Monday, September 5, 2011

Time out of Place - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Vivian Rose looked at the four men, Alfred, Frank, Kyle and Fr. Jordan. The manila envelope was spread out in front of her with minutes of the meeting, FBI reports, local police reports, sketches...

"So let me get this straight. We have a killing machine that looks like a big guy, right?"

Their heads nodded.

"It has a robotic skeleton in it, right?"

They continued to nod.

"A heartless killer?"

They nodded again.

"Smart but no real personality?"

Again the nods.

"I see..." she said, "you know, if you add 'not that hot in bed' you've described three of my last five boyfriends."

Sgt. Rock closed his eyes and went pale.

Kyle Reese shook his head while looking down at the table.

Alfred let out a soft sigh and rolled his eyes.

Father Jordan was smiling, lips pressed.

"What? Did I say something wrong?"

Father Jordan laughed, a deep, hearty laugh while the other men reddened.

"So who gets to off the thing? Me or the old fart, here?" she said pointing at Sgt. Rock, "Because I got some pent up aggression that needs, whatdyacallit? Productive release? Yeah, that's it! And I could do a great job of that on this Terminator thingy. God do I get the suckiest boyfriends, you wouldn't believe it."

Frank Rock opened up his eyes.

"No, Vivian. We can't afford any outside interference in this, before or after. Anything before will probably get Sarah Connor killed. Anything after and you can guess at what technology like that would lead to. Kyle came from there. Anything that might create that must go, permanently. You will not want to be part of having that happen, do you?"

She grimaced, thinking about how Kyle described 'Judgment Day'. They did have a point, she decided.

"OK, I got it.... its coming in from LA starting at... what? 10:30pm their time, about 1:30am here, last night? Right. Had a sports car at the start, an Alfa Romeo, then went to a Toyauto and now, what, farm truck Ford? Next thing you know it'll be a Schwinn or a Yugo, and I'd take the Schwinn, you know?"

They nodded.

Alfred pointed to the road atlas that was open on the table.

"That puts it at Grand Junction, Colorado around half past noon today. So, if its going at, say, 60mph and just barely speeding, then that puts it..." he was tracing out the path, " Nebraska?"

"Why the north route, Alfred?" asked Vivian.

"There's another route? It is the one that the AAA always gives to me for the Aspen vacations."

"Yeah. Ever leave Aspen a bit after noon heading east?"

He thought for a moment.

"Yes, I've done that straight with a rest stop or two."

"How's Chicago in the late morning?"

"Not that bad... but... Cleveland... ahhh... I think I see, Vivian."

"Uh-huh. Shorter distance, but longer travel. Go south you zip through St. Louis, MO in the morning, Columbus, OH by mid-afternoon and you avoid Pittsburgh on the turnpike. Or jog north to Erie and catch I-90 for a northern approach to avoid the mess of New Jersey and NYC. Or even stick to that and go up through Wilkes-Barre. Not against the northern route, really, just you would have to shift everything a few hours to make it good. Now it will hit Denver rush hour which gives it a tiny taste of more congested areas, and LA during some of its hours there was no winner, either. If it were me I would take the less congested areas, and cross up at ... well... Glenwood Park, NY, just south of West Point at Peekskill, or at Tarrytown and avoid NYC like the plague. You gots good choices to the north, the south sucks on approach."

Alfred was nodding.

"I hadn't thought of it like that. It does put a fair distance between where you want to try and intercept for observation, though, between I-70 and I-80."

"Uh-huh. I figure if we leave for KC in the next half hour, we get there, do a stake-out just east and if comes up a dud then re-hop at KC for Cleveland. Or I burn up heading north, set off every speed trap and we do a road intercept heading towards Chi-town Hey, if I can avoid the cops heading north to Des Moines, I'll bet I'm faster on that than a Terminator is on 80. Or the cops behind me."

Sgt. Rock started to get a queasy feeling.

Vivian looked around the table.

"Yeah, I can do that for ya. Alfred, need a screamin' chicken when I get to KC. A good one, not one of those shit small blocks, unless its got the L69 in it. Hear those have a sweet spot around 100 to 110. Doubt you can get me a real muscle car, but that'll do. If you can get the Ferrari dealer up that would be a good substitute The coupe, ya know? Don't want to be conspicuous with a soft top."

"I think our livery service can get you a Trans-Am when you arrive in Kansas City."

"Great! I'll see what the hold up is with Mikey, pull the standards for KC from ATC East, already got WPJ-3, that souped up job warming on the tarmac."

She hefted her duffel bag, zipped up her leather jacket and looked at Sgt. Rock.

"You wanna pillow and blanket for the plane? I figure to snooze out, let Richard do the flying. He's great on the 'by the book milk run' shit. Mikey just has to be awake."

She looked at the men who were still staring at her.

"Show on the road time, guys! Time to find a killer on the road! Fun will be had by all!"

That snapped the men out of it, seeing her transform from incredulous to serious to action in a few short minutes was hard to adjust to. Sgt. Rock was the fastest and hefted his backpack and picked up the two cases.

"I'll take the pillow and blanket, thanks, Vivian," he said.

"No problem. Alfred, big block mid-'70s or brandy-new L69, got it? Anything fancier will do. You find it, I'll drive it. No trucks."

