Bruce was standing at the small dias in the back hall of Father Jordan's mission, the space he let out for public events of moderate size. He was in a black suit with white shirt and black tie, with the barest of ornamentation in the way of his father's cufflinks that had a raised 'W' in gold on steel. It was neat, clean and orderly with the normal tables and chairs stacked to the back of the room, replaced by those that Chef Girard had ordered be brought in for this occasion.
He was given wide leeway with events that Wayne Corporation ran or had a major say in, and for a spur-of-the-moment event, Bruce Wayne considered him superior to all other chefs that he had known because he knew what was needed for each event and utilized his knowledge to ensure that each one was properly done. Thus the knock-down circular wooden tables with dark red tablecloth and napkins were deemed appropriate, as were the red leather padded chairs used for numerous events for executive level outings. The dais was from the mission, as were the tables and chairs on the platform beside it, although they gained appropriate tablecloth as well, this was a purely functional need as actual dining would take place at the round tables.
Bruce looked to his right at Father Jordan, who was sitting at the near end of the table, then Pastor Carson who was next to him, then Rabbi Lev. On his left were Oswald Cobblepot dressed in a tuxedo and having a grim countenance to him. Beyond him was Cathy Li in a traditional white dress of mourning, her lips pressed together as she looked at the other attendees in the audience. The last chair was vacant, as it was Bruce's.
"I thank you all for coming here in this day of grief for each of us and for all of us who have lost colleagues and friends. We don't know exactly what happened to cause this and in that we are left at loss to explain to ourselves our own grief and sadness. I asked for you to come today so that we can share in that loss as it is a loss for not just us but our industry as some very bright stars were lost last night. We are competitors in this industry but it takes a tragedy like this to remind us we are not enemies but share in a common work."
He picked up his glass of water and took a short swallow from it.
"Maria Daniels had been one of those gems on the rise, and I thank her husband, Nicholas, her daughters Sandra and Wren, sons Timothy and Douglas for being here today. This is a shock and horror and to them I offer every service that I can provide in this day of tragedy. So to do I offer this to Margaret Harbaugh's mother, Justine, and father, Samuel, as they have lost a daughter with a bright career ahead of her. I would have been sad to see either leave my company for a competitor, but overjoyed that their worth was recognized. As it is the shock to me and all of us at Wayne Corporation is immense and cannot be overstated."
Bruce Wayne inhaled and looked out at the friends and family members of those who were killed and injured the previous night.
"I ask that you keep Priscilla Anderson in your prayers as she still lies in a coma at Gotham General Hospital, attended by her husband, William, her eldest son, John and her youngest daughter, Cynthia. Many of those who need our help and support over the coming days are having to tend to those hurt by this event and while the merely physical things that can be done will be that cannot begin to address the pain and loss that is felt by those close to the fallen."
He turned to look to his left.
"I ask those who own and run the establishments that were present last night to reach out to those who are in need regardless of who they work for as this is not a time of division, but healing. For some there will be no healing..." Oswald Cobblepot looked up at Bruce and nodded, "...only recovery from what has befallen us. In the weeks and months ahead let us renew the understanding that no matter how bitter the rivalry, we cannot lose sight of the lives that bring such joy to so many who we serve."
Bruce looked to his right.
"I thank you Father Jordan for providing us space for this gathering on such short notice. I thank both Pastor Carson and Rabbi Lev to take time for this as I know that schedules can be very tight on weekends. I ask that you help those in need find the proper solace for their grief and work with members of other communities to ensure that what cannot be done for the body by those of us in the industry, can be filled by those of you who address our place in this world."
He gave a signal with his right hand and turned back to the dias.
"I will not keep you from your meal any longer. I will need to spend some time with Father Jordan after the meal to discuss a personal matter, but will be available at my table that I share with my friends in commerce, Mr. Cobblepot and Mrs. Li until then. Do not be afraid to contact me in the coming days and weeks. I cannot make things right, but I can help you make them whole. Thank you for your time in this dark day of grief."
As he stepped from the dais Oswald Cobblepot reached out a gloved hand to grasp Bruce's forearm.
"Thank you, Bruce."
Bruce Wayne nodded.
"I will miss Andre, too, Oswald. He was one of the best in the business and a good man."
"Waugh!" Oswald said softly, "And he knew it, too! He was like a son to me."
Bruce moved his right hand to cover Oswald's.
* * *
Erin Norris awoke with a start.
"It was so..." she said to herself awakening on the sofa and putting down the book opened to Julius Caesar.
The last of the dream stuck on even into waking. She had seen the street blasted open and the creature red aglow walk past her down the street and into the early dawn, unseeing of her and uncaring of her watching. Looking down she saw bodies strewn in the Underworld and looking up a great glass sheathed tree reaching into the sky. She had turned to follow but found women, faces tormented, screaming that they had seen men aflame running blindly in some conflagration. She had heard the screaming and shrieking continue across the city and even as the dawn lit up the sky, the shadows fell deeper over Gotham City. She awoke only as the earth moved and shook and the buildings began to tumble amidst a horror she could not name.
In horror she had seen herself, once dead in the Underworld, once living as the creature and once more in ghostly reflection in shop windows before the ground started to rumble. It was perhaps that horror, that she was there so many times as the cause of such chaos that tumbled her to her knees as the ground shook, the buildings fell and Gotham plunged into the night of forever. Awakening then finally ended that madness of seeing herself horrifically dead and horrifically alive, both at the same time.
