Dr. Gotham finished the last of his tea and very spare meal with the paper spread out on the table in front of him.
"This world is going to hell," he murmured to himself, the only other sound in the room coming from the old grandfather clock in the display room and the soft susurrus of cars going over the Interconnector. He had been carefully folding pages to get the main stories of the day out in front of him. The comics, advertisements, coupons and other entertainment sections were off to one side, leaving only those items which had themes to them. He had then looked around the store and found the Saturday and Friday papers, the former left unexamined on the sideboard of the shelves near the cash register and the other in a rectangular garbage pail. Going through those he started to sort out articles and placed them with others from the Sunday paper.
To the upper part of the table on his left were the headline stories of what had happened at the Convention Center's Fall Costume Show. It sat alone and lonely by itself as a story, unconnected to anything, anyone and only having outcomes, not causes. There was only the mention of the event in the Friday paper and the companies being presented, along with some scattered interviews, but nothing from before the event to say what would happen during it.
These were not causes, as he saw it, only the ebb and flow of life before such events. The only flow out was to the memorial service which was being held by Bruce Wayne, who was the first executive after the show to hold a press conference in the very early morning hours. He added the stack of work under that outcome, under the show. This was in the normal course of action taken by Bruce Wayne as seen in past events and indicated a regularity to him and his outlook.
To the right of that short set of events were a number of articles about the goings on in the worse parts of Gotham City, about gangs and mafia and corruption of the police and city government. These stories were connected and soon the figure of Commissioner James Gordon began to appear as a seminal one. Some stories recounted what had happened before he was elevated to that post in 1980 and most others talking about after that time. These stories had connections to another figure, that of the 'Batman', who was a costumed vigilante of some sort, yet one who was very effective in what he did. He was harder to pin down as the mask hid the identity, but his actions spoke louder than any words. Appearing in Gotham City, perhaps as early as 1974, he became a real force in the night during the late 1970's and his crime takedowns had started to needle the old political regime that it was ineffective and so corrupt that it couldn't deal with mere arrests.
He put column articles on Gordon and Batman side by side under this section, and then the fallout over time against first local criminal syndicates and then regional ones after that. Dr. Gotham retrieved notebook paper from next to the register and added names of crime families, syndicates, and other operations between the two personalities. After that he had to add articles about the reform efforts going on in the GCPD, of which the only articles were of some past members of the GCPD who were up for prosecution, and then some of the names of prosecutors, organizations and policing groups that were attached to what was going on in Gotham City.
"These are very busy individuals, all due to a masked man in the night," he said with his eyes darting over the articles and names he had put to the columns under them. Some lone ties from the event last night tied over to Gordon, but that was his Deputy Commissioners doing work, nothing more.
Next, of personal interest, was the single story, with just a column inch given to the break in and robbery of his shop, which was the event that brought him here after being waylaid. It had a mention of the Batman to it, and that tied to him.
After that on the right of the table, were the National and International events of note. The primary and over-riding one was the set of events going on in that far off country of Lebanon in what was called the Middle East. After the first bombing of the US Embassy there, President Reagan sent in US forces with French forces under the auspices of this strange body called the United Nations, which was proving as effective as the old League of Nations, to find this Islamic group that had targeted the Embassy and then these two sets of forces. President Reagan had been uneasy to keep US Marines in a static position and they utilized ship landing craft to keep on the move. When the French compound was bombed, as well as a small contingent of US Marines attached to work with them, the US had to respond. US forces were mobilized to go after the international criminals and pirates who had attacked peacekeeping forces, and those US forces had started to clear Lebanon of these groups with some help from France and UK.
That nexus of events had repercussions in this 'Cold War' that had seen cooperation between the Soviet Union, which appeared on the brink of collapse, and some of its old Western Allies. Apparently what had gone on in Germany was as he had feared at the time, and events drove the disparate ideologies of Western and Soviet together against a cancerous Germany. After the war, however, they parted over Europe and a new war started without direct attacks but through proxies and intermediaries. A full war with the new weapons of the last ones and their descendants would mean grave loss of life to all on the planet.
"Much remains the same even with so much change," Dr. Gotham said.
There were indications of backers in the larger, though perhaps less well off, Syria helping the outlaws and even a mention in one of the Gotham articles about a Syrian connection to one of the crime syndicates in Gotham. Even in his day there was evidence of crime getting outside help, then from Sicily and Italy, now from hostile nations in the 'Middle East'. Other connections to Gotham were that of reserve units put on active status and sent either to reinforce ongoing operations or to help in keeping them supplied. Bruce Wayne's corporation was but one of many that supplied goods and material to the US government, and only the somewhat deeper business articles indicated a respect for the quality of products from the company by the government.
He got up from the table and took his dishes and silverware over to the sink and dutifully cleaned them, and put them on the rack to dry. Going back to the table the empty bottom half of the table and general sparseness of articles in the center was telling him much. Carefully he placed the box containing the talisman at the center of the table.
"Now how do you fit in?" he asked.
He shifted the stack of articles on Bruce Wayne down closer to the center and the single article on the robbery next to the Batman column. Carefully he stacked the names of crime organizations together and placed them next to the shop article as any one of them might be involved via the Norris couple. He then placed the story just above the box, moved the Batman column over to the right and leafed out the crime organizations between Gordon and Batman.
"None of those are to your north, now, are they? Which belongs there?"
There was much chaos in the world, both near and abroad, and he was tempted to put the war articles above the box.