Alfred was smiling.

"Yes, Miss Vivian, I 'got it'."

"Good," she leaned over and kissed Kyle on the cheek, "you got a screwed up world, Kyle. Stay alive."

He nodded, and said softly, "Thanks, Vivian."

"And you, Leroy, let the gang know if they don't shape up I'll take them on the north loop express, OK? No fuckin with my apartment or car, or hell will be paid."

Father Jordan smiled and chuckled.

"The last two got out of town after that last go-around, Vivian. They aren't coming back."

"You betchya. OK, Rock follow me, Alfred knows where the phone is and y'all can take the WIST back."

She was waving out at them as she pushed through the VIP lounge door followed by Sgt. Rock.

"He'll need the Dramamine," Kyle whispered.

"Yes, I do believe he will," said Alfred heading over to the phone in the lounge.

* * *

The night time testing of the equipment had gone well so far.

Vivian had been right to think that a jump from fifty feet would be enough to allow the cape to function as a controllable airfoil. The very tight turn he had performed at the wharf had changed his direction two hundred seventy degrees. Here, at the quarry, she would have been able to execute a full one hundred eighty degrees and wind up on the crash mat. That worked as he had found out. As a cape it minimally slowed descent, as he was used to, and for those you needed something that would give way when you hit. Criminals and some car tops served well for that. As a falling system a good part of that speed was transferred to controlled, lateral movement. In theory a thermal updraft might even allow for level controlled drops, not true flight but a type where the upwelling of the air catching the surface would balance out downward motion.

Next were the drag lines, and they had performed as he wanted at the wharf, enough to get the hook of the overhead crane under the frame of the car. That was a combined pull test of the half-foot per second lines which required their power systems to be swapped out back at the vehicle. It was, actually, very impressive to see how fast a car could go upwards in thirty seconds, even at that slow rate. More satisfying is that once the weight was on all the lines the drag lines shifted to their main gears and had distributed the load for a faster pull rate. Lucius hadn't told him about that, but it was gratifying to see result and hear the slight clicks when all of them shifted over within a fraction of a second to that rate.

The dual line system hadn't gotten a tryout, however, and he went over to one of the cranes in the pit that had been left here back in the 1950's when it was abandoned by the cement company that was too corrupt to make a profit at this work. The Defense and Aerospace groups had to co-exist with the smelter, and the Defense group tended to see anything left behind as a 'target'. So the more recent holes, pockmarks and visible signs of being used to test out multiple systems had left it in a very uncertain state of decay. With the main cable and chain having fallen out some years ago, he stood up and looked into the darkness, then used IR to catch the outlines of the derrick over his head. The circle where the cable and chains had run through was about three feet across and it was twenty feet up. He took out the grapnel system with two hooks and saw that it was set to the minimum three degrees and had a simple slide to click it at one degree increments to ten degrees.

Double that and you had the span between both hooks. Looking straight up he aimed and fired, and was gratified to see one hook go cleanly through and the other just hit with a slight 'ting' sound. It did pass through, however and both caught on the internal metal skeleton of the derrick. He applied his weight to the system and heard a moan from inside the cab of what remained of the crane, and then metal slowly giving way. He did not look up, but ran from where he was and rolled across the muddy surface of the quarry as the derrick came down behind him. After his previous blind jump, then the explosion of the tug, it was this that came the closest to being deadly to him. He had dropped the unit and now retrieved it, having been missed by the derrick that had twisted slightly as it came down, which is why it hit close behind him and not on top of him.

He mused that if he had been killed by that, the headline would have read 'Rich Playboy Killed Using Batman Costume, Old Industry Kills New'. Or at least the Gotham Examiner would do it up that way. He made sure they got the blurriest of all photographs and film to use as their 'source material' evidence.

When the grapnel lines had slid home, he then decided that he had to see what the thermite did to a metal construction, and since he was already half-way through with the crane...

Standing on the tractor well by the engine, he had to wrench the engine cover off, and saw that it had been the target of more than a few rounds by the Defense group. It was a large, old, steel block, probably dating from the 1930's and was worth whatever its scrap cost was, which is why it was here and not scrapped. With that set up he walked some distance away, took the IR goggles off and turned the sonar on, then ran, leaped onto the top of the well over the caterpillar tread and had already opened the clamshell carrier and taken out a thermite can, slapped it to the engine, let a finger snag the pull loop and jumped off and ran.

There was a flash and the quarry lit up around him with a sizzling and popping and a smell of metal burning. When the light flared down, he turned to look and see that it was still burning deep inside the engine, melting its way down into it. When the burning in the old engine block hit a post war aluminum drip pan filled with some liquid there was a minor explosion and he was on the ground, again, not looking at the machine and feeling a sudden wave of heat on his face. What remained of the molten, burning metal started to drip out of the engine case and on the ground with snaps and pops, some like firecrackers, and continued hissing until the reactions burnt themselves out. That had taken more than five minutes, but he hadn't counted on the engine contributing to the chemical reaction. Heading back, his sonar informed him that there was a large area melted into the engine, and he had problems making out what that looked like until he got onto the skid surface and looked down, using IR and sonar. The IR was useless and he flipped the goggle inserts up and sonar wasn't giving reasonable returns, either. A small hand flashlight revealed the smooth, twisted mess that had been left. A closer examination showed that the exposed piston rings had burned, melted and formed tight welds with the cylinders and pistons where the thermite had gone through. There was no general hole all the way to the ground, and examining the underside revealed the drip pan and whatever its contents had been, most likely water, had given a final burst to the reaction. That explosion, he saw, had shifted the heavy vehicle a bit under an inch as it happened, by the drag marks of the tread.