"I have got to get out of here. I made the wrong decision," she said softly to herself. Standing up she remembered where she was and checked the sensor station that still had its screen showing vacant tunnel beyond the door in eerie green gloom. From there she went to the storeroom and took out a small pack and started filling it with a few supplies, a rope and grapnel, first aid kit and neatly packed blanket. Then in the bedroom she found a pair of boots that would fit if she wore two extra pairs of socks and then rummaged around for a pair of pants and shirt to replace the red jumpsuit. After changing she went to the kitchen area to eat down a ration bar and stick a few others in the pack, and then filled two canteens up and added them into the pack, as well.
That left the final items she had gotten from the Bat.
It was made up of lengths of webbing with buckles that allowed it to be made into a crossing harness that then allowed for the padded chest and back pieces to be attached. She did that as they offered some warmth and insulation, and made sure they were secured. Finally the dispenser unit of syringes, the glove dispenser, and full face mask. Each of those could be secured to the webbing or chest unit and she placed them in easy reach. She had a flashlight the Bat had given her, which was a penlight, and took an emergency lantern from the side of the door which should last most of the night on its battery system.
With these things she decided that she had enough to get out of the Underworld and go...where?
She stopped at the door, ready to open it as she hadn't thought beyond leaving.
"What am I doing?" she asked herself softly, listening to the soft whirring of the air circulation system.
She stepped from the door handle, shaking.
"Where would I go?"
She closed her eyes and thought.
"The apartment?" she whispered and shook her head. She should be able to get there and out again but it wasn't a destination with whatever it was that had chased her still being around.
"Back to the diner?" her lips twitched in a smile which faded from her face, "No, I would be putting them in danger..."
She turned around and put her back to the door and opened her eyes looking at the room.
"I'm trapped... even if I run I don't... there's no place to go... and Ronnie he..." she shook her head.
In small steps she put the emergency lantern back in its holder and then walked back to the sofa, sliding the rucksack to the floor. She turned on the tv and tried to find a newscast, but only found a plethora of unwatchable Sunday programming. In a few minutes she switched that off and turned on the radio and finally found the news station.
"... happened last night at the Gotham Convention Center. Our reporter, Brian Harrington is reporting on this story and he is currently at..." there was the sound of shuffling paper "... City Hall where he was waiting for the return of Commissioner Gordon. Over to you, Brian."
There was a brief burst of noise over the radio and then the sound of a man's voice.
"Am I on? Oh! Thank you, Sam! While at the convention center this morning I witnessed Gotham's Police Commissioner Gordon and his daughter go into the convention center and then leave about an hour later. On a tip I learned that the Commissioner had been dropped off at City Hall and then left just around 3 PM with at least one uniformed officer and two plainclothesmen, who the tipster wasn't able to identify. I came to City Hall to wait and see if the Commissioner would return and he did 10 minutes ago with Deputy Commissioner Colton and Major Rhodes. I attempted to get some answers as to what happened last night and here is the tape of what I got..."
Another crackle and Erin leaned forward.
The sound of footsteps, running and equipment being jostled.
"Commissioner Gordon! Commissioner Gordon! I'm Brian Harrington of WGTR radio news and want to ask you if you have any explanations for what happened last night at the convention center...."
Footsteps continuing on joined with others at a walking pace.
"No comment," came the voice of Commissioner Gordon.
"Surely you have some leads, right Commissioner?"
Footsteps and equipment being jostled, a rasp against the microphone.
"Yes," Gordon said, "and I can't comment on them for an active case."
"Excuse me," came the voice of another man as the footsteps stopped.
"Deputy Commissioner Colton, Brian Harrington, WGTR radio news, do you have anything to say about the gangland slaying on the north riverfront? Is it connected to the convention center incident?"
"Excuse me, I need to call the elevator," Colton's voice came and there was some jostling of equipment, rubbing of the microphone and a couple of footstep sounds.
"No need to get pushy!" Brian said, "Do you have anything to say about the riverfront killings and the convention center?"
"They are active cases that I can't comment on," Colton said.
"Major Rhodes! You were called in to take over the convention center incident, I saw you there earlier today. Do you have anything to say about it? Anything to explain it?"
There was a whirring of machinery in the background.
"I'll hold a press conference when there is," Maj. Rhodes said, "until then I'm busy and get that mic. out of my face, wouldya?"
The sound of doors opening and footsteps.
"Official business, sorry, " Colton said.
The doors whirred closed.
A slight crackle.
"Uh-huh..." in a bare whisper, "And that is what I got. The uniformed officer wasn't with them and I couldn't track him down. The only thing of interest is that the two major cases from last night seem to have some connection for them to involve the Commissioner. Back to you, Sam."
Erin turned the sound down and sat on the sofa in the living area.
"Another attack last night?" Erin whispered.
She shook her head and pressed her lips together.
"Am I really safer here?" she said looking at the concrete walls of the bunker.
Standing up she turned off the radio, went back and picked up her rucksack, then took the lantern from the door. She nodded once to herself and keyed in the unlocking sequence. She knew that once she left there was no way for her to get back in as the Bat hadn't given her the entry code or even how to enter it since there was no keypad on the outside wall. The door opened and she stepped into the small entryway that led to the tunnel, with the door opened to the tunnel at the end of it. In a few steps she was out into the tunnel and the door slid shut, becoming yet another piece of concrete faced masonry in a tunnel of it. She looked around and took a small piece of board washed down from the surface and placed it on the thin walkway where the door was. Under that she slipped a wrapper from a ration bar and pressed it flat under the small board. Stepping away she turned on the lantern and then remembered which way the Bat had brought her.
Turning to her right she walked until she got to a track crossing just after a station and took the tracks on her left. She walked past the old Seaside Court station which had steel doors preventing access to its stairs. She couldn't even place where the station was, although it might be near the old Exhibition Grounds which placed it just on the other side of the South Gotham Hills.
