I put on myself, but is very easy to do."

"Do we have a container of those applicators? Small square tabs with a pull tab on one side to press then a second for applying, right?"

Lucius furrowed his brow and nodded.

"A small pop-up container with fifty should fit into a standard small clamshell."

Bruce nodded. He was very impressed with what Lucius had done on such a short fuse. Of course most of this had been around for months, just with no pressing need to test it. But some... even hastily put together, they were still new to Bruce. And the thermite devices, they weren't really grenades nor an explosive, just how many times would one of those been handy? So lightweight, too. Such a simple device and yet, he had never thought of it... but Lucius had.

"Anything that can be carried to hit its electronics directly?" Bruce asked.

Lucius Fox leaned on the table.

"You know, Bruce, there are limits to what can be made. We don't have a good EMP device of any size, so getting it that way is out of the question. My guess is that if I had to make a machine like this, is that I would ensure that major power surges pass through the skeletal structure and around the electronics. That is just good engineering. Without being able to know the density of its flesh structure or its metallic skeleton, getting something that will drill into it to deliver a power lead or conductive fluid is impossible to create. I might be able to get some sort of miniaturized diamond drill attached to a grapnel to go through the skin and let the drill go into the Terminator, but you wouldn't have time to test it and it wouldn't be reliable. Plus you would need to find an area where it could fasten onto the skeleton and get to a known conduit for messages inside of it, which says either the brain case or spine to me. I wouldn't put anything critical to operations through the flesh structure, and I doubt it has any real reactive capability to shock. It may have some pressure and heat nerve endings, but that doesn't go to muscle, but to some sort of device interface, probably. That circuit would cut-out at the first sign of overload."

Bruce furrowed his brow.

"You would make it that way?"

Lucius nodded.

"A reset and recheck on the circuit would kick in, of course, to see if there was permanent damage, but there would need to be something like that to protect the main computing system."

"That might help, Lucius. See if you can get a fine wire net with capacitors and one of those small, high voltage batteries set to charge them until the net is taken out and thrown. A delay between throwing and discharge, maybe a small motion sensor that only starts when the net is thrown and discharges each capacitor as it stops."

It took Lucius a moment to picture that but when he did, he nodded.

"We might be able to get some small, high density batteries on the capacitors for a fast recharge cycle and get a few cycles in a second before most of the wire gives out."

"Good. I will want some of my standard flash pyrotechnics to be laced with a powder that diffuses and gives off sparks in the cloud of smoke and flash itself. That should disorient any adaptive optics."

"We may have a that as a variant of your normal equipment. I recall a few tries to get what you wanted for normal activity and one did that, I think."

Bruce was thinking.

"I know that it will be strong, and there isn't anything that can resist it as single strands, although multiple braids might be effective. What I am thinking of is a net, with small bolos to fling it open, but the bolos are electromagnets. It probably does not have a skeleton that will allow attachment of magnets to it, but if the bolos had small cones or plates around them, they might attach to each other. Again, motion sensitive after thrown for activation."

"I'll ask the design group in the morning. The early risers always love a visit from me on strange ideas. No promises, though, as this is a new project with no lead time to it."

Bruce nodded.

"I'll be putting the suit on. I want one case that has one, each, of the acids, five thermites, a reflective film case for each type, one each of the draglines, plus extra batteries for those. One small container of the press tabs. Did the ATC leave the crash mat out?"

Lucius thought for a moment.

"Well, Vivian was in charge of testing she was out yesterday or the day before, wouldn't go home for another day or two, so it probably is, just needs to have the inflator powered on. Or the car can power an electric inflation pump."

"The latter. Show me the changes to it since the last test drive when I'm ready."

Lucius, nodding, was placing the various clamshell pouches on the belt and trying to arrange their weight and positions. Bruce was already walking to the alcove down the hallway and going to the suit. In the alcove he stripped and slowly put the suit on, after slipping the stealth skin off of it. He adjusted each piece, slightly and saw the interconnects between the pieces were a press-to-fit set of small connectors that linked the fluid cell arrangement and, presumably, the electrically conductive parts of the material. He then slid the stealth sheath on over the body suit. The boots he hadn't noticed, but had attachment points for standard small containers on the outside of them. These had been redone as a ballistic plate set with polyweave and no scale mail under them, but an enhanced set of fluid cells. It took him a moment to balance, but the cells adjusted to his weight and stance giving him better weight distribution across his feet. He could still feel ground contact through the system, which was enough for him to know the surface. The treads should stop anything up to half inch long. It almost felt as if there was a power assist to his walking, but that was probably imagination.

