Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tangled Web–Chapter 12

Chapter 12

"But who are you people?" Lisa asked as she sat on the steps leading to the platform that was under the nexus point.

"More water?" Shlasuar asked her as he held the canteen.

She nodded and handed him a cup that was now empty that Maria had filled for her after she had a chance to recuperate. She had eaten some wrapped food bar Maria had given her, chocolate covered so there was that on the plus side, but the rest she had, was just that. It wasn't sleep, just relaxing and being quiet while the other two talked softly out in the intersection. She had played what had happened here over and over in her mind and the normality of the tunnels now seemed very alien to her as she had been expecting creatures of some sort. It was a mess in her mind, then, feeling cold stone with her hand, her cheek.... but was it at the Precipice or on the concrete here? The jumble and then fading as if time had slowed to a stop for her and nothing came through that. After it was very dreamlike until she was here, awake, back in the tunnel intersection with these two.

"Thank you," she said as he poured water into her cup.

Maria had her pack open in on the concrete where once creatures had been and now only normal runoff and the detritus of the tunnels could be seen. Looking up from her pack as she squatted next to it, she shook her head.

"We are not as you are, Lisa, although we are partially of your people we are not wholly so. We belong to The People of the Seas, beings some of you know about and call by different names at different times and we are Changelings amongst our People. Normally we have little to do with surface dwellers and prefer to be that way. Some decades ago your kind developed undersea vessels and then started a bombardment of our homes amongst the reefs. What cause there may have been was not sufficient to warrant that and there has been bad blood between our kind since then."

Lisa looked at Shlasuar and Maria trying to take in what Maria had just said.

"You don't look... well... different..."

Maria raised an eyebrow and looked at Shlasuar.

"I'm younger so it is easier and faster for me," he said.

"What...?" Lisa started as she looked at Shlasuar.

He seemed like a normal young man, and really showed nothing that she would identify as different about him. As she watched she saw his eyesockets expand and shift as his face widened and flattened, hair disappeared and his skin started to gain a different texture to it, with small scales appearing. Brown eyes soon shifted to yellow and the whites of them disappeared completely as the bulbous eyes filled the larger sockets. His arms became longer and as he held up his hand she saw the fingers shift and skin pull away between them. This was horrific to Lisa in many ways, the worst of which was that while not wholly inhuman in appearance he was no longer human at all.

"Do you see, now?" Maria said from where she was on the floor.

"Oh... that..." Lisa was shaken and looked to Maria, "What do you want with me?"

Maria took some cord from the backpack and then some silver tape and set them on the floor with a pair of scissors.

"We came to find those things of power that caused this nexus to form. There is at least one of them and signs indicate that there is more than one. Yet the power was expressed through people, and that means that the affinity is through them, as well. You have an affinity with the nexus via the Formless Ones, and you are connected to the source of the power through that. You were the strongest affinity to the nexus and when we found you, you were in your grave, yet not dead. That cannot be and if you died, then, the circumstances would be dire for all of us, for everyone. Now that is averted and you can now die normally."

She stood up with the cord and the tape and looked at Shlasuar.

"Grab her."


Dr. Gotham took the magic marker and closed the circle.

"That is where we are, or nearly so. This is a Gyre inside a larger circle of events which has spawned this inside of it. What we cannot say for certain is how large that outer circle is. If we are correct and the Wayne Tower is an icon of the Tree then Gotham is the land of one river and three, although inverted from history to be three from one. That would satisfy symmetry for a set of events."

Barbara had a mug of hot chocolate and watched from her chair as Dr. Gotham walked around the table.

"Look, mythology isn't my strong suit," she said, "so I just don't know about that."

She shook her head and looked at Erin who was standing at the table looking down at it.

"What I don't get is the Spider necklace. I mean it was the piece that Ronnie really noticed and that it must be worth a decent bundle, along with the ring, too. So how come we were able to find it? I mean its not like the shop is one of the better known ones... or even known ones... in Gotham City."

"I have no idea, Mrs. Norris," he said, "and that is disturbing as those that are supposed to find an item are the ones who at least visit here. Even if it is not in the shop I can often point a person to what they are looking for... casual thievery is possible, of course, and nothing I do or make can protect against it. Thus chance makes it inevitable it would happen."

"Chaos," Barbara said closing her eyes, "I'm coming to dislike it quite a lot."

"It is necessary, Miss Gordon, for you, for me, for everything that is here. Chaos spawned that which came to make what we are and if this were pure order we would not live having reached static perfection. We live with Chaos so we can live. What we can do is work with what Order there is and make things better with what little capability we have as individuals."

Erin looked at Dr. Gotham and shrugged.

"You know, if what was supposed to support all of this is broken apart, then even a Spider wouldn't be able to handle it, right? I mean if it had a web or something of... affinity... thats such a weird concept... wouldn't it have problems since its web is being pulled apart?"

Dr. Gotham nodded looking at Erin.

"Indeed, it would..." he said softly.

Barbara grinned.

"Right, I'm phoning home and going to head out. If its all going around the nexus, then that is where I want to be..." she looked at Erin, "...even though its not a place with pleasant memories. It is hard to be surprised there, and while I do like you Dr. Gotham, I'm getting tired of the basement of your shop."

"Me too," Erin said, "and I could use some new clothes..." she glanced at Dr. Gotham who raised an eyebrow, "... but can live in what I got for another day. Then I'll take my chances."

Pressing his lips together, Dr. Gotham nodded.

"Very well. Then we can at least go provisioned with what is here."

"You're coming?" Barbara asked.

He smiled and nodded at her.

