James Gordon got out of the car and walked behind it, waiting for Travis Colton to park it and get out. Looking across the street he could see the last number for the building at the intersection, which was 202 Maple Court. Across the street was the Herald Theater which ran across where Maple Court would have to go if there was to be another block of it. A block that would have 107 Maple Court. In a moment he was joined by Colton who stood next to him.
"Jim, this is a problem," he said.
"Yes it is, Travis," Gordon turned to look at him and Travis Colton nodded.
"I can tell you by looking at the curb over there that there once was a 107 Maple Court. See how the curb across the street has two curved parts that then have new concrete poured to complete the curb?"
James Gordon let his eyes scan the sidewalk and curb across the street.
"Yes, you're right. And the street lamps are where they would be for a corner intersection. And there are cobblestones insead of concrete for the runoff, too."
"Uh-huh. Somewhere around 1955 or 1956 this part of Gotham was getting the surface alignment renovation and the first block of Maple Court went away."
"Do you think this Doctor Gotham lied to us Travis?"
"That had crossed my mind, Jim."
Gordon and Colton turned to each other.
"But he didn't act like it. He didn't hedge, didn't stumble or falter. He is either a very good liar or...."
"Good at shading the truth. Something strange is definitely going on with this case, Travis. Not just a normal psychotic or serial killer, this is different. Who would try to do that for something like this?"
Travis raised an eyebrow.
"Someone with nothing to lose, maybe?"
"Or nothing that he is worried about losing, plus it was an easy lie as he really couldn't expect us to check it out, could he?"
"Yes. And did you notice that he didn't bother to tell us where Martha's son, Bruce, lived? He just implied that he lived at the same address."
James Gordon chuckled.
"We do have to get another talk with him, I think, Travis. This case has the feeling that it just might come together, somehow."
"Yeah, I'm getting that feeling too. A bit more legwork and investigation and we should be good for another two to three weeks of work on this."
"If we're lucky," Gordon said.
The wind started to pick up rolling down the road from the distant south harbor.
"Wayne Corporation next, still?"
"Yes. Then Doctor Gotham tomorrow."
Travis nodded and the two men stepped back towards the front of the car and got in. Within a minute they were back on the road and they would go first north and then west.
* * *
"Here it is! Gotham Central Station!" Barbara said as they walked on the subway tracks towards the center platform for the old station.
"Oh, this is so large," Lisa said shining her flashlight beam over the main part of the station on the other side of the tracks from her.
"You can see the remains of the old mezzanine walkway there," Barbara said shining her light over an upper floor area that had steps leading to it on either side of the station, "of course they had to tear most of that out on the station side to put down the supports for the library. Those are pretty ugly having that steel I-beam lattice over there. And they bricked up the stairs that you used to be able to take to the main part of the station. The Great Compass in the library covers over that. All of that was taken out for the reconditioning. Now all that is left are the old emergency stairs, which had the walls torn out below the mezzanine."
"Yes, I see. If Erin got here she would have used those to get to the surface, right?"
"Uh-huh. Lets go over there and see if there is any trace of that."
"Yes," Lisa said walking to the stairs off the platform to the side walkway and then she went down to the tracks and up the access stairs on the other side. She stopped there and waited for Barbara to join her.
"Many, many tracks. It looks like there have been a number of people down here."
Barbara was nodding and kneeling on the last step to play her light over the platform's surface.
"My guess is construction workers over the years, plus maintenance inspections. The library can't use this area, but with so much structure exposed you can check it out pretty well."
Lisa stepped up on to the platform and edged along it to the emergency stairs.
"It is the same here. I don't see anything that Erin might have left and haven't anywhere since we started this."
Barbara stood up and sighed.
"I know. It doesn't look good, does it."
Lisa turned on the stairs and looked at Barbara who was playing her light over the support beams for the library.
"And nothing to show that she perished down here, either. There is still hope."
"Yes there is. Sorry to be gloomy. Living with my dad will do that to you."
"Give me a moment to check the stairs," she said.
"Sure! I'll look around here some more," Barbara said as she walked amongst the support beams.
Lisa gripped the railing as she walked up the stairs and approached a door with a dim EXIT light shining. She looked at the door and realized something was wrong.
"Barbara, this door is supposed to shut, right?"
"Huh? Yes it is. Why?"
Lisa pulled the door open and it swung freely.
"The closing mechanism looks as if it is broken. And it will not stay shut."
"What? Hold on a moment, let me take a look!"
Barbara moved quickly while Lisa stooped to look at the handle and lock. Shortly Barbara was coming up the steps and came up beside her, playing her flashlight over the hydraulic closing mechanism and saw that its liquid had spattered out against the wall and that it was no longer tightly fitting together.
"This isn't good," Barbara whispered to herself.
Lisa stepped up beyond the door and looked at the handle from the other side.
"Barbara, take a look at the lock and latch please."
Shifting Barbara looked at Lisa and then stooped down to look at the lock.
"It's... melted in there. The latch retracted and then... twisted... what could...?"
"Look," Lisa said as she shined her light on the handle and then placed her hand on it, her fingers sliding into marks left on it and the thumb stopper.
"Oh my..." Barbara barely whispered.
"Someone put their hand on it and the metal... shifted... melted... that's not..."
Barbara shook her head from side to side.
"Not good at all. What could do that?"
Lisa looked at Barbara who was looking up at her.
"What could do as you told me about at that house? Or the convention center?"
Barbara shook her head.
"But that would just go under the door..."
"If it didn't need to be careful would it bother?" Lisa asked.
Barbara's eyes widened, and her lips said 'No'.