The balaclava was also form fitting and left flaps at the ears that could be closed. He experimented and found that with them closed and the helmet set to mid-sensitivity, he was hearing normally and only at highest sensitivity did he begin to pick up the drip of water. There was a small container inside the cylinder holding the items, and it had a standard assort of Wayne Corporation goggles from the industrial and commercial groups, and he fitted IR goggles in and by running his hand over his eyes they came down, running his hand up took them up.

Putting on the cape was relatively easy, and the restraint system for it integrated into the suit at the neck along with the balaclava. He touched it open and found that the rheoplastic wrist and ankle fittings formed just where he would want them to be with his arms outstretched, and his ankles bumped into the bottom control surfaces that came out and guided his feet back to their fitting points. With a touch, it all fell away to become a cape, again. A few tryouts established he could move his arms and legs while the cape was deployed and detach them from the fittings with a very slight twist of wrist or ankle.

Only when he was walking did he realize this did not feel like wearing his armor. There were no hot spots under his arms or at his groin or chest, but his body was equally warm and heat was radiating away equally across the exterior of the suit. When walking he could concentrate on position more than he did in a normal suit. And the cape flowed as he walked and he realized it was meant to be theatrical at its heart. The helmet was not as heavy as his normal cowl and the filter pad fit around his nose and nestled within the balaclava nose opening. Normal goggles did try to enhance peripheral vision through some facets, but that was not as good as it should have been. Then he remembered and turned on the sonar.

His skin came alive telling him of the outlines of the alcoves, the distance to the ceiling, the long length of the corridor. He could feel the presence of the objects in dark alcoves, their outlines, shapes, distances. It took some getting used to along with the erratic presence of the cape, but he could, literally, feel his surroundings as he walked. He had something nearly as good as peripheral vision and, if he lost the cape, it would be completely around him. And even through the cape, and he could feel its structure as it moved, he got some dim awareness of what was behind him.

Bruce Wayne closed his eyes and walked, learning this sensation.

This was... amazing.

As he walked up to the table he saw the contents on it and it came into higher definition as he approached it. Lucius was a definite figure and shape, a certain softness to the returns pointed at his skin absorbing much of the sonar energy that was being emitted. As Lucius finished with the last thermite container on the belt, he handed it over to Bruce who put it on, buckled it and then reached behind to cinch it snug. It fit far closer to him than it did on the old suit, and this suit didn't have the structural members in it for the drag lines. Still, the belt had pads to help shift that force around, somewhat. He realized that his hands would need to be balled into fists to get any protection as his palms were only covered by thin polyweave and nomex. He needed some hand sensitivity and that was a trade-off he had always made.

"I noticed you have your eyes closed, Bruce. How does it feel?"

"Lucius, I really don't know what to say. I may just take the welding goggles instead of any light intensification or IR or any of our other vision enhancements. This suit is excellent."

Lucius smiled.

"Good. Remember, big bore hand guns and larger rifles are things you want to avoid with that on. Come with me to the car." Lucius walked in front of Bruce as they went down the hallway and Bruce was getting a strange sort of sensation of being able to see around Lucius. He thought about the acoustics, geometry and realized that was, more or less, what was happening. The sense did fall off after 30 feet, but was still amazing for doing so much with so little.

The vehicle had started life as a military prototype, for marking off Chemical/Biological/Radioactive and Nuclear contaminated areas. The Wayne Defense team had been in contact with a number of firms and examined the mission and decided that the vehicle wanted via the description had to be good on urban terrain, relatively rugged terrain and water. A six-wheel chassis was what was needed, but Wayne Defense deviated from regular designs with high sloping nose and went for a low slung one.

Very low slung.

They had placed faceted armor beneath the vehicle to deflect mine damage and channel it away from the wheels. This allowed them to have a variable height system that, at its highest, could go two feet above the ground and at its lowest, be at a ground hugging six inches. Taking a cue from the underside they gently faceted the surface armor and moved away from the smooth designs of past military light vehicles until the thing started to look more like a weird ground version of an F-117 Stealth Fighter than a CBRN vehicle. That was further heightened by the nature of the vehicle as it had a smaller wheel-base in front than it did to the rear, which would give it a tighter turn radius. To compensate for large blasts at the front, two struts would deploy if the angle of the vehicle went above sixty degrees at which point they came out with pads to give support to the vehicle. If the vehicle went past one hundred ten degrees, automatic pistons pushed it up and flipped it in the air so that it would come down on all six wheels.

