Cindy Hamilton had a very rushed morning trying to get the Gotham Historical Museum up and running. Half of her staff wasn't going to make it to work either due to the weather that had rolled through Gotham City or to its current effects one of which was curtailing the city's bus network down to a bare bones set of routes. Being on the extreme western end of the waterfront meant that employees that could make it to work were those on the land side near 5th Street or below 10th Street, numerically, as these had suffered only a relatively mild case of the wind jets that had funneled through the unnatural valley system of Gotham's buildings and roads. The staff to run the boilers could make it in, and Lowell Conroy, the head of the building maintenance group, had ensured that heating and lights were available throughout the hectic weekend. While he was out, Mark Sutherland was overseeing the three men who ran the equipment that made the building run during the year.
"At least there wasn't any snow," Cindy whispered to herself at the visitor's desk in the rotunda of the Museum, "Lowell had to get out to the garages yesterday to get those plows running. And not a moment too soon."
She had put the Gotham Enquirer away on a shelf under the desk as she turned to look up at the great four face clock tower that stood in the exact center of the rotunda. It had been commissioned especially for the fair and it had been piled into a warehouse after it and sat through two World Wars and into the 1960's when the Historical Commission got the City to hand over the decrepit fairgrounds to them as the new site for the Historical Museum. The Commission would have preferred the Gotham Central Station site, but the city had already co-opted that for the Library. With the increasing overhead of staying so close to the business district and the threat of Wayne Enterprises putting up a high rise, the Historical Museum had found that their old building was going to cost far too much to keep running. The old fairgrounds, while extensive, were cheap as they had never been renovated and only used for modest commercial traffic during the Second World War.
From off in the distance she heard a shoof sound and with that she smiled.
"The steam engine is up and running, at least," she said to herself as another woman came up to the desk and rounded in front of it.
"It is, Cindy! Otis has a knack for getting things running and he is just as good at running the equipment as he is at giving tours about the early industrial era," the woman said, dressed in a modestly styled outfit that had a woolen dress coat and skirt, but silk shirt and stockings. Even though the building was not cold, it was not up to where it should be for the season.
"Louisa! I'm so glad you made it in today!" Cindy said turning to look at her, "The 7th Street Elementary School phoned early to make sure that we would be open. Most of the families around the district weren't hit as hard as just a few streets further up, and they had scheduled the trip months ago and wanted to know if we were still open for it."
Louisa shifted her glasses up her nose and nodded, "And Karen just made it in a half-hour ago, so with her, Otis, Charles and Sapphire we have enough people to just cover the basics across the buildings. I'll team up with Otis for the tour, and everyone else will just have to wander around. Marcus should be in soon, I think, he phoned just a few minutes ago to say he was stuck somewhere along 31st Street and Exeter. Penny said she is going to go over the back routes on the back hills until she gets to the west side and then come down and take the 5th. Eleanor's car got totalled by the winds, so she isn't going anywhere and I'm amazed that Marcus can find a way through what sounds to be an awful situation on the North Island."
Cindy shook her head remembering the long trek from 15th and Arsenal with the large number of DETOUR signs, hastily erected barricades and large trucks out picking up trees that had fallen over and tow trucks still removing cars from the sides of streets. The small mom and pop businesses were open, of course, and most of the small stores were, too, but looking into windows told the story of these family businesses having to rely just on family to be open.
"At least Charlie's is open," Cindy said as she heard the great clock's gears shift and both women looked up to it.
Someone was pounding on the main door to the rotunda from the parking lot side of the building.
"I'll get that, Cindy. Looks like one of the homeless coming here to get warm."
"We are open and back in the central building the heat will be near tropical once the steam engine is going."
"All right," Louisa said heading off to the door with the figure pointing up to the exterior clock on the building. There an old woman, dressed in layers of shabby clothing, was pounding on the door. As she approached the door Louisa could hear her complaining that the building said it would be open at 9 AM and it was 9 AM. And it was cold out. Of course the actual words were far coarser than that, but Louisa got the gist of it and smiled as she opened the doors.
"I'm sorry, we are short staffed but we are open," she said as the woman looked at her and a smile graced the woman's dusty face.
"Good! Its about time," she said in a voice that might be nice if it weren't for the smell of sardines and the rasp of being out in the cold too long. "Ima leaving my cart out here," she said as she hefted an old sack undoubtedly full of clothes and other items scavanged from the streets of Gotham City.
Louisa stepped aside holding the door open as the woman passed.
"The central exhibit hall has the steam powered equipment and will be the warmest building for awhile," she said.
The old woman shifted and looked back over her shoulder at Louisa.
"All right, dearie, I'll go there. Just have to pay the fee, you know."
"Umm, its a donation not a real fee. You can stay here free today."
With the hood of the coat still pulled up and the hat obscuring her forehead and nearly her eyes, the old woman shook her head.
"Never! You gotta pay in this life or you pay in the next."
"Of course," Louisa said as she watched the old woman shuffle into the rotunda.
After releasing the bolts for the doors and letting them shut, Louisa went back to the booth near the center of the rotunda and saw the old woman go from there and out towards the central corridor of the building. As she approached she saw Cindy looking into the glass donation box with a frown.
"What is it, Cindy? Got a steel washer?"
Cindy shook her head as she slid the bottom of the box out and took up a single coin from it. As she got to the counter, Louisa could see it was made of brass.
"A bus token?" she asked.
Cindy's eyes widened as she handed the coin over to Louisa.