In tiny amounts thermite was such a useful welding system that it was still used for many applications. In larger amounts, it was very effective at burning at high heat and not letting very much get in its way. Water would just create an explosion of steam to break up the molten mass, but each piece still burned. It was very effective at its job.

Next up for testing was the acids, and the cab interior would serve for a mix of materials, including some tattered remains of cloth. Here, the broken window was more effective a shield and he took each syringe out and poked its head through the the broken window. As he sprayed the one marked 'HF' inside, then he jumped back as some of it splashed onto the glass and was eating its way through that. He dropped the syringe on the ground had to search to find it, with an area of pitted sand, and grass that had been eaten away by the last few drops marking its spot. He took the glove off around it and sealed it inside the glove, then double sealed it with the other glove and put on a new pair, as he walked away from the crane holding his breath. Looking back he could see fumes from thirty feet away in IR and then visually with the hand light, but it didn't appear much at all in sonar. Ten minutes later he walked back. He looked inside the cabin and he could still see where the fumes had exited as those areas were deeply etched and eroded away. Plastics, foams, metals, cloth, glass... the old rubber mat had been exposed for so long that it was eaten through at multiple points. Large drops left deep areas where they had spread out and then down, while smaller ones repeated that, and trails of liquid had left deep first impressions and then etched down as the reaction mass was used up.

Each of the next acids performed similarly, and he made sure each was given a wide berth and that he was upwind of them. The HCl was nasty at high molarity, almost as much as the HF. Fuming sulfuric acid had left a stench over the cabin and did a similar job. Still, only the HF saw metals as no problem at all to deal with, and only a bit of plastic and unoxidized synthetic rubber pointed to things it wouldn't go through. If these had been injected into a confined space, the results would have been dramatic, he was sure. The wrapped syringes he put into a biohazard containment bag in the vehicle, triple wrapped.

For an hour he would use a drag line to get up to the top of the quarry, then use sonar and the cape to learn how to judge distances, first with visual aids and then without. There was a freedom to soaring down, like this, that could not be described. Learning that there was some give to the rheoplastic he learned how to change his angle of attack to kill speed at the last second or so, which still left him with a lot of speed, as he had found out on the dock. The pop-out control surfaces by his ankles allowed for some very tight maneuvers to be made, although nothing he would want to try in a confined space less than twenty feet across, he could do some very impressive half-turns in that space. His skills for dropping backwards while adjusting his cape needed some re-learning as the cape preferred to be above him when activated and he could easily lose control if it wasn't. Yet its cycle time from rigid to soft was actually faster than the buttons becoming available for them, that last learned by the landing pad which slowed his speed in a side impact when he misjudged distances and timing.

Above the quarry the sonar gave him a not too detailed panoramic view, but large amounts of detail directly beneath him. By the end of the hour he was doing sonar only drops starting from different places and positions. Satisfied for the night, and quite tired he walked towards the vehicle and realized he was just mildly warm all over, and that the suit had been putting all of his excess body heat into the air as he soared. He wasn't sweating in any one area, although there was some under the balaclava as it was not integrated into the suit for thermal use. Even inside that, normally a heat retainer, there was only a slight feeling of damp cloth. The rest of the suit still clung to him and was not sliding with his sweat. No rubbing, chafing, sore areas where the suit had slipped and had to be re-adjusted. Some parts did need adjustment, but that was through the suit being put through a wider range of activities than he had thought about at the start of the night. Some of the things he had done tonight he would never have tried with the old suit, and its plate over polyweave design.

At the vehicle he restocked his equipment, save for the acids, and drank most of a bottle of water. The wharf had been a warm-up, and the quarry a full re-adjustment to this new array of equipment. He slid on some more Batarang dispensers, regular drag lines, and picked up his thermos bottle from the front area and had two cups of the hot liquid. He was less than pleased with the way the suit dealt with other bodily functions, but so were astronauts, by and large. And simple tubing for plumbing, as had been around for decades, still served, even at the bottom of a quarry. He was feeling much, much better as he dried the remains of the mud off of the stealth sheath of the suit.

The night was still his.

Time for business.

* * *

Jimmy 'The Widget' Duncan learned his trade with the best of them in Boston. He boasted there wasn't a car he couldn't get into or an auto alarm system he couldn't defeat. He had swiped cars from hotels, restaurants, home garages, car lots, you name it, he had swiped one from some place like it. 'The Widget', as he had come to be known, was due to the small satchel he carried with him that had all sorts of interesting devices: mirrors on sticks, wire cutters, wrenches, screwdrivers, and even a tiny arc welder. The car companies were starting to catch wise to the old fashioned Jimmy, no relation, and all those wonderful alarm companies promised so much protection. And yet he had problems thinking of one that needed more than a mirror, tube or bolt cutter and wire snip. Fuel cut-offs? Yeah, right. Does it have a key, valve or solenoid to it? If so, then 'The Widget' had just the tool to reach in and under and around and get to it and disable it or to pick its lock in no time at all.

