Long legs in black boots with finely cut black pants stopped in front of the Camaro Z28 for but a moment and then continued past, the boots making a faint 'click' with each footfall. Automatic doors opened as they approached, the glass only giving a momentary outline of the person with zipped up jacket and black driver's cap on, and the figure did not stop nor wait for the doors to open but strode through them with a purpose. Only at the bank of elevators did they stop and a gloved hand reached out for the UP button and the elevator soon arrived.
Inside the elevator Loren Seifert was tucking a compact into her vest of many pockets and gave an initial smile that then turned into a frown.
"Uh-oh," she said in a whisper.
The figure turned as it entered and hit the button for the LOBBY, and the doors slid closed.
"They're here, aren't they?" a woman's voice asked in a low tone of foreboding.
Loren looked at her and nodded.
"They were for awhile, at least. The Tower had another outage... didn't notice it at the range..."
After two floors the doors opened on the corridor going to the Lobby and the figure stepped out, taking a sharp turn right and going down the corridor.
Loren shivered and pressed the button for level 5 again, hoping to speed the rate of the doors closing.
Ahead of the figure was the main lobby and at the main security desk was Bruce Wayne, the night and day shift heads of security, Alfred and Lucius, with the security heads on the other side of the desk talking into phones. Alfred was on the far side of Bruce Wayne and raised his eyebrows as the figure approached. Lucius saw his stare and turned around, his eyes widening as he did so. Slowly Bruce Wayne turned his head and smiled, then had that slowly disappear from his face. He could not get a read on the figure who made a standard livery outfit for Wayne Corporation look like a stunning piece of fashion clothing, nor the set, hard face that had aviator's sunglasses giving a reflection of the main lobby where eyes should be. The sharp clicking of the boots sounded clearly in the lobby and echoed well on a day when Bruce Wayne had given all but essential staff the day off.
The sharply dressed Vivian Rose was unreadable to all of them but she walked as if any who dared cross her path or try to stop her would regret it to their dying day which would be today. Lucius stepped back from the security desk and Alfred pulled just a half-step away from it, leaving only Bruce Wayne holding firm at one step from the desk.
"Vivian you could take the day off..." Bruce started and then sidled slightly away as she unzipped her jacket and reached into it as she approached the desk.
Nathan Lenkowski looked up from the desk and set the phone down as Vivian pulled her ID chain from an inner pocket and put it down on the desk.
"Box 12," she said in a flat tone.
"Good morning, Vivian," he said trying to get a read on her.
"Now," she said.
Nate lifted an eyebrow, gave a quick glance to Mr. Wayne who gave a short nod and then stood up and went to a set of cabinets behind the desks, opened up one of them and took out a wire basked with #12 on it and slid that over the desk to Vivian along with the sign-out sheet. Vivian put her ID on around her neck, took up the contents of the basket, opened the box with the M1911 in it, slid the slide back to make sure it was unloaded with nothing in the chamber and let it slide forward. One magazine went into its well in the pistol, and then the pistol with its safety on went into a shoulder holster under her jacket, followed by two more full magazines, which also disappeared into her jacket.
"They're here," she said flatly.
"Ah," Alfred started, "to whom...?" he started but by then she had already turned from him and headed back to the elevators.
Lucius looked at Bruce after looking at the retreating figure of Vivian Rose.
"I'll take it from here, Bruce..."
Bruce looked at him then nodded, giving a faint smile and then tried to hurry after Vivian. He would find himself unable to do so and would be looking at a closing elevator door when he arrived at the bank of elevators.
"He's got Old Reliable with him," Nate said.
Alfred shook his head.
"There are those forces of Nature it is useless against, Mr. Lenkowski, and that is one of them."
Frank Rock looked across the table at Dr. Gotham who was shaking his head.
"There is a more than off chance he will go to my shop, Sgt. Rock. I must cover that contingency and see if any rescue of Lisa Choi can be accomplished."
"Splitting up isn't smart," Frank said, "and from what you have said he will get to the Museum as his final destination. That is where we have to be..."
The Project had its head turned to look at the entrance to the VIP dining area and identified Seifert, Loren as she walked in through the doors. She jogged over as it whispered, "Miss Seifert" to Frank.
Frank turned to look at Loren who was clearly worried.
"Hi, Loren, welcome to the Breakfast Club," he said.
"Frank, you have to get out of here. She's here."
Frank blinked as he looked at her.
Frank inhaled and went still.
"I knew I forgot something..." he turned right and looked at Selina, "Trouble coming. Shop or Museum?"
"Uh... Frank, I think I need to get back to my apartment and change. Then the Museum."
"Right," he looked at the Project, "You're on duty. Get a livery vehicle, decent and not flashy, her place and then the Museum."
The Project gave a single nod and started pushing its chair back.
"Affirmative, Sgt. Rock."
Turning back to Selina he said, "There's a back way out of here, Tom knows it. No more than two hours to the Museum."
Selina sucked her lips in then inhaled. As she exhaled she leaned over and hugged Frank.
"Two hours," she whispered and then kissed his cheek, "don't be late."
He gave a lopsided grin as she let go of him and stood up.
As Selina picked up her pack, Loren went around the table to stand next to her.
"I'm coming along, just in case," she said, "I like Tom too much to let anything happen to him."
"But I wouldn't..." Selina started saying.
"Knock it off," Frank said, "and get moving. Loren is good to go."
Selina looked lost for a moment and then simply nodded as she slung the pack over her left shoulder and followed Tom to the rear of the dining area and out the rear exit.