"No, war is the condition of man and granted by Nature. That isn't your true domain, is it?"
He slid those articles to the right center of the table and then looked at the rest.
"Chaos close to home is what you cause."
Carefully he moved the three columns of Gordon, crime syndicates and Batman to the bottom part of the table and moved the Convention Center articles to their place above the box.
"Yes, that is North and Black. Chaos from the unknown."
He looked to the right of the box at the war and International articles.
"Green, East and far. Middle East? Far East? Green in any event, yes. Those fit."
Looking at the articles he made sure the one for the shop was below the box.
"Red? Blood red, yes. That fits."
The only remaining stack was to the left of the box.
"Bruce Wayne? West and White?"
His brows furrowed together as something wasn't fitting. There were pieces missing, large pieces, to this puzzle of the talisman. Pressing his hands against the back of the chair he had sat at he looked over the table and then went back to the report by Henry on what was taken from the shop. The highest value items were at the top, and they were both unique in their own way. The Faberge Spider, so delicate and beautiful it would be an easy sale by any criminal to the right buyer. Next was a piece he hadn't seen before and it was dated as coming into the shop in 1937. It had been taken in by Henry from Estrella Rhinold in exchange for a platinum wedding ring that Dr. Gotham had gotten via purchase in 1899 from a British seaman.
To Henry these would have been attention pieces for the shop, things that would get some notoriety save, that by what the shop was, they didn't. That fate had been sealed when the Interconnector was started and took over a decade to finish, and this once working class neighborhood had been so much destroyed that it had fallen into a ghetto condition. Gotham had moved the social geography around the shop as the shop could not move by the one who rightfully inhabited it. Gotham did its own work when its servant could not do it as the nature of Gotham could not be denied.
He examined the photographs of the top two stolen items to determine if they played more than just an attractive role in this, to get criminals to do as was in their nature the dirty work of others. The first was just that, of course, a jewel so beautiful by such a well known designer that it would sell easily. No one could fake that man's work and what it was as its craftsmanship could not be rivaled by any forger. This and the second item were worth more than all else the criminals had gathered if they had gotten away with them.
Placing the first down in the lower right of the table he then shifted columns under the shop break-in article to move the criminal organizations to the right of the Batman column and shifted that one next to Gordon.
"There that is fitting better, now," he said softly as the clock pendulum swung to the tick-tock sound known for generations.
Then he looked at the second major article by value that had been stolen, the Dragon Ring. The insurance companies had fine photographs of it in stark color, with the item on a black velvet background. He set down the item and went to the side cabinet to get a magnifying glass and then sat at the table to look over the ring photographs and description.
"Ancient gold ring with Emerald Dragon motif and ruby eyes. Emerald shards inset into gold by process unknown, perhaps lost wax with sand casting. Estimated date for artwork is South American primitive aided by European design work, circa 1503 to 1610. Gold is 24K pure yellow, mass 22.15 grams. Emerald shards or fragments appear from a primary natural stone of gem quality, dark green throughout with gray cast. No oil present during assessment on surface. All cuts of emerald are single and there are no enhancements to remove inclusions on surface of the cut parts on the ring. Ring appears pressure constricted to hold fragments after placement of emerald pieces. Internal band inscription is of an unknown text type and may be glyphs of unknown origin not native to South America or European work in Spain. Reproduction of glyphs are attached and enlarged. No transliteration is possible at this time. Assessment is that overall ring work is excellent by unknown craftsman or craftsmen, with ring type following Iberian types and constricted box inset work of unknown origin not native to Europe of that era. Ring has not been resized from approximate 7.5 US sizing. Ring type is undescribed in literature though would be of Signet type if it had further embellishments. Quality is Excellent varied by Primitive."
Dr. Gotham nodded and took out the paper that held the enlargement of the working on the inner band of the ring and then turned it around so it was upside-down from normal page orientation. His lips moved as he read it.
"ch'n'gha Quetzel'falmha", he said barely at a whisper, "The Mother of Dragons is Resurrected."
He shivered and looked at the pictures of the ring.
"Emerald Dragon, the Celestial One as part of you is the firmament just as another part is here on Earth so you need avatars of both. Of course, a most wicked and evil thing you intend, is it not?"
The box made no response as it was just a box.
Placing the ring papers next to the Faberge ones he shuddered again.
"Eastern Dragon and you would want that from the land you hold in your hand, would you not?"
His eyes darted from the box and to the West, to Bruce Wayne.
"And I am sworn to deliver you to him. Oh, yes, you are evil, very evil as I cannot do other but what I am sworn to do. I..." he gasped as he looked north.
"No," he whispered.
He took one of the business cards that Henry had made up in the intervening decades and then turned it over and wrote 'Doctor Gotham' on it and placed it over the box.
"You snatched me from time... under... where the tower would be... you... you wouldn't.... you can't...."
He got up from the table and stepped back from it.
"One river and three, the sea. The tower... no the tree of the universe at its heart. Oh, no.... I will not be that one, not ever. Would you have me be the one to.... knowledge... the tree... and cursed by mankind? I am usurping no position, oh Evil Mother of Dragons, I take no one's place and usurp no power. Gotham'agl'nyth is what I am, not the One who Is that He Is or He who is the One, no I am neither of those."
Shaking his right hand finger at the box he stepped towards the table again.
"I have purpose and duty and Gotham has survived hell before and shall survive it again. You will not get your wish, Chaos Mother. Not by me, not by Gotham and not by your most Evil design. I know where I stand. Even without the Tablets I know failure when I see it."