"It is my duty, my obligation and my pleasure, Miss Gordon, to do so. And so far the tunnels have not proven to be impenetrable and, quite the contrary, my knowledge of the prior layout of streets has proven most handy when in the Underworld. So, yes, I insist on coming with you two. For this we can take what is necessary from the upper shop because our exposure will be short and anything that comes to your attention may prove vital."

"Oh!" Erin said, "Uhhh... the last time I did that..."

"You are invited to, Mrs. Norris. What warders I have for the shop will not harm you when I invite you to do this."

She shivered and nodded, then thought a moment.

"Say, I know you have some clothes upstairs..."

Barbara grinned and stood up, starting to make a list of things to get done before they left and the first was to let her father know that they were on the move.


"...oh... Guthrie... yes..."

Selina Kyle closed her eyes and tried to think of anything else. She couldn't think of England and didn't care much about it at this point even though she quite liked it as a destination for both normal and irregular transactions. Why just this summer she had gotten a lovely tiara and emerald necklace set at the Southfolk Estate...

"Mmmm... lovely my dear Cathy... so warm..."

The rhythmic swaying of the bed was distracting to say the least. They had disrobed in the bedroom some minutes ago and she snuck a peek out when they were both towards the center of the room to see the necklace in its box on the dressing table. The white lamp above it, done in frosted glass with oriental figures in black, glinted off its metal and gave a sparkle to the gems set into it. She pulled back after that and that little light had been turned off...

"OH!... Yes... YES!" Cathy said her voice rising.

'Please don't let her be a screamer,' Selina thought to herself.

The rhythm of the bed intensified as did Cathy's cries until they were muffled and she was obviously crying out in pleasure but, maybe, this Guthrie fellow was kissing her.... Selina shook herself to get her concentration back.

"oh...oh... I... oh.... uh..." Cathy was gasping out.

"Ah yes, Cathy... now for some more pleasure..." and there was a sound of shifting bed covers.

"ah...ahh... pl...ohh..."

"Such pleasure, no?" Guthrie said and then there was more shifting of sheets. "Now just a bit more... mmmmmm..."

"ahhhahhhhahhh... ohhh... ahhh..."

Selina heard feet on the floor and surmised it was Guthrie.

"And just a final bit... ahhh... such lovely lips..."

Cathy was making no intelligible sound and Selina could hear a shortness in her breathing. Beyond the 'oh' and 'ah' sounds there was nothing intelligible to be heard. Again the shifting on the bed.

"Now you are covered dear Cathy," Guthrie said as he moved from the bed.

Selina slowly shifted out from behind the dresses, and in front of them, keeping herself in shadow.

"ah... oh... ohh..."

"Such continuing pleasure, isn't it love?" Guthrie asked.

Selina could hear a chair shift and heard the rustle of clothing. The she saw his hand reach out to get his shoes which were at the far side of the room from the closet. Cathy continued to make sounds and as Selina's eyes adjusted to the low level lighting she began to see that there was a blue glow coming from the obscured right hand side of the room where the bed was. She was at a poor angle to see anything from the mirror and just saw the shadow of Guthrie cast by bedside lamp and more diffusely by the blue glow across the room. There was the slight squeak of leather and the beginning of a zipping sound that stopped.

"Really, you are just on the cusp of pleasure, Cathy. I fear that your world has centered on it, now, and very few can resist such pleasure that their own bodies provide like this."

Selina watched and then saw him pass towards the dressing table and there he turned on the light. She faded back a bit but continued watching.

"But you have been a fine dance partner, sweet Cathy..." he said looking over the table. He looked back at Cathy who was still gasping and moaning.

"When your breath comes back, Cathy... ahhh... in just a few will get all the air you need and with all that lovely air your body will get the oxygen it is starved for and then... yes then you will know pleasure. True pleasure. Unadulterate pleasure. For most it lasts half-hour. Sadly, for some, it is too much and that is also their lifespan, but you seem to be made of more pleasurable stuff. This is an experience you will have problems remembering, of course...."

"oh... ahhh.... ohhh... uhh..."

"Oh, you wish to give me a token of your affection? In exchange for the cigarette case?"

Selina saw him turn back to the table and pick up the Faberge case and look down into it at the necklace.

"Why, of course, such a near and dear piece to you as my old case was to me," he said with a grin, "and I am more than happy to take this little, wicked spider from you."

Selina's eyes widened.

Instinctively one hand slid to her whip. Her left hand slid to the small pockets containing her distraction pellets. Having been through all of this it was now a matter of professional pride not to let this mere amateur steal the object she had come for. All else was pushed aside in her mind as a ruby eye of the Spider glinted at her.

Guthrie's hand pushed the lid down slightly and it snapped shut.

The five small objects in the air coming towards him from the closet were things used by stage magicians to distract and amaze, and Selina needed them for just that purpose. They were on a flat arc towards Guthrie's feet. The end of the bullwhip was uncoiling and snapping up as it intersected the path of the objects and struck one of them that was deflected upwards. In an instant Guthrie Lewis was in a cloud of black smoke with three bright flashes in it, two at his feet and one to the left side of his face. The whip cracked under his hand and the case flew up from it into smoke. And Guthrie cried in pain snatching his hand up as the case dropped to the floor.

A figure to his left moved silently, swiftly, a dark wraith coming from the closet. A wraith that deftly half-looped the whip and reached down to the floor to snatch the case up from it and deposit a small white card with a orange cat in its place.

The figure was a professional and it did not let what it saw distract it, as it raced to the front of the apartment down the hall and then out the door, closing it shut behind it.