Erin shook her head as she looked after them and then back to Frank.
"Vivian seems nice, though," she said.
"I forgot to call her last night, tell her where I was. I told her not to wait up, but..."
Barbara smiled and nodded.
"Sounds like what dad tells mom on late nights," she said softly, "and it never gets her to go to bed on time. She might sleep on the sofa, but she just conks out from waiting."
"Ah, yes, Pilot Rose," Dr. Gotham said, "quite the aviator and driver, from what I have heard, although I have experienced neither first hand."
There was a faint clicking sound coming from the hall as Frank looked at Dr. Gotham.
"Who knows? Today may be your lucky day," Frank said as he slid from his chair and left Old Reliable in its case on the floor.
"Really? Is there some reason?"
Frank looked back at him.
"She will be your driver to the shop. If I survive the explosion, that is..."
A figure in a black livery outfit appeared in the doorway, the WC ID swinging just once on its chain, and then it aligned with Frank and walked with a purpose towards him, the gloved hands taking off the sunglasses, and a glowering stare would have turned any lesser man to stone, luckily this man was already of the Rock family.
"Frank!! What the hell happened to you last night?" Vivian said in a controlled growl, "You were planning to be back by midnight."
Frank shrugged as he looked at Vivian.
"They got changed, Viv. Met up with a compelling reason to loiter around. Got to see Guthrie Lewis try to kill someone and decided here was safer than your place. In the rush I forgot to phone you. That was my fault, sorry Viv."
That brought Vivian Rose up short. She thought that she would accept no excuse, but she also knew that Frank tended to cut out details and downplay events. If this was the shortened, condensed version, she knew for a certainty that he had not only a good excuse but one she would accept. All of that flashed through her mind and her emotions, full of steam and ready to vent were now trying to catch up with what Frank had just said.
"What?" she asked in a small voice.
"Yeah. I'll make it up to you, Viv, but you might as well sit down and get to know a few people a bit better. Then you can drop Dr. Gotham off at his shop, while I catch up with Tom, after making sure Erin and Barbara are headed home."
"Nope, not going home," Barbara said, "I phoned dad and he is glad I'm OK."
Erin slowly shook her head.
"I lost Lisa once, Sgt. Rock, not again."
Frank sat down and shifted the chair Tom had used so Vivian could sit next to him.
"Might as well sit down, Vivian. Time is wasting and I have got to be two places at once, but there is only one of me."
Bruce shut the door to the small office on the floor beneath the main floor, which was down the hall from the secure entrance to the Vault.
"Lucius, I'm glad you could get in early today!" Bruce said as he locked the door and turned to sit at the small table in the meeting room, which could barely hold 10 people, if the small round table were removed, first.
"Glad to, Bruce," Lucius said as he pulled his briefcase up and put it on the table and opened it, retrieving a notebook and using a pen to put the date on the corner of the sheet, "Once we got power back at home yesterday, I knew that there would be some problems today, but nothing like this."
Bruce looked at Alfred and gave a slight smile.
"I'm sure your call to him once Guthrie had left was part of that."
"Indeed, Master Bruce," Alfred said looking from Bruce to Lucius, "the events of this weekend are out of the ordinary and it takes some initiative to respond to them at this point."
Lucius inhaled after he finished writing down some of his thoughts on revamping security for the building and glanced over at Alfred.
"Losing the prime vehicle is only the least of the things troubling me right now," Lucius said as he started another column of items, wrote a few down and then sat back to look at Bruce, "and getting the prototype fully working is at least a month away. Safe enough for normal work, but not with the depth of capacity."
"It will serve for my purposes, Lucius. Today I need it to get me quickly to places using the subway system. With Lisa Choi... revived... by individuals that Dr. Gotham describes as, well, sea dwellers of some sort but able to pass for human and now in the hands of Guthrie..." Bruce shook his head, "I will not have her die a second and final time because I could not be there fast enough to save her."
"I should think the rest of the city is a more pressing concern, Master Bruce. By what little I was able to gather from the video feed from the conference room and by short attendance to it, this being, this Aeolus passing for Guthrie Lewis is in some form of communication with animated winds."
"That fits with all of the events we have experienced," Bruce started as Lucius took a copy of the Gotham Examiner from his briefcase and opened it to the second page which had the weather forecast on it, folded it back so only the national map with local predicitons portion was visible and slid that across the table to Bruce.
"Bruce are you familiar with the spring Blizzard of 1888? The Great Snowstorm?"
Bruce reached out and lifted the paper up and let his eyes start to pick out the details of the weather map.
"I've heard about it, of course..." he said slowly and saw the H's and L's that described weather systems and the lines describing fronts with them.
"It was described as a White Hurricane, Bruce, with very cold temperatures, freezing wind and snow drifts that blew the few feet of snow that fell in the coastal cities until the streets were blocked up to second story windows. That came to my attention last night during one of the cable news shows about the forecast for the Northeastern US and Canadian Provinces. That hurricane coming up the east coast is bracketed by two high pressure systems, a ridge over the Appalachian where the jet stream is forcing air up from the Midwest, and another system out in the Atlantic. On the other side of the ridge is a cold weather low that is leaving anywhere from a few inches to a foot of snow over the Great Lakes. The concern is that if the jet stream doesn't move or that high pressure system in the Atlantic shift, then these two storm system hit the Northeast some time starting on late Tuesday at the earliest and most likely by Wednesday night. The night before Thanksgiving. Air traffic is already snarled up across the Midwest with airports from Dallas to Chicago out of action for at least another two days."