She shook her head walking slowly along the thin walkway strip, avoiding places where water seeped through the old masonry and concrete. She felt the movement of dank, warm air on her face, not a true breeze just air moving through the tunnels. She didn't know how far she would have to walk and would never know as the last of the day fled and night fell on Gotham City.
* * *
Barbara walked up to the iron gates that were slowly rusting. They went across the tunnel and their bars were closely spaced enough so that not even a child could get through, and the cross-bars would limit even a small child with will and determination to explore the Underworld. Stout wrought iron chains wrapped around the central portion of the gates with huge iron locks that might even still function. Steel posts that required turning a set of double handled bars to retract seemed to be in better condition although their mechanism was also locked with the old iron chain fed through them on each side.
"No one could get through here."
"No, they couldn't, not at night. You can feel warmer air coming in, too," Lisa said with her hands on the metal gates, "sea air."
Barbara flicked a finger on some of the rust.
"Uh-huh, and a bit of salt build-up on the metal, too. In fifty years these will probably just rust apart and collapse."
Lisa let go of the gate and turned to look at Barbara.
"She couldn't get out this way."
Barbara stepped back from the gates and turned to look back the way they had come.
"No she couldn't. That interchange isn't too bad, back there. I didn't know that there were a couple of rail sidings for surface cars in the underground. They really did economize back then by making all the rails the same width so that the system could serve both passenger and cargo traffic. Too bad the city outgrew it and then had the traffic dry up for both passenger and freight service. This must have been something back in the day."
Lisa looked back into the tunnel.
"Back to the main subway?"
Barbara looked at her.
"Yeah. This is blocked. Now we just have to figure out which tracks to take once we get back. That cross-tunnel setup looks confusing and I never really did get a good idea if the last of the tunnels to finish the figure 8 under the North Island was completed."
Lisa nodded as they started walking.
"Commerce Square seems to have been something with a lot of traffic to it," she said.
"Uh-huh all the way to the '20s it was one of the major market areas. Not just business buildings but a lot of street-level stores were around here," Barbara said walking as they moved slowly deeper underground.
"The Great Depression really hit the area hard, though. All of this," she said shifting her flashlight beam around as they got to a first set of track interchanges, "was supposed to keep that area well supplied with freight and people. Trains and subways. I guess they must have completed the tunnel system for make-work back then, and only the subway got used during the war as bulk cargo wasn't really meant to go through down here. After the war..." she shook her head, "that dried up the commerce and most of it moved to the South Island as the northern docks were getting silted in."
Lisa shook her head.
"This is all such a waste..." she said as they picked their way over the tracks.
Barbara shone her light into the underground cavern meant as a small rail yard.
"On the South Island, the rail yard was above ground. Of course it didn't see much use, either, after the war, and it got ripped up for the Interconnector."
Lisa looked to her right at the large metal grate turntable.
"This is ingenious! A train lets the cars slip underground, they brake as they go down and then wait to get released one by one to the turntable and then springs push it to the destination track."
"Those small engines we saw at the far end could go to the end of any track and push the cars together and then haul them up to the main rail line on the surface. You're right, this is a waste."
Together they walked on to a personnel service tunnel that led out to another switching area with a long, sloped track going off to their right in the distance.
"Or deliver it to a business along this siding under the commercial area."
Lisa shone her light down on the metal bars inset into the side of the concrete.
"Back to the subway," she said, strapping her light to her belt to dangle down as she let her feet find the bars of the ladder and worked her way down. Barbara shone her light down, watching to make sure that Lisa made it safely down. As Lisa neared the bottom a low rumbling came through the tunnels.
"What is that?" Barbara asked shining her light to the left and down the tunnel, and then to the right.
"Did you feel that, Barbara?" Lisa asked using her own flashlight to look down the tunnel while holding on to the ladder.
"Yeah, I did. It felt like a train..."
"Yes. Rhythmic but distant. Coming from that way," Lisa said moving her light to show the walls of the tunnel to Barbara's left.
Barbara moved her light to shine it down on Lisa.
"Well, it stopped. I'll follow you in just a sec."
Barbara shifted her left hand to take the canteen up on its carrying strap and then undid the top and took two gulps of water. She recapped it and then went down the ladder once Lisa was at the bottom. When she reached there she found Lisa putting a bandana on around her forehead to keep sweat from trickling down.
"Where to next?" she asked.
"Well, I don't think any of the stations actually let you get to the surface. Well, not normally, that is, though some go into the Underworld and then you can get up through the storm sewer system to the surface. But if she came through here or that vehicle did, and they didn't go to the surface here, then the only other way is south. You can get to the old subway from the Gotham Central Library if you know the way, to the old South Rail Yard feeder, and the southern Underworld tends to be larger than the northern. There should even be a couple of exits for the west end of the South Island rail lines."
"OK. How do we get there?"
Barbara looked ahead down the direction the sound had come from.
"The interchanges should lead to the Mid-Gotham River tunnels. They built those really well back in the '20s and the city checked them out as needing no further bracing back five or ten years ago. If you need to get out then South is better than North."
As they started walking Lisa looked down at the rails.
"No sign of passage of anything, not since the station."
Barbara walked steadily next to the rails as Lisa walked on the emergency walkway.
"That was pretty hard to make out, too. Still if we stick to the left we should hit the interchanges from the figure 8 intersection to the tunnels."
Lisa looked down at Barbara.
"You're guessing, aren't you?"
Barbara looked up as they walked.
"Yes. I really have no idea."