"It can be outrun, however. Erin has shown that. I must find her, Barbara. I don't think she came here."
Barbara was torn as to what to do and bit her lower lip.
"I... can't leave you here, Lisa. Please, lets go and tell my dad about all this, OK?"
Lisa pressed her lips together and closed her eyes.
"Erin is in desperate danger, Barbara. If she is down here and whatever can do that," she let her hand slip from the door handle, "is down here with her... no. Minutes now may cost her life."
Lisa opened her eyes to look at Barbara.
"And I can't leave you alone, either, Lisa," she said softly, "that wouldn't be right, either."
Lisa walked down two steps and looked at Barbara.
"Thank you, Barbara."
Barbara nodded and smiled.
"Right. If you had to get out of Gotham and you didn't take this route then you have the mainland tunnel and bridge, if you don't know the Underworld. I would take the bridge, easier to get to and the Wayne SWIFT system uses the tunnel, mostly. At least I think they do. So all we have to do is follow the tracks on this level, stay on this level and go north."
"I think that is what she would do," Lisa said turning to start down the stairs.
Barbara stood a moment longer and looked back silently saying, 'Dad, I love you' before turning to go down the stairs behind Lisa. This was not turning out to be the kind of adventure that she thought it would be when she started it.
* * *
He had shifted the vehicle into its stealth mode to baffle the engine output and lower the vehicle closer to the tracks. The infrared lights to front gave him a clear view of the tunnel system and the transponders he had put down years ago let the vehicle drive via the pattern they set up. It glided him down the tunnels and took the various intersections quickly, easily, without him having to even touch the controls. Not that he took his hands from them as it was good to feel how the vehicle needed to be driven to maneuver it through the old subway system. The system he had devised and implemented hadn't failed him after he worked out the few problems with it over eight years ago. It was meant for his earliest vehicle, but was a suitable system for this one which had been altered to run over the subway rails and perform the necessary control shifts so that it could be sent ahead of him via remote commands.
After going through the junctures around the old Gotham Central Station the vehicle went down the southernmost part of the Outer Loop towards the shelter where he had left Erin at. He hoped that they would be able to decide on some better way for her to be safe, or safer as the case may be, with added capability with the backpack cleaning systems. There were many ways he could make this situation bearable, but any confrontation between that creature and himself would require the use of Erin as bait to bring it out. And he knew that the first confrontation must be final, since it had demonstrated capability to adjust to him in ways he hadn't expected. One short defensive fight had told him much and still left him baffled as to what, exactly, this thing was.
The scenarios ran through his head and he felt the best way was to get out as much in an open area as he could with her, and draw it out. Motion sensors should give them fair warning if they were approached, and this would mean being on solid rock or concrete....
The vehicle slowed down and came to a stop and he knew, immediately, that there was a problem. He keyed in the remote and the outer door to the shelter opened, knocking the piece of wood Erin had left out of the way. He stepped past that into the entryway, and opened the door into the shelter. It had been turned off after she had left. He checked the system to see when she had left.
"Almost three hours ago," he said to himself.
The shelter powered on as he entered it, and he saw that there had been no struggle, no violence, and only a few items out of place. Walking over to the sofa he saw the book that was opened to Julius Caesar and noted the page and scene it was open to. After that he did an inventory and noted the missing rucksack, clothing, food... she was leaving in an orderly fashion, taking her time and necessary equipment and supplies. That didn't answer the question of what had caused her to leave.
Had this thing discovered her?
He walked over to the security console and rewound the videotape and played it back. The external cameras didn't see much and he fast forwarded it until something flashed by. He stopped the system and rewound it then advanced it until he found the place where a change had taken place. Having narrowed it down he played it at normal speed and saw a building glow on the tracks and then a hazy... something... rolling in... it was hard to make out anything, with the changes in light and dark. It wasn't a harsh light, and that made it even harder to discern if there was even a shape to it. Or shapes. Only near the end did he advance it a second at a time because, in the last one, it seemed to be dissolving and a dark figure was outlined against the hazier white. It still wasn't a clear image. This could be anything from dust or steam to even a faint moisture build up on the lens of the camera.
The time stamp placed this within one hour of leaving Erin here. He took out the tape and replaced it with a spare from the storage cabinet. Perhaps Lucious would be able to make something of it.
He inhaled and turned, then walked briskly out while the system registered him leaving and shut the door and powered down behind him. As he left the outer door shut and the tunnel was, once more, hiding the entrance to this place. He put the tape into safe storage under the seat and got in, buckling himself in. Placing his hands on the wheel of the vehicle he thought about where he would go if he was Erin Norris.
"It would help if I knew why she left," he said to himself.
Looking out into the tunnel he nodded his head. He couldn't know where Erin had gone for certain, although her choices were limited he could spend hours going to them one by one. But he did have one other avenue to get information about what was going on, one that might lead him in another direction to find her. First he would check out the nearby surface exits and then divert to get the other lead tracked down.
He smiled to himself as he eased the vehicle into gear, slid up the rail guides and turned the vehicle around, a destination firmly fixed in his mind. He couldn't know where Erin Norris was headed with any certainty but he knew where the Batman must go.
* * *
"Dad? Telephone for you!" the young girl Marissa called out from the kitchen her hand over the receiver of the telephone.
"Be right there," came the man's voice from upstairs.
"OK," the girl said and then lowered her voice and spoke into the handset, "He will be right here."
The dark haired girl looked up as her father was pulling down a t-shirt and turning from the stairs at the front room heading back to the kitchen. He smiled as he walked to her and bent over to kiss her forehead.
"Thanks, honey," he said as she handed over the telephone handset.