Bruce nodded slowly.
"He said he would turn Gotham into a frozen necropolis..."
"Master Bruce, Gotham would be, perhaps, third or fourth in the rank of cities hit hard, with metropolitan New York City being a prime concern. If the region is under feet of snow and high drifts, it is New York City, Boston, Hartford and Trenton that will get attention. Then Gotham and, if the storm rages to them, Albany or perhaps Montreal."
"One forecaster said that because of the high pressure of the winds from the Arctic, the storm might stall out in the region, perhaps for days," Lucius said. "That was another reason I wanted to get in early today. Giving our employees the rest of the week off is vital if either one of those hits the region."
"Yes," Bruce said softly, his voice starting to lower, "and Aeolus is the one who can prevent this. I doubt that force, alone, will achieve that end. Yet if he intends malice towards us, Lisa Choi must be taken from him as she did not go willingly with him when he made this same threat."
"If it is as Dr. Gotham suspects, possible that Aeolus will go to his shop, then that would be a place for you in one guise," Alfred started, "but at the Historical Museum would that be the best way to deal with him?"
"That is the problem, Alfred. I cannot be at two places at one time, with one of them being Batman and the other Bruce Wayne."
Lucius raised his eyebrows.
"There is your personal motorcycle, Bruce, or at least the one you keep in town. Stow that in the back of the prototype, and you might be able to reasonably use the subways between the two sites to be both at your choosing."
Bruce nodded slowly and a faint smile graced his lips.
"I would prefer to remove my feelings about Aeolus on him physically, but that would only put us all in danger. If he goes to both, then it may be possible to thwart him at one place as Batman, and then attempt to deal with him in a civilized manner at the other."
"But he will remain the same, Master Bruce, and he is ruthless."
"Of course he is, Alfred. Yet he also has the nature of the Winds, which change directions easily."
"Well, there is one other benefit, Bruce," Lucius said.
"What is that?"
"You are the owner of one of the items he is after. And you are no slouch when in a superior bargaining position."
"So far he has not seen the affinity of Batman well enough to make a connection. I intend to keep it that way. And physical force is always a good distraction from the obvious but not urgent."
Maria watched as Shlasuar reached the end of the old iron chain they had found in a room next to the workshop for locomotives. Surface rust hid the old iron and the links were unbroken either by decay or rust, and the finger sized links were more than strong enough to take the weight of Shlasuar who had a plastic bag reversed over his left hand as he reached out to the slowly dissipating oil. There was more than enough light to see by in his natural form, and while his fingers had tiny scales, they were still nimble enough to pluck the extinguished cigarette butt from the surface of the oily water. He closed his fingers over it and reached his hand up to where his other hand was, with chain wrapped around his arm, and with free fingers he was able to seal the bag and put it in the pocet of jacket he had that was opened to take the changes of his form without damaging the material. It took short minutes for him to get to the turntable and take Maria's hand as she lifted him up between a place where one cross-member had fallen out from the turntable.
"Good! Now let us get away from this place as it still has a lingering stench of the Terror to it," she said with her large yellow eyes shifting to see if there were any darting shadows hinting at the return of that being.
"Yes," he said as he walked with her and as they reached the concrete both slowly transformed to more human proportions and put their clothing back on.
"Even with the Spider affinity no longer backed by its presence, can you still discern its affinity it had?"
He nodded as they walked out of the cavern and up the tracks that curved slowly to the main workshop of the subway system.
They stopped as they reached the end closer to the subway system, where the feeling of some sea air could be smelled by both of them.
"Here is good, I think," Maria said, "now we know where the Spider has been recently, to the east of here, and can discount those traces."
Shlasuar nodded, "They are the weakest now."
"It would take me much longer than you as a sensitive to find those traces, Shlasuar. We know it has been at one place and that is the shop of Gothamagylnyth, Dr. Gotham. That should be nearby if what any that we heard is true. Can you find that place the Spider rested for so long?"
Nodding, Shlasuar closed his eyes and started turning with his hands out. Once he completed three turns he slowed and his right hand lifted upwards and at a slight angle towards the elevated repair platform side of the vast space.
"There, just on the surface. Although it may have been a little below it for some time."
"You have some feel for his affinity after being so close to him, yes?"
"Yes, Maria, it is clear from the place where the Spider rested. It has his affinity and strongly."
"Now for the hard part which I have no knowledge of how to attempt but you might," she said standing slightly away from him so he would not be distracted from his extrasensory perceptions, "and that is to find the pieces the Spider wanted to be with that were associated with the shop. I expect there to be thousands of traces, but you might be able to find one that is of that sort."
He lowered his hand and looked puzzled.
"I... Priest I don't know if I can do that."
She smiled and closed her eyes, nodding.
"We might be able to find out by being at his shop, but I would prefer not to do that. I want little or nothing to do with those surface dwellers now. I will do as I must, but if they can be avoided it is better for both of us and our People."
Shlasuar gazed at her for a moment as she opened her eyes and he saw a gleam in them, even in human form, that spoke to him of wisdom across ages of their kind. She, too, could work power, but it left affinity that was easily traced and impossible to deny, and often had consequences far beyond the simple things that such exercise needed to accomplish. Shlasuar's gift, however, was free from his nature and while it taxed him some to use it, that it was passive and untraceable could not be denied.
Lifting his head, he closed his eyes and turned again with arms outstretched. After three turns he slowly stopped and pointed at a lower angle and a bit towards the sea, but towards the direction of the elevated work platform.