Louisa could see the year stamped on the coin was mostly gone but started in 189 and it had the outline of the fairgrounds on it. On the other side it had ONE DAY PASS clearly visible on it.
"I haven't seen one of these come in for years, now," Louisa said.
"Me, neither. Only in our display case and a few others at different museums and as curios for collectors. Is it real?"
"Who would counterfeit it?" Louisa asked, "Cost more to do that than what it is worth."
"But where did it come from?"
"The Fair, of course! Probably just found along with other junk she dug up somewhere."
By now the old woman had disappeared into the Museum and other cars were pulling in. In a few minutes they could see the yellow schoolbus in the parking area and then was the rush of children coming in along with the teachers guiding them. Even with the cold and weather, the Museum was open like any other day.
He only took a short drive down the Interconnector and then used a set of intersections bridging it to head back to the exit that took him to the industrial waterfront of the South Island.
"Much better along here," he said as he took the curving exit heading west and then kept to moderate speed along Access Road. There were very few intersections to the surface streets that went over the Southern Hills as the City did not want to encourage tractor-trailer rigs to go on residential streets. Old sections of paved road had been cut off and barricades erected to stop such traffic, which impacted the price of homes on the south slope in a negative fashion and made them some of the least desireable single family homes on either Island.
Guthrie barely noticed this and generally ignored STOP signs that had no one waiting for them at the intersections. He passed one school bus near what would be 11th Street, which was crawling along at a snail's pace. The Bora hugged the road as it went past the bus and Guthrie squinted through his sunglasses as he saw the Gotham Historical Museum approaching.
"Why that is a very effective way to mask affinities! Even this close the affinity between the Spider and its companions is spread out, indefinite. Removing this would take me some days to do, perhaps weeks, and I do prefer not to work in snow drifts."
To him this was as disturbing as the joining of one of the Great One's sentinals at the Maritime Museum to the ward of Dr. Gotham. Although less complicated than that piece of work, this one for the Gotham Historical Museum was clearly the larger of the two and required far more energy than a simple co-joining of a piece to a trigger. That was delicate work, the latter was, while this was one of the simplest and hardest to rid powers available as it just doused affinity within its domain. Even the pieces that put this denial into place would be difficult to find and could actually be inside the zone of spread out affinity. Nothing lost its affinity, of course, but the attachment to it was diffused outwards until it was hard to tell exactly where a given affinity originated within that power domain.
He slowed the Bora as he neared the entrance and then blinked trying to take in what he saw. Or didn't see.
"The Void," he whispered as he pulled into a parking spot in the lot. "All affinities... disappear. No one has accomplished this before," he said taking out the box with the Spider necklace. He opened the box and his eyes darted looking for the affinity that must be there, but wasn't. "If I tried to put a power link along the affinity I would have..." he shuddered, "... been sucked dry. And then taken into the Void. He could not abolish affinity, but he could spread it out and put a Void connection for those trying to easily get to items via their affinity." He closed the box and pocketed it again as he tried to get used to the world as everyone else saw it, where things like affinity were not there to be seen and where power dared not manifest.
"No active affinities. Nor passive ones. And no power use here, either. Now I need to take a moment to remember just what it was that others said about the items that the Spider is linked to. There is no easy path for this, I fear," he said peering into the southern skies. "You do not ask me to do the easy things, do you?" he said looking at the sky and seeing merely clouds and knowing that the winds that come to this place would be shorn of anything beyond their physical being. Simple gusts of air would be it, and his ability to even try using power here...
"That is the greatest threat here, and it is both extremely simple and hideously complex. I must be in complete control of myself while here, or I shall assuredly perish. Very well. Today I am a tourist. Although one with a purpose."
As he opened the door and left the Bora he remembered to lock it. This place was not one where he could absentmindedly set it into a safe regime using his powers. In this place at this time even the simplest of things had become complex, and he had to insure that the skills and reflexes he had honed for so very long would not kill him this day. For once one is attached to the Void, their end is immediate.
"Now I can tell by the lines of affinity that it is two items that I am looking for... but as to what they are.." he said as he walked towards the entrance of the Museum and then slowed, "... they never did say what they were... ah, this will be harder than I thought it would be."
It looked at the display with the steamship cut-away engine which had descriptions of parts and indicated that the Central Hall and Hall of Vehicles held representatives of this type of work. This was a technology that used simple heat to boil water to vapor and use the expansive force to move pistons which transmitted physical energy while the heat was lost and water recycled into the boiler or through escape vents in case of over-pressure. Utilizing peripheral vision scans as it turned its head, an outline and heat signature was generated by sub-routines 100 meters away. Pattern matching routines followed as further color data was combined with thermal IR, and this three dimensional model was then compared to prior identified individuals.
"Guthrie Lewis is here," it said softly to its companion.
Loren leaned slightly to look back down the south side Exhibition Hall to the entrance of the Museum.
"The guy in the leather jacket?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yes. ID is at 78%, base model comparison."
She turned to look forward again at the description of the model.
"Good. Lets move a bit down towards the rear section of the hall towards the Central Hall and get past the elevator."
Together they moved, her arm around its back and his arm across her shoulders. They walked as any other couple would walk who were spending time together at the Museum. After they passed the elevators another display showed the then current rail system in Gotham City and had pictures of typical trains for local travel. Further along steamships were represented as well as the wharf system that was present at the time of the Exhibition. With a gentle pressure from her hand it knew to stop and they were near the middle point of the display and in clear view of the directory sign and rear stairs that led to the upper exhibit floors.