* * *
Father Jordan looked up at Bruce and then Alfred over his reading glasses from behind his desk in his upstairs study. The open box on his desk had an amulet in it, one with a tooth in amber with gold findings and chain.
"And this is what, now?" the older black priest asked as he reached out to hold the box up.
"It was delivered today by a Doctor Gotham, who runs a curiosity shop. He said that it was a piece brought in by my mother that she wanted to have identified and cleaned," Bruce said looking at Alfred and then to Father Jordan, "it had been... ahhh... misplaced until recently."
Father Jordan looked at Bruce.
Bruce smirked and nodded.
"That was my reaction, too, save for the receipt he had and the duplicate of it in my mother's records where she recorded where she had gotten the item, what happened to it and the payments involved. Those were all in accord with the receipts Dr. Gotham presented to us. Alfred?"
Alfred nodded and took the briefcase from next to his chair and slid it onto the desk and pressed the slides to let the hasps snap open. He then took out a folder and Martha Culligan's receipts book, which had bookmarks in it.
"These I took out of the family safe today from Mr. Wayne's room. I don't believe anyone has looked at these since the estate was finally closed when Bruce turned 18, and even then all of the items had been transferred to his parent's inventory," Alfred said.
"The folder has the items that Dr. Gotham brought with him, including his analysis papers."
Father Jordan put the box and amulet down on the desk next to the briefcase and took up the folder and then the book. As he flipped through the items he checked with the bookmarks and found corresponding work. He read parts of the receipt book kept by Bruce's mother and blinked, flipping back a page and then going forward and looking at the receipts.
"Disappeared on March 29th, 1935 on train 125?" he whispered to himself and looked up at Bruce. "That can't be right, can it Bruce?"
Bruce looked to Alfred who looked at him and then Alfred spoke up.
"The circumstantial evidence would tend to validate that, Father. Master Bruce had asked for some of his people to look into the convention center activities this morning, and they were present when Doctor Gotham arrived."
"Martin Carstairs, Vivian Rose, Frank Rock and the Project were there, Father Jordan. The Project estimates that the receipt Dr. Gotham held in duplicate had not aged as had the one in our possession. Other items Dr. Gotham wore including his spectacles and walking stick date to the early 20th or late 19th century and are in good condition for their age. He had changed clothes, but the paperwork and other items all date to that time period and are fresh from it. Plus there is no way that anyone could get the duplicates into mother's ledger for at least a decade, if not more as the ledger itself had its items transferred to the family books in 1948."
Father Jordan put the book and papers down and slid his chair back to stand up and walk over to a book case between a chair and sofa across the small room. He knelt down and picked out a book and walked back to the desk, and sat in his chair.
"Give me a moment, its been awhile since I had to look at anything in Great Mysteries of Disappearances..." he said going through the index and flipping to the middle of the book and then leafing through pages, "... really I hadn't expected there to be much of anything going on in Gotham City but... ahhh... 'The disappearance of subway train 125 in Gotham City had not been noticed until two days after it had vanished on March 29th, 1935 due to the number of missing persons reports that had come in and the Gotham City Transportation Department registering four subway train cars as missing, possibly stolen. At least 35 people and possibly as many as twice that number were on that subway train that disappeared soon after leaving Gotham Central Station. A thorough examination and manhunt spread for two weeks in and around Gotham City but no trace of the people or the train cars ever showed up nor could any evidence of them be found. To this day it remains a mystery only rivaled by the disappearance of those on the freighter...'"
Father Jordan laid the book down and looked at the two men.
"If he came from the train, then where is it?"
Bruce sat back, looking at him.
"We only have Dr. Gotham's word to go on this. It is still here, in Gotham, but not... it is displaced by something... a power manifested by that amulet."
"A power... Bruce, what is this amulet?"
"It is apparently ancient," Bruce said, "as to what it is... again there is only have Dr. Gotham's word on this but he points to this being described in the diaries of the explorer and archaeologist Chester Rhinold. It was given to Rhinold by a group in western China who may be related to the Kushuns. Dr. Gotham wrote down the names, places, and dates in the papers he gave us as well as what that group thought it was."
Blinking, Father Jordan leaned forward to look at Bruce.
"Do you believe him?"
Bruce glanced at Alfred and then back to Father Jordan.
"Yes. Without having time to get to the library, I do believe him. That is the tooth of Tiamat."
Father Jordan was very still and glanced at the amulet.
"What?" he said softly.
Alfred spoke up.
"The Project did bring some insight into this, Father. It indicated that there is fluid moving into the tooth at its base, but that is lost in the garnet inclusion. It is not the tooth of any creature currently living or extinct that we know about. The tooth itself is a few degrees warmer than room temperature, approximately 75 degrees. In some way it is still alive."
Bruce gripped the armrests on his chair.
"It also confirms that a pocket of no time, a stasis field, can be made to stop time inside it and render its contents into a quantum state so that it cannot be observed as present in any way."
Slowly Father Jordan shifted his focus to the amulet and his hand reached out to pick up the case it was in. He brought it under his desk lamp and turned it on so its bright light could shine into the amber. He turned it slowly under the light.
"Tiamat?" he whispered, "And it created a..."
"Stasis field," Bruce said.
"Stasis field. Around the train to...displace it? Make it so its there but we can't see it?"
"Yes. It exists in a form of quantum state, stopped in time."
"How did Dr. Gotham get out from it?"
Bruce relaxed his grip on the chair.
"One of his alarms went off on Friday night and it had to have him present in a real state to deliver its message. Don't ask me, he says it isn't 'magic' but something he calls 'affinity'. This is far, far too elaborate to be a hoax, and yet he admits he cannot confirm what happened to us. For that as a given, all the circumstantial evidence points to something like what he said having happened. It is really too outlandish to be taken seriously and yet has too much evidence to ignore it."