The box and its talisman did nothing, as it was warded into neutrality.
* * *
It had slid into the sewer via the entrance in a small room in the upper floor of the building where it had feasted. The lack of vital nutrients necessary for functioning was one that could not be denied and it chose the best selection of food it could so as to garner those nutrients and maximize the tiny amount of power that each of those foods had. Hunger for the body could not be denied and the first ones went quickly as their bodies were rendered into consumables quickly so as to not alert others. The one that was sleeping was easily garnered and it took time to awaken that food from its ch'shagg state so it could be properly energized. Once it understood how the primitive form functioned, it utilized the nerves that carried messages to the central organizing part of the food to cause that energy to heighten. While still nowhere near enough to satisfy that power need, it did help in its own small way to finally create a reserve power pool separate from the associations of prior ones to the creator of those pools.
The next one was in a state of distraction and disorientation, obviously sated in some way and unaware of its surroundings or what had already happened in the direction it was headed. That one's numbed state of shock and horror did little to sate power needs and was only appetizing for physical sustenance. After that one the next two were like the first two it had encountered and it slowly infiltrated their physical beings locking them together in an embrace that it created inside and out. Their raw panic and fear flavored them delightfully beyond what it had thought possible. While the power was still very low in them, the infusion of it across each of them was flavorful in a way the first two had not been. Once it understood the functions of the organs it replaced their functions with its own, allowing mixing of fluids to exchange with necessary elements in the air, so that even as their lungs and hearts had stopped, the juices to keep them conscious continued.
That actually did bring more power into them and with no means to express that power, it served as the willing host to absorb it. For such primitives it sought to give them an understanding of each other that they could not do on their own to see if that would further the power increase. Perhaps they had some means unknown to them that was locked away in their primitive structures to do so. With so much of their bodies gone it had access to their nerves and started bridging them after sorting out what they did. Of course with so much of their bodies gone it had to utilize what was available near their mental organ. Once the connection was made, however, the delightful revulsion of one to the other gave a temporary spike to their power before they expired. It was learning how to get these food to behave properly and was learning their functions to do so.
The threesome of younger food it encountered offered much the same along those lines and it attenuated the connections of their mental organs enough so that they could not feed back that revulsion. It was delighted in the affinity/revulsion system amongst those three and how none were compatible with each other though each wanted some compatability with one that wanted none from them. They had also been in that aroused and somewhat stupored state at the start, but once they had been ingested enough for contact it did its best to keep those mental organs going until, finally, they each self-expired in disgust with themselves. All of them combined were not even a grah'n in power, but tasted far better.
After them came the last two in ch'shagg, and now it understood to take its time with them and it did so by slightly numbing them to its presence and then replacing their body's functions while still they were still in ch'shagg state. By numbing it could then begin extracting nerves and organs with attachments still in place so as to slowly stimulate each area and feel directly what the responses were. By replacing the fluids in their bodies with itself it then started to understand just what each organ did and what it did to the physical mind and mental construct inside of it.
With so much concentrated into such a small space these food had a capacity for a rich cascading of stimuli into their mental structure. It removed the pain stimulus from each and concentrated on the other stimulii sources. One of those was enough to recall one from ch'shagg state and that one was in utter fear and panic as it felt its organs moving freely without attachment to its prior physical structure. That one's mental structure collapsed into chaos and it was extinguished as it no longer had coherent responses. With the other one it eased the mental organ out by removing attachment points and replacing buffer fluid with itself. Soon just enough had been done to allow the slow extraction of the organ to be done very carefully. It had attempted that with both but only succeeded in the one, and that one it was able to keep in the ch'shagg state and start joining to its mental structure so it could learn more about this world directly.
It really did have to learn more about how to properly season this food and, being young, the best possible way was to find out what the food knew about self-seasoning. With the right conditions it just might learn enough to make this a very attractive hunting and dining spot to others of its kind and get recognition for that. In a land of richness there was always a need for the novel, and this food promised much of that novelty although not filling enough for a main meal, as an appetizer it was superb. Through the extraction method it had learned the limits of the organs involved and carefully, very carefully, slid from that room and to the exit point carefully squeezing organs into the relatively small opening and yet reinforcing them to keep them intact. Perhaps it could learn a bit more about this world and that one ill food that dared to cause it pain and deny it the prey it sought. That, too, was important since such deranged food could not be allowed to continue as it might cause problems with other food, too.
* * *
Nathan Ramsey was sitting behind his desk at the stores processing room where orders came in and went out, pretty much on a daily basis. What that meant was that even on Sunday there had to be someone there as some companies needed supplies supplied ASAP, which would require someone with just enough seniority to pull the strings to get a trucker on his way on a Sunday. It was a cushy position, paid double-time or meant that he could get an extra day off during the week if he wanted that instead of the pay. He had spent 15 years working up through the Pitt foundry that got shipped to Gotham and he had come with that as he liked the job and his family didn't mind moving. After 5 years of operations he had moved from the Shift Assignment Ops position to doing the material composition checks at each part of the process. That taught him a lot about what came into the foundry, what happened to it as it was smelted and processed, and then what the final composition was.
It was natural for him to move to the chemical side of things on the industrial side of Wayne Corporation and that now landed him in the cushy job of Weekend Manager of Supplies. To get there you had to have a good feel for industrial processes, chemicals, what they were used for and what you needed to apply them. Usually you needed a couple of degrees in organic and inorganic chemistry to get into such a position, but he did it just by learning what sort of chemicals did what and with which process to the point that he could probably rattle of the entire set of chemical reactions in a process faster than any kid who had gotten two degrees and never even been working at smelter or even a plastic extruder shop.