When one of the new gangs that showed up wanted cars without broken windows, and would pay top price for cars that were intact, well, Jimmy Duncan saw an opportunity. He had been a minor car thief for joyriding and hot-rodding, with a rap sheet going back to his early teens. He learned electronics as he liked that stuff, then learned about car alarm systems. Didn't matter who made it, who installed it, what 'extra features' it had to go 'undetected', he could spot them within a few seconds. He went from mid-range hot-rods and muscle cars to the luxury lane, and started actually making money at things. He watched how the rich and way too well off did things, and was soon getting clean shaven, sun glasses, and basic livery outfits off the rack, on the cheap. Do it with the mirror shades and shoulder holster and carry the satchel with the official looking mirror rig to do 'inspections', and no one would question that you were a security person doing your job. Just target one car and the people at a lot assumed you were hired by the rich guy while the rich guy would assume you were lot security. He even got a radio earpiece, with radio, and started to listen in on them with a scanner unit he rigged up.

Dead simple, really.

And if you got in and drove off, well, you looked like you belonged there so you must be official.

One good score a month, and he was set with the easiest job on the planet, he was sure.

With all the police raids going on with the Families, Organizations and Mobs, there were getting to be more cars than people in that echelon, and all it took was finding out a restaurant or two, a club here and there, then casing the places and doing a drive around in a beat up old hulk. So the north side 'Kaspian Klub' hosting a number of Mafia types was no surprise to The Widget who had cased it a few times, already. It would be the perfect time... he parked, change clothes and waited until it got into full swing. Mostly just the Petruzzi and Brancuzzi clans, but also saw some Bosco people there, along with that Lavra group from the East Side.

Their security details were nervous as hell and thick.

These guys knew each other, so pretending to be lot security would be hard.

Not impossible, mind you, just hard.

He was fitting his earpiece and turned on the scanner, slipped on the mirror shades and was getting ready to walk out from an alley from across the street when the lights went out in the club and the lot.

Damn, it was dark!

Then the earpiece came to life with cries, screams, gunfire... he could see that from across the street before he could hear it on the outside, but he was getting the inside.

There were yells about it being 'The Bat' and cries of treachery, and the solid sound of people being hit. Actually, listening to the security channels, he got a lot of that latter. One guy was thrown out a window and The Widget got the sudden 'uhHHhhhh' from his earpiece. In a minute or two the firing had stopped, there were moans, and cries here and there... especially a 'no... please...' and someone had left their microphone open as he heard the following, clearly...

"The night is your enemy and Justice will find you."

Slowly the intercom traffic died down to moans, and 'help me' and 'I'm fucking stuck!'

The lot was vacant as the various security people had either scrambled to the club, and weren't returning, or had run away from it. The Widget saw his chance for a score on a Lamborghini. He walked over quickly, taking his glasses off and threading through the lot by starlight. He used the mirror and light arrangement and saw the security system and had gotten out his cutters and was deftly snipping out wires, leads and shorting one to the frame. The little welder tapped it there. In a few seconds he had the door open.

The night suddenly lit up brighter than daylight as a dozen car hoods all shone with the brightest light he had never seen as he looked away from it. But there was a shadow moving, outlined by that strong, strong light.

For the first time in five years The Widget fumbled his equipment, hearing the sound of metal burning as smoke billowed and swirled in the lot.

The shadow disappeared, suddenly, while the cars in the lot burned and hissed as burning claws reached into them.

Finally he got his key mix and found what he needed.

He was about to close the door when he saw a figure there and looked up to the dark face highlighted by the multiple glows that shone dully by reflection on it. Red eyes looked down at him and all was dark around him.

"It's a bad night to be out, Jimmy," the figure said as it grabbed The Widget by the collar of his livery jacket and pulled him from the car.

It knew his NAME.

"But I know you love cars. This one wants to be attached to you."

The Widget found his face pressed to the top of the car, the cold metal finish sending chills through him. The Batman took Jimmy's hands and placed them together behind his back, palms together. His hands wouldn't come apart and his cheek was stuck to the cold kiss of the car.

"Don't look, Jimmy. Close your eyes as I send this car to hell."

The Batman walked to the front of the car and The Widget saw, just a glimpse, of a small piece of metal, then heard something like cord being pulled through something. He barely closed his eyes in time as the hood of the car lit up in a white light that went through his eyelids and he felt enormous heat as hell reached up to claim another car.

In a few minutes the police would arrive, the heads of three organizations trapped, bound, stuck, unconscious... and all of their cars in ruins. Not one member of the staff of the club or other patrons had their cars touched, and only those who got in the way were pushed aside. The papers, documents, and money found that night was a huge windfall as the Organizations had wanted to work out their territory arrangements, and band together in certain areas.

They now feared Batman.

They were reeling.

And tonight many got reeled in.

The Widget saw the bait, but not the hook, and was a small fish brought in with the sharks.