Glancing up over his glasses Father Jordan smirked.
"Like a Terminator coming from the future to kill one of your employees, right? Too outlandish and yet too much evidence to ignore it."
Bruce nodded, "Yes, but with this its hard to know what to do."
Looking at the amulet, the priest turned the box to let the light shine over the tooth.
"I can't see anything moving in there... but then it is impossible to get light all the way into the back part of the crown..." he said as light reflected off the amber and then the garnet giving a brief flare to the two eyes in the engraving of the crown. Finally he put the box down under the light, took his glasses off and leaned back in his chair.
"You know I do remember my time in seminary and our early history course. There are ties between the Tiamat cycle and early Judaism, you know?"
Bruce looked puzzled.
Father Jordan nodded.
"Right in Genesis, the creation stories are a... well... shortened version of the older cycle of stories in Mesopotamia and then a new one to supersede them by migrations. Of course that was also foretold in the older Tiamat cycle which had the overcoming of the older order by the new, and then the new order was retold as having its children take its place, and then that was to happen one more time. It was cyclical in someways, but really showed the migration of peoples and their culture when they went into a new area. I can tell you we had a lot of late-night bull sessions on that stuff... I tried to keep up with that material, but now its archaeologists pushing to find older material, so our ideas back then have been pushed somewhat aside."
Bruce looked down and placed his finger tips together, steepled in front of his nose as he looked at the amulet in profile.
"First there was the word..."
Father Jordan nodded.
"Yes! That is a Word of Power in the old cycle of Marduk, although I think the previous cycle of his father Ea also used that against his father. In either case it was Tiamat's first mate that helped create the gods and then wanted them killed as they were a threat to him. Tiamat refused and Ea, I think it was, found the Word of Power and killed him with it after Tiamat gave birth to the gods. Her second mate was one that she gave stone tablets to that foretold the future... half of the gods, more or less, were put to work by Tiamat and she gave birth to demons and creatures with her second mate. Marduk and the free gods saw what was happening as enslavement. By then the entire story got remade so that Marduk was the one killing Tiamat's first mate, and then using the Word of Power against the second mate, or that he had fled in fear of it leaving Tiamat alone, and that Tiamat was herself immune to the Word and had to be killed by the powers of the gods combined into Marduk. After that comes the separation of Tiamat's body to form Heaven and Earth..."
"Separating the chaos to let the light shine.." Alfred whispered.
"Yes!" Father Jordan said, "And then came the creation of all living things, but man had a special creation from the second mate of Tiamat. He was doomed to have his soul carved into smaller pieces so that each of us had a piece of that soul, and that the entire soul would be forced to live and die in ever smaller pieces for eternity. This gets you through two creations of man by the two original stories."
Bruce inhaled and looked up to Father Jordan from the amulet.
"And the rest of Genesis?"
Father Jordan closed his eyes and leaned his head back, and then opened them to stare at the ceiling.
"That is interesting, you know? The old story lines got divided up before that because of the prophecy that the son of Marduk would protect all the gods and take their place. Genesis does that more or less from the beginning and removes any place for the older gods immediately, while the stories north of that move to Assyria and get a last home there. That northern portion has a different being in the place of the southern... he was called... ahh... YH... Yam or Yahm..." father Jordan looked at the ceiling and then back down to Bruce, "... a god of the rivers and seas, storms and a judge. He was also associated with a creature, the serpent."
"The serpent? But there is one in Genesis."
"Yes, Bruce, these two are on parallel courses at the start but diverge to some degree. Although even by the time of the Second Temple worshipers of Yam placed totems of him at the Temple and those were allowed to stay for some time. Those in the north had to deal with another set of beings, Dagon and Baal-Hadad... much of what the early Jews had to deal with was a defeating of Baal-Hadad's followers because Baal-Hadad occupied the same place in the pantheon as that of Yam, and was supplanting Yam. Their defeat at the hands of the Israelites was a demonstration of the superiority of the one god over this other set of gods. Yam would disappear into myth, but his counterpart continued on fulfilling the prophecy although not in the means foretold for Yam which was imprisonment and finally removing powers from the other gods, as that had already been done in early Genesis by removing the other gods. Still there was toleration for them for some time thereafter, so long as none usurped the prime position."
Alfred looked at Bruce then Father Jordan, and then the amulet.
"There is another part of Genesis that deals with what we have, isn't there?"
Father Jordan looked at Alfred.
"Which part is that?"
Bruce looked at Alfred as he spoke.
"There is a passage with God speaking about how man must not partake of the Tree of Life unless he becomes as 'we are'. The only other being that would have knowledge of this is not any of the other animals or man, but the serpent. It has been a troubling passage as it indicates another being of the same stature as that of God. That is the serpent."
Father Jordan nodded.
"It is a part of the older cycle being retained by history and exacting retelling. Much of the power of the serpent is lost when it loses its legs..."
"Like Marduk killing Tiamat?" Bruce asked.
"I... you know, that's an interesting way to put it..." Father Jordan said looking at the amulet, "... I don't think anyone has really made that parallel. That's, well, in an earlier age that isn't something you could really even talk about, but it is there in the text, itself."
"There is a quality of the snake and other serpents that may fill this in," Alfred said.
"Being evil?" Bruce asked.
"Ah, no Master Bruce, it is actually a quality they are noted for and even admired for. It is why the snake is on the caduceus, the cross and the serpent together."
Father Jordan sat back, nodding.
"That is later Greek influence, I think, but the idea..." he shook his head and then looked at Alfred, "... I'm sorry to interrupt."