"Sure dad," she smiled as he picked up the phone, then she walked back to help her mother getting the meal that her father had brought home out of its cartons and onto platters, bowls and other containers.
"Martin, here," he said.
"El-Tee, its Rock wanted to report in to you."
Martin nodded and smiled at his wife, Eleanor, who looked back at him.
"Give me the sitrep, Frank."
"Just got off talking to Alfred, Wayne is out for the evening," Rock said, "we saw something going over the ridge line, going to the boat house. The Project can't say what they were, but they were large and had no legs, arms or head, and moved quickly down slope. We couldn't catch up to them and followed the trail they left when it came out at the base of the ridge line, riverside. It went into a ditch, smoothed and flattened the mud and plants, then went into a culvert going into the South Gotham River."
Martin inhaled looking at his wife, who was now handing plates to their son Matthew who was a year younger than Marissa, had blond hair and was an inch taller. He took the plates, forks, knives and spoons with him and walked through the far entry of the kitchen into the dining room.
"That sounds... strange Frank. Sure of multiples?"
"Yeah. Different heat sources, but close in temperatures. They left a gel or slime behind them, protein with amino acids plus some biological materials. Mostly water but definitely slick stuff. Don't know what's going on, but thought you should know, Martin. I'm at the boat house with Vivian and the Project. We've scrubbed the idea of taking a test cruise and will be giving the boat a thorough once-over, instead."
Martin mouthed, 'It's OK' to his wife who smiled back at him and gave him a thumbs-up sign.
"Not enough to go on, I think," Martin said remembering the convention center aftermath from the morning, "and don't know if that fits with much of what that 'Doctor Gotham' told us, either."
"On one, Martin. Not enough to go on, but strange events just don't tend to happen in isolation so close to each other."
Inhaling Martin nodded.
"You got that right, I just don't know if this rises to the third time, you know?"
Martin heard a grunt from Rock.
"If it is enemy action, we should know soon enough. Like we learned with the Project, safe back-up just in case."
Martin watched as Marissa picked up the main platter that had the sliced beef roast on it followed by Eleanor.
"Not that we know enough in case anything happens, still we know some and that might be important."
"Uh-huh, that's how I figure it. I'll let you go now, El-Tee, the Project and Vivian are digging into the fuel system and need a third set of hands to check the feed for blockages."
"Right. Take care of yourselves out there, and don't let Vivian exhaust you. You might need to be frosty for the morning."
Martin heard Rock chuckle.
"Just a couple more hours of this, Martin. Then a quick meal and bedding down. Give my best to Eleanor and the kids, OK?"
"Sure, Frank. Love to have you over if you can shake some time free."
"Much appreciated, Martin. Take care of them. Good-bye, El-Tee."
"Good-bye, Sarge. Give my best to Vivian."
"I will. Out now."
Martin heard Frank's receiver click and hung up the phone. As he walked across the kitchen he picked up a pitcher of iced tea and a carton of milk, then walked into the dining room.
"Who was that, Martin?" Eleanor asked.
"It was Mr. Rock," Marissa said, "He's a nice man," she said in a chipper tone.
"Yes, he is," Martin said, "he was just giving me an update on events today. He's at the Wayne boat house working on the boat with his friend, Tom, and Vivian. I told him he is always welcome to come visit."
Eleanor continued to smile at him, although she frowned a bit. He had given her the overview of the impossible and had met the Project, twice. She couldn't believe that he wasn't human until he lifted the eyepatch for her to see his internal ocular device. She had seen a future look back at her and didn't like it, but had come to trust not just Martin's account but that of Frank Rock. After reading his memoir on the war, she knew that he was a keen observer of human nature and able to see threats where others saw nothing out of the usual.
"And he is. They all are, really. I mean I really enjoyed our few trips to ATC East with Vivian, and that one with Frank and his friend there was a lot of fun."
"I've started reading that book of Sargent Rock's, dad," Matthew said.
"Its heavy reading for your age, son," Martin said looking at his 9 year old boy, "and if you ever feel uneasy about what you read, come to me or your mom so we can help you with it."
Eleanor was sitting down and nodded as Martin sat down. Her talk with Kyle Reese had given her great pause, as her idea that the current world could go upside-down so quickly was disturbing. She would have objected strenuously having her son read Frank Rock's account of WWII from North Africa to Sicily then Italy, then in France all the way to southern Germany before she had met Kyle and Tom Octurian. Now she knew that Marissa would have to read it in a year, possibly two, as well if she wasn't already sneaking it from her older brother. That was necessary after hearing about John Connor's mother, Sarah. And she was a very nice young woman, too, which shocked Eleanor perhaps the worst of all of that situation.
"I will dad."
"Well, I want to hear all about your day, today. But first, Eleanor, if you would help us say grace for the meal?"
* * *
He had sent Henry and Lewis home for the evening as he had needed time to review his materials. He had brought out his old notes, new notes, paper clippings and had begun to place them out on the table. Moving his hands he shifted the items about the shop and convention center to the top of the table.
"It truly does start here," he said to himself, "and yet beginnings are often by happenstance, not of necessity, design."
Pursing his lips together he looked to his right and placed the information about Martha Culligan's talisman there, along with the notes he had on Chester Rhinold, plus the other information on the pieces stolen from the shop.
"From North to East, black to green, earth to heaven," he said and then frowned.
"This needs an actor."
Moving the clipping for the convention center off to the upper right corner of the table he then took up a piece of paper and wrote 'Erin Norris' on it and placed it between the shop news article and the documents to the right of the table. He frowned for a moment looking at that.
"Yes, she takes and it goes east. So the convention center must go to the lower corner of the table," he said and took that set of clippings from the upper right to lower right of the table.