He gave Nella Sharpinski the Saturday slot which was busier so she could get time with her family on Sunday, and he took a three day off cycle on Thursday through Saturday to dovetail her Sunday through Tuesday one. Neither of them wanted the pure hassle of the weekday Chief position, held by old man Basel Oerstal who wanted to retire feet first from Wayne Corporation and looked good for at least two more decades. This also meant no suit or tie, too, as you often had to be the loading dock man on Sunday. The standard blue work shirt and dark pants, with steel toe work boots all looked like they had been worn for years, not the months it took them to lose their 'ever lasting new' look. He knew how to get those chemicals out, no problem.
With his feet up on the desk, the week's pony papers in hand, a stogie in his mouth and a cup of coffee growing cold on the desk next to the half-eaten box of donuts, Nathan Ramsey had the air of a man who had been in the business long enough to not care exactly what the boss thought of him. The only sound beyond the soft hiss of the air handlers pushing warmed air into the room was that of a wheeled cart with what must be a sticky wheel. He looked over the top of the paper and saw a pretty tall, if somewhat thin faced man in brown trousers and white shirt, wheeling said cart towards the desk. He also had on black plastic rimmed glasses which were perpetually sliding down his nose and the air of just having come from a chemical lab. That and the specks and stains on the trousers and shirt, plus the well worn brown shoes pointed to the one person this could be, the Test and Eval people's weekend gopher who got the clean-up and rather dirty assignments that the weekday staff left laying around. His nametag had actually delaminated so that it wasn't glossy and the ink had come out of the recessed lettering, yet you could still read 'Arthur Gilliam' and see that his Wayne Corporation ID, that was on a beaded chain around his neck, was up to date.
"Haven't seen you around for a few weeks," Nathan said using his lips to shift the remains of the cigar in his mouth.
"I... I've been doing field work. Some out at the pit... some by the docks... some pieces for lifting had to be tested and... samples taken for other departments..."
Arthur shook his head.
"Yeah, issa dirty job, kid," Nathan said, "sounds like they got you running all over. At least you got to be in the area, right?"
Arthur picked up his clipboard that had a spiral bound notebook attached to it as well as a pencil, in its own holder. He pressed his lips together and the flat expression and slight shake of his head indicated that it was not all of it in-town work.
"Dat sucks, kid. They put you up at a motel, right?"
"No... I... some of it was camping equipment and..."
Nathan grunted and just shook his head.
"Camping trip, seaside walks... great if its a vacay but when its work? That just sucks."
Arthur nodded and looked up and over his clipboard.
"The were working with samples and... I got one thats like a gel, maybe... I need to break it down... tried sulfuric and hydrochloric acid and they work... but... I have a lot of it to dissolve..."
Nathan grunted and put his shoes on the floor, and put the race papers down.
"So, they had you doing collection, right? Streams, seaside, dat sorta shit?"
"And they got something to grow that they just can't toss out, but need it dissolved, is that it?"
"I was thinking a sprayer for acid, maybe..."
Nathan shook his head from side to side.
"You lab boys got a problem and love the nasty stuff. We use some of dose acids for etching out steel and thats only for special runs, which we get a lot of here. You don't wanna use that stuff, kid. I'd havta outfit you with a full chem suit with house air, plus special apron and gloves."
Arthur furrowed his brows together.
"I thought, maybe, a hood vent or... extension would contain the fumes."
"Nope, not unless it was all made of the right stuff. What it sounds like is the hot shots are working on something with dat junk you collected to, well, idunno, maybe be use it in cleanups that can take awhile and need stuff pulled out by algae and slimes. Once you gots lots of it then its got all the goodies in it and you don't wanna throw it away, so the rest of it has gotta go."
"No one told me. I just have to get it dissolved and keep the fluid for settling."
Nathan stood up and brushed down his shirt.
"Then you sure as hell don't want acid for the job! You would need special tubs and then neutralizers," he shook his head, "and then gotta worry about what the acids did to the stuff that was in the mass. More headaches than anything else."
Arthur looked down at his clipboard and sighed.
"I... hadn't thought it through..."
"Didn't think so, Arthur," Nathan said walking over to set of low shelves that housed the Wayne Chemical Division's raw materials, intermediate materials and final materials as no one knew exactly what you would need, when. The smelter needed all sorts of stuff in odd quantities, and once he had gotten into the actual doling out of stuff end Nathan had picked up all the uses for various chemicals coming in and out of Wayne Corp.
"What you need," he said squatting down, "is something that's concentrated, breaks up that sorta mass, is pretty safe to use," he glanced back at Arthur and sized up the clothing, "with precautions," he reached forward and pulled a volume out and stood up, "and can have what you get out put into regular containers. Save for any special stuff this stuff picks up, of course."
"There is something that does that?" Arthur said sounding very lost.
Nathan nodded and plopped the volume down on the cart.
"I have just the thing you need, kid. Polyquat. Just the thing to break up algae, slimes and other gels like that. You know, the living kind?"
Arthur pushed up his glasses, again, which immediately started to slide down his nose, and shook his head.
"Yes... that's just... but what is it?"