Guthrie bellowed and had problems clearing his vision and was coughing as he raised his left hand up to examine it and blinked to see the red mark on the back of it. He got down on his knees to search for the case and found the playing card that was the Ace of Orange Tabbies.

As he heard the door close he got up and sprinted down the hall, holding the card.

When he got to the door he looked both ways down the hall and thought he heard a sound to his right and raced down the hall. At the second intersection he listened and heard something behind him. As he got there he saw a figure disappear outside the left hand window and he ran to that and lifted it, and found that it couldn't lift because of a small wedge placed in its track. He pushed down and slammed the upper one down, dislodging the wedge and saw a thin rope whipping back and forth outside the window. He lifted both windows up and looked down just as the grapnel fell from above and out from the building narrowly missing his head.

In the darkness below he could see the form, the black form, that was coiling in the rope and slipping the coil over its shoulder as it moved.

"I'll get you," he whispered, "I shall not be denied."


"The club has been closed for an hour," the Project said.

Frank yawned and stretched in the passanger's seat.

"Give him another half-hour. If he is staying the night, then whatever it is he is doing, I don't think it can be all that important."

Gazing slowly to the right the Project stopped its motion.

"There are sounds coming from down the street."

Frank sat up.

"Really? What sort of sounds?"

"There has been one metallic on pavement sound with low noise attenuation and no cavity resonance."

"Any idea what it could be?"


They waited and the Project continued to look in the same direction.

"Footsteps. Running."

Frank looked over and saw a shadow being cast across the street by a streetlight and then saw the running figure of a man come out from beyond the building, and crossing the street at a fast run.

"Target, acquired. Guthrie Lewis."

"He's getting the keys. Start up when he does, but no lights. We will follow at a distance."

"Affirmative," it said watching Guthrie who now had his keys and ran to his Bora. When it started so did the Z28.

The Maserati Bora peeled out of the parking lot and skidded on the street, while the Project put the Z28 in gear and pulled out of the parking lot as the Bora raced out of sight.

"Something is going on," Frank said as he opened his jacket to make his M1911 easier to get from his shoulder holster and then reached down to open the case to the Thompson. He checked to make sure the 30 round stick magazine was in place and then pulled the bolt back and let it snap forward. "Locked and loaded."

"Affirmative. Target has slowed and is going into the alleyway behind the club. Paralleling on Draper Street."

The Project kept to a low speed as would be necessary in an alleyway and looked down a long cross alley and slowed to a stop.

"There is another vehicle backing out towards Exeter Avenue. Waiting to re-acquire Target."

"Not the same car, is it?"

"Negative. Compact to sub-compact. Target re-acquired changing course down alley towards Exeter. Waiting."

"Target on Exeter heading west. Increasing speed to remain in visual contact. Changing surveillance course on 32nd Street," the Z28 moved ahead towards the intersection at 32nd Street and then turned right onto it.

The black Z28 picked up speed and ahead of it was the Bora that turned left on Exeter crossing it. A few seconds later the Z28 turned left and followed.

"Target ahead, retaining visual contact. Unknown vehicle ahead of that, crossing 31st Street. Target is closing on that vehicle."

Frank squinted but couldn't get a good look out past the Bora and only glimpsed the other car as it went through the blinking signal at 31st Street.

"It's downhill from 31st," Frank said softly.

"Yes, the Mid-Gotham River crosses between 25th and 26th Street. Minor downhill grade from 31st to 29th Streets and then steep downhill to 26th."

At 29th street the first vehicle in the line swerved left, fishtailing badly but making it into the right hand lane. Five seconds later the Bora turned to follow it, with only minor fishtailing.

"Target on 29th Street heading south, in pursuit."

Frank looked at the signs on the street and then ahead.

"Should have taken 30th to get to the Interconnector on-ramp. I don't think that first car is in good enough condition to outrun the Bora even on the flats."

"Affirmative. Vehicle is out of production, low performance, economy type. Target overtaking it."

As Frank watched he saw the Bora shift across the double yellow lines, and the driver of the other vehicle slammed on the brakes and turned to the left on 29th trying to let the Bora speed past it.

"Target swerving wide on 29th Street, slowing heading south. In pursuit, slowing."

The lead car tried a left turn on Draper, started its turn early and spun 270 degrees until it straightened out.

"Unknown vehicle loss of traction, sudden change in direction, speed. West on Draper Street."

"That isn't good," Frank said softly.

"Target turning right on Draper Street."

As they turned the downhill grade became apparent as did the gap in lights between the two islands of the City. As the Z28 went downhill Frank could see the first vehicle was speeding up, but the loss of sped at the turn had allowed the Bora to catch up to it and hit the left rear quarterpanel to put the first car into a skid again. The driver desperately tried to steer into the skid and get onto 26th Street which was a single lane road. The car nosed over and the Bora screeched to a stop skidding into the other vehicle.

The Project slowed the Z28 as it came to 28th Street.

As they watched the Bora backed up and turned around to get its rear to the other vehicle, which had stalled out, and then began pushing it downhill towards the simple wooden barricade that said STREET ENDS. Although marginally lighter, the Bora had power even in reverse, and the other vehicle started sideways downhill.

"The other driver must really have pissed Guthrie off," Rock said, "but not enough to..."

The other vehicle hit the barricade and it splintered, then broke apart as the car being pushed went through it at an increasing rate of speed. Frank's eyes widened as Guthrie seemed intent on murder. Just before the compact car's wheels slid over the low curb he saw its door open and a figure in black swing up and over the door and roll over the roof of the car as the car tipped over the remains of the barricade and short curb and over the cliff into the Mid-Gotham River below. As the figure got its feet under it, it started sprinting up the hill.