"Now Henry was here that night, but so was this other one, this Batman," he said taking the few clipping he had gotten over the papers that had accumulated at the shop. "Where does he fit? The corner of ascension? Is he an actor or something acted upon? He fights crime and this was a crime, here. How did he know? What is his connection to the Norris'?"
He placed those clippings on the upper right of the table surface.
"Not a good fit, as white belongs with the downfall side. Still this is Gotham," Dr. Gotham took that pile of clippings from the upper right and put them on the upper left.
"Much better. Then there is me, I am an actor as well. I take Martha Culligan's talisman to her son, Bruce," he said lifting that set of notes from the right of the table and placing them on the left of it. He had his business card and placed that between the shop article and talisman notes. He then wrote down another name on a piece of paper, 'Bruce Wayne' and placed that on the top of the notes.
"Now Mr. Wayne was at the convention center. That would drag it off to the lower left, however. Or put it at the center? Hmmm..." he shifted the convention center to the center of the table.
"That is connected to the shop by Bruce Wayne who was there prior to my delivery. Who else is connected?" he lifted the paper clippings up until found one from the day before giving the major corporate attendees.
"Hmmmm... Albrecht's, Cobblepot, Dupre, Graham, Hideko... ahhh... yes representing Hideko Manufacturing of Japan is Li Sun, local distributor and part owner of the Golden Tiger Club. Now as this is the only group from the Far East... hmmmm... pure supposition... still it is a stand out name..." he took another scrap of paper and wrote 'Li Sun' on it.
"Where do you fit? Actor? If so then in what direction? Perhaps just between the convention center and east? And Wayne to the west. But what is the connection of the shop to the convention center? The police, of course," he said putting down the clippings and names of police involved, which was topped by Commissioner Gordon.
"Of course!" writing down Gordon's name, Dr. Gotham placed that between the convention center and the shop.
"Now what is south? Hmmm... south and red. Who comes from the quadrant that is between east and south, starting with Li Sun? That is unknown," he put a blank piece of paper there.
"West to south, connection is Wayne who rules that quadrant. Who comes from him and goes south? Or comes from south to him? Unknown as well," a blank piece of paper went there.
"Finally, convention center to south. Who is opposite of Gordon? Or is at an ascension from black to red mitigated by the convention center?"
The front door jingled as it was opened and Dr. Gotham stood up from the table and walked to the entryway to see a dark figure walking towards him as the door closed behind him.
"Ah! You are not as I imagined you," Dr. Gotham said, "not that anyone has gotten a good description of you. How may I help you?"
The caped figure strode towards him and stopped just a few inches away.
"I need information. What was it that came to your shop on the night of the break-in?"
Dr. Gotham raised his eyebrows.
"You mean beyond the Norris couple?"
It was a bit unnerving looking into a partially masked face that had faceted eyes and yet an all too human mouth.
"There was only my shop ward. It summons an nglui'grah'n to deal with things until someone with the shop can get here. Very simple and those grah'n while strange are not the most powerful of beings."
"Come with me, ah, Batman I believe is how you are named. Simple information is best exchanged, not extracted," Dr. Gotham walked over to the table and sat down.
"Do sit down, if you will," he said.
"I prefer to stand," the dark figure said as he walked into the room.
"Very well. Now you asked me for my ward type and it is a summoning for an nglui'grah'n which is a... ahh... well not really a larvae or lost one, although they are relatively non-sentient, they are partial lesser buddings from their older types, Ngluioths. My summoning is for a rather charged up one of these, although that is only relative as it will soon die in this realm without the power necessary to sustain it. It should be able to stun at least three or four people and scare the living daylights from any that see it, before it is exhausted or it is dismissed by the ward. If it isn't dismissed then it discorporates into fluids and a rather sticky mess once its power is exhausted."
"That doesn't sound like a natural creature."
"It isn't. Of the three related types, I chose these grah'n because they couldn't stick around for long if the dismissal didn't come promptly," Dr. Gotham turned to look up at the figure to his left, "I'm not out to kill anyone, you know, just protect my shop."
"Possibly, yes. Now a question for you, Batman."
Batman looked down at Dr. Gotham.
"What is it?"
"Ah, so terse. It is very simple. What is your relation with the Norris' that brought you to this shop that night?"
Batman pressed his lips together.
"I stopped one of the drug transfers. I believe they are or were working for another group that was moving narcotics to Gotham from across Long Island Sound."
"Hmmm... interesting!" Dr. Gotham said looking down at the table. "As you can see I have been trying to work out how all of these events connect up," Dr. Gotham said, "and you are still up there at west to north quadrant. My guess is that you suspect these drugs to be from or too one of the names on the table, or it is a name that I do not know."
The Batman stepped behind Dr. Gotham's chair and to his right, looking down, and then at Dr. Gotham.
"What is this?"
"What I'm doing, you mean?"
"Well, it has no real name to it. If you take a look at a compass you get directional points and a circle, which is inscribed in a square. Many religions and folklore systems place directions, colors, attitudes and events within this framework, mostly at the compass cardinal points and circle. I add in the indirect influences at the corners of the square to help fill in a framework for events. I assume that they actually happen in some different framework, well beyond anything we can ever know, but a simple derivative like this brings order out of chaos. Events become directions, with a set of meanings to them that help define the actual meaning of the entire set of events. This one is most disturbing to me as I am in it. In fact I appear to be at least a compass actor if not one of the cardinal actors, and that is what I am trying to discern."
Batman gazed over the table.
"Where is the creature you talked about in this?" he asked.
Dr. Gotham turned to look up at him.
"It is transient."