"Polyquat? Its a, whatya call it, ahhhh, surfactant. Cuts into the structure of stuff like that and lets the water loose. It's used for swimming pools an hot tubs, like at Hildy's Massage Parlor on 4th and Zephyr Court. The one with five levels and two tubs per level. She needed something that could keep the tubs sanitary and flush down inda storm sewers and not be, you know, toxic. Gettin this stuff through the stores is murder for markup, so I gots her a pallet load of the 50 gals every quarter and she distributes on the side to a few other shops. Knowhatimean?"
Arthur pressed his lips together and quickly shook his head.
"But is it safe to use? I mean, you know, normal working safe?"
Nathan pressed his hands together.
"Well at lower concentrations its used for all sorts of stuff, like antibiotic ointments get it at about one percent and contact lens cleaner gets it at a few hundredths of a percent, maybe. Plus pools. Now what I can get you is BC80 in the pint, gallon, 5 gallon and 55 gallon drum size. That last should keep the public recreation pools going for a couple months and they gots at least 2 Olympic sized pools at their downtown facility. Sewage department orders it by the tanker truck size, monthly, and if they didn't you would be able to walk across the South and Mid-Gotham rivers. If you think we got a sewage problem now, imagine running out of this stuff! Its put into a diffuser when its like that, and only lets out enough to keep things steady. If you hadda spray it... hmmmm...."
"A sprayer I could carry to a couple of labs would be really good," Arthur said.
"Got just the thing forya! Its a mix at nozzle bi-feed sprayer we sell for fumigation but the nozzle should be good with liquids through it. It'll hold about 5 gallons of main fluid and a gallon of something to reduce viscosity, and since its gotta be human friendly that would be ethanol with, maybe, some polyethylene glycol added in to keep foaming down. Unless you want foaming, that is, then a spin mix head would be the ticket for you!"
"I... an adjustable spray nozzle would be better..."
"Sure! Follow me, kid, so I can get a basic sizing for you. Still need gloves but nothing fancy, and you will wanna ditch the labcoat after you use it, unless you wanna smell like almonds all day."
"Yeah, just the chemistry. Don't get it on your skin at this concentration, though, OK? And if you do just wash it off. Goes inta solution ultraquick with added alcohol inna mix. That's why it does so good on that stuff, its mostly water. Come on, I'll even put a regular pressure tank so you can get more than just a flowing stream. Might be able to get this stuff 20' out or more with a good pressure tank backing it up."
Together the tall, young, and somewhat soft-spoken man followed the older, heavier set veteran of the smelter and chemicals area into the warehouse at ATC East.
* * *
Cathy Li had taken the covered tray that held the remains of the Bird's Nest soup from Master Sun who had only bestirred himself to put on his standard business attire, although he had taken a dark green suit coat and added an emerald tie instead of his normal black tie and suit coat. He had then returned to the cushion and low table and had ordered a late lunch from the club's restaurant. When she reached the front entrance, she pushed the door open and put the used tray on the bottom of the cart outside the door and then took in the heavy tray with lid that would be his appetizer and main course. She padded softly back to him and slid the tray onto the table and lifted the cover. His gaze out to the sea beyond Gotham's North Island remained unchanged.
"These are the special Sushi of the evening and the raw oysters you desired, Master Sun."
He glanced down at the platter which was made of slate, polished with depressions for food in it. This was a special platter used for serving items at parties where the food must remain either chill or warm for long periods of time. A few were kept in the cooler and in a warmer in case of sudden need, as the Golden Tiger Club had become a haunt of some of the well-to-do from the Marina district or those coming into town for excursions.
He picked up a small shot glass of Fen Jiu and sipped that and then reached for one of the raw oysters that sat arrayed on the far side of the platter. With a single slurp and gulp he swallowed the oyster meat whole and then licked the inside of the shell.
"Delicious," he whispered in a low tone that drew out the 's' sound, "bounty from the sea."
He put down the oyster shell and sipped again from his glass.
"Yes, Master Sun. Will you be going to the memorial service later?"
She watched as he looked back up and out to the sea again, and saw his fingertips slide over the cold stone towards another of the oysters, of which three were left.
He took slow shallow breaths and gazed outwards to the sea to the south.
"I saw a red bird fly by between this building and the next. It was low and then swung up gracefully charting a swift course in the air," he said as his fingers found the next oyster shell and traced around it before carefully picking it up, and consuming the oyster flesh with its juices. Carefully without looking his hand placed the empty shell back to the depression it came from in the dish. His other hand moved to the porcelain container of Fen Jiu and refilled his shotglass, then that container was placed down to its place on the table.
"That sounds beautiful..." Cathy whispered as she pressed her lips together and looked with concern at Master Sun.
"I will send you to the services to express my condolences to those families with lost ones, Cathy, as I am in no state of mind to do that. Give my regards to the other companies and attendant clergy."
"Should I send someone to clean up when you are finished here?"
He minimally nodded his head from side to side.
"No. I shall tend to my keeping today. If there is any break in the clouds for the evening I shall seek to be under celestial guidance and, perhaps, breathe in the clean air of the heartbeat of the world moved by the wind from her lungs."
Cathy pressed her lips together.
"Of course, Master Sun. I will take time to prepare for the memorial, now."
He nodded a hand reaching for another raw oyster as he watched the horizon.
She turned and padded out as she heard the slurping sound coming from the room as she went down the hallway. As she left the apartment and was shutting the door she faintly heard him say, "The Dragon is Green."
* * *
Tarker Darden felt the lovely mouth of Esme at work as he stood up in the apartment room.