Audio receptors indicated footsteps in the distance that were soon lost as many other footsteps started filtering into the cavernous entrance rotunda along with voices of children as well as one or two adults. Filtering routines started that utilized resonance models of the hallway and background noise was filtered out via sub-routines.
"He is approaching."
Loren gave a slight press of her hand and then her arm dropped from its waist and its arm slid down from her shoulders.
"Ah, I thought I recognized you, but couldn't be sure!" Guthrie Lewis said as he approached the couple.
It turned and shifted out of the way of Loren as she turned to look at Guthrie.
"Hello, Mr. Lewis. It is good to see you again," it said as it stepped forward with a gloved right hand out to shake Guthrie's hand, while putting a pleasant but non-commital expression on its face.
"And me to see you, Mr. Octurian. Didn't I see you the other night at the restaurant?"
"Yes, I was with Sgt. Rock on a business dinner date he had for entertainment purposes. May I introduce you to my friend, Loren Seiffert?"
"Of course! By all means!", he said letting go of its hand while it shifted to the side and backed up a half-step to be next to Loren.
"Loren, this is Mr. Guthrie Lewis that I met while on a luncheon with Mr. Wayne."
Loren smiled and extended her gloved right hand to Guthrie.
"Oh! I didn't realize that you met anyone!" she said as she shook Guthrie's hand, "A pleasure to meet you."
He placed his other hand on hers and shook her hand with a smile.
"And me to meet you, Miss Seiffert is it?"
She let go of his hands and stood with a slight smile on her face.
"Yes, so far at least," she said shifting her eyes to look at the Project in a side-long glance.
"Ah, yes," he said as he took a half-step back and then looked between two. "So what brings you two here today? And where is that delightful Sgt. Rock?"
"The boss called the rest of the week off for non-essential staff," Loren said, "so I hooked up with Tom here to spend some time taking in some of the history of the City. Tom's from out west and doesn't really know much about Gotham."
It looked at Loren briefly and then to Guthrie. "Sgt. Rock is dealing with one or two people and will be here shortly. He promised to be here soon after opening."
"Really?" Guthrie asked and saw Loren looking beyond him.
"I think that is him with Vivian. Its kind of hard to tell with all the kids back there in the entrance area."
Down the hall came the two figures of Sgt. Rock and Vivian Rose with Frank carrying the case of Old Reliable from his left hand. Loren waved at them and Vivian waved back, hurrying in front of Frank to meet up with the others.
"Vivian, what is going on with you, gal?" Loren asked as she stepped forward to hug Vivian. They let go of each other and Vivian shook her head.
"Cammie is in the shop for at least a week. Windows are a frosted mess, so is the paint job. Something smashed into the rear bumper, so that has gotta be replaced. Had to hop a lift to work and then find it was going to be non-essential home time. Sucks being essential, but the boss gave me the day off as he isn't likely to be needing me for the week. Found out Frank and Tom got stuck there and Loren wanted to visit here, but Frank had some people to call... so I invited myself to a double-date."
"Better than the last one," Frank said as he stopped between Vivian and Loren.
"Good to see you, Mr. Lewis. Stuck in town, too?" he asked.
Guthrie sighed and nodded.
"I didn't get much sleep last night," he said with a slight yawn, "and thought it would be interesting to look at some of the history of Gotham. With the storm going through the Midwest, I won't be heading out any time soon until after the storm passes and the roads are cleared."
"Worse places to be than here," Loren said, "at least its warm here."
"Yeah, that's why I thought of the place. Also wanted to take a look at some of the steam tech."
Guthrie raised an eyebrow.
"Really? Why is that?"
"I saw an old motor launch that a guy has for sale a few miles from me. Its a converted boat, used to be steam powered but got a gas engine put in it after WWI. The steam engine is in crates, coated with oil and oil paper, so I'm thinking I might re-convert it. At least restore it if there is a market for it."
"Not that bucket of rust and rot!" Vivian said, "Frank that has to be one of the worst ideas you ever had."
He shook his head negatively.
"Nope. That was in Italy chasing after some Krauts trying to get a resistance movement going. SS, nasty bunch. At least you could decently freeze to death in France."
Vivian rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling.
Frank looked from her to Guthrie with a shrug.
"I'm just trying to get an idea of how much work I'm looking at. The upper part of it is all good teak. A lot to replace below the waterline which is where the cost is, as I understand it."
"Yes," the Project said, "and a high materials cost. The current engine can be 'parted out' to restorers. The local market is not one conducive to a profit."
"Still worth knowing about," he said looking at the Project.
"So what are you going to start with here?" Loren asked Guthrie.
"Ah, well I had thought to start at the Global Natives Exhibit on the 3rd floor which was part of the original Exposition. It promises to have at least a few items of interest, I'm sure."
"Probably later in the day for that," Frank said looking at Loren who looked at him and nodded with a smile, "transportation and steam tech first. Look at the old Westinghouse generator, too, in the center section."
"At least that will be warm!" Vivian said.
Guthrie smiled looking at her, "I'm sure it is. I find the air pleasantly cool and on the third floor it may just be a bit warmer."
"All right," Frank said, "that's a plan, then. Come on, lets head back to the transportation exhibits. Mr. Lewis, it was nice to meet you again."
Frank shook hands with Guthrie who nodded.