"There," he said softly, "an extension of his shop. And the Spider has been there, too," he said softly as he opened his eyes, "close to the sea."
Maria smiled as she looked at him and then approached him, giving his spear back to him to use as a walking stick.
"We can withstand the cold much better than the surface dwellers," she said softly looking at him, "and a nice walk along the shore would do us both some good."
"This part of Gotham has certainly seen better days," Guthrie said as he looked at the dilapidated buildings that lined the streets of the Shambles section of the City. "Why there are no real through streets, and it looks like just in back of these buildings they just demolished an entire neighborhood and left the debris as it was. Not at all a hospitable place to have any sort of residence, not to speak of a shop, but if one had to hide important items..." he trailed off as he turned left down another street.
Lisa's seat was semi-reclined and she knew that the Shambles was not a safe place to be at any time of the day, although it had become safer over the last two or three years with the Batman making the night less safe for criminals. Only the South Island Interconnector Bridge Tower could be seen easily from the Shambles and it loomed above it like a giant who had carelessly put a foot down and didn't care about the damage to the city below.
"Ah, there it is! The shop of Dr. Gotham, and it even says so, although it is not the proper spelling of curiosity," Guthrie sighed, "all part of the supposed 'charm' of the place, no doubt. Still, with so much of his power now in the shard the obfuscation and distraction wards on the shop are no longer that effective and the affinities I see are clear and distinct. Even to the point of the shop's affinity having a parallel connection off to the west, like the Spider affinity! This should make things much easier and I have already had a chance to visit the waterfront, so a drive along its facility roads should be no problem to the destination after this one."
He pulled the Bora into an empty space on the street in front of the shop and he looked over at Lisa, patted her knee and smiled, then shifted his hand to unbuckle her seatbelt.
"With just a bit of luck I will leave you here, safe and sound. A few minutes should do it!"
Guthrie undid his seat belt and opened the door to the Bora and stepped out on to the sidewalk and walked towards the front of the building and out of sight to Lisa. She could tell that whatever he had done to her was slowly fading as she felt a tingling pins and needles sensation just about everywhere below her neck, but no real sensation as to where her limbs were. This was something she became aware of as they went through downtown Gotham which, while not packed like during a normal morning rush hour, was congested due to signals that were still out, downed trees that needed removal, and cars that had been too damaged to be addressed during the weekend being towed to shops. She wanted to be away from Guthrie Lewis not because she considered him awful, which she did, but because he had given her a glimpse into the world in a way that was unsettling while beautiful at the same time. His barbarism at capturing her left her feeling violated, and no amount of solicitous attitude after that could balance the equation of how she felt. If he had meant her lasting harm, he had more than enough opportunity for it and had done nothing beyond that encounter at the WIST Station which indicated any ongoing malevolence. That he had some amount towards Dr. Gotham was clear, and leaving her behind at his shop may, in fact, endanger her.
She heard footsteps and saw Guthrie coming around the front of the car and then opening her door.
"All is well, Lisa! Now I'll just deposit you on one of those sturdy counters inside the shop. What little I've done should be wearing off in the next half-hour."
He lifted her up in his arms and she saw the building of Dr. Gotham's shop and a few of the other run down and abandoned buildings of the Shambles area. They passed the Bora which was gleaming in the morning gloom of clouds that were obscuring the sun, and were soon in the shop, itself. He laid her out on a rear counter near the cash register and looked down at her, then stepped out of view. In a moment he was back and she felt him lift her head to put a pillow under it, and then spread a blanket over her.
"There! Any after-effects will wear off in an hour and you will be on your own, again. I've taken the opportunity to remove the wards from the shop, and you will be able to leave whenever you want."
She looked up at him as he smiled, looking down at her.
"I'm sorry this was necessary, Miss Choi, but events require some expediency. Now I will bid you good morning, and leave you here, in the safety of Dr. Gotham's shop."
He pulled his coat up and then zipped it up, and turned to walk out.
A shadow had appeared.
"You're the other driver! But you're dead!" she heard Guthrie say.
There was a solid sound of a muffled impact, a gushing of air and then Guthrie Lewis flying backwards over her and into the wall beyond where he crashed into it and fell to the floor. A calendar, noteboard and a clock all crashed down with him.
"You are mistaken," she heard a deep, rasping voice say, and saw the swirl of a cape pass just above her head as the shadow passed her by. By reflection of the glass fronted cases she could see another shadow cast on the ceiling. A shadow with pointed ears, like those of a bat.
The mail had been the usual assortment of bills, advertising and a letter from some place in Bern, Switzerland that got placed in the INBOX box which was on supports over the OUTBOX box on the edge of the desk by the door to the interior rooms. The daily routine was something that she was using to mask her worry about coming in to work and having the entire place to herself, except for Chelsea and Conrad, which both required feeding and cleaning of the litterbox. Chelsea was amused by the little piece of paper tied to a string that dangled from the overhead vent which was just out of easy jumping range for her. No matter which sofa or table she launched herself from, the air currents always seemed to be thwarting her attempts to get it. Conrad had decided that sitting on the desk next to the telephone was the best place to be and settled down to stare at the door that was the entrance to the office from the exterior hallway.