"You are right, Father Jordan, it isn't just Greek but even early Jewish culture recognized this quality and separated it out from that which is evil. It is the ability of snakes and serpents to shed their skin and be, in some way, reborn. There must be something there to be reborn, of course..."
All three of them looked at the amulet with the tooth that was, in some way, yet still alive, even encased by amber.
"Father, you said that Tiamat had tablets that told her of the future?"
"Yes, the Tablets of Destiny, that she gave to her second lover."
Gazing into the amulet, Bruce talked softly.
"Would she? If she could see that she would be killed, her first lover killed, by her grand-children or even great-grandchildren... her second lover carved up to make man to live on half her body... she wouldn't actually want to give out all of that knowledge, would she? She is, after all, a serpent."
"No, Master Bruce, a Dragon."
"Yes, Alfred, exactly that. Intelligent, able to understand what she read... she would know what would become of her body, her self... and yet she starts with the Tablets... wouldn't what would come horrify either of her lovers? Cause them to want her children killed or... worse?"
"Yes, Bruce, that is what her first husband did, after all. She protected her children from him," Father Jordan said looking up from the amulet as Bruce did so and they looked at each other, "so she accepted her fate."
"One he didn't know about, exactly. Her second mate wanted to be re-assured... and they had monsters as their children..."
"That didn't work out well for them, did it?" Alfred asked.
"Or did it?" Bruce said shifting to look at Alfred.
"What? How do you mean, Bruce?" Father Jordan asked.
"If you knew what was on the tablets was this sort of death, torture really for your lover, and yet had a purpose to you, would you actually give the full Tablets to him? Wouldn't you... ahh... edit them? Or copy them in an incomplete way? We know the serpent in Genesis does practice some deceit on man. If that is an echo of Tiamat, would it not have done even more to not just man but its lovers, to the gods, to everyone but herself as she held the true knowledge of her destiny? All destiny. She would be able to see where it all led because they were her Tablets, not that of some other. She is intelligent, a mother of gods and monsters, knowing she will die and serve as our home and heavens, but she is still a serpent able to be reborn. A Dragon is the greatest of all serpents."
Father Jordan blinked.
"It isn't unknown amongst deities, is it? We do have Jesus, do we not?" Alfred asked.
Bruce sat back and looked again at the the amulet and the tooth it contained.
"Why here? I leafed through what Dr. Gotham gave me and he noted that those who gave the amulet to Mr. Rhinold had a reason to do so..."
Father Jordan looked at the folder and picked it up, flipping through the pages.
"Queen of Sheba?" he asked softly, "What? Is that... wait a moment..." he slid the bible from the left side of his desk and opened it, flipping through pages. "She mostly disappears after leaving Solomon and making sure her son is situated on the throne... she goes east and out of the Bible... but here... Rhinold stumbles across her going to China... and then notes on this Brotherhood of the Agate Hand... Yuezhi people? There before Sheba? That's not impossible and even... ahhh..." he flipped another couple of pages, "Amber working, goldsmithing, regional variations of western China and central Asia... that's... not confusing just...ahhh... here!"
"'The man, Alechendri, had given the amulet to Chester Rhinold after his recovery from his upland travels and told him it was from their place to his as a part of Gotham that they gave it to him, and that he thought he might place it in the historical museum in Gotham one day.'"
"Purely a gift is hard to believe for such an artifact," Alfred said.
"Perhaps, Alfred, which is why I asked. Is there something about Gotham that would indicate to this Brotherhood that such a thing actually belonged here? I find it hard to believe, but I can't see their motive through all of this," Bruce said.
Father Jordan leafed through the papers and put the folder on the table.
"I would like to get a copy of this, if I may, Bruce? I can send it around to some scholars who may know more about this than I do. It has been years since I thought about this topic."
"My pleasure to do so, Father, I can get a copy back to you tomorrow morning."
"That's good enough, Bruce. And as for the item, itself... I just don't know, Bruce. A standard passing it off as a heathen artifact or something of the sort doesn't actually address what it is, not just historically but to its meaning. Giving thanks to God and for the glory of all we have is one thing, finding a tooth from an ancestor to all of it is something else again."
"A living tooth, according the the Project," Alfred said.
"And one that tried to stop being delivered to Bruce's mother," Father Jordan said, "if this 'Doctor Gotham' is to be believed, that is. Why would it do that, do you suppose?"
Bruce shook his head, "I have no idea."
"If she would know what to do with it, then you should be able to figure it out, too, Master Bruce."
Father Jordan smiled.
"You are your mother's son," he said softly.
"And my father's, both," Bruce said quietly, firmly.
* * *
Vivan looked over at Martin Carstairs who was leaning against the car and into the window by Frank Rock.
"I don't want to leave, because there are just too many questions left hanging," he said, "but family comes first. The memorial reminded me of that."
Vivian smiled and nodded.
"This just isn't anything, you know, close to normal. I mean a robotic killer from the future is pretty strange, yeah, but this stuff? Nuh-uh. I'm better off stripping down one of those Merlins tonight than trying to bird-dog Mr. Wayne. Besides he has a lot going on right now and he needs some space to figure things out and its more than just WC."
Frank smiled and turned from looking at Vivian to Martin.
"That's the way it is, Martin. We couldn't come up with anything after the memorial or at lunch earlier that was better than call it quits for the day and enjoy what there was left of the weekend. Since I'm retired, all I have is weekends from here on out. I can bunk with the Project out by the dock house or with Viv and tomorrow we should be able to do a good test-out of the engines on open water and head home if everything is within spec."
Martin nodded and smiled.