"I saw it," Batman said, "It filled over half this room."
"Over half..." Dr. Gotham looked around, "... but that can't be. A nglui'grah'n might fill a large size box, like a sewing machine would come in, but anything larger than that...." he shook his head, "...that is much closer to an Ngluioth than one of their grah'n."
Batman looked at him.
"It was also at the convention center. Chasing Erin Norris. I did what I could to delay it, acids and thermite, but that was not enough to kill it, only slow it down."
Shifting his view from Batman and back to the table Dr. Gotham frowned.
"Why that's... well not impossible... a very young Ngluioth would have expended much of its power amalgamating itself from multiple grah'n. That requires much power to do and the result is an Ngluioth that is integrated but very, very weak. If the warding found one of those..." he trailed off.
Batman stared at Dr. Gotham in silence and then walked around the table. He knelt down until his eyes were just above the level of the table so he could look Dr. Gotham in the eyes.
"It is after Erin Norris. I took her to a secure place. She left there while I tried to find a way to kill this... Ngluioth."
Meeting that gaze Dr. Gotham's countenance was hard with shadows cast over his eyes and down his cheeks from the overhead light.
"That's not possible. When Henry returned the ward then dismisses the summoned one and makes it known that those in the shop are allowed to be there."
"She had run from the shop before Mr. Swanson arrived."
Dr. Gotham's eyes widened and he nodded.
"Yes, that allows it to stay as it has affinity with her in the form of a compulsion or attraction. It can be ended by having that bond broken. It might find that... unwanted and seek to end the affinity."
"By killing Erin."
"Yes. As the ward had expended the power on its dismissal, it can't be effected by that again. It may be able to find a way back to its realm, but first it would...." Dr. Gotham's face drained of color.
"What would it have to do, Dr. Gotham?"
Quietly, in a whisper, Dr. Gotham said, "Find power that it could utilize... like my earth ward in the old library... I thought that the affinity had drained it locked up underground... but..."
Batman stood up and walked back around the table, while Dr. Gotham stood gazing where he had been.
"Can you stop it?" Batman asked.
Dr. Gotham shivered and then pushed his chair back from the table.
"Stop an Ngluioth? Even a very young one is extremely dangerous as it is related to its cousins Shoggoth and Shaggoth. Physically that makes it very capable. If it gets an independent source of power... then we are all in serious danger. First let me recall the power from that underground ward, if any returns that may kill it if that is all it has to sustain it."
He stood up and walked next to the Batman and picked up his walking stick from the coat stand, as well as his coat and hat.
"Come along, I have to be in proximity to it and that means going back to the library."
Batman turned and strode towards him, lifting a small transceiver from his belt and whispering the word, 'Come'.
A rumbling was heard outside, the sound of tires taking a turn hard, and then a glowing red presence appeared in amongst the black as the doors of the vehicle opened upwards.
"I will provide the ride. First, can this thing be killed?"
Dr. Gotham raised an eyebrow.
"Not easily, no. These beings are some of the hardest to kill due to their form. Without true organs, nervous system or skeleton, there is not much that can be done to them that will kill them."
"I have some options. I will take you to the library, and then we will see what must be done next."
Dr. Gotham walked forwards and opened the door for the Batman who followed. After turning off the lights and turning the sign to closed, Dr. Gotham shut and locked the door. The soft green glow around the frame was barely visible but the blinking red light indicating the normal security system was active was easy to see just inside the shop. Turning he saw the faceted skin of the vehicle that the Batman walked around and the uplifted door of it that shone a dull red light over its interior seat and restraints. Walking to the vehicle Dr. Gotham put his gloves on and saw the easy way that the Batman utilized the bar at the top of the door to swing himself in while twisting to fall into his seat. Dr. Gotham simply stepped over the raised edge of the vehicle, turned and fell into the seat on his side.
The doors closed automatically and the Batman edged the vehicle out onto the road and then took a hard turn to the left.
"You may need to put the harness on," he said flatly in the now nearly dark interior of the vehicle.
"I'll do just fine with my walking stick and armrests, thank you."
* * *
In amongst the remaining subway cars, Erin Norris wandered. Here, in the underground beneath the Underworld, where water streamed in rivulets to unseen pipes laid nearly a century ago, she found her way amongst the hulks of yesteryear, promising a glorious future and winding up only in rust forgotten by everyone. Some of the cars were from the first days of the system, going back to the early electrified trams that were then converted to subway use. Their wooden sides were rotting, leaving skeletal remains of cars that showed where there should be a floor, a roof, sides, wooden benches and seats, now all in decay and tatters, eaten slowly by the air, the mold and rot that ensued.
Other cars were of metal that was rusting, tarnished, the bright colors of green and orange and red now all going to a brownish grey here where no one had bothered to strip and resurface the vehicles on a timely basis. She looked in some of these and saw that those that had metal under the wood of benches and floor still had some ghostly appearance of normality, just waiting for someone, anyone, to find and rescue them. Some of the cars had a more solid appearance, some of the last delivered, where aluminum and treated steel were outlasting their older cousins, but even these were losing their luster and paint peeled from them.
"Such a waste," she whispered to herself as she found metal doors on the sides of the cavern that had been sealed shut decades ago, giving no access to the rooms and workshops and offices that supported the old subway system. Here, less than a mile from the old Central Station was the old and real hub of the subway system and it was abandoned, lost and forgotten. Where once tens if not hundreds worked, there was only her presence which was as ghostlike to those of decades past as they were to her: unseen, unknown and not present. None, then, could imagine that in those times of plenty Gotham City would fall hard. This system had meant to be the ribs to support the heart of Gotham's needs, and now was only rusting bones laying unwanted and uncared for.