"And me to meet you again, Sgt. Rock. I understand there is a cafe in the center portion of the Museum, perhaps we can meet for lunc there."
"Sure, if we have time," Frank said with a nod.
"Very well! I'm off for the 3rd floor. Good day, everyone."
As he left there were various responses as the group shifted slowly in the direction Guthrie had taken towards the stairs. They kept to the steam launch topic until he had disappeared into the stairwell at the end of the hall.
"Where's Selina?" Frank asked softly.
"She's on the 3rd floor, Sargeant," the Project said, "if it is to the plan we agreed upon she is upstairs and has been watching from the shadows from the overlook in the rotunda."
Frank smiled as he looked at the Project.
"There is no evidence of a plasma field on Guthrie Lewis' skin."
"What?" Vivian said.
"It's not there?" Frank asked.
"No. It is not visible in any of the spectrum nor was there any tactile flow of it when shaking hands. The plasma field is absent."
Frank stood for a moment looking at the stairs and then motioned for the others to follow him out to the central section of the Museum which housed the steam driven system put in for electricity during the Expo. As they entered they could see down the main corridor that the school children were heading along the northern corridor to start their tour of the Museum. In the central portion of the Museum the sound of the engine was not that of it going at full power, but a regular choofing sound as the great arms to the pistons on either side of the machine cycled through their rotation.
"Where to next, Frank?" Loren asked as they got into the room and walked past the stairs going to the second story catwalk. As they went further in Frank glanced back until the third story catwalk was visible as well as the glass doors leading to the interior of the building.
"We will go up to the second floor and wait. If we don't come back to Dr. Gotham in a half-hour, then he will be coming to us. With Erin, Barbara and possibly Lisa."
"You found her?" Loren asked as they got to the stairs.
"Yeah," Frank said looking at Vivian.
"She was inside the store with the Bat," she said, "and Dr. Gotham had to go to the Underworld to open his shop. The Bat helped her walk out and after he passed her up the ladder to Frank the Bat just disappeared."
As Loren followed the Project up to the second floor, she shook her head.
"That is one mysterious guy, for sure."
Once they were on the catwalk Loren looked at the Project who was looking up at the glass doors of the third floor.
"Selina has found Guthrie. He was not expecting her."
All anyone else could see were shapes moving past the doors, above, a shifting of light and shadow. The steam engine made hearing anything at a distance difficult and even the analystical routines of the Project could not piece together a coherent account of what went on.
After spitting out the gum and the cough drop, peeling off the wax from her face, the splashing water on it from the sink so that the paper towels could wipe away the rest of the material on her face, Selina Kyle started to feel herself again. With more water to the face and using a soft toothbrush at the corner of her eyes and mouth her face was starting to take on its normal shape and complexion, no longer sallow but having been out in the wind and cold too long. Once she got a good look at herself she whispered, "he wasn't kidding about knowing how to blend in".
The rest of the blending went with the head scarf and a hairbrush to start removing the surface material that had been put on with a blow drier. That blow drier had served to get cornstarch in her hair which, he had said, would form the basis for 'stopping her scalp oils from interacting with cosmetics to make them easier to remove'. After that went the excess clothing, the stuff she kept in her closets to make up the few costumes she had ever needed for distance surveillance of those places where a pretty face could not get her in. With just a good, though small, camera and lens, plus small notebook she had all she really needed for any of her surveillance activities and she rarely tried to bluff her way anyplace with her costumes. And they were costumes to her. To Tom Octurian they served as the means to transform her from a good looking woman in her mid-20s to someone at least twice her age. For that he had access to everything she had along that line from her make-up table through her wardrobes, even those in the built in safe room, to her kitchen: out of all of that came the materials that Tom Octurian would use to quickly shift her walk, her posture and the visible parts of her skin to something that was more appropriate for the mission.
The last remnants of her modesty were lost to him, then, with Loren serving to help make sure that Selina was able to take to the changes.
The cornstarch would have to be washed out, of course, but the powdered talc and some actual flour that were blown in could, mostly, be removed by a brush. She damped down the brush and her hair started to regain its normal black color and made sure it was out of what would be her ponytail. From her bag came the half-mask as she wanted to keep her hair from being fully visible and allow her eyes to be somewhat in shadow. The darkened juice he had rubbed around her eyes, to give an aged appearance, had miraculously, washed off just as he had promised. A small cosmetics kit allowed her to put black around her eyes so that with the mask on she would have no glare and could see clearly in the dimly lit Museum.
She had remembered sitting at her dressing table as Tom used athletic bandages to go around her shoulders and then looped around her upper arms to finally be pulled forward. Stooping with that on was not a matter of wanting or not wanting to do it, but was a natural, if someone straining, pose.
'Your posture will now appear aged. I will further wrap your elbows and knees to limit your movement.'
By then she was in silk underwear that was form fitting, as she preferred, and while the wraps did shift some, they did not come loose. As he did that Loren cleaned fingernail polish from her nails and put on a clear, hard polish. A quick spray of some oil from the kitchen allowed her to then use one of the potted catnip plants to give a necessary dirt encrusted appearance to her nails with a bit of face powder added in. All of that to the direction of Tom, as he didn't appear to just think he knew what he was doing but actually had a faint notion of how to achieve it.
He had her chew up lots of sticks of chewing gum until she got sick of the taste of it, then he had Loren push that in along her gum line which raised her cheeks near her cheekbones and caused a swelling along her lower jaw. This made her lips push out and Tom used the lighter side of a nail file to chafe her lips before applying lip balm.