* * *

Wayne Project Jet #3 was one of the smaller aircraft in the Wayne corporate jet line-up. It had started out life as a late order Learjet by the previous Wayne Enterprises corporate honchos. They had ordered up a Learjet 36A, but the disturbances at the upper realm of Wayne Enterprises when Bruce Wayne returned, delayed it so it had most of the latest upgrades put on it during the transition period and then went through T&A at Wayne Avionics shortly after most of the shakeups had happened. Mr. Wayne had made it plain that he needed the long-haul capability more than the creature comforts, and asked the Avionics, soon to be Aerospace, group to give him the estimate for a sleeper overhaul of the interior.

That work was one of the first projects for Wayne Aerospace and introduced Bruce Wayne's method of cross-utilizing corporate expertise for creating a project. From internal structural members of the airframe to the fabric on the seating and proposed beds, each group inside Wayne Corporation contributed while Mr. Wayne, himself, was overseas most of the time. The make-over would nearly exceed the cost of the aircraft as delivered, and would actually lower its investment value but emphasize its utility needs and the values of Bruce Wayne.

A kitchen/bar efficiency unit was shifted forward and as it was deemed utilitarian and well made it was kept. A single seat toilet was installed across from that for forward cabin use, and an efficiency bathroom with shower was installed for use by the rear two sleeper bunks. The left compartment could sleep two on the slide down beds, but only had the European style curtain draws across them. An actual small bedroom, as seen on many older trains was put in on the other side, and the engineering and aerospace groups spent some weeks examining past types to arrive at an early 20th century room type favored for the Presidential cars on trains before the aircraft era. It was, of course, scaled down, but offered safe storage for personal items, some sound proofing and a few actual creature comforts in the way of bed softness and a mini-bar. That left room, though not much, for a face-to-face set of seats with a collapsible table on the left of the forward area and two lounger seats on the right. Some of the actual carpeting and original inlaid wood was re-utilized, along with some of the leather appointments that went on to the exterior walls for the two sleeping areas. Electronics, safety systems, automatic fire extinguishers, and even the slimmest of modular equipment tray systems were also installed into the cabin from parts of Wayne Corporation.

The engineers looking at the Honeywell turbofan engines recommended no change in jet type or manufacturer, as these were the best of their type for long distance and fuel economy. Some questions on sustained high speed wear were asked and Wayne Aerospace and Honeywell settled on a minor co-production agreement for parts that would normally not be used at its normal cruise speed, that gave Honeywell a source for minor modification parts and Wayne Corporation a reduced overhead for maintenance on custom parts. Some minor reinforcements to the landing gear system and shock absorbing system were performed, as Mr. Wayne had specified that not all landing fields would be paved. Or flat. That is hard work on a private jet, and the Aerospace group had their hands full looking at suitable replacements and equivalents, including the military air transport version, and that helped settle on some solutions for springs, tire types, suspension and doing some in-house fabrication of custom hardened parts. All the minor modifications to the 36A gave it a good distance, low fuel use and low maintenance cost. Bruce Wayne had been impressed and there were good bonuses for that group, which had labored for nearly 2 years on that work.

Richard was bringing the jet down at the mid-town KC airfield and marveled that Vivian and her traveling companion, Frank Rock, could sleep so easily in the bunks. On very long hauls Mr. Wayne substituted at the controls to give pilots essential down-time and establish a shift schedule. And on those flights where he had a starlet or dignitary in tow, the pilots were still glad for the loungers. His pilots had racked up a lot of hours in a few years on the jet, including China, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique and Peru. So a flight to Kansas City was, indeed, a 'milk run', unlike anything involving Vivian as pilot of the Long Sword.

Actually nothing involving Vivian had the words 'milk run' attached to them, Richard mused. When she said someone 'couldn't keep up' it was fact, not boasting, which is why the rumors about her and Mr. Wayne swirled everywhere in Wayne Corporation. He could and did keep up... and often left her trailing. And the trips where she would come back and he wouldn't... well... who could keep up with Bruce Wayne?

"No wonders he falls asleep at budget meetings," Richard whispered to himself.

"Yeah," said Mike Reynolds in the co-pilot's seat, "he has got to be exhausted after the nights he has on the town with the girls and the booze and shit. Still, best employer around and wouldn't cross him for love nor money. He wanted a good jack-leg mechanic-pilot who could rescue planes in the middle of nowhere and that's what I am. I was with him in Norway digging that Me-109 out of a damned snow field! Asked me how long it would take for a good team to get it out and crated to Wayne Avionics and told him with a picked crew I could do it in two weeks. He said three, pick your crew and get it done. Right there on the snow field! Took most of the day to get back to camp, then he left me with the trail guide and a couple of work guys for haulin and packin everything. That and a damned account number to charge everything to. The guide nearly had a heart attack thinking about Mr. Wayne going through the snow in the wilds of Norway on his own. Godawful middle of nowhere. Can't even remember the name of the place, but it was near a base the Germans used to hit ships on the Archangel run."

Richard had heard the outlines of the story a few times, but Mikey never volunteered beyond the hard work it was to get and haul the aircraft to the US.