Bills were put into a pocket on the wall for her to deal with later, and the uninteresting array of ads and small catalogs got a quick once over before being dumped into the wastebasket beside her desk. She had come in to make sure that everything was OK and had on a warmer set of slacks and shirt, with boots that she normally wouldn't wear to work except in the dark of winter or when her boss was out of town. The easy tasks were easy to deal with and as she had no reason to go to the bank or to call up any of the contacts necessary for the full range of her boss' business pursuits, there was only one thing left to do.
In a few minutes Chelsea grew tired of getting the dangling paper and headed off to other realms in the back rooms that promised at least a view if not a secluded place to get a nap. She walked quickly from the room, tail held high in the hopes of finding just the right thing to do or not do. Amy watched her and just shook her head.
"At least all the valuable stuff is out of easy cat destruction range," she said softly to herself and took up the newspaper and went past its headlines of local problems due to the recent weather, and flicked to the next page to take a look at the weather report for the week. Without a helpful weather forecaster to swing arms around in front of a big national map, she had to think for a moment what such a person might be doing in front of a large version of the map in the paper. The forecast wasn't nice. Cold weather was here for at least another week and a storm was coming. Slowly she inhaled as she read that it wasn't a single storm that might hit the Atlantic Northeast, but something that, while records were scanty, was a phenomena that might hit once a century. The minimal snowfall amounts were something that Gotham might handle, and that would only come if both storm systems veered in different directions over the course of the day. That got her back to flip back to the lower story on the front page and its report of what a confluence of a hurricane with a major snow storm coming from the arctic might do. She got to a story break and flipped to the interior page that held reproductions of black and white photos taken in the late 19th century.
Conrad jumped off of the desk and onto the floor and went past the open door to the back rooms.
Amy could hear footsteps and voices coming from outside the office and she folded the paper and put it aside with the weather page at the top. She looked at the door and put on her pleasant but somewhat stern 'where have you been?' face, which disappeared the moment the door opened and Selina appeared.
"...really that's as much as I really want to go over, Loren," Selina said as she looked inside the office at Amy.
"Understood, Selina. I'm not prying," came a woman's voice from behind Selina.
"Good morning, Amy, no time to tell you what's going on... I'm on a tight schedule no matter how good Tom drives. And this is Loren Seifert, Amy, she was a big help when I needed it last night. And Tom saved my life along with Sgt. Rock."
Behind her came a woman that made Amy sit up and notice as she looked like a professional in something that she couldn't describe, which made her seem very much like Selina, save for the added height and thin form which made Selina look buxom in comparison. And yet no one would ever doubt that she was, indeed, a woman. Behind her was the large form of Tom Octurian, a man she could never mistake for someone else and who walked with a steady purpose and set expression that was neither pleasant nor scowling, just firmly set. The fact that Selina had a backpack and was wearing clothes that weren't in her standard wardrobe started to tell Amy something had happened beyond a normal job the prior night.
"Selina? What happened?" was all that Amy could quietly get out as Tom shut the door behind him.
"I have a competitor, Amy. Not a thief and very dangerous. Extremely dangerous. I had the piece, took it from him, and then he found me and took it back. Once we are gone take Chelsea and Conrad over to the Feline Hotel, and then make sure Maurice and you stay home for the rest of the week. Do what you have to, but this could get out of hand. If I survive, I'll tell you all about it. If not, well, Frank or Tom can fill you in."
"But... but... what's going on?"
"I've got to change, Amy. I'm on a deadline and not going to miss it," Selina said as she looked at Loren and then Tom. Selina sighed and shook her head. "You know I was about to say something really stupid, but both of you have seen all that matters. Loren, I do some daytime work but... you obviously do more of it than me."
"Easy enough. Just don't go as... ah... well leave the costume stuff behind. You got a job, a contract and a reason to confront Guthrie. And with a bit of luck you'll be far away from him when it hits the fan."
Selina nodded then looked past Loren to Tom.
"Tom? I'm pretty far past modesty with you..."
"Yes," Tom said softly.
Amy looked between Loren and Tom and Selina and was trying very hard to figure out just what had happened. Selina never, ever acted anything like this. Not even once.
"He's a help, too," Loren said looking back at the Project, "if you need to fade into the woodwork, he is actually very skilled at... ahhh... infiltration in plain sight."
Selina blinked as she looked at Tom as she couldn't imagine him ever disappearing into a crowd. She had met stage magicians, of course, and had a certain knack for that herself, which was very handy on the social circuit, but the idea of someone with such distinctive features and size just 'blending in' seemed impossible.
"You are? I mean, trained in it?"
"By the book, Selina. Yes."
Selina inhaled and shook her head.
"Well, every bit helps," she turned to Amy, "once I'm gone get everything safe, lock it down here, and stay away until next week. You can do that in an hour, right?"
"Selina I can, but... please! What the hell happened?"
"Can't tell you now, Amy. Stay out of our way until we're gone," Selina looked at the other two and just inclined her head for a moment. "Follow me."
Loren looked at Amy and extended her hand, which Amy instinctively reached out to shake.
"Nice to meet you, Amy. Maybe we can all have a nice dinner together once this is over and laugh about it. Or cry. Either way."
Amy pulled back her hand from the woman with the firm grasp and easy smile.
"Sure..." she said softly as she watched Loren give a glance to Tom and then followed Selina.
Tom turned to look at her.
"Selina will return alive. I will make sure of that."
Amy didn't know what to make of that as it could either be a promise or a threat.