Its other two modes, were the high level, uneven terrain mode, for dropping markers over such terrain and its water mode, also done with extended wheels. In that mode the wheels slowly churned water through the wheel wells and pushed the vehicle forward. Wayne Defense had sub-contracted out the engine to a US/Japanese team that specialized in high efficiency and quiet diesel engines. They had approached Ford, but it was trying to get its own concept running and didn't want to support the competition right off the bat. By approaching two specialized engine manufacturers, Wayne Defense went through Wayne Industries and got what they needed: a high horse power diesel engine that was very quiet. Quiet being a relative term, of course, where diesel engines are concerned.

Without enhancement the engine would drive the vehicle at 65 mph on the flats and at about 6 to 8 mph on water. The turbocharger system pushed the first up to nearly 80 mph, but the latter only to 9 mph on water. A final mode was put on that would increase power and make the engine eat through fuel, and that was a supercharger. With that the vehicle would get at least to 110 mph overland. Everyone was told not to run that while on water as it would damage the engine. The entire system already had positive seals on it, for quiet operation, so others for the supercharger were naturally installed, even though you should never, ever use them while running in its aquatic mode.

The front area was more like a cockpit than driver's seat and the restraint system there was ubiquitous to both fields. There were also ejection rockets, one per seat. All of the displays and readouts were placed in accordance to three sets of subjects: military personnel who had worked in Abrams tanks, fighter pilots and race car drivers. The first two helped with the overall feel of the seat and placement of readouts, and the last helped to simplify the control system. It could be driven from either side, although the right side normally had the steering wheel and displays retracted and covered. The engine area was firewalled off behind the front of the vehicle, although there was a crawlspace between the rollcage and engine area, between the air ducts leading to it. In an emergency you could crawl through that, but it was very good for just being able to speak from front to back without a dedicated intercom.

The rear, just behind the sealed and armored fuel area, had enough space for six of the Wayne Industrial slide out tool flats. Above that was a small set of lockers that had replaced the ordnance racks. The very rear pop-out rocket pods had been removed and they now became retractable air-brakes that opened when the vehicle was slowing from a high speed, rapidly. There was a standard five point restraint seat in back facing out the back, drop-down access ramp, and you could fit two or three others in if they were standing or a motorcycle. It had a motorcycle that had been run a few times as a prototype and in a twelve hour endurance race, and then re-adapted for use for Mr. Wayne with a new engine. That was sent out for re-painting and re-surfacing at Boeing, then brought back as a Boeing test product to Wayne Industries for armoring, that sent out to Kawasaki for some custom ignition enhancements and then brought back in a case labeled 'spare parts' and destined for the Vault. It may no longer be the speed demon it started out to be, but it was good, solid protection while biking and very quiet. Mr. Wayne had painted on the lighter black bats himself.

"It's basically what you've driven before, Bruce. I had the inertial tracking tweaked a bit, and a drop down set of inner guides for running on the tracks to replace the older ones, so you should be able to jump off the tracks much easier and get on them, too. The engine went through an overhaul two weeks ago, received some fine tuning and on basic test runs down here to ensure that it works as it should and is good for another fifty thousand before its next maintenance now that its broken in. I've put spares of the thermite in back, your basic equipment in the drawers and an over-vest of standard ballistics plates in the stowage box next to the front seat and another one in back. Also a fix-it kit for the armor and helmet in back, although its pretty basic. Thermos of coffee next to the vest."

Bruce nodded, and keyed the entry with the remote, and the gull wing door slid up.

"Make sure everyone else gets what they need for the night, especially Sgt. Rock. He is probably in the fifth floor hall now. I'll have a list of replacements and any other ideas I get tonight."

Bruce slid into the vehicle and adjusted the harness.

"Take care, Bruce," Lucius said.

Bruce looked up.

"Take care of them, first. Don't worry about me."

The door slid down as the engine came to life in a loud purr and the vehicle moved off into the test area, where he put it through some spin outs and then headed towards a tunnel that would lead to the old subway system.

First was business. Second was try-outs.

Batman headed to business at the waterfront.

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