By the end of the multiple tracks she found a turntable for cars that allowed them to be worked on from all sides, easily. The steel turntable was now a rusted hulk, still supported by its massive spindle that would never, ever turn once more. She could see stagnating water at the bottom of the pit for the turntable and looked down to see only black depths and no bottom, although bottom there must surely be down there. Within this part of the underground she saw how there was an upper track section where a crane could lift cars from it to put on the turntable. Across the turntable there was another set of tracks and they had rusting signs that, for once, actually had some meaning to her. The left one was labeled for the X-LINE, which must be the cross-line which intersected after Norwalk to go all the way to the north west corner of the South Island. The other one was also easy to understand as MID-LOOP must be a central crossing area underneath the 23rd Street part of the Outer Loop. Midtown Gotham City, South Island.
Walking slowly she skirted the edge of the turntable and headed for that tunnel, which she saw went in a slow, upward ascending path so that there were no straight lines to let her see out. By now this land of twisting paths had this sort of thing become the norm for her, and it was a pleasant sight to see that now, finally, she just might get back to where she was headed and then go north and out of Gotham, entirely.
All it would take is one step at a time.
* * *
He paused at the opening past the station as the number of tracks proliferated with some going off to his left as well as continuing onwards. This had once been someplace of importance, he felt, something had happened here or near here. Nodding to himself in the tunnel darkness he moved over to the central wall which tapered down and put his back to that and grew accustomed to the feel of the worked stone that existed under the poured concrete.
Glancing upwards his perception was that there was great weight near here, a mass towering into the heavens and that it was here for a reason, a purpose, beyond those of just housing offices and transacting business. In the distance soft night air flowed into the tunnels laden with moisture that such air attracted as it slowly rolled down the hills and over the South Gotham River. The slow march of that air was never fresh down in these tunnels and the cold and dampness could never make this place as chill as the night due to the warmth of that ground that lay under Gotham City.
In this flowing of slowly warming air he felt the drift of it into these tunnels that were so very comfortable. The low grumble of late Sunday traffic told him much of this place and the spaces under Gotham from sewers to Underworld to subway and the final drains of these great islands. For so long deadness had encased the land in frigid grinding depths, but what was here resisted, endured, stronger than that which ground away at it. This place was different, this Gotham, he had always known that from the first days he came here to transact his business and then take up residence. These islands were of a land ancient coming to life again, rising after such great weight was lifted and destined to transform not just this land alone, that he felt so deeply.
Throughout this under-land was something that was willing to come to life again, needing only the proper circumstances which were to take place here or some place very like it in some way. What this place was, he still could not say, but he felt the life of Gotham suffuse through to the surface from deep, deep beneath his feet. It existed here, lived here, and was something different than any other place he had been. Whispering of sands through wind was not what this place had, nor of deeply veined mountains of stilled lifeblood, there was no indication. Of dead yet sleeping presence of his childhood was a thing he knew and Gotham was, at once, akin to that and yet so very different as to be something all its own.
For all of that this land of Gotham had not been made, merely inhabited and in some awful way it always watched while ever slumbering. His senses adapted slowly to this space beneath the surface and an elder presence, ancient in ways that only a desert and mountains could speak of, was in this place and space if he could but locate it. Hidden from vision it had a motion and weight all its own, something was here, hidden from all to see as none knew where to find it. Wherever that manifestation was, he knew that he must find it and understand it in ways he could not describe for it promised much to him and required keys to unlock and open that he knew must be attracted here. Such keys would not know exactly what drew them here, and if he needed to wait or even seek them on his own, he would do so.
It was here where all those paths intersected.
Turning his head he saw an inset doorway, now sealed, but the alcove it formed was perfect for him. Stepping from the wall he was of the open space, and partook of its essence until he walked forward on warm stone across rails of steel to that walkway and then into the alcove. Soon the alcove disappeared from the tunnel as he became the essence of the walls to cover it. He knew his place would be where this alcove was. Lifting his right hand he saw the presence of the ring, its jade now glowing deep green.
That was his place.
* * *
She could hear the rushing of the river out there, beyond the iron and steel grating.
"This goes to the old mid-line that used to service the tanneries and mills along the Mid-Gotham River. I don't think they took out the tracks all the way to here, just along the river. There was supposed to be a river walkway park but that never... no one ever funded that."
Barbara said grasping the cold and rusting metal that was still firm beneath the surface deterioration with one hand she nodded slowly to herself.
Lisa had her rucksack open and was replacing the batteries for her flashlight while Barbara held hers down with her right hand.
"I had wondered why you bought so many batteries," she said using Barbara's light to find yet another unopened package of batteries. Soon it was open and the batteries from her flashlight slid into the open rucksack and new ones were slid into the body of the flashlight.
"They aren't good for more than an hour, unless you get really fresh ones. Then two is the most you can expect. Surplus stores you take what you can get, and I figured that six of those packages for each of us would get us through the night. Plus the 9 volt lanterns and hand flares. Once you are down to flares you know you really do have to get out of here."
Lisa screwed on the bulb and lens body and turned on her flashlight which now shone brightly again.
"No one can see us from here, can they?" she said after zipping up the rucksack and shouldering it again.
"No. The twenty or so feet of tunnel restricts looking in from any place but the immediate switching area beyond or a boat with a raised wheelhouse. A large pleasure yacht could do that, maybe, but not a speedboat. And on the North Island side, you might need binoculars from their waterside, which is only a thin strip of land. It was supposed to get a path as part of the park that was proposed, plus at least one area for a barbecue... but the city never had the funds for it."