The RG250 Gamma motorcycle was his most recent acquisition, taking place on the day the model was introduced by Suzuki. The engineering staff at Wayne Corporation's Light Vehicle Division had been impressed and recommended very few changes to it. That was not the motorcycle he wanted to use, but it was the one that he kept downtown and it would have to do. It was in the back of the vehicle with the frame locked down to the internal hard point on the side of vehicle that allowed for cargo to be secured. Alfred had gotten a scheduled tire change-over to something with a bit more traction suitable to cold weather put on, and while that did effect top speed, no one in their right mind would even attempt more than moderate speeds in the current winter-like conditions of Gotham City. The vehicle, itself he parked at the Norwich Station which had been offset from the hillside the subway ran under and when time came for the City to change the street plans and build over parts of Old Gotham, Norwich went under.
So, too, did any other offset stations along the South Hills but Norwich had easy access to the Underworld due to the lowlands that it had been built in to save construction costs back in the 1920's. As the surface sloped up towards the Mid-Gotham River, the Underworld became tighter, and the numerous modern street lights had hatches to get to where the electrical system conduits were situated for them, and as the Shambles gave a final closure to the Underworld some of the tallest lights for the Interconnector required special access to the conduits which meant access to the Underworld via their hatches. He had seen the first story of Dr. Gotham's shop and that allowed him to orient on the buildings across the way and head down one of the specialized service accesses to the tall lights and take an intermediate hatch which put him less than a block from Dr. Gotham's shop.
"Easy to find, but difficult to locate," he whispered to himself as he went up the rungs of the ladder to the surface, "During the night I can find it, during the day it is diffuclt..."
He paused for a moment at the hatch and thought about that. His night forays were as Batman, his day ones as Bruce Wayne. He had thought that the general chaos of the Shambles disoriented him driving on the roads, but could it be something else? Was he really someone different by putting on this costume? He was the same man, but he sought different approaches and treatment in this duality. Was it possible that Dr. Gotham's statement that only those who need to find the shop can do so? Or was it something to do with Gotham, the purported presence that Dr. Gotham insisted lived in the environment of Gotham City, that was important in how it viewed him?
"Too many questions, no easy answers," he said lifting the hatch after using a small torch to warm the releases which had gotten stiff with the cold weather.
His ascent to the roof of what had once been a store but was now merely a warehouse, was fast, and his suit kept the bitter chill of the early morning air from him, even as his breath materialized in small clouds of vapor as he strode across the top of the warehouse. Long before the building had been a store it had been an office building, and before that it was a moderate sized hotel. All of that history was gone, now, the interior cleared away to its supports, ceilings removed and simple security lighting put in. On this frigid day before Thanksgiving no one was at the building which was serviced by its west entrance and all the rest of the windows retained a dark stain from Gotham's early 20th century pollution which was now etched into place.
Across the street was the shop and as he looked down at it he could see the Maserati Bora pull up in front of it, and Guthrie Lewis get out. His angle did not give him a good view of the vehicle but there was someone or something in the passenger's seat and he was sorely tempted to lower down the five floors to the street to get a direct view. Guthrie, however, was distracting in that he did something to the frame of the door to the shop and it simply swung open, without actually having touched the locks or handle.
"Dr. Gotham would never leave it like that," he said softly to himself.
He stepped back from the edge and took out the grapnel attached to his drag cable and secured it on a roof fixture. As he went back to the edge he saw movement on the roof across the way and lowered himself to peer over at the roof of Dr. Gotham's building. Guthrie was there and was looking around the roof, nodded to himself and went back inside, closing the door behind him. He shook his head not knowing what Guthrie was doing and slid out a small piece of flexible plastic from next to his dragline system. The belt was attached to the exterior of the suit which also had loops in it for a harness to relieve strain from ascents and descents. It was only after suffering an extreme back ache that Lucius pointed that out to him, and since then his back had gotten better and his vertical movement easier, but only when he remembered to install it. The plastic he placed on the edge of the low wall where the dragline would go and it would help reduce wear on the line and the plastic would look like nothing more than a piece of a broken sipping straw.
The descent now prepared he peered over the edge and saw Guthrie hurry from the shop and go around the car to the passenger's side and open it.
"Lisa," he said softly as he watched and a smile came to his lips.
Guthrie had taken her up in his arms, closed the door with his hip and took her into the shop.
Now it was motion, descending floors quickly and quietly, with a shake to let the grapnel fall to the ground by the corner of the building and to the northern side where the sound of its impact would not be heard directly on the street in front of him. The system reeled in the line and he pressed the grapnel tines down after pulling on its shaft, so that it fit snugly and compactly next to the system shell. He didn't run but walked with a hurried pace, so that the tread of his boots would muffle his approach. They had high traction but were somewhat soft to allow firefighters and rescue personnel to have solid footing where debris or liquids might make such treacherous. Today it served to muffle the sound of a man on a mission. The cape shifted in errant winds behind him but did not flow out due to the weight of its internal supports. When he passed the car he toook an oblique to the doorway and listened for a moment.
"I'm sorry this was necessary, Miss Choi, but events require some expediency. Now I will bid you good morning, and leave you here, in the safety of Dr. Gotham's shop," he heard Guthrie Lewis say and heard him shift and there was the sound of a zipper sliding.
With the first two footsteps he moved to be in the doorway and then stepping inside.
"You're the other driver! But you're dead!" Guthrie said as he saw him.
He gave Guthrie no chance to gather up his wits and react to him in any other way and let his fists do his talking for him. With fingers extended he gave Guthrie a jab to his gut and with the other he grabbed him by his collar. The first hand shifted to Guthrie's belt and with both he threw him across the room, over the counter where Lisa Choi had been laid down and into the wall behind. With a clatter items fell from the wall raising dust.