"God I'm so close, Esme..." he said feeling the building of stimulus worked on him by her sucking and tongue action on him. That tensing and build-up were almost with him, almost there.
"Just a bit more..." he whispered his hands in her hair.
Slowly Esmerelda Vakkors who had been seduced by drugs from his daughter, shifted from her kneeling position and stood up, her naked body and long flowing blonde hair barely reaching to her breasts. She was a good looking and attractive girl of 17 and he had been ready to dump Holly if he knew that he could get her. In the darkened room it was hard to see her hand, but it must be holding him, manipulating him as he could feel it.
"Oh, god... Esme... please... if you needa fuck..." he said looking at her and realizing that her green eyes were black. She cocked her head to look at him askance. Her grip softened just a bit.
"No, oh please no games, Esme..."
The room of the apartment felt as if it went liquid, shapes flowing, colors darkening, and then a bit of sliding, amorphous darkness detached from the wall and slid to Esmerelda. It flowed over her, around her and into her. He felt a coolness pass between her hand and him which was then warm again. She squeezed her hand a bit and his pleasure increased.
"I... so good... Esme... what's going on?"
She spoke and it wasn't her voice, exactly, and had a liquidity to it that shouldn't be possible from a human throat.
"Do you understand me?"
She smiled and stepped forward.
"I could be," she said softly as her legs straddled his hips, and he felt her hand shift him. Tight, slick warmth and pleasure flowed through him.
"Ohhhhh.... yesss...." he was right on the brink and knew it. Then the motion stoppped and he felt to be still on the brink of pleasure.
"There. You are having pleasure, yes?" she said with a soft gurgling sound.
"Yes, oh yes!! Just a little more, Esme!!" he said as he pulled her tightly to him, and yet the feelings did not shift at all.
"Good. Now you will answer a question."
A deep shaking went through him and he pressed his lips together and nodded.
"Please," he whispered, "anything."
She looked to the side of the room.
"Tell me, who is that?"
He could barely look away from her young breasts but felt compelled to. A figure was standing there, shadows falling across him. His dark suit with cape, pointed ears, red eyes and slightly scaled appearance made him shake in fear. That should have banished his near ecstasy, but it didn't and only built it.
"The Batman," he said in a soft, soft whisper.
"What is he?" she asked.
"Wha.... what?" He said turning to her again.
"The Batman! He does stuff... takes down criminals... I ain't never seen him but he's.... he can't be here!! This must be a dream!!"
She nodded and dismounted from his hips, and yet that tight, slick feeling stuck with him.
"You are in ch'shagg state of transference. It is one of the first powers granted to those with minimal consciousness," she said stepping over to the tall figure of the Batman.
He tried to turn and walk but, instead, the room shifted fluidly around him.
"Powers?" he asked.
"What are the powers of this Batman?"
"You... you should know that, Esme!! No one knows!! What sort of dream is this?!?"
He felt horrible, afraid and so near to an orgasm that anything should set it off, and yet it would not arrive.
"We are here because of your ch'shagg state," she said flowing behind the Batman, a separate shadow moving with her, "so I could find out about this one."
He bit his lips and felt tears rolling from his eyes.
"What are you? What... is that black thing?"
She nodded and stepped towards him.
"I am not your Esme. I could not understand your thoughts as they flow through this primitive thing known as speech. We do not think alike, you and I. I called to a nearby cousin here in this realm where ch'shagg takes you, and it knows all about your kind's speech although doesn't care much about your kind."
"My... my... kind? What kind are you?"
"I am a cousin to the Shaggoth of this realm, and we both have cousins in your world known as Shoggoth. I am of the kind Ftaghu'sgn'wahloth, but young for my kind. My cousin Shaggoth has intermelded with me to help with this primitive speech capacity you have."
He was horrified and couldn't say why, he would drop to his knees because of the intensity of the feelings within him, yet he remained standing.
"Intermelded? I... wait.... you needed me.... to get here?"
His mind was hard to organize with so many conflicting thoughts, feelings and emotions running through it that he couldn't readily discern where they each began or ended.
"Yes. You're opening to ch'shagg allowed me to come with you. To gather your knowledge of this Batman."
He closed his eyes, tears were streaming down his cheeks. But for one soft touch, one squeeze, anything... he could begin to clear his mind.
"How... did you...?" he could barely say.
She stepped around the Batman fully and then walked around him. She slid a soft hand on his skin that slid with slickness that wasn't natural and smelled like dank ocean.
"Join you here?"
She slid around him, a tinge of green and blackness now flowing over her skin.
"Very simple. I am inside your body. I have taken all precautions to keep you alive so you could be in this place to answer some simple questions."
A queasiness and disjointed feeling went through him unlike any other he had felt in life. His eyes widened in abject fear and yet so close to orgasm... the one feeling that should have fled immediately with such fear.
"What are you.... doing... to..... me?" he said crying openly with so many needs passing through him he knew he was breaking down.
"Eating you. And seeing if my cousin wishes to join me. You are very tasty food now. The state of ch'shagg has enhanced your flavor no end."
Slowly the feeling of disjointedness felt like a slow, sliding, breaking apart of who he was, as if pieces were floating free of his body.
"Join you? Inside... me?"
She raised an eyebrow and made a sinuous motion that no human could ever make.
"In truth, you are inside me. I needed your body for immediate reconstitution. Now I just need you for information."
This time the shaking of near orgasm was breaking him apart, he could feel that. He couldn't breathe yet he could still speak.
"You're killing me!"