"Gotham used to have such good dreams," she whispered looking at Barbara.
Barbara let go of the grating and turned to Lisa.
"Yes. It still does, but without the frills any more. People have to concentrate on keeping the rest of it together, now. Maybe, with a lot of hard work, those dreams may come again. But fortune now doesn't come on its own, here, like it used to."
Lisa turned to look back into the tunnel, which led to another interchange for the Outer Loop just beyond the slow curve of this exit.
Barbara turned her back to the door that was, like the others of its kind, apparently rusted in place.
Unless you knew where to look for the solenoids, relays, switches, and other things that had been put in and camouflaged years ago. There were secrets in Gotham, yes, and then there were those things merely hidden so well you couldn't find them. When in search for the first it was very possible to overlook the second. It was easy to assume the steel rods of more recent manufacture had been put in by the City and not someone looking to make easy use of entrances where rods would quickly slide away and entire doors swing not open but up. Much of that looked very rusted, indeed, but like in many other parts of Gotham, looks were deceiving.
* * *
The tunnels could no longer be avoided. Parts of this labyrinth were made to be obstacles and to move carefully through it would require days to find those interconnections that would allow passage at any rate beyond a mere creeping. Moving fluid systems could, at once, be a help or a hinderance depending on the direction of flow. The fresh water piping was not in its favor because of the pressures involved. Breaking one open would bring attention where none was wanted and would lead to places dictated by that pressure to a large degree. Thus those ways were closed to them.
Sewers had their own logic dictated by slope and flow amounts and at some point there was a cut-off due to hills and terrain covered over years ago. Drainage systems could be a fast traverse to distant places and yet be unconnected to a desired place just mere feet from it. Migrating through rock was an impossibility if it was solid, and much of this underland had just that as its basis. When one section of covered streets did not go far enough and the sewers reached a final start, they had to go down once more and came to the realization that the subway tunnels were often the only system that would cut through hills and rock to deliver them to a wanted place.
To avoid pumping stations they had already done this twice and were now faced with yet another section where old and buried hills still dictated drainage of a flat appearing surface. Yet this time they knew that they were close to a sought after space where intensity was now nearly thrumming with power. The passage through those tunnels was done with utmost care and respect of that other power that used them. More than once they heard the dread prowler of nothingness in the distance, seeking prey for eternity and they knew that to it, they were the prey. Most often they were predators, but they also knew that they were prey to those more powerful, more deathly than they were. They did not want to die for, to them, there would be no dreaming after that event.
They avoided the tracks and runoff drains and stayed to the walls, sliding easily over the walls and roof of the tunnel in the smoothest of motion that gave no hint to the complexity of the task. That first skill to be learned as a newly detached bud was something common to all their kind and learned in that state it meant they did not have to think of performing the minute tasks necessary to this form of locomotion. Only on the flattest, smoothest and slickest of surfaces did their kind ever have to pay attention to such details, and then it was due to the novelty of the surface only and then they could fall back upon any imparted knowledge from others of their kind given over their lives. These tunnels offered none of that problem only that deadly thing that could manifest on the tracks and scoop lives away to some place none could ever find.
This most stealthy and indirect of approaches was meant to avoid alarming any of their approach, and of that they were sure that more than one being had sentinals and wards in those most available tunnels and bridges. Each and together they knew that while they could manifest many fine and sensitive organs for everything from microscopic examination to the gently waves of gravity, that there was always some new way to alert and find that they would not know about until far too late.
As they moved a train devoid of life, aglow with its internal lights moved past them heading towards the lit station. Approaching that station they changed their positions to take up that space which was not lit in ways that surface dwellers required. Their bulk, however, made that passage slow with Shoggoth taking the easy way forward on the western side, led by Ngluioth, while Shaggoth took the easterly side which had its own train start into motion as it approached. This train held no life, either, and went on its way out and then moving to the tunnel so as to make its way to other destinations that were of no concern to them.
Thus it was that the youngest of them, that which was the most able at sensing hidden powers came within unobstructed view of that point above the tracks that was a nexus of such powers. Now it could begin to sort out just what this point of power was, and the first thing it discerned was that while different in both degree and kind it had a familiarity to it. This was not something it could define nor even name, if name it could give, because it had no direct nor indirect experience of it and even the shared memories they brought together could not exactly name this source. This was one that could be approached by it so that it could find just what this deep affinity was that called to it from that point of nexus. It had always understood affinity as being something that had sameness, concordance, but it had never experienced such attraction as this affinity had. There were, of course, traps of power but they were always told of being less intensity than this, far, far less and that was always a clue that the power so welcoming was only thin when intensity was not deep. With deep intensity, deeper than any it knew of or its kind had known for so long that the memories had died out, there could be no trickery for this was of a thing, itself, not some shade to deceive.
Even with the skill, wisdom, age and abilities of its cousins, only it could serve to differentiate what this power was.
What it was could not be denied either in intensity or attraction.
An attraction that could not be denied, could not be resisted, and would seal fates when culminated.
* * *
He slowed the vehicle on Cloister Lane until the administrative parking area for the old library building was in view, and he then turned into that and stopped the vehicle. The doors swung up on either side of it, letting the chill damp air that now had the first misting of promised rain flowing with it.
"Yes, here is fine."
Swinging his feet over the edge, Dr. Gotham stepped from the vehicle while he pulled himself up and out via the bar over the doorframe. Walking slowly around the vehicle he watched as Dr. Gotham shut his eyes and slowly turned.