"Get ready to head in and take a hard left on 26th," Frank said, shifting his seat buckle open and picking up Old Reliable in his left hand, and then shifting it to his right "because whoever that is, doesn't deserve to die like that. No one does. We are going to even the odds."

"Affirmative. New target, turning intercept, slowing, then lose pursuit," it said as the Z28 crept forward and then sped down the hill, then it's brakes were tapped at inhumanely fast speed to deal with black ice.

The Bora had shifted gears and was now climbing the hill after the running figure who only gave one glance behind and increased its pace. Only as it got to the intersection did the figure see the black Z28 coming to a sliding halt with its passenger side door open. Frank Rock took one step out and reached out and grabbed the black figure by its harness and pulled it into the car as he stepped back in. The Z28 roared to life and on 26th Street heading south, and turned a hard left to start climbing out of the valley of the Mid-Gotham River.

"Pull your legs in," Frank said to the figure as he shifted Old Reliable to his left hand and reached out with his right to shut the door.

He finally looked down at the figure in black with a satchel at its side, and a whip on its belt.

"Dear god, Selina?"

She looked up at him with wide eyes and swung her arms around his neck and kissed him as he hadn't been kissed in years.

"We are being pursued," the Project said as it downshifted and checked the rearview mirror which had a set of headlights from the Bora as it sped up behind them.

"What is our destination?"

Frank was finally able to break his kiss with Selina and looked at her.

"He's evil Frank. Just... evil."

Frank nodded and looked at the Project.

"Lose the pursuit. It can't be Vivian's..." he said raising an eyebrow and then looking at Selina as she shifted in his lap, "and we can't take the boat. That leaves Bruce."

The Project nodded.

"Wayne Tower. Affirmative."


Her reaction had been automatic, flinging the devices and letting the whip snap up as she took it from her hip. She had trained herself to be able to react quickly and it paid off now. She moved even as the impact devices went off, although she hadn't expected one to hit Guthrie in the face, it mattered little as the effect of startlement and pain were achieved and she easily saw where the box with the Faberge landed. Her replacement with a calling card was second nature to her, and those had been mass produced as a part of some game so she had dozens like it and there was no way to trace them to her. Moving in a crouch, snatching the box, pulling the whip in by half to secure it loosely, then standing up as she moved forward and slipping the box under her belt had been one easy, fluid motion. As she rose she saw how Cathy looked and even as she gasped she moved knowing that if she stopped now she might wind up like her, or worse.

She hoped that she wouldn't need to make it to the roof and left that exit as a last-ditch escape route. She would even try jumping to a neighboring building and coming back if she couldn't use her rope, but would throw that to the ground so that no one would think to look where it had been. It was easy to unlatch the bolts and then trigger the one that would slide home automatically, beyond the one in the handle. Then to her right and down the hall at a sprint, then a right again, to the window and swinging out to the fire escape and shutting the window and putting a thin metal wedge into its track to hold it in place. With the statue in the satchel she headed down and just as she gave a flick to the rope the window opened and the grapnel nearly hit Guthrie which, to her, would have been no bad thing. She put the image of what she had seen out of her mind and concentrated on her task of escaping, coiling the rope automatically and slinging it over her shoulder on the other side from the satchel.

The next steps were rehearsed as she ran: get to the Bobcat, pull out and down the side alley, then over to the Interconnector and to the South Island using the on ramp to mask her relatively low vehicle. It wasn't a fast car, that was for sure, but it didn't need to be, it just had to work. Guthrie wouldn't let her go easily, she knew that. If he had gone through so much to get the Faberge Spider, then he wouldn't let some thief just take it from him without a fight. She didn't need that.

Cold, bracing air kept her concentrated and she got to the Bobcat, slid into the driver's seat and turned the key.

The car wasn't turning over.

Hissing she tried again, and again the sluggish starter didn't get the engine to catch.

"Damn it!" she yelled and reached under the seat for a can of spray that would get moisture off the ignition wires. Fumbling around she finally got it in her hand and opened the door, popped the hood and then lifted it, spraying the vaporous liquid onto the wires. Back in the car and the starter turned the engine over but only two cylinders were firing. She shook her head, went out and shut the hood hoping that warmth would get the other wires dry enough to allow current to flow. In reverse the Bobcat lurched rhythmically.

"oh...oh... oh..." her memory of Cathy came to her in time with the car.

Blinking hard she turned right backing in a cross alley and down it, seeing headlights speed past where she had been and then red lights then white... then a car turning to follow her. She could hear a high performance engine over the lurching sound of her Bobcat, and thought of how best to lose something that was faster than her car was. Of course she used the headlights on their bright setting and hoped that this would at least cause Guthrie to slow down. As she pulled out onto Exeter she pulled the car hard over and straightened it and put it into drive and floored the gas pedal. That only increased the lurching this time forward.

"oh... oh... oh..." again the memory haunted her and she had to close her eyes for a moment to concentrate on driving, blowing through blinking yellow lights on 32nd Street, the Bobcat lurching as the ignition wires to the other two cylinders had only dried enough for a sporadic firing of them.

"Just a bit more speed... that should get them going..." she said to herself as the headlights in her rearview mirror shone brightly and were catching up with her. On the downhill slope from 31st Street the Bobcat's engine finally started to pick up a regular firing pattern and now she had a chance to put on some speed. She had the choice between trying to make 30th at moderate speed or gain more momentum and take 29th then go back up on Draper, losing speed but getting back on a decent path to the Interconnector and perhaps losing Guthrie on the narrower street. All she needed was some speed and distance.