"You are mistaken," he said as he walked the rest of the way across the room and around the edge of the counter. It was only then that he realized his mistake. The dust in the air over Guthrie Lewis swirled and took form and came at him, picking up more dust from the floor, the cash register and obscuring his view. He was an instant too late to get his nose piece in place to let his filter pads do their work and he had not put on the mask that would allow even greater fitering of air. His IR goggles came down but they were too late for the dust that had already gotten to his eyes.
His eyes were irritated, his vision obscured behind the goggles and the first breath of the unfitered air had brought the one reaction that could not be fought.
That sneeze blew the nose piece askew and the dust was now irritating his skin.
The impact of Guthrie Lewis from the floor, leveraging himself up by the counter and using both feet to impact on the chest portion of his suit was something he was not prepared for, and while the inner suit distributed the force of the impact, that is all it coud do, and unbraced he fell backwards to a display case of books and other items which fell down on him.
Raising more dust.
He sneezed again. And again.
He shifted on the floor trying to stand up and felt Guthrie kick his side and that pushed him back and down to the floor where the whirl phantasm of dust swirled and danced around him.
"I would deal with you," Guthrie said standing just beyond the dust thing that was causing such problems, "but I have other things on my schedule for today. I suggest you don't follow me."
Sneezing and trying to get up to follow Guthrie, he stumbled on books to the floor. As Guthrie left he flipped the sign on the door to CLOSED and walked out as it shut behind him, with a gentle flair of blue around the door jamb. In a moment the Bora came to life and moved out from in front of the building. And still the dust caused him to sneeze again, but now standing up he used his right hand to get the small fire extinguisher from his belt. The cold, condensing air went into the heart of the roiling cloud of dust and it started to disintegrate and fall to the floor, spread out and settle. In a minute broken by more sneezes he finally got the last errant clouds down and none were in motion save by normal air currents.
Dusting himself off he walked to the counter and Lisa Choi he opened up his small medical kit and took out a an antiseptic sprayer.
With dust adhering to his skin and suit, his goggles not fully in pace and his nosepiece out of place under its guard he must look like a mess, but that didn't matter to him as he looked down at Lisa.
"I know what to do," he said in a hoarse voice, as he slid one hand under her head and started using the sprayer on the faint area of blue glowing skin on the back of her neck. He took out a sterile gauze pad and wiped at the skin and, turned it inside out and sprayed some more. With the last of it off he dropped the pad to the floor, put the sprayer into the kit and snapped it shut.
"Can you speak now?"
"I... yes...thank you..." Lisa said looking up at him and smiling, "You look... like you could use a tissue."
He smiled and nodded.
"How do you feel?"
"Its all pins and needles all over my body but, its not bad just, oooo..."
"Stay on the counter until you feel you can move, then I'll help you get up."
"Find a box of tissues, first. I'll... wait."
He sneezed again and went into the back room of Dr. Gotham's shop and finally found a box of facial tissues.
Aside from the sneezing he was happy as something was, for once, going to plan. More or less.
"Now for the hard part. Getting out."
In theory the drive from Wayne Tower to Dr. Gotham's shop should have been relatively direct. Yet there were still signals that were out and at least one tree that blocked the most direct route, and due to the non-arrangment of the Shambles even that direct route required jogging over streets and getting into the last of the maintained roads inside of it. Vivian hated driving there as one wrong turn could wind you up in a maze of partial streets, dead-ends and through streets that didn't go through to anywhere. It was only a few blocks wide and ten long, with some extension on the north side where debris was dumped 'temporarily' and forgotten about. She had hoped to get a stretch limo from the livery pool, but the passenger van was what she could get. She could drive it well enough, but its lacks of speed and turn radius were things that she could only accept and do nothing about. It was the van that higher-ups used and it didn't have bench seats but individual seats along the side, so if they had to go, it would have a few amenities.
"Now once we get past Cohen's Bakery, we take a left," Dr. Gotham said from the seat behind hers.
"Uh-huh, got it," she said indicating for the turn and then going down a road where the sign had been blown down. Those streets that intruded into the Shambles had that as a common artifact during normal times and the lack of signs was just another of the 'charms' of the overall lack of maintenance inside the district.
"Say, Dr. Gotham, how well do you know these streets, anyway?" she asked.
"Oh, well enough. I really do have to move from this area of the city. Perhaps I will go over to the North Island. With the Warrens and Shops gone the City has recovered from my previous stay there which was also a bit longer than I would have liked."
"When you last... what?" Barbara said sitting across from him, "You make it sound like you were there before it became the Warrens and Shops."
He raised his eyebrows and nodded.
"It is the way things are, Miss Gordon. That is part of the story that I haven't really told you, or Erin, although Sgt. Rock knows about it."
"Yeah, back when you first showed up with Martha's amulet that she found back in the '30's. Thought it was weird, but too many things pointed to it as a fact."
"But, Sargeant," Erin started.
"Frank, please, Miss Norris."
Erin brightened even as the nature of the streets and the city itself changed the further they went into the Shambles.
"Thank you, Frank. And Erin for me."
Frank gave a nod and smiled as he looked at her.
"But weren't you, uh, intrigued by it?"
Frank looked from her to Dr. Gotham.
"Anything that can do that to a man I want no part of, Erin," he said looking back at her, "It's his problem and if he needs help he can contact me. I figure its enough trouble to get accustomed to a nearly 50 year jump without being constantly bothered by others wanting to know about it."