"Now, let me see..." he said, holding his walking stick in two hands in front of him, he turned to the left and took three paces towards the extension of the Gotham Central building to the old library building. Batman watched as Dr. Gotham moved his right hand from the top of the stick to its mid-point and then the left down below that. The top of the walking stick moved down slightly and Dr. Gotham took another step forward until the stick was nearly touching the building.
"Yes, affinity holds but barely for the table. I don't know what drained it, that left no affinity of itself, and that would mean it happened in an instant."
The Batman shook his head from side to side.
Dr. Gotham deftly reversed the walking stick until the metal head was pointed down and he was holding it with his left hand at the top and right hand at the mid-point. He opened his eyes and walked across the parking lot towards the old library building, and then on the walkway that led in front of it. Following him the Batman watched the older man carefully but he was intent on something else, his footsteps never faltering as he walked over the concrete.
As the walkway went around the building so did Dr. Gotham, his eyes closed and his walking stick held in front of him. In measured steps he followed the older man, IR goggles giving no hint of anything nearby and only the overhead lights from the interconnector putting any visible light on the area ahead. When they were behind the building Dr. Gotham stopped and Batman saw that beyond the lawn kept next to the building there was the old set of trackways that had been salvaged years ago. There were still some signs and lighting standards amongst the concrete walkways that had once led between trains, but now they led to nowhere and the torn up ground that heralded the Interconnector destroyed all of their connections to the harbor front rail lines. He watched as Dr. Gotham stepped from concrete to lawn then to hard packed ground with few weeds and slowly rotting railroad ties. Over one rail bed he walked and then to the broken concrete path beyond. When we went to the second railbed he stopped and shifted slightly to his right.
"Ah, there. After so long I doubted... but affinity worked into stone is one of the hardest to destroy."
He lowered the head of his staff to the ground and was still.
"I had not thought to check. The earth can drain such things quickly, as grounding is just the same when there is worked affinity. Still I had given it protection and that is certainly there. Here there are not the hint of remains of that work to make the affinity deep and abiding. The working, yes, but the actual infusion is now gone and it was done to get every last drop. Only affinity can do that and earth affinity would leave a residual, still. No this was done by something that had affinity to it via my hand. A simple matter to close off that affinity..."
Batman stepped around to the right of Dr. Gotham who now leaned forward on his walking stick.
"Yes," Dr. Gotham whispered, "there. Space between and amongst. Now where...?"
Pressing hard on the staff, Dr. Gotham moved around it, until he was facing north. He then opened his eyes.
"North and black, chaos in spaces hidden," Dr. Gotham nodded as he turned to look at the Batman.
"You are quite correct and I have overlooked it. A juvenile Ngluioth, perhaps less than a century old, was summoned. I had not expected my warding to do that, but it has. Now it is underground, in that direction," Dr. Gotham nodded towards the north.
The Batman turned and looked that way and thought.
"So is Erin Norris. Underground, at least. And if she wants to get out of it and away from Gotham unseen by the police, she would go to the subway bridge."
Dr. Gotham nodded and then staggered forward, dropping his walking stick and falling to his knees, a startled and pained expression on his face.
He rushed to the old man's side, dropping to one knee in front of him and holding his shoulders.
With wide eyes Dr. Gotham looked at the Batman.
"It... expended... I... it's going to... contact... I..."
"The thing? Contacting someone?"
Dr. Gotham bowed his head, closed his eyes and shuddered and then gasped.
"It knows how to use such affinity," he whispered, "most dangerous of its kind."
Batman held him steady as Dr. Gotham shook his head.
"Can you get up?"
Looking up Dr. Gotham nodded and grabbed a hold of the Batman's arm as he stood up with him.
"Yes. It tried to ensnare me, but I was able to cut the affinity before it manifested."
Dr. Gotham shifted his walking stick around and brushed off its handle, then leaned on it as he let go of the Batman.
"Do you know where it is?"
"Yes, I do. It is at where I had previously been attacked in the subway. Near the old Cooper Station, that is now Wayne Tower."
Pressing his lips together Batman nodded.
"I have to get to it and stop it to save Erin."
Raising his eyebrows Dr. Gotham smiled.
"As must I. She is in this only due to a burglary, not through outright malice towards me. I will do as I can to stop it, although I have nothing prepared. It is much more my responsibility than it is anyone else's."
Behind the goggles Batman blinked then nodded.
"Can it be stopped? Killed? Sent away?"
Inhaling Dr. Gotham looked up into the sky.
"I doubt it. I do not have the tools necessary for such a dismissal," he lowered his gaze to that of the Batman's level, "but I will try. We appear to be on a similar course. I would travel with you to its destination."
Smirking the Batman nodded.
"Agreed. Can you walk?"
"Yes, yes I can and must."
He made sure the older man was able to walk and after the first faltering step Dr. Gotham pulled himself straight and went with firmer steps.
As he walked beside Dr. Gotham the Batman asked a question.
"I have something that might harm or even kill this... creature."
Dr. Gotham chuckled as they rounded the corner of the building heading back towards the parking lot.
"Guns, explosives, knives, bullets... none of that will deal with such as an Ngluioth."
As they approached the vehicle the Batman split from Dr. Gotham to get in the far side of it while Dr. Gotham entered the passenger side.
"What about a surfactant?"
The doors closed as the Batman strapped himself in.
"A... what?" Dr. Gotham asked.
"You'll need to strap yourself in for this trip. I need to take it at speed and don't want you hurt."
Shifting in his seat Dr. Gotham nodded and undid the harness and then started pulling the straps around to buckle himself in, having watched the Batman do it the process was not complex. As the buckles snapped into place the Batman started the vehicle and did a sharp turn in the parking lot. Then he did a hard over to the right to head back up Cloister Lane.
"Now, just what is a... surfactant?"