The Bobcat swerved and fishtailed to get onto 29th and Selina worked the steering wheel to get the car to straighten out. She knew she had to plan for the next intersection so she didn't lose speed. She saw the Bora trying to get past on the left and pulled over slightly to stop that. Now it was just a quick tap on the brakes and a hard turn left and... the city started to spin around her and the Bobcat lost speed until she was finally able to straighten it on Draper. Going in the wrong direction.


Now the glowing lights of the car Guthrie was in were blinding and she couldn't even look in her rearview to estimate how far back he was. Then she felt something like a tap on her Bobcat's left rear and the city started to spin again. She put her steering wheel over into the skid to try and get some traction and saw the salvation of the narrow confines of 26th Street and thought she could make it. Guthrie had slammed on the brakes to his vehicle, sideswiping hers. She smiled as she saw salvation ahead.

Then the engine of the Bobcat died on her.

She looked down and saw a blue glow racing across the metallic parts of the dashboard, steering wheel and frame of the car. It was low level and extremely eerie and as she reached for the key to try and turn the engine over she got a shock through her leather glove and saw a blue aura dance on her glove... as it had danced under the sheets on Cathy Li and over her mouth and exposed breasts... a blue glow snaking and flowing into her, through her and Cathy grabbing the sheets with her hands, her head lolling back on her pillow with a wide smile and her eyes rolled back into her head...

"No..." Selina whispered remembering the ecstasy of Cathy Li, "not..."

The rear end of the Bora slammed into the Bobcat pushing it downhill from 26th over roads with patches of ice that formed from the fog that rose up from the Mid-Gotham River.

She looked out her shattered driver side window and at the sportscar that was now gaining momentum with her vehicle, pushing it sideways and down to the end of the hill. That slope ended in a cliff on Draper as it did for all but the waterfront wharf areas on the Sound. Desperately she struggled over to the passenger side door and worked to get it open. The blue glow had faded, and she braced herself as the barricade to the end of Draper Street came up. With the momentum the Bobcat had and with the power of Guthrie's car, the barricade splintered and cracked apart and the tires of the Bobcat jumped over the debris and the low curb. Using her feet she pushed the door open and used her hands to lever herself up and out, grasping the interior handle and flipping herself over and onto the roof of the short vehicle and then down its back glass. Years of workouts served their purpose as she slid down off the vehicle and onto solid ground as the Bobcat's other two tires went over the curb while the first two were out in mid-air. She ran, not listening to the screech of metal as it went over the cliff and into the river below.

Sprinting to get away from Guthrie she dashed up the side of the street her legs pounding the pavement, her boots getting good traction and her breath taken in short measures... like Cathy's as her hips moved under the sheet like there was an unseen lover still with her... save that she could see it...

Selina blinked at the tears in her eyes from the cold and the memory of what had happened to Cathy Li and in stark fear of what this man Guthrie Lewis could do to her.

Behind her the sportscar was now spinning wheels after it had stopped and Guthrie used the curb to stop his car and go to the lowest gear to gain traction. Selina lifted her head up as she saw 26th Street approach and then heard another vehicle slowing and turning in front of her. She stopped in fear that this would be some confederate of Guthrie's. She was trapped.

The expertly driven car skidded and the door missed her by inches and she could see two figures inside the car from the dim overhead light inside it. She saw the Cutts Compensator pointing just over her head and then felt a large hand, well muscled, easily lift her up and into the vehicle which then started to pick up speed.

"Pull your legs in," came the man's voice and she did so as he reached over and closed the door as the vehicle she was in picked up speed rapidly. She knew the voice and she knew the weapon and the fear started to pour out of her in waves.

Sgt. Frank Rock (r) of Easy Company had shown up with Old Reliable.

He looked down at her and stared in shock.

"Dear god, Selina?"

All of the cool, all of the professionalism, all of the recent memories flew from her mind and she embraced and kissed Frank like she had no one else before in her life as she was so happy to just be alive.

"We are being pursured," Tom said from the driver's seat, and Frank looked at her with surprise but an underlying hardness, a toughness that only war can bring to a man. That didn't stop him from returning her kiss, however.

"What is our destination?" Tom asked, turning the vehicle onto Cole Street and working the gears to get it up to speed going uphill.

"He's evil Frank. Just... evil," Selina said now feeling the fear that was creeping back into her mind from what she had seen of Cathy in just a short glimpse. That one, brief, look was one that was so vivid that she would be able to see it in her mind's eye the rest of her life.

"Lose the pursuit. It can't be Vivian's..." he said raising an eyebrow as he looked at Selina as she had her arms around his neck and adjust herself on his lap with Old Reliable held across her and pointing towards the window.

"...and we can't take the boat. That leaves Bruce."

Tom nodded once.

"Wayne Tower. Affirmative."

In all the ways she ever pictured meeting Bruce Wayne, Selina had never, ever pictured this as one of them.


"ah... oh... ohh..."

As Guthrie pulled his pants up he looked back at Cathy Li, smiling as he looked.

"Such continuing pleasure, isn't it love?"

He bent and reached out for his shoes, and then sat down on the edge of the bed to put them on. With that done he stood up and buttoned his shirt and tucked it down, then pulled his pants up and buttoned them, zipped up the fly and made sure the shirt was fully tucked in before snugging his belt down. After that he reached to the top of the swung open door to get his leather jacket and slid that on and partially zippered it. Looking over to Cathy he nodded, seeing how her hips continued to move and that the pillow he put under her knees kept her waist down so that it would take time for the fluids that were the cause of the induced plasma to drain from her body.