"I don't think any of this is going to get solved any time soon, either. I'll swing by my old haunts on the way home, though, and that should get me home in time for dinner that I'll have to order out and take it with me. It's the best way to mend fences at home."
"The quickest way to an apology is dinner!"
Frank smiled looking back to her.
"Or a night out on the town with the family," Frank said turning to Martin, "you take care of things and don't get too caught up in this. Sometimes you just have to leave questions unanswered and move on."
Martin nodded and moved away from the car window.
"I know how to do that, too. Had to in my time, just like you, Sarge."
"Just don't let it eat at you, that can ruin a life faster than anything," Frank said.
"Yup. All right, see all of you soon! Take care!" Martin said turning to walk to his car.
"See you, El-Tee."
"Good-bye, Mr. Carstairs," the Project said from the back seat.
Vivian put the car in gear and slid out into the early evening traffic on Arsenal St. which was sparse.
"We don't have much light left, Frank. But if you're willing and the Project can navigate the channel, we could get a test-run done in a couple of hours and be back land-side around 9ish. Plenty of time for a late night snack, then."
Frank raised an eyebrow as he rolled up the window after they passed Martin who waved to them as they went by.
"That almost sounds relaxing after what we went through today, Viv. How about it, can you keep us from hitting rocks or going aground?" Frank asked turning around.
The bulky figure with an eyepatch on and the working clothes he had on all day looked at Frank.
"Yes. My optical system can do that. There is a 40% chance of rain and light winds starting later tonight and increasing to heavy winds until morning by the last forecast I heard one point five hours ago."
Vivian nodded, pulling on to Uhlan Street.
"Good, we'll take the Mid-Bridge and then go over the ridge, be at the boat house in half-hour to forty-five. The initial spin-up sounded good last night so we should be good to go."
Frank Rock smiled and leaned back in his seat.
"Wake me up when we get there," he said.
"No problem, Frank," she said looking at the older man with his head leaning back and his eyes closed. She had gotten used to that with him on their cross-country drive and the few times they had been out doing things since then. She hadn't really gotten used to the Project, but it was no longer something that filled her with dread or fear. After the first encounter she knew she would never fear it again. She smiled remembering that non-incident encounter with it, and the relief at seeing Frank alive outside the tourist building with his case of Old Reliable with him. That had helped her get her emotional feet under her again when she needed it, and she wished she could tell her mom and dad about the old soldier outside of him being Mr. Wayne's family friend.
She took the turn-off on to 23rd heading towards the Mid-South bridge and the last of the motels was just a block or two behind them. As they approached the light she looked in the rearview mirror and saw the Project looking forward, its one eye shifting to take in the landscape ahead. She pulled forward over the bridge and turned right heading towards the the Ridge Road that would take them over the first set of high hills overlooking Gotham City from the land side. After crossing the train tracks the road turned into a hard packed gravel road and the wheels of the car churned over this and threw up a cloud of dust behind them. Following the turns of the road she went first right and then left and then right and straightened as they got to the top of the ridge. She concentrated on the road as this could be tricky due to the lack of visibility coming over the short stretch of road at the crest of the ridge. She put the car lights on as they went over the crest and she saw that the Project had been turning its head to the left as they went across the crest.
"Do you see something interesting?" she asked.
She pulled the car over to her right and put on the flashers as she stopped the car.
"What do you see?"
The Project scanned the rows of trees that were planted after the old growth forest was logged 60 years or more ago.
"There are non-radiant heat sources beyond the cut growth forest. Undergrowth is obscuring the sources which are now moving south over the crest."
Vivian blinked as she tried to stare out into the gathering darkness.
"Deer, maybe? Or black bears, there are reports of them once in awhile. Even moose."
"Unknown. Obstructions do not allow for size definition via direct observation. Cut growth distance and ranging indicate masses of moose size in direct ground contact in moving, there is no spatial distance between expected ground surface and the heat masses."
It's head turned fractionally further to the left.
"The heat sources are now out of direct visual contact."
Vivian turned to look at Frank who was still resting.
"Is it worth waking him up?" she asked softly.
"The objects are not in motion in this direction. There are few weapons of this time that are accurate out of direct line of sight for such mass sizes. Threat level is unknown with expectation of minimal threat due to size. Likelihood of natural animals in grouping is 10%. Other natural phenomena is at a 15% likelihood. Human caused phenomena is at 35% for hiking and camping or other outdoor activities at this time of year. Unknown is 40%."
Vivian reached over to touch Frank's shoulder.
His eyes opened and his right hand was on his holster.
"What's the situation?"
"Tom saw something out there, moving over the ridge line."
Frank looked at the Project.
"What did you see?"
"Unknown at 40%. Three large masses moving at the edge of the tree rows. Minimum size is 2 meters high by 2.5 meters long, minimum, each mass had a temperature between 7 and 9 degrees above ambient. I am unable to give current ranging due to lack of line of sight observation. No visible appendages or coloration."
Frank looked out past Vivian.
"I suggest you take the car off the road here, there's a pull off just up ahead. We seem to have yet another unidentifiable something, and after what happened today I don't think we are in a position to take chances."
* * *
Li Sun stepped into the entrance of the Gotham City Public Library main building and from there and into the foyer that led to the rotunda. As he stepped forward he could feel the motion of the people who had come through on their quest for knowledge. The building was a portal to knowledge, the place where the gathered wisdom of so many ages reposed waiting to pass on that wisdom to a newer age that was outpacing all prior ones. Each step forward followed that of countless millions of others who had come through the building not just in its current guise as a library but in its prior one of being the central rail and subway terminal for passenger traffic in Gotham City. This was a nexus point where the depths of Gotham City met up with the surface, where ancient met merely old and the present day in the mixture of air and the breaths of each person who had come through here. That was not to say that all the ancient or even merely old was contained beneath the structure as each of those things spoke their own and separate language into the building as a whole.