'Do you have anyone amongst the homeless community that you have heard enough to emulate?' he asked as all of that went on.
'I, uh, well there is this woman along the river road... Eliza or Liza... I kind of use her as she is near one of the places I... uh... well do transactions.'
'Good, start speaking as she does and describe her to me,' Tom said as he was heating a small pot over a candlestick.
None of it was painful and while it felt like it took forever to get her clothes on and understand that the small hand weights that she worked out with were in the boots to make them drag, when she looked at the clock less than 45 minutes had passed.
"At least Amy was scarce," she said as she went to an end stall and completed her transformation. Under the baggy coat and shirt, as well as baggy pants and stockings was her silk underwear, and with the clothing off the athletic bandages went, as well and she could now change into her outfit which was a black one. A black turtleneck shirt, which clung to her down past her waist. She really didn't like the black pants that Loren had leant her, but admitted that the extra material that was sewn into them helped her flexibility no end. They were of some cross between jeans, which they felt like, but with something a bit stiffer woven into the cloth. It didn't chafe and Loren had explained that it wasn't really rip-stop but would resist ripping and slow the rate that a rip grew as you moved. The old boots of 'Liza' went into the bag, and her shoes that were somewhere between ballet slippers and topsiders, went on. If topsiders were ever made with leather uppers and reinforced along the edge of the sole, these would be them and were custom made for her to be lightweight, give excellent traction and yet have anough rigidity along the edges to help her remain stable. Black socks were under those and the pants, which she could then pull closed with strings sewn in along the cuffs. Her standard lightweight leather gloves were something she could get nearly anywhere that had a decent store, and she made sure that Maurice kept her leather wear in good condition with special soap and dry powder.
To this went her standard belt and its 50' of black line and small grapnel. That attached to a thin but sturdy black strap harness which went around her upper thighs, along her back and then looped around her arms at the shoulder and fastened in front. Over that went a leather vest that she buttoned up. She carried her shorter whip with her, as she really found that it did serve more purposes than just the snapping sort that leaves lacerations. Much more useful was the Cat o' nine tails which she had picked up someplace in Great Britain. The piece was made to historically correct dimensions used on sailors in the Royal Navy, and it had served her well for a number of close encounters when she was expecting trouble.
"Well, trouble came looking for me," she said as she packed what was 'Liza' in the bag and cinched it closed. She hung it up in a janitorial closet outside the restrooms in the hallway and went to the front part of the Museum to see who was going to show up this morning and if Guthrie Lewis was going to make an appearance. She paced slowly, keeping out of the beams of light cast by the spotlights in the roof, above, and kept to the shadows in the main walkway fronting the interior halls of the 3rd floor. A yellow schoolbus announced children arriving and she scowled as this could be a real problem if anything happened. As she walked she saw a figure walking from a car in the lot and knew that it was Guthrie Lewis. Slowly she sidled to the south side wall to look down on him from the shadows there and kept still as she watched him. She saw children gathering by the bus outside and a black passenger van pull into the lot.
Guthrie stood looking around as the children started to file into the building to get out of the cold, and teachers could be heard trying to corral them along with the Museum staff which was gathering to give everyone an overview of the building. Guthrie stayed just long enough to hear some of that and then looked around, and she faded slowly back. He then went at a walk along the south wall and she turned and went along the same wall, but two floors up.
'We will stay along the south wall to wait for Sgt. Rock,' Tom had said after Selina had described the basic layout of the facility. He and Loren had taken the black Jag after dropping her off at a corner store to get the necessary cart while he and Loren gassed up the car. They would wait and arrive just after she did, and she had to hurry to make the opening of the Museum. She rememberd cursing as she walked behind the cart at how she couldn't move, how cold it was and how unfair life could be. Now, with a rueful smile, she realized that she did sound just like Liza did and that she hadn't been acting.
With flexibility returned she rejoiced in it, although she didn't do backflips she did skip a few times as she ran down the hallway, ignoring the exhibit rooms and going to the far stairwell to the western side of the building. She was happy to be alive, happy to be able to move, and scared out of her mind at the prospect of having to face Guthrie Lewis and take back what he had stolen and stolen from her in turn. Angry, frightened, exuberant and uneasy all at the same time, the emotions flowed through her and while she had been on many jobs that had death as a possible outcome, she didn't actually seek to antagonize walking death to get to her desired goal. At the top of the stairwell on the platform she heard voices echoing from below as they bounced off the marble interior. She waited and breathed slowly and remembered what Loren had said to her.
'Just trust yourself and you'll be fine, girl,' were the words and a sincere look reminded her of all that she had come through to be here today.
Her heart was no longer pounding so loud that she could hear it and as she relaxed her eyelids drooped and she leaned her head forward, the cat ears on the half mask showing themselves clearly, in shadow. Soon there were footsteps and she saw the reflections of shadows of a lone figure walking up the stairs. Not Tom and Loren, then. No, this was the only other person who it could be. She shifted to the marble that was wrapped around a support beam just beyond the stairwell and slid the Cat into her left hand and held it across her body so that the straps limped down just above the floor. The figure went up the stairs at a crisp pace and stepped out heading towards the sign to direct people to the different halls.
One glance confirmed who it was.