They were both experienced in the game of finding a lover for the night, obviously, and Cathy had proven to be a willing player in it. Of course the patterns of smoke from his cigarette as he moved it were also enticing, forming vistas and figures that the eye couldn't be sure were there and made one want to gaze longer at them as they disappeared into the air. Smoke was an easy thing to manipulate for him, and his mastery of it along with many prior encounters in his life meant that he had come to understand how people perceived such things in a way that even modern medicine could not readily describe. Show desirable vistas and then alluring figures, swirling in air, moving together just beyond what one could consciously recognize was all part of the game to him. He had found that even those who were unwilling in any normal setting soon became entranced and aroused through simple talk and description that seemingly had little to do with the smoke from a pipe, cigar or cigarette. With those who played and were already willing, things were much, much easier.

"Really, you are just on the cusp of pleasure, Cathy. I fear that your world has centered on it, now, and very few can resist such pleasure that their own bodies provide like this."

Once stimulation of pleasure began it was an easy thing to feel where those receptors were and then begin the process of slowing the recovery process so that the impulses flowed more freely. Induced plasma and ionization were not just for air, and it was possible to take nearly any fluid and ionize it so that it would interact with its surroundings. Of course such plasma could kill, most readily, as it found paths through seemingly solid objects, even those grounded out and made of metal, but that process usually disrupted whatever they passed through. Glass could melt in its frame and the frame only be lightly darkened if made of wood or melted if made of metal. Marble could fracture or flow, depending on its compisition, and such things as living bodies suffered from skin dissolving and fat oxidizing nearly instantly and yet leaving beds or chairs if someone was sitting, untouched.

That, of course, was a gross use of such things, and only warranted for rare situations. When there was pleasure to be invovled he had found that being able to remove the blocking of the nerves to stimulation would leave a freer path to getting to that part of the brain that experienced pleasure. It also resided close to that one for pain, as well, and in other circumstances he knew how to use those and leave no mark on a body. But with someone like Cathy Li, who was in good condition for her age, he decided that snatching her breath away by shifting some of the balance in her nerves for breathing was a better solution. He could, indeed, steal one's breath away and this was the easiest, gentlest form of that. He stepped away from the bed and started across the room.

"But you have been a fine dance partner, sweet Cathy..." he said looking over the table. He looked back at Cathy who was still gasping and moaning, seeing how well her body was coping with what it was experiencing. She wasn't the first one he had done this too, of course, and only in hushed tones did women ever speak about such pleasure.

"When your breath comes back, Cathy... ahhh... in just a few will get all the air you need and with all that lovely air your body will get the oxygen it is starved for and then... yes then you will know pleasure. True pleasure. Unadulterate pleasure. For most it lasts half-hour. Sadly, for some, it is too much and that is also their lifespan, but you seem to be made of more pleasurable stuff. This is an experience you will have problems remembering, of course...."

With all that oxygen the induced plasma would then be able to freely run through her nerves to the pleasure centers and then even orgiastic pleasure would pale in comparison to raw, undiluted pleasure of a type that even mystics could not find. Forming memories required some level of active cognition and of having the proper chemistry in play to form them. At some very base level the mind would retain knowledge of something like this and it would serve as the measuring stick against which all other pleasure would be measured and pale in comparison.

Smiling as he eyed the dressing table, he started across the room towards it.

"oh... ahhh.... ohhh... uhh..."

"Oh, you wish to give me a token of your affection? In exchange for the cigarette case?"

Raising his eyebrows as he got to the table and he saw the open case with the Faberge Spider necklace. Reaching out he picked up the open case and gazed at the necklace seeing how power and affinity twisted and turned around it, through it.

"Why, of course, such a near and dear piece to you as my old case was to me," he said with a grin, "and I am more than happy to take this little, wicked spider from you."

With this in hand there was nothing that would stop him from getting things with affinity to the Spider which were tangled in so many ways with it that getting those other affinities out of the way would prove tedious and time consuming as he had experienced first hand. A simple drive around the block with the case open on the dashboard would show him all the real directions of entanglements and, with that performed, the actual need for the Spider necklace would be at an end. As would it as he would destroy its form and beauty, ending its power forever. Those colors of affinity were much, much clearer now, with the Spider in hand, than they were even at the closest he had been to it before. It, too, used Cathy Li as a way to mask its affinity connections with its power and with knowing Cathy intimately and now with the Spider, that subterfuge would clear out once and for all.

He barely saw the glint of ruby red from the Spider's eye as his fingers moved enough to hold the case and make it close. The spring worked as it should and suddenly snapped down. Then came the blinding smoke, light and pain to the back of his hand as he lost touch with the case.


He snatched his hand up and was blinded by that smoke which moved around the plasma on his body and with the impact of something light on his cheek which brought a great flash he was dazed for a moment. Pain, light, and smoking obscurity that clung to him as he had not the sense to force it away at that instant left after-images in his mind and he dropped to the floor as he regained them and pushed the smoke from his body, while letting his hands search with a blue glow for the Faberge case that contained the Spider. His hands ran over a smooth surface on the carpet and he grasped it, picked it up and looked at the smiling faces of the Ace of Orange Tabbies, a mass produced calling card from a deck of cards left by someone who had been there for but an instant.