Turning his head slowly from side to side Li Sun felt the soft whisper of the air cleansed of salt and mildew, yet containing the tang of the sea and dusty taste of rocks below. Walking slowly he followed the hidden paths of those that had moved here over days, years and decades, out into the rotunda and central residence of reference books. Passing a cart of books his fingers touched over their tops telling him of those who had recently held them and those who had sought them out in prior times. In a set of voiceless speech they told him of the quest for knowledge both satisfied and unsated by those who had been searching through them. Between the tables he walked and his feet stepped quietly as he padded through this domain of words and then onto the central compass under the rotunda proper before going west past yet more reference works contained under the protection of the upper walkway of the floors above.
Now a hallway beckoned and he felt that there was something down it that called in a special way to him. Softly his footsteps fell so that there was no echo from the marble floor to the tiled walls and arched ceiling above. In this wing of the library he passed by numerous reading rooms and conference rooms plus space for the working staff who kept some equipment and offices here outside of the main offices even further on in another building. His footsteps slowed and he stopped in front of a set of glass doors that contained books from ages past under its miniature dome. His hands grasped the doors and they slid open quietly, smoothly, with the barest rush of air and in two steps he was beyond them to look at the tomes and artifacts held there. Each of these things spoke but only a bare few spoke to him, directly.
To the left there was a rack to place books to be reshelved and he stepped by the craftily made table and felt its calm demeanor awaken as he approached. He stopped and his eyes flashed to the surface of it and out of the darkness of the wood well worked and finished he saw a series of twisting lines glittering into life. Here there was something hidden and dangerous coming together, twisting slowly on that thin film that allowed the wood to be both protected and act as protector, both. Its warning was simple, precise and understood by those it addressed no matter who they were: step no closer as there are consequences that you shall pay for in doing so.
"So simple," Li Sun whispered in a tone gone slightly dry from the cool dryness of the air in the building.
The chairs were also attendants to this threat, this promise of fate for trespassing where such as he was not wanted. Within the wood was felt not minions of fire nor those of sea but of something both long in duration no matter how short the wood had lived. There were no echoes of the dark colors or space nor of the frozen wastelands of lands sequestered from living view, as wood was only slightly part of these things and it contained that other which was from the ground, directly. Gingerly he stepped a step closer still and saw how the lines now slid and danced above the surface of the table and each chair now manifested shifting powers that were not made for comfort but for something else entirely.
"I fear no dreams of death nor death of dreams," Li Sun whispered.
Another step and he could nearly reach out to touch the nearest chair backs and they, too, were nearly within reach of him. Those things now sliding over the table promised the horror of devouring creatures from below and yet the promise lacked one thing.
"You are not where you were originally placed, table of ill omen. You cannot call out to those of below as you do not rest on that stone which is your complement."
A final step took him between the chairs and he felt how their cool embrace of forever was preparing itself for him as table's writhing lines formed into an elder beast ready to move through rock and stone as if it wasn't even there to devour the unwary and unwilling. This promise of death from below was one of horror to nearly any being.
He placed his right hand on the tabletop and the ring on his ring finger touched its surface and all the visages disappeared.
"Do not threaten what you cannot do," he said now stepping back from the table to walk to the shelf where a book was speaking to him in the wordless colors of a land he knew.
Just three steps and he let his fingers slide over the top of that book, that diary, which had traveled with a man to the farthest reaches of the Earth. The dusty sands of the Taklamakan Desert were felt as were those that worked through the man who had written this diary. Closing his eyes Li Sun saw, once more, of the land where he was born and had a scant few years of childhood and remembered the stories of his mother. This time he saw those who walked through as the Guardians of Agate, that Brotherhood of Ancient times now gone. Through this traveler he also felt something else, a being so old it reached before the Earth was even made and felt how part of its knowledge was here, too, for the holder of that man's ring. Together the arc of pieces from that conduit of knowledge called Chester Rhinold was completed and only lacked a final piece that was found only at the great tree that bridged from below to above, the spine of mother, lost.
"Yes," his lips barely moved, "three rivers and one, foreseen. Directly south, diverted, now reborn by indirection."
Li Sun nodded and his lungs inhaled not the air of Gotham but that dusty land of the Desert that Held Death. The hiss of those shifting sands spoke of depth as well as death, a land buried with a body, too. His hand slid from the diary, now having made that link it spoke to him in ways that mere words never could nor will. Turning from the shelf he walked along the edge of the room to the front doors, stepped out through them and turned left back to the main building until he saw a door marked for stairs as 'AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY'. A simple quick turn, a push on a bar and he was through to the stairwell that so many unauthorized personnel had used as a simple means to go between floors above.
They also went to floors, below.
Li Sun descended the stairs and after a series of back and forth flights he came to yet another door, this one marked 'NO EXIT' that barred his way. This metal door inset into faced masonry was locked, of course, and he grasped its handle to find it made of merely ordinary steel. His fingers pushed to the door with his palm against the doorknob and it now felt the threat that had been given to him, with the difference being that it was of earth and knew this one had more than the slight possibility of being able to carry out this threat. As he turned the knob the lock acquiesced and the door opened and Li Sun padded his way past the the door to the short platform that led him to the under part of the twisting foundation of the library above to the open structure of the foundations leading to the underworld below.
He needed no artificial light to aid his journey into this black space as he felt its dimensions and was assured of his steps in total darkness as he was in pure daylight. While a stranger to this labyrinth of underworld it was home to him in some very special way.