"Got to town two days later, was defrosting in my room and watchin the news and there was Mr. Wayne in Bonn for a film festival or some god damned thing! Not that I wanted to be there, but, shit, the man only had a day's head start and it would take me twice as long to get to freakin Bonn. Still, the work is good, that's for sure. Saved him a ton of cash over doing it local and at least a month of time, if it could have been done that year by locals. I did get some locals, but just for the hauling part. Got a coupla guys at Rolls and a Mercedes engineer to help, which is what I get for going to the trade fairs he sends me on. Did the friend-of-a-friend bit, got a historian there from the locals and one from the Luftwaffe and it was a great time! Germans brought the beer, the Norwegians the Aqavite and you couldn't even feel the short fall disappear from under you. Got everyone out before winter with the plane. Norwegians squawked until they saw the actual owner of the plane was none other than Wayne Corporation. Sgt. Rock, back there, brought back some of the info with him from after the war and got a 1,000 block deal on buying up serial number ownership licenses. Most all of them were shot down, mind you, so the Germans figured for a few hundred bucks they were selling paper. He gave those to the old man Wayne, he put them into Wayne Industries, that became Wayne Enterprises, and when word got back on a possible Me-109 find, Mr. Wayne was out there with me to check on serial numbers. Said he would have left it for the Norwegians to dig out, but as it was Wayne Corporation property, he asserted rights and ownership and due diligence in looking for it. They tried to claim all sorts of shit, but Sgt. Rock bought the numbers expecting them to be a war souvenir, gave them to his friend as a gift, and when Wayne Corporation now hears of an Me-109 found any place in Europe, we got a johnny-on-the-spot to check it out. Keeps ya busy, that does."

"No, shit?" whispered Richard.

"Uh-huh. Figure Bruce is giving the guy a freebie for being a friend of the family and all. So its a damned good job, Rich, ya know?"

"Uh-huh, I know Mikey. Still, its hard to believe that sort of executive can survive today."

"Survive? Turns a decent profit but does something even better."

"Really? What?"

"Keeps the bastards honest. Ever notice the things he won't get involved with?"

"Not really, no..." it was true. Even being in Wayne Corporation for a few years, he still hadn't adjusted to it fully.

"You know the Navy would love for Wayne Corp to take over the old Gotham Shipyards and bid on naval contracts, right?"

"Uh-huh, heard rumors about it."

"Wayne said it was no dice, didn't like the way they jerked contractors around. A spec is a spec and the Navy shifts specs every other day and twice on Thursdays. He will do fly-off Air Force bids, things you gotta get something working for, and loves that stuff. Ditto the Army drive-off stuff. Heard him say that 'once they get the look of it, they will want to get in it. Once they get in they will buy it.' Fuckin true! Some guys on the Defense side said the tech folks in the military are pissed at the sweetheart deals that go out the door when Wayne makes something to compete. Usually better, too. And they know we keep to contracts and schedules and prices. They love that shit, keepin to it and doin it right. Then a boss walks in and wants a doo-dad put on something and Wayne Corp tells them exactly how much it will cost, how far production will slip, and that they are changing the contract type from what it originally was and that is breach of promise on the government's part and misleading a private concern. They don't go to court, our legal guys, they go to the Inspector General. So, yeah, the Navy procurement guys want Wayne to get into the ship building business... its to purge their tarnished brass and polish their asses as they leave. Too bad we want good relations with the government."

Mikey, for all of being a lay-about, actually was a good mechanic and pretty good pilot. He also had his ear to the ground on the corporate side. When he was awake and sober.

Richard signaled the tower for final approach and let the two who were resting know it was wake-up time. Vivian took, perhaps a half-second to wake up before she hit the floor and was getting her sneakers back on. Frank Rock swung his feet slowly out and retrieved his boots from under the bed and put them on. Vivian had come forward to say 'hi' and pick up some coffee for herself and the war veteran. He nodded and said 'thanks' as he sat down in a lounger and buckled in, with Vivian following suit in the other one.

Within five minutes Richard had brought the plane down and taxied it to the area marked out for them. As soon as the plane was on the taxi-way, Vivian was up and moving, pulling out packs, cases, her duffel bag. They had re-sorted everything when they first left, splitting up some of the food and other items to lose one extra bag, but there was no substitute for the optics case and Frank's case of old reliable. Vivian got the optics case, the lighter of the two, but only after asking if she could heft his other case. She had suspected it was lighter.

It wasn't.

Nor was his pack lighter.

When he had to pack in a spare suit Alfred had found, and shoes, Vivian nearly fainted when she saw the ammo can come out, along with the bandoleer of long stick magazines and a pouch with smaller ones. Frank Rock put the clothing forward as padding, then the munitions, then the food and other items Alfred had got them. When she saw the long stick magazines, Vivian Rose started to suspect that old reliable was not scotch, not a sexual aid, and not an oxygen tank, but something else. For the life of her she couldn't think of anything that would fit into that case that would take those magazines.

When the jet had come to a stop by the low building, Vivian popped the door and steps down and was coming down them in only two steps. She was followed by Richard who wanted to do the external visual inspection, and then Sgt. Rock. There was still a slight whine from the jet, but it was only slowing with no fuel. Vivian and Frank waved at Richard and headed to the building, with Vivian leading as she seemed to know the way. She pushed through the doors, checked the signs and turned towards the main entrance.