The Cat blurred into motion towards the figure's face and yet the hand was already heading back as the figure instinctively reacted to shield his face, so that they received multiple and painful kisses of the lashing cords. She flicked her left foot up in a snapping kick which hit just under the ribs and caused the figure to shift and bend instinctively to protect himself. The left foot now on the ground, the left arm shifting forward she then changed direction and brought her right fist into the side of Guthrie Lewis' unprotected face and he sprawled backward onto the floor and hit his head on the marble surface.
"Why, my dear man, you awakened a sleeping cat," she said in a soft growl, "but don't worry, I won't leave you like you left me."
She reached down to Guthrie's opened jacked and removed the case which was a clear bulge in it.
It took but a moment to check the contents and close it.
Before her legs were swept out from under her and she, too, was heading to the floor.
He became aware of bright lights and that his head was sore where it rested on a cool, tile floor.
There was a whir of a fan.
Shadows moved beyond his eyelids and he blinked his eyes and brought the source of the shadows into focus.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"You are in a restroom, Wind Keeper. We had to leave your attacker behind because it seemed personal and we have no interest in the object you neutralized."
Maria looked down at him as did Shlasuar, who also had a walking stick's blunt end resting lightly on his chest.
Guthrie tried to shift and felt the room cant back and forth and decided that he didn't need to move that much. He doubted he had a concussion, but a minute or two of letting his body adjust to being awake would be a help.
"Ah, did you? How did you accomplish that?"
"I used my stick to take her legs out from under her,"Shlasuar said, "she did not hear us approach from the mid-hall."
Guthrie blinked and slowly moved his head, and the room began to cooperate with his senses.
"And? Why rescue me?" he asked.
Maria went to the sink in the handicap bathroom and took paper towels out and wetted one and then wrapped that in two others. She returned and knelt beside him and patted his forehead with it.
"Wind Keeper you had proposed something to us earlier. The terms and position for us was poor. That is no longer the case and we have spent some time trying to find what it is that is here of importance and power, and realize this will be a difficult task."
He shifted slowly getting his elbows under him for support and Maria waved for Shlasuar to rest the end on the floor away from Guthrie.
Guthrie coughed as he moved and Maria took the damp towels and set them on the floor.
"Dr. Gotham has proven to be far more capable than I had given him credit for," Guthrie said as he stopped moving to let the room settle down again. "The Maritime Museum should have been a clear indicator of that. Here he has done what I thought impossible."
"Yes he has," Maria said getting a leg under her as she moved to stand up, then picked up the towel bundle and tossed them to the trash can set into the wall. "Shlasuar cannot feel affinity here and, in its place, is the threat of the Great Stillness at the heart of Chaos."
Moving slightly back to rest against a wall, Guthrie looked at Shlasuar and raised an eyebrow.
"So that is how you two got this far. And I had thought that you, Priest, would be the one to do such finding."
Maria shrugged in a movement that flexed down her back.
"That is not in my blood, Wind Keeper. I could find these things, yes, but through other means. Shlasuar was chosen not because of his relationship to our leader, but for the gift of feeling affinity. He would make a good Priest, one day. Or Maker."
"You are guardian and... know the people of the surface having come from them, yes?" Guthrie asked taking measured breaths and rubbing at the corner of his left eye with his left hand.
"Of course. But in this place as it is by Gotham'agl'nyth and his work, I will find it difficult to identify just which pieces are the ones to be protected. Already I have passed many by that are on display from many lands, and the number of items crafted, if not Made, is large. Our other companion who started with us was far more expert in these things, but he is dead, life forfeit at the Precipice. You can take his place with us if you agree on sharing and I to get choice of item if there is more than one."
He knew much of these people and that they had a sudden proclivity to violence to tidy affairs up if they went against them. Normally he would scoff at such a threat. In this place his ability to counter such simple, physical threats was limited. As the back of his head and somewhat sore back and aches on his face and hands told him. Gazing at Maria he realized that he might be in a better position to actually figure out what the items were and there was a distinct possibility that, if he could but get out of the Void space link that he could deal with these two. They were, however, close to the Sea, and that meant they, too, had resources and a ready avenue of escape once out of the environs of the Museum.
"Very well," he said slowly, "I will help you two and give you first choice of more than one. Can you assist me in standing? I'm still a bit unsteady and will need a bit more time to recover."
Maria extended her right hand and Shlasuar shifted the walking stick to extend his left, and he took ahold of their forearms as their strength from living in the depths easily got him to his feet. Standing he closed his eyes and placed a hand on Maria's shoulder. With two long blinks the room steadied and his hand slid away.
"I think," he said, "with just a bit of water I will be fine. And there are one or two things that we can do to narrow this search. Although it will not be quick, it will be faster with us able to eliminate much at a glance."
"Really?" Shlasuar asked, "But how can we do that?"
He took slow and small steps to the sink and then ran the water cold. Cupping his hands he bent over and splashed some on his face and then took small sips of the water by lifting his cupped hands up so that he could get some of the water they held. Repeating that twice he turned off the water and took paper towles from the dispenser to blot at his face. A quick toss of the towels into the waste receptacle and a comb appearing from inside his jacket allowed him to get his hair in order and ensure that there was no permanent damage to the back of his head.
"It is quite simple, really. We will look for part of Dr. Gotham's shop that is also here. They have affinity to two pieces as I saw with the Spider necklace..." he scowled and shook his head, "...which would be useless in this place for finding them in any event. Those three pieces had draw to each other because of the Spider and with it removed they are now free of its active affinity."