Hearing the front door shut he scrambled to his feet, hitting the chest at the foot of the King Size bed and stumbled, having to hold his hands out to steady himself against the wall so he would not fall forward. At the door he had to open the dead bolts and door lock and realized that not all of the bolts had been thrown home and that he had actually relocked them. He growled at himself in the blue darkness as he spent precious seconds finally getting all the bolts open and then opening the lock on the door handle. Pressing through the door he listened and heard something to his right and dashed down the hallway, passing an intersecting one to his right and then to the end to look down the longer hall that crossed the building. He heard something behind him and dashed back to the hall that led to the fire escape and cursed himself mentally for not thinking clearly.

At the windows he saw a shadow moving across the left one and tried to open it and, being unable to do that, pulled the top window down and felt it hit something that rattled the lower window as he did so. Lifting both windows up he saw the thin rope going to the roof above and, looking down, he heard the metal grapnel whistle by his ear and saw the figure in black in the alley below coiling it once the grapnel had hit into a pile of discarded trash. The figure with grapnel in hand started to dash into the alley as it coiled the rope.

"I'll get you," he whispered, "I shall not be denied."

He turned from the window and dashed back to the hall, then to his right and then left, pounding down the hall to get to the bank of elevators and the central stairs. There he ran down them to the first floor, came out and turned left and ran to the end of the hall and its fire exit, slammed that door open and dashed out and down the alley to the street. As he ran he felt the gentle breeze behind him and dashed across the street to get to the booth that held the night valet man. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his ticket and a $20 bill.

"Now," he said and the man nodded, turned and plucked the Bora's keys from the rack that held the few sets for the residents of the building the Golden Tiger Club was in.

"There you go, sir, have a good night," he said.

"Thanks," Guthrie growled as he turned and ran to the Bora, opened it and started it up.

No sooner was the parking brake off than the Bora was in motion, leaving a trail of burnt rubber and describing a flat arc from the lot to the street, Guthrie turned left and slowed only as he got to the Club and then, seeing that the alley was too narrow for the Bora, sped up to the next alley which he could drive down. There, ahead of him, he could see a low car first pulling forward and then backing up around a dumpster and as he gently increased speed the lights on that vehicle flared on, momentarily blinding him and forcing him to slow as he had to navigate between trashcans, piles of crates and then the dumpster, itself. Only when that other vehicle was on the street and moving away from him could he increase his speed a bit. At the street he turned after the vehicle and could perceive the very faintest of the affinity of the Spider and knew that this was not some coincidental driver out on some nameless midnight errand.

That vehicle was not a performance car, and yet the narrow two lane street allowed for it to be nearly over the center lines and block the ability to pass on the left or right, due to parked cars on either side of the road. That vehicle's driver was having problems with it, obviously, and knew that taking a wider street, like 32nd or 31st, would allow Guthrie to catch up and overtake it, to force it off the road. He felt the downhill slope and the pressure of the air that flowed through the valley of the Mid-Gotham River and if he had but a half-hour to prepare he would have brought this all quickly to an end. Sadly that was not to be and he had to concentrate on driving like the wind to make up for the lack of it.

Sounds of the struggling engine from the vehicle ahead disappeared as the slope and increased heat finally got its other cylinders going. Yet that meant little in the face of a thing like the Bora. Downhill they went and at 29th the vehicle ahead, some vehicle dubbed an 'econobox' with poorly protected gas tank, turned onto 29th with its rear end fishtailing as it did so. Guthrie shook his head.

"One good dance partner in three. Truly Gotham City is bereft of real talent. Time to bring this to an end."

He shifted and the Bora roared forward to try and get beside the other vehicle, but it had swerved enough to prevent that and Guthrie had no wish to plow into a row of parked cars. Forced back he growled.

The other vehicle picked up some speed and then tried to do a sudden left up Draper, but there was just enough black ice there to make the turn go into a spin and the driver corrected while the car spun but was now going west on Draper, not east. Smiling Guthrie turned easily to the west and gained on the other vehicle that picked up speed going downhill towards the Mid-Gotham River. Guthrie pursued and seeing, feeling how the air sat in the river channel and what that would do to the pavement, he gave the left rear quarterpanel of the forward vehicle a nudge as it tried to turn left on 26th. The brief metal on metal contact allowed the plasma to race to the other vehicle and interfere with its ignition system.

"Very well, I meant to use the Spider and then destroy it, but putting it at the bottom of the river will attenuate its affinity by putting it in a hostile element," he said backing the Bora up and spinning the wheel hard over and letting the tight turn radius get his back to the driver's side of the other vehicle. Using the power of the Bora's engine and the downhill slope he started pushing the other vehicle down the road and towards the barricade at the end of it. There was plenty of open space between the two islands of Gotham City and with a splintering of the barricade the other car went up and over the curb. Then just a bit more pushing on the slick pavement and the other two wheels went over it and the car went over the cliff.

His smile was brief as he saw the figure in black and the affinity of the Spider dash up the street heading towards 26th Street.

"Perhaps I underestimated this partner. Well, the dance must end, sadly enough."

The black ice that had aided him in disposing of the Bobcat now thwarted him in gaining traction on the pavement. Wheels spinning the Bora couldn't creep forward and he let the rear tires come to rest on the curb behind him and then went into 1st gear and eased the tires over the ice. With traction he was able to get the Bora going forward and up, watching the figure who had stopped at the intersection. There a black vehicle that he could barely see swerved to a stop and snatched the running thief into it.

"No! That isn't possible!" he said as the Bora gained traction and he started speeding up the slope as the other vehicle moved off on 26th. He couldn't make out what make of car it was, although it was in that 'Muscle Car' range, it looked like a more recent vintage and far sleeker than its forebearers. It had turned left on Cable Street and it briefly gave a profile from a setback streetlight.