"Figure the guy with the car will be out front and conspicuous," she said.

"Yeah, never know where a plane will actually leave passengers these days," he said grimly, downing the last of the paper cup of coffee and tossing that into a trash receptacle as they walked.

In a couple of minutes they had gotten to the main entrance and there was a dark haired man, middling age, relatively fit, with dark rings under his eyes, dressed in a dark suit, and white shirt with the collar opened. He looked like he had been gotten out of bed. Or hadn't gotten to bed. He held a simple, hand done sign that said 'WAYNE' on it. Vivian walked straight towards him, her livery jacket zipped up, although the sneakers and jeans ruined the effect of being a 'professional driver' unless it was one that had gotten up in the middle of the night for an odd assignment...

"Hi, Vivian Rose, Wayne Aerospace and part of the livery pool," she said handing her ident tag festooned with identification cards on it to the man.

"Hello Miss Rose..." he looked at her and realized that she was far more awake than he was, and the man behind her was also in a similar state,"... and Frank Rock?"

Sgt. Rock nodded handing over one of his older pension ID cards, which the man took and checked, then handed the identification back to each of them.

"I'm Ross Coswell and... ahhh... corporate headquarters got me up to tell me that you needed a car. Pontiac Trans-Am, L69 block... ahhh... I only had one of those on the lot and it was special ordered from the limited run at the factory... I... uhhh... well, I tried to explain it to the corporate regional manager and he asked me what the problem was, and it was that only 1,500 had been produced and they were hard to get... I do pride myself on customer service, you know?"

Vivian had cocked her head to the left and looked at him.

"Ross, you got a car for us or not?" she asked.

"Yes... corporate told me that I would get compensated and another car from the run shipped to me as that purchaser had died before the order could be fulfilled, but that it would take a week to get it from Seattle... either that or Wayne Corporation would own the dealership in the morning and fire me. For incompetence."

"Uh-huh," Vivian said straightening her head, "show me the car and where do I sign?"

"Its out front... if you would just follow me...", Ross Coswell took them out the front sliding doors and to a temporary parking area just across from the entrance.

Vivian Rose saw the Limited Anniversary Edition of the Pontiac Trans-Am and the blue insignia on the hood and stopped dead in her tracks, gawking.

"I... am... in... love..." she whispered.

"It has all the performance options of the line and all the detailing..." said Ross.

Frank Rock had his hand out.

"Give me the keys, I'll see if it runs. Perhaps she will recover."

That got Vivian out of her reverie.

"Like hell! Gimme the keys Rossie! Gots a chicken to get screaming."

Sgt. Rock pressed down a smile and took his hand away and shifted old reliable back to it.

Ross Coswell was sure that he did not lose any skin between his thumb and forefinger, but did not see the blur of Vivian's hand as he took the key ring out of his pocket as he was lifting it up and never did get his arm fully elevated. She was a blur of motion and inside the car in three steps. The engine roared to life.

"OOOOOOOO!!!! YAAAAHHHHH!!! If momma could see me now!!"

Frank Rock looked back at Ross Coswell.

"I think she will be signing from the driver's seat."

Ross gulped and nodded.

As they walked to the car she yelled, "Frank its a T-Top D-Lite!"

He nodded opening the passenger side door and seeing that she had somehow stored the duffel bag and optics case into what little space that passed for space behind the front seats... you really couldn't expect to fit anyone alive back there... he followed suit with his backpack, but kept old reliable up front. Vivian was, indeed, handing over her ID again and signing forms from the driver's seat. She received a slip of paper for the vehicle and then she reached to pull Ross' head down into the car and kissed him.

He staggered back from that as the car ran smoothly out of the parking area and gathered speed. She already had her driving gloves and cap on, magically putting them on in less than a second.

Ross Coswell didn't know what to make of it. He would have one very pissed off customer in the morning. But he had, obviously, made someone very, very, very happy tonight. He could no longer see the car but heard it as it headed towards the interstate interchange.

* * *

"Ooooooo... tight and smooth shifter... five on the floor... do you hear it purring?" Vivian asked.

"I-70 East, Vivian. Looking for a long stretch before an overpass to set up and watch."

She nodded and was pulling into an entrance ramp for the I-70 interchange.

"Yeah, Frank, got it. No worries. So I figure if it lost an hour in Denver due to traffic and just generally driving a truck that needs gas every coupla hundred, we have, maybe, an hour to hour and a half here then scoot north east to Des Moines heading to Chi-town looking to get it from behind. Say, how about this one?"

He squinted.

"Too close to the curve, behind us. Need some straight observation time, a mile or so."

She nodded.

"I agree, Vivian. Within two hours we will know if it is the north or south route."

She drove on, peering at the landscape ahead.

"No one on the road besides a few long haul truckers and a station wagon or two," she said.

"What does that interchange look like? Route 40?" he asked

"Kinda looks good, Frank," she said seeing the long approach to it.

"Take the exit, we can backtrack and swing around and pull to the side up top."

She exited on to the ramp and swung the car back up to the bridge then across it and swung around to get on the other side.

"I'll park just beyond there. We have a straight shot to the on-ramp across the way and not that far to get a good place, I think, for watching."

He nodded.

