Looking under the vehicle and reaching to grasp the tie of the tarp took only seconds and then securing it was a simple matter.
"Do you have it?" came the voice of Vivian Rose.
"Yes, I do," was one of a number of selections of responses, and an appropriate one.
"Good, lets get inside! It's freezing out here!"
Standing removed the large subtending angle of the vehicle from vision and increased field depth for gauging distance.
"The temperature is at fifteen degrees above zero."
"A nasty surprise, like Bastogne, only without the Nazis and the body count."
"It did a number on the Rolls, that's for sure," Vivian said in the direct line of vision with Frank Rock to the right and front of the vehicle, "and I'm not staying out here longer than I have to. Even in this garage, its too damned cold."
"Sounds fine with me, Vivian," Rock said coming around the side of the vehicle, as did Vivian.
Turning to his left he saw out to the opening of the car garage and saw a figure walk across it in the distance. Watching it noted that the figure held at a constant temperature around it as it walked into the wind. Vivian moved across the field of view and then to the left and out of view. The walking figure moved from view as well. Footsteps came up from behind, stepping next to him.
"Is something wrong?"
"Unknown," turning, Frank Rock came into view, "not enough data to evaluate."
Rock raised an eyebrow and nodded as much of the world and how it operated was unknown to the being they called Tom Octurian.
"If you need to get more data to evaluate, I'll go with you."
Evaluating the outside temperature, the insulation value of Frank's coat, time of day, lack of food, and distances to cover it came to a conclusion from its decision tree.
"Not at this time, Sergeant."
"Right, then lets get inside and have lunch."
Turning to follow Rock the view was one of Vivian holding open the door into the Pendleton for them, and a shift in thermal gradients as warm air exited out the door and cool air infiltrated. Vivian's stationary thermal profile as well as Rock's one in motion were within all normal ranges and margins for the activity indicated, which confirmed normal localized atmospheric conditions. Holding the door for the other two, turning right, and the view was one of a long hotel hallway that ended in the main entrance area with the entrance to the restaurant beyond that.
"I have never experienced any wind like that," Vivian said leading the way, "I mean, really, did you see the condition of the rear window? And the paint? Nothing should be able to do that to automtive paint."
Walking along side her, Frank Rock gave Vivian a side-long glance.
"Nothing outside of a dust storm in the Sahara, at least. I've seen Stuart and Sherman tanks with their paint etched from a sandstorm. Panzer III's and blast shields for 88's, as well, just like that. Don't know how long it took to get the paint and primer off, but a dust storm can get you down to bare metal if the wind is funneled right. Nasty."
The database on dust storms was scanty with bare references to them and their effects. They had not been mission critical and were eliminated. A minimal database from the repair software held even less material as it was designed for basic full-system analysis and hasty field repair. Fluid dynamics, Stoke's Law, and various other fundamental parts of everyday physics were in the database and the minimal modeling system yielded up min-max solutions for a given set of parameters that suffered from multiple unknown variables. Gotham City was full of unknown variables that could not be covered by standard parametric modeling equations.
"God, Frank! Just how the hell did you survive that war?"
Shrugging, Frank looked ahead.
"Yeah, yeah... couldn't do it without the rest of Easy and the medics and doctors..." Vivian said trying to cast her voice a bit lower like Frank Rock's, "...I think it was because you were just too tough to stay dead."
"I'm surprised that Rolls Royce still does the old fashioned kind of service like this."
"What? You mean the 'you'll never see one of our cars dead on the side of the road' thing?"
"Uh-huh. Thought they jettisoned that years ago."
"Nope. That Silver Ghost is special. It was Bruce's dad's car, and Alfred said that when the title went to the estate he made sure that the iron-clad guarantee went with it. Whip out the card, call the number and no matter where you are on the planet, you put the cover over the car and within 24 hours they will have someone there. Guar-an-teed. Full fix-up included, too, unless you were a dipstick and married it to a tree or something like that. Won't do a full replacement..." she shook her head thinking about what that would cost for a vintage vehicle, "... but anything short of that? Yup. Bruce's dad bought the best, at least in that."
"Thomas was a good man," Frank said.