"Digesting you. Very tasty. My cousin has agreed to go with me as it has a better feel for your world than I do. Would you like your pleasure to finish, now."
"Oh... god... please... yes!!!"
She smiled, melted, her eyes flowed apart and then dissolved and the room dissolved as pleasure went through him directly in the pleasure center of his brain. His only last thought was that of the color red, coming from the south. And then the ch'shagg apparition that he was imploded and the apartment was vapor in the sky of the land known only to those who dream.
* * *
"I'll be fine here at City Hall, Barbara. I can't keep up with what's going on out on the streets with you and need to be here to coordinate who is doing what. It is close to the convention center and I can catch a black and white to the other investigation."
Commissioner Gordon was leaning in to Barbara's car from the partially closed passenger's side door, where he had gotten out on the sidewalk in front of City Hall. Barbara looked back at him from the driver's side seat.
"You haven't even had lunch, daddy," she said.
"I'll get something from Jerry's across the street," he said looking back and to the side at Jerry's Pizza Palace and Diner.
Barbara rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Really, I'm fine, Barbara. I can't run things from where you are going and I do need to be here."
She pressed her lips together and nodded.
"Gotham Central Library is pretty close to Mid-South..."
He shook his head.
"No place to really work from there and not be in the way."
"I know daddy I just... worry about you."
He smiled warmly at her.
"I love you too, Barbara. Now you said you will look into possible causes for what happened at the Riverfront scene at the library. I doubt you will find anything, but if you do keep me informed, OK?"
She brightened and nodded.
"I will, daddy. See you at home around seven?"
"I should have all the forensics reports in by then, some of them go 12 hours or more, but most of them should be done by then. I'll catch a squadcar ride home, no need to stop back here for me."
"Promise?" she asked looking sideways at him.
"With your mother expected home by 9?" he nodded, "I would catch hell if I missed that and didn't hear about her weekend. Around 7 or 8 at the latest. I'll get some take out from one of the joints around here so your mother can have something to settle her stomach after the long drive."
"OK, daddy. See you then."
She leaned over as he leaned in and kissed her father on the cheek.
"You be careful, daddy, I don't like whats going on," she said softly to him.
"I will. Stay out of the Shambles and stick to the main roads on the way home."
She put an arm around his shoulders and gave him a hug.
"I will, daddy," she said as they let go. She waved to him as he shut the car door and then waved to her as she pulled out into traffic. She went down Holly Avenue to 30th Street and then took that to Park Crest and turned left. In a few minutes she was over the Park Crest Street Bridge, and followed the light traffic past the main thoroughfares of 23rd and 22nd Streets in Mid-South and took 20th Street which would lead her through the smaller businesses backing the main business and Hotel District, until the Interconnector began to loom above the tops of the buildings. At Berry Court 20th Street ended and she took a left and went the short half block to the entrance of the parking garage for the Gotham Central Public Library which also served the Central Docks and Southern part of the Hotel District. She found a space on the main level on the southern most side of the garage, which allowed her to feel the dank salty air mixed with other fumes that came in from just a few blocks away at the commercial docks.
After locking the car she hurried into the building which was a bit warmer and the air pleasantly that of the library, which was a smell of the books and other materials that had this place as their home. To her this was a home away from home and had gotten to know it in High School like the back of her hand. The small entrance wasn't one normally used by the public, although it did lead to public hallways, and she walked in, turned right and went up the stairs heading the the fourth floor that had the biology texts. The quick jaunt up the stairs allowed her to open her jacket and sip some of her somewhat cold coffee, as well as pull out a little notebook she kept handy for when she had to take her father places. She was reviewing her notes when she got to the fourth floor and was trying to decide if she wanted to start with terrestrial or aquatic life forms. What had happened at the home of the 'Parkers' on the riverfront wasn't a bacteria, virus, or anything like that as it happened too quickly. There was also no range of chemicals or physical equipment that could be easily carried by a person to do such horrific work, and so that left nature.
To her the facts added up to aquatic life that could live on land. Rodents and even insects would leave very different traces behind them and the thin films of slime at various parts of the house pointed to something that had no skeleton moving around. Maybe a jellyfish or Man'O'War that had evolved to something different? She shook her head as she walked down the stacks and got to the areas covering marine life forms. Looking at the volumes she found Fundamentals of aquatic ecology by R.S.K. Barnes and K.H. Mann and perused it a bit and started to think if what had happened could be explained by squid? She shook her head against that and octopuses as well, since they could do much of the movement through tight spaces but did not have something like an extendable stomach to ingest prey. Some sort of shell-less snail might be able to do that but didn't grow to the size necessary for making such short work of... how many victims? Twelve? Three in their late teens and the rest adults.
She shook her head and put the lovely, somewhat glossy volume back on the shelf and headed onwards. As she looked a book called Geological biology: an introduction to the geological history of organisms by Henry Shaler Williams caught her eye, perhaps for the lack of glossy dust jacket and rather plain brown binding. She almost put it back after flipping through the pages and seeing that it was published in 1895, but decided that it was worth at least a quick flip through to see if anything caught her attention. A chapter on classification of organisms seemes pertinent and when she got that, she read through some of the systems and stopped when she read this passage:
The Classification of Cuvier.-Linne recognized six classes in the Animal Kingdom (Mammalia, Aves, Amphibia, Pisces, Insecta, Vermes). Cuvier made great progress in the distinction of the lower animals. He recognized four branches (Animalia Vertebrata, Animalia Mollusca, Animalia Articulata, Animalia Radiata). The first four classes of Linne's system were united to form the first branch of Cuvier. The most prominent character uniting them was the possession of an internal skeleton, bound together by a segmented vertebral column. The second branch of Cuvier, called Mollusca, included six classes (Cephalopoda, Pteropoda, Gastropoda, Acephiila, Brachiopoda, CirrJwpoda), and the conspicuous characters of the Mollusca were the possession of a soft, bag-like body, enclosed more or less completely by a hard exterior shell composed of one, two, or more parts.