"Perfect. Remember, if anyone asks..."

"... you are the off-kilter dad. Yeah. No problem."

She pulled just beyond the overpass and off to the shoulder. He slid the optics case out from behind her seat and opened the door to walk back to the overpass. As he looked around he realized that the State had cleared a very large area for this interchange.

"I can set up right here, better angle to see under the previous overpass."

As he was doing that, she was getting the T-Top squared away for driving. What is the use of having it if you don't get to feel the wind? She was quickly finished and she thought this was such a dream car and it did everything just like you would want it to.... she reached in and slipped a thermos of coffee out of her duffel and walked around to find Frank on the ground with the spotter's scope and looking at the every so often car or tractor-trailer that would pass by.

"Thermal isn't good until I get high contrast," he said, "that overpass is good for that, and now I have an idea how people look inside a car. You don't get much from the glass and wind taking heat away, but I guess all IR isn't heat."

"Yeah, something like that, I suppose," Vivian said,"want some coffee, Frank?"

"Thanks, much obliged," he said looking at her.

She smiled in the darkness and knelt down beside him, handing the thermos cup over to him, he sipped as another tractor trailer rig came through the area, and he glanced at it flipping the IR goggles down.

"Want a pair of the IR goggles?", he asked.

"What, you got spares?" she said sitting with her back to the car and her legs splayed out in front of her. The ground, she realized, was cold, save for the road surface and even that was chilling down.

"Sure, Loren gave me spares. Here, simple to use, just put them on and hit a contact switch on the right eye-piece. These aren't like the military ones, look to be more fragile."

She nodded and slipped the somewhat cumbersome electronics over her eyes and flipped them on. The world came alive in a series of gray tones between black and white.

"They auto-adjust, more or less. Not all that highly adaptable, but will serve."

She looked around at the roadway and saw the contrast between it and the ground and how the bridge was very cool behind them. The images of cars showed up with a large heat blob in front, a smaller in the rear and ghostly images inside.

Frank Rock was switching between IR and his scope, which was light intensified with adaptive compensation at the low range. He could look far enough beyond the overpass up the road and flip the IR into place when they got there and were driving past.

Vivian Rose flipped the goggles up.

"Those are great, Frank! We have some cockpit imagers in test equipment, but never thought about, you know, smaller sets."

"Been around for awhile. We had very basic sets during the war, from what I was told, though never used 'em. Did some training with them later and always stressed that your eyes, ears and nose did a very good job and not to rely just on equipment. They hated the run-throughs I gave them during training at night, where I took their batteries, gave half of them empty magazines, and then shut down the rest of the power and did the manual, siren wake-up and had them go after the enemy on the training course. All simulation, yeah, but with so many without ammo or night vision, they got the point."

"Huh... sounds pretty hard, Frank."

"That’s war, Vivian. If you forget to check your equipment before you bed down, even if it is just a poncho and a ditch in the jungle, you can wind up seriously dead during the night. The second run-through always went better, the equipment had been checked. Most didn't check their clothing, so, it was a butt naked run-through, but they did survive."

Vivian snorted and laughed.

"That's just plain mean, Frank."

"Clothing is equipment," he said flatly.

Vivian heard a car pull up behind them, and stood up to see a County Sheriff's car and an officer getting out.

"Hello, Officer, what can I do ya for?" she asked in a sweet tone.

"Ma'am, someone noticed you here and phoned it in, so I'm just checking up to make sure you two aren't up to something."

"Nope, just dad looking for the signs of the coming Apocalypse," she said sweetly glancing at Frank.

He walked a bit more and looked at Frank on the ground with the spotter's scope and goggles.

"Is it another Unbeliever?" Frank asked in rising tones.

The Officer could barely see the old man and the equipment but he did see that he was a pretty old man, laying there sprawled out on the ground.

"Ah, sir, I'm just here to make sure you two aren't doing something wrong..."

"No, son, I'm here looking for UDOs."

"Ahhh... UDOs?" the Officer asked.

"Unidentified Driving Object," Vivian said sweetly, "one will be the harbinger of the coming end times. That is what daddy told me. Right daddy?"

"That's right, sweetie. I had a vision of the Opener of the Seven Seals driving from the West in a UDO that looks like a Ford truck. It is one of the old Horsemen taken on new form."

The Officer was at a loss. He had heard of many religious prophecies, and encountered many others, but this was new.

"I see..." he said slowly backing away and turning.

"Its a True Vision," said Vivian, "he said that it will come from the City of Deception through the City of Sin and bring Hell behind it."

Frank flipped his goggles up and started collapsing the scope into the case.

"My child the time of waiting draws us to breakfast at Denny's."

Vivian had heard the code and smiled.

"Keep your eye open for UDOs, Officer. Its breakfast time now!"

The old man had stored everything away and opened his door, putting the case into the car. The young woman had sauntered off and gotten in the driver's seat, and he then slowly walked back to his car and called it in... he spent a few minutes thinking about how he could, ever, describe this.

The Pontiac Trans-Am started off and sped down the opposite ramp and into the night.

"Base, this is Unit 18. The report was a religious nut looking for UDOs, Unidentified Driving Objects, over."

"Come again, Unit 18?"

Yes, this would take awhile to describe.

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