Dr. Gotham smiled and looked out the front window as the van turned again.
"That's his Bora coming out of the parking space a couple of blocks down," Vivian said, "you can't miss that."
"From in front of my shop," Dr. Gotham said softly.
"Uh-huh," Vivian said, "Frank? Follow?"
Dr. Gotham looked at Rock and had a scowl on his face.
"There is something wrong at the shop, I need to go there."
"Pull in where he was, Vivian. Its a pretty straight shot to the Museum if you know your way around."
"Got that right," Vivian said, "we can just take the Interconnector and pull out at the Fifth and swing around the west docks and we are there."
"All right. Museum won't be open for a bit, although I don't know if that will stop Guthrie."
Vivian pulled the vehicle over, but kept the engine running. Dr. Gotham stood up and pulled the side door of the van open, stepped down to the pavement and walked behind the van. He was followed by Rock then Erin and Barbara. He motioned them to stop as he approached the door and looked in and found himself looking at the visage of a tall dark figure with tall ears looking out at him. Faintly he heard the figure speak.
"Lisa is here. Guthrie did something. How do we get out?"
Dr. Gotham opened his coat and took out his pocket watch and looked at the reflection of the door on the glass of the watch. He slowly put the watch away, pursed his lips and stepped back to look at the outside of the building.
"What's wrong?" Barbara asked.
He turned to her, shaking his head.
"Guthrie is more capable than I thought, Miss Gordon. He removed my wards and other powers to protect the shop in its upper portion. They have been recharged with the pool that he carries with him, but power orientation has been redirected and I don't know along which venues he has chosen. Still he overlooked one door in his haste and that is the way out. Unfortunately the wards that had once protected the shop for me, now protect it from me."
"He booby-trapped it," Frank said.
"Exactly, Sargeant. Still because of the nature of the wards I can open a door without going into the shop. And that is what I shall do. Once out I can then recall the power pools for the shop and see if Guthrie has left any surprises to be triggered on that event."
"That sounds complicated," Erin said.
"Only if he did leave something, Ms. Norris. Now I shall communicate with the Batman to go with Lisa to the lower entrance and wait there. I'll use an entrance to the Underworld behind the shop and give them a way out."
"Isn't the sea beautiful?" she asked looking out over the building below them and to the waterfront with its pier, where only one vessel was currently shifting with the slow swells. An overcast sky and light chill wind pushed over the swells but did not cause them to alter course.
"Yes, Maria," the youngster said looking from the waterfront to the large building set into the hillside beneath them, with its parking lot area to their left where stairs went down to them from their level, and then entrance pavilion in front of them, and then the three mojor buildings stretched on to their right. "I can still feel the affinity, but its... Maria the closer we get the harder it is to locate it. Now it feels like... it is no place and everywhere and nothing in-between."
Maria smiled as a breeze shifted in over the waves, bringing with it air that had been rapidly chilled after its travel over the Atlantic and then to Long Island Sound.
"Gotham'agl'nyth works at play," she whispered, "he is a Maker. There is resident power at work here, Shlasuar, and it is no easy task to Make with it." She shifted her gaze to him and spoke softly. "We have so few Makers with our people, but fewer still are amongst the land-dwellers. Crafters they have in abundance, to the point where they have machines to do such crafting. Makers are few. For us the sea provides so much that we have few things to Make, and here on the land, there is so little to be found that Makers of the past have exhausted much of what was available to them. Their Crafters are deadlier than their Makers by number. Always remember that, Shlasuar. Any single land-dweller has far more capacity to wield aspects of things we do not understand, so they are a threat. Their Makers are scoffed at, disbelieved and the frauds outnumber the true Makers to the point where they have forgotten how to Make things."
He looked puzzled as the errant breeze died down and the slow sounds of the waves washing over the rocks could be heard.
"But why do they do that?"
Maria inhaled and looked down to the road in front of the building seeing something there but not sure of what it was.
"It is the path of ease, Shlasuar. It is easy to do. Cleverness ranks at the top of all things for the land-dwellers. They can do things without understanding their import in other realms, and for all the cleverness they lack wisdom."
"Oh," he said and then shifted on the bench next to her to look where she was looking.
In the still air they could hear a rattling from the road below and Shlasuar's face shifted slightly, eyes growing larger, yellower, and a hint of scales appearing on his skin.
"It is an old lady pushing something. A metal basket with wheels."
They watched as the old lady dressed in layers of clothes pushed the shopping cart slowly in front of the building and then turned down a sidewalk towards the entrance looking at the clock that was set into the face of it. She stopped the cart and picked up a sack from it and then shambled towards the entrance.
An errant breeze picked up from the east and carried with it a sound that was hard to identify.
Beneath them the old Fair Pavilion Station echoed with a whining and screeching of damned souls in a deep distance.
The old lady got to the doors and pounded on them, yelling about something and pointing up to the clock. In a minute the door was opened from the inside.
A dark vehicle from the west came into view on the road in front of the Museum and pulled into the parking area, and soon a man and a woman emerged from it, and they went arm-in-arm towards the entrance of the Museum.
"I think the Museum is open, now, Shlasuar. We shall take the side entrance," she said indicating a smaller entrance that faced the old subway station.
Together they stood up and went to the stairs with Shlasuar going first. Soon they were at ground level to the Museum and entering it, and just after that a gleaming vehicle came in from the east and parked a few spaces away from the other vehicle that had the couple in it.
With short staff the Historical Museum on the Fair Grounds was open for the day.