Yes, squids, octopods, snails... all molluscs and all having a soft, bag-like body. That and the idea that the ocean currents actually did circumnavigate the world meant that something from just about anywhere could be found coming up on shore, although most animals had a preferred habitat and zone they stayed in, that didn't mean that things didn't wash up from far away places. Still it was the description from the 19th century that was evocative.
"A soft, bag-like body," she whispered very softly to herself and thought that described, perfectly, what could have been at the Riverside crime scene. Save that it must have been a very big body. And that was the problem she found as she looked at other texts and finally had to discard the idea of jellyfish since the largest specimens could be enough to go after a human, they depended on water for propulsion and had little to no capability on land. And they were soft and bag-like, but tended to break apart easily due to their low density in water. As she perused more books she only had those suspicions confirmed, that creatures large enough to do the job weren't able to slide under doors or even support themselves on land. Smaller creatures could do the work without leaving traces of the large number necessary to do the job. It was exasperating as there wasn't any land creature she could think of that could meet the criteria.
Coming to the beginning of the area on Marine Biology she was also headed into more generalist texts, and for all the glossy coverings they, too, added only bricks to the wall of marine life forms or even those that could live in marshy or brackish waters. On the first book case she saw one slim volume which was Glossary to Things of the Water, which was odd as most books tended to contain their own glossary and not need a separate piece to them. She couldn't find the companion volume, since it sounded intriguing, but decided that the Glossary would be a very quick skim-read. It was by one Harold Carmichael, original publication date of 1895 and reprinted in 1910 by Safflower Press of Warwick. It was perhaps the most fanciful of books and it contained beings that had no easily pronounceable set of names to them, which were indicated to be transliterations from their original language in Cthäat Aquadingen which, she gathered, also used transliteration for those things that didn't have translations. She just took the pages and let her right hand thumb let them go just to let her eyes glance over them, as it wasn't even worth a skim-read. While doing that the words 'amorphous body mass' caused her to blink and then page backwards to the entry involved.
Shoggoth - Name origin unknown - Imputed to be servant creatures of the Great Race which may have bred them or impressed them into service, which accounts do vary. These are large creatures with an amorphous body mass of black or dark brown, able to manifest tendrils, appendages and other things so as to do their tasks. Once thought bound to the sea depths these creatures have travel capacity on land as well as other places with no danger to their well being. Their habitat is generally unknown, although it is rare for them to manifest in daylight as is suggestive from their name. This, while not definitive in any respect, does suggest that there are species of these creatures as suggested by the stories of the Central Asiatic Uplands as suggested by the travels of C. Rhinold, L. Graeber, and from the work of Al-Ahzred.
Well at least you could pronounce it and wasn't full of 'cth' and 'pth' which must sound more like a Bronx Cheer than anything else. It also sounded like something that was absolutely mythical in nature which was a pity. She re-read the passage which was just before one with a Shthpthch-something or other and shook her head. This stuff was pretty fantastical, wasn't it? Yes, yes it was. Yet it was the first text that did describe something that could do what had happened in Gotham on the Riverside.
She flipped through the Glossary and shook her head.
This wasn't, exactly, supernatural as it didn't involve most of the usual cast of poltergeists and ghosts, although it could contain them that wasn't the gist of the Glossary. And while a few references were made to those wielding something like magic, it wasn't really the same thing as the boiling cauldron and eye of newt sort, either. There were even a few references to 'That Who's Name Must Not Be Spoken' which was indicative of the actual name in the volume not being the real name of that being. Quite a few of them were even unpronounceable.
Barbara Gordon had to put her hand over her mouth to stop the sound of her giggles.
"Well if you can't even pronounce their name, there isn't much chance you can get their attention, now, is there?" she asked of herself very quietly.
For all its slimness the short volume did hold two pages of end notes and she headed over to the card catalog to start jotting them down. She had some pause with a book entitled Unaussprechliche Kulte or Unspeakable Cults, by Friedrich Wilheim von Junzt, 1839, Trans. Bridewall, London, 1845. Her German was almost non-existant but couldn't Unaussprechliche be translated as 'Unpronouceable'? Apparently she wasn't the only one who had this problem and it had been one for a long, long time and some of the early humor at the topic went away as there were some people treating this in a very serious fashion.
How could her study in the Library Sciences have missed this?
Actually, the better question was: how could the Library Sciences cover something that had unpronouceable names to them? Still the actual texts were ordinary enough, easy to classify and then forget about.
She shook her head and continued jotting down titles to books, tomes and even to a few unpublished diaries and notes held at different institutions. It was still hard to take the subject matter seriously, until she remembered the Riverside house. Then she set her personal feelings aside and determined that if this was just fantasy it was worth chasing down to finally show it up as such.
Then she shuddered.
If it wasn't fantasy...
For all the warmth of the Gotham Central Public Library building, Barbara Gordon felt a sudden chill at the thought that the world might not be as cut and dried as all her teachers had implied it to be.