"Hmmm... yes, and driven well, too. How rarely I get so many dance partners in one night! Why, the last time I had such good fortune was in... Austria... yes, Austria... ahhh..." he said turning left on Cable Street and working the gears to gain on the vehicle ahead. And he was gaining as they both went across 27th and then 28th Street but with the slope abating the other driver apparently had a better advantage with the drivetrain of the vehicle.

"Oh, my! Someone has done some work to that Z28. Most impressive."

At 29th the vehicle ahead turned right, heading west and Guthrie followed using the advantage of a lighter vehicle to start creeping up on the Z28. It was not enough to close to contact and at Baron Road the other vehicle turned left and used what slope was left to its advantage. Guthrie had been aware of the Gothm Interconnector looming larger but now the on-ramp sign for it appeared and the other vehicle sped up to get on the sloping, curving on-ramp. Guthrie sped up, clocking just over 50mph as he got to the ramp and did his best to keep that on the wide turn. The Z28 easily kept that and went faster and Guthrie held on to the steering wheel doing his best to get more speed from the Bora and starting to feel the rear end slide as he did so. He could still see it and it raced onto the bridge spanning the islands and he followed not more than 10 car lengths behind it. At the other side the Z28 continued at speed on the first off-ramp for the wharf.

"What is your game tonight, dance partner?" he whispered.

The Z28 took the off-ramp at speed and even went faster, its rear end slowly starting to slide away but kept in check by the driver. Guthrie had to grit his teeth and attempt something similar and kept as far inside the turn as he could, but couldn't add on that amount of speed without the Bora sliding to the side. The Z28 disappeared around the turn.

When Guthrie got down there he was faced with the fact he couldn't see the Z28 anywhere or even hear it, and the concrete divider forced his decision to either get back on the Interconnector or to go to the wharf and pier area of the South Island. There was no way any car could have turned to go in the other direction. With a touch of the wheel he chose the easier course for any car coming off at such speed, and headed towards the waterfront. In seconds he knew that he had made a bad decision as the somewhat smaller parking areas and access road showed no sign of the Z28.

"That is the oldest trick in the book," he said to himself smiling and nodded. "Very good, my unknown dance partner. You have called a different tune and now I must dance to that. For now."

The Bora rumbled over the railroad tracks that served the South Island piers and paralleled them. The Interconnector was still elevated and the next set of ramps a good two miles away. Slowing the Bora he kept an eye on the road, the piers and to the rail area under the Interconnector that ran against a set of hills to the north. He stopped and backed up to an old and now unused rail siding that apparently went into the hillside. He pulled the car onto the old concrete that went across the siding just after it went into the hills and parked the Bora.

"Now what is this? I didn't think that the wind had any way to get underground in this City, but perhaps I was wrong."

Getting out of the Bora after shutting it down he reached into his glove compartment for his flashlight and then left the car and walked over to the old set of tracks that were barred by a chained iron gate. Using his flashlight to peer in a slow smile crept across his face.

"Why, this isn't just a new tune, it is a whole new orchestra as well!"



Timestamp: 05 JUNE 1984 amended

Location: Wayne Tower Complex, Defense Systems, Basement Repair Bay

Speaking: Rose, Vivian

Present: Sgt. Rock, Frank (r); Wayne, Bruce; Pennyworth, Alfred; Fox, Lucius; Reece, Kyle; Connor, Sarah; Chapman, Ken; Lt. Carstairs, Martin (r)

Topic: Refit, repair

Sub-Topic: Z28 upgrade

"It's a decent engine, really and gets you more net horsepower than one of the old 400's, but you can do way better with the rear suspension. Bigger tires, too," Vivian Rose said ticking of items on her fingers, "struts, shocks, maybe a new camshaft, bore and hone the cylinders..."

Analysis Compression

Recommendations by Rose, Vivian: approved.

Work done by Team Borelli: Positive to new spec.

Work done by Alistair's Fine Autos: Positive to new spec.

LM1 engine bored and honed increasing horsepower and torque.

Original Borg-Warner Super T-10 four speed manual transmission, replacement of worn parts.

Differential upgraded to limited slip, locker type.

Later argument for 17" wheels versus stock 15" wheels mooted by time constraints, stock version kept.

Anti-roll bar replaced with one of 10% larger cross-section, custom made by Wayne ATC East Metals Group.

Rear springs replaced, increased foot pound rating and stiffness by 10%.

Team Borelli rating of suspension changes equivalent to F41 specification, special factory installed.

Overall improvements: positive results up to cold weather black ice conditions.

Untested conditions: snow pack above 1" inclusive of ice.

"I would not want to have done that myself," Frank said looking over at the Project.

Selina had hung on for dear life fearing that the car was going to slide or roll over or have something break. She wasn't a gearhead type, but did learn to drive a few cars to their limits but taking a shortened cloverleaf at nearly 60 mph was beyond her. She had hung on to Frank tightly, just trying not to slide to the door, the floor, the ceiling or into the rear seat, what there was of it.

The Project nodded as it took the final off ramp heading to 23rd Street after taking the cloverleaf one last time to make sure that Guthrie had been lost.

"Your skills would allow for these maneuvers at 45mph," Tom said.

"That wouldn't have gotten me away from Guthrie."

"No. Alone you would have depended on Old Reliable."

Frank snorted as he dropped the magazine from Old Reliable and pulled the bolt back while holding the empty magazine lever up, so that the live round ejected from the weapon and into the case. Old Reliable was then placed into it one handed and he slid his fingers to the snaps and snapped them shut.

"True. A bit drastic, but it wold have been necessary."

"Yes," the Project said looking over at Frank, "thank you for letting me drive tonight."

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