"Wind Keeper, what did you do to remove that creature? I can think of no way to achieve it as it is its own Thing," Maria asked.
Guthrie reached into his pockets and got his leather gloves out and put them on.
"Very simple. I sent it to where the girl had come from via her affinity from recent presence there. Sadly that now puts it to where it would not want to be and its secretive nature means that none will know that it is there nor attempt to recall it. Surely that would be a simple matter for you, Priest, no?"
Maria shook her head negatively.
"No, Wind Keeper, I would not throw caution away to put something like that in that realm. The chances of being caught up with it would be too great."
Guthrie shrugged as he looked at the other two.
"You are just, perhaps, not as skilled with such things as would be necessary. Now, let us start our search here on this floor as it was the one I intended to start with. Surely, with such a great fair there would be some items of real power gathered here, if only to get them out of their native lands. All we have to do is find a part of Dr. Gotham's shop here, and we will find the items, as well."
Deftly the pocket watch was slid into a pocket in his vest and then the suit coat jacket buttoned over it.
"It is nearly 15 minutes. We should proceed to the Museum," he said looking at the three women in the van with him. Barbara was at the driver's seat having taken over from Vivian once they pulled to the front of the school bus to let her and Sgt. Rock out. She remained there and let the van's engine idle to keep the heater running inside of it. Dr. Gotham looked at her and she glanced at the clock in the dash board.
"Another minute," she said softly.
"Yes," Dr. Gotham said, "and you three do not need to be with me. I recommend against it, in fact, as there is always the possibility that my wards to protect the items may not be sufficient to the task."
"You've mentioned them before," Erin said shifting in her seat which was across from Dr. Gotham and sitting next to Lisa, "but what are they?"
"Relatively simple wards, although complex to start they draw upon the native power of the land around us, separate from that which is Gotham, itself. Affinity cannot be removed but it can be, ah, diffused, shall we say. At this range to the ward, everything from the street to the Museum proper are so diffused that there is no directional affinity at all, save for contact affinity traces."
"But, he has a piece with such affinity, and I've seen it," Lisa said as she shivered and not from the cold but the memory of the view of Gotham from the park, "so he should have no problem finding it. Right?"
Dr. Gotham shifted his pince nez glasses from his nose and into a small case which took from his suit coat and then buttoned up his overcoat over it.
"Yes, Lisa, that is right. That is contact affinity and provides a direct connection between items at a distance. That is one of the simplest ways to get to an item, and the most skillful of individuals can actually transport directly along that connection if they have the power to do so. I had to put a rather nasty connection to that, which is nothing, to stop such things. It removes the final directional element for contact by being nothing and absorbing such affinity and giving nothing back. Anyone transporting along that contact goes to nothing, their life ended and removed beyond all saving. Even power use within its domain is sent there as it is a sink for such things, as well. Nothing cannot be threatened, nothing cannot be stopped, nothing cannot be bargained with and yet nothing will take all if one is so unwise as to tempt it. Beyond that it cares little for anything else and normal life is blind to it. This was a risky ward to put in place, but well worth doing for such pieces, so that within the diffused realm there is a clear cut place that goes to nothing. The difference is like that between sunlight and absolute darkness for those who understand it. Nothing cannot do a thing with the pieces, of course, as they depend on living things for expression. It is the living expression of power that is threatened, the source, when separate, is its own power seat. And there is a final, simple and passive defense of them in place so that accidental use is not easily done."
"You mean we're... inside those things now?" Erin asked softly.
"Of course we are, Ms. Norris, and uneffected by them, save that our living affinity is currently diffused all around the environs of the Museum lot and some of the nearby lands that it covers, as well. At most, if you are sensitive to such things, you will have a slight uneasiness and a minor feeling of being disconnected from things."
"That's what I feel, then. I didn't like the idea of stealing from your shop... it made me... uneasy."
Dr. Gotham stood up and put his right hand over Erin's as she was grasping the arms of her seat with both hands.
"There is no active measure here, do not worry. No protector or guardian to appear, just simple removal of easy expression of affinity and power. I believe that there is a bakery and small cafe up the stairs on Ascension Street. If you wish to be out of the Museum domain that is a good place to go. I recommend the cinnamon dusted donuts."
Erin smiled, then grasped his hand for a moment before letting go.
"I'm coming," she finally said, "I want to be there... I... ahh... well with Ronnie... we are kind of the cause of all this."
Dr. Gotham shook his head from side to side.
"No, dear Erin, you are not. This course of events was set long before your time, perhaps even before mine. Before Aeolus. Before the Winds. And it is that which just may win the day when nothing else can."
"You know something," Barbara said, "but what?"
"I suspect, Miss Gordon, and that is all. Here I just may be able to get a civil response from Guthrie Lewis. And all I need is that most powerful of all powers that nothing cannot touch."
"What is that?" Lisa asked.
As Barbara shut off the engine and opened the side door to the passenger van, Dr. Gotham lifted up a cardboard box, tucked it under his left arm and then looked back at Lisa who was getting up from her seat.
"Doubt, Miss Choi. Greater powers have been stopped with just a hint of doubt. And that is the surest weapon of any arsenal of any kind. Now it is time to meet up with Sgt. Rock and Vivian. And unless I mistake the vehicles on the other side of the bus, both Selina and Guthrie are already here and neither has left."
Cindy looked up at the small group that walked into the rotunda. The children were being led along the northern section of the first floor which had set up general exhibits about the Expo and the original Gotham Historical Society building, and then the merging of the Expo site into the new Historical Museum. They were quieter, although amidst the sound of Louisa and Otis talking about the history of the building there was a background murmur and some attempts by the three teachers to quiet a few of the children. As the figures approached she smiled recognizing familiar faces. She came around to the front of the entrance booth and walked out to greet the people walking in.
"Barbara! Dr. Gotham! Its so good to see you two again!"
"It's good to be back, Cindy," Barbara said shaking her hand and Dr. Gotham nodded in her direction.
"And that is true for me, as well, Mrs. Hamilton. Let me introduce Ms. Erin Norris and Miss Lisa Choi to you," he said stepping aside and looking around the rotunda as he did so.
"Its good to meet each of you," Cindy said, "we are very understaffed today, and we have about 50 school children here as their school had a scheduled visit and their building isn't fully recovered from the cold front that came through over the weekend."
Barbara nodded glancing at the north hallway and shifted from foot to foot.
"Cindy, we're here to meet some friends who got here before us..." she said looking back at Cindy.
"Oh, I do understand, Barbara. We've had a few people come in already and I wouldn't be surprised if they went to the Central Hall to get warmed up. We should be up to something closer to shirt sleeves here in the rotunda area in another hour and the main exhibits should be at least tolerable, since they don't have as much space to warm up."
Lisa looked up and could see where some displays were on the second and third floors by way of the roof spotlights shining on them, but beyond those the corridors were dimly lit.
"Its been years since I've been here," she said looking around.
"I only remember being here once, I think," Erin said.
"Well do take in as much as you can and I apologize for the chill in the air," Cindy said looking at them.
"That we shall," Dr. Gotham said, extending his hand to shake Cindy's, "And I just may have another item for you to display soon."
"Really?" She asked, "Is that what's in the package?"
"Ah, no, this is in exchange for it, an item from my shop. With some luck my contractual agreement will have yielded positive results to get the item I'm looking for."
He released her hand and took his walking stick from his left and set its tip gently on the floor.
"And I believe that we may be able to outpace the children to meet our friends if we hurry," he said to the others, "Good day, Mrs. Hamilton."
"Have a good visit," she said as he nodded and gestured for the others to follow.
Cindy watched them for a moment more and waved at Barbara who had turned to wave at her as she followed the others.
In a few minutes other people began to arrive outside, mostly families or individuals who were clearly from out of town. It was about a half-hour later that she saw a motorcycle pull into the area reserved for them in the parking lot and the figure in dark clothing got off of it and stowed his helmet into a rear compartment and then walked towards the entrance. She blinked as she watched the young man approach the building and sighed.
"Ah, to be 20 again."
The most eligible bachelor of Gotham City had arrived.
"There they are," Vivian said waving to Dr. Gotham, Barbara, Erin and Lisa as they came out of the Main Hall and into the Central Hall. She was on the second floor platform that encircled the Westinghouse generator which was now making less noise but more constantly as its boilers drivent by natural gas had gotten the system up to full power. Even with all of its exhaust venting up its smokestack which opened above the roof, the heat of the device was enought to allow everyone to at least open their coats and jackets. Dr. Gotham waved back and their group, hurried up the steps to the catwalk to join the others who were already there.
"Good to see you again, Dr. Gotham," Frank said as they reached their level.
"And me, you, Sargeant. Any word?"
"Met Guthrie down in the Main Hall. He seemed normal, no tingling or anything shaking his hand. Whatever was going on with him doesn't seem to be going on here."
Dr. Gotham nodded.
"It is a simple ward, the Void link, just dangerous to put in place."
"Right," Frank said turning to the Project and Loren.
"Selina Kyle is upstairs in the 3rd floor of the Main Hall. She had some interaction with Guthrie Lewis but the upper floor platform subtends too large an angle to visually identify what has happened."
"No word from her?" Lisa asked.
"None, Miss Choi," the Project said. "All movement ceased 10 minutes ago."
Dr. Gotham inhaled slowly and looked at the others.
"I think, after that much time, we can investigate. It is possible that they had a mutually aggressive contact and are both incapacitated."
"Good!" Vivian said cheerfully, "I hate standing around this thing," she said gesturing to the generator, "its giving me a headache. Lets go!"
She quickly moved to the next set of stairs and Frank eyed the Project and gave a nod of his head, and Tom shifted to follow Vivian.
"Its not like I can stop her," Frank said, "Tom has got some medic training and I always carry around a small medkit with Old Reliable," he said, "along with the cleaning roll at the other end of the case."
Together they filed after Vivian and Tom who were just reaching the next platform up between, and then continue up to the third floor.
"She's on the ground!" Vivian said and rushed out of sight followed by Tom who only turned and looked at Frank.
"Medical kit. Water bottle," before he followed after Vivian.
Frank shifted to the stairs and looked at Barbara.
"You have a water bottle with you so follow me," he said and then pounded up the stairs with his boots making a dull thud for each footfall.
By the time the rest of the group arrived they could see Selina Kyle on the floor with her mask slightly askew on her face, and that was being pulled back and down by Tom. Vivian was supporting her back and Frank had half of the case for Old Reliable open and was breaking open smelling salts to pass under the nose of Selina. She gasped and shook, and her eyes flew open.
"Did anyone get the number of that truck?" she asked softly as she blinked and focused on Sgt. Rock.
"Selina, we have got to stop meeting like this," he said with a crooked smile on his face.