They turned the corner and went into the marble entrance of the hotel, and saw Mr. Wayne at the far end of the hotel reception desk talking with a man.
It was the same figure that had been outside, walking past the garage entrance. From far across the room their soft voices could be heard after attuning to dynamics of the room and using audio routines to compile late arriving sounds and Fourier Transform routines to remove noise and distortion.
"... ah yes, I've owned one of their later models. Some years ago now and decided that I needed to have something a bit peppier. Nothing against Rolls, you do understand?"
"Of course," Bruce said, "and I'm sure I've picked up at least one Maserati at some time, I think after I was done with the Alfa. Of course when I saw that Bugatti come up at Christies I needed the garage space..."
Bruce sighed and shook his head.
The other man nodded.
"Yes, I only have room for two cars, and if I'm out for a trip, then the Bora is my choice. The Sirocco is purely for work purposes."
"Really? And what line of work are you in?"
The man was about to answer when Vivian spoke up as they were now two-thirds of the way across the entrance.
"Say, Mr. Wayne, we gots the Ghostie all sheetied."
Bruce turned to look at the three as they approached and smiled.
"I'm glad to hear it, Vivian. An agent should be here by 6 PM and they will get the keys from the front desk, here. They'll have to do a complete paint and chrome job, as well as full auto glass with some upgrades."
Mr. Wayne turned towards the other man, "Mr. Lewis let me introduce you to my lunch companions. This is Miss Vivian Rose my driver and employed in my Aerospace Division. Vivian this is Mr. Guthrie Lewis, the owner of the Maserati Bora we passed in the garage."
Mr. Lewis extended his hand to Vivian and said, "Pleased to meet you, Miss Rose."
"Same here. Nice car, too.," she said shaking and releasing his hand.
The temperature field around Guthrie Lewis shifted, and there were some other low level effects to the field that were not recognizeable to the sensor suite.
"This is Sergeant Frank Rock, an old friend of the family and a good friend to me, personally."
"It's good to meet you, Sergeant Rock."
"And me to meet you, Mr. Lewis. You're lucky that your car wasn't in that wind that came through, earlier."
As they shook the field shifted again, so as to not impede the handshake. A small amount of field intrusion did happen over Frank Rock's hand but it was nothing he would readily identify save for some of the hairs on his forearm shifting to it.
"It certainly is safe from the wind, Sergeant and if needs be it can drive like it as well."
"This is Tom Octurian who is a friend of Sgt. Rock, and recovering from an industrial accident. As he knows a bit of advanced metallurgy, I also call on him as an advisor in those areas."
"Hello, Mr. Octurian, the pleasure is mine."
Skin contact with Mr. Lewis was necessary for shaking hands. The neutral biomass used in forming the infiltration package had within it a number of sensors that were not strictly biological in nature and contained metallic salts utilized in transmitting analog information to the first level receptors designed to interpret those signals and transform them into a digital format that the programming could utilize to build a sensor map. On skin contact the full suite of sensor systems signaled a warning of forced electrostatic overload and shut down for a reset and purge routine. A number of contacts had regrown to damaged areas of the metallic skeleton and either were in direct contact with it due to that damage, lack of internal receptors or simply free floating and reattaching to the skeleton where there were no receptors. Electrostatic charges were a known form of attack on Terminators and they had a built-in passive grounding system via the biomass to leech off charge into that biomass. The skeleton also did this and without an infiltration package such charges could be sent to ground or utilized to charge the surrounding atmosphere so that it would dissipate. Standard attacks could include a cyclic charge and discharge cycle encompassing a broad spectrum of frequencies starting low frequency as was utilized for alternating current electrical devices, all the way through the spectrum of microwaves utilized for RADAR. The system of neutralizing charges was designed with these parameters, although it impeded the bleed-off of charge, the fluids of the biomass included non-metallic salts for this purpose.
It was not designed for a chaotic frequency electrostatic charge that would envelope the entire body, however. Retaining gross motor function was possible.
"It is good to meet you, Sir."
Turning to Sergeant Rock after letting go of Guthrie's hand it said, "I have a backache, Sergeant."
Whenever it had problems it was instructed to use one of a set of code phrases that implied the normal physical distress it would have as a human in the condition described for it and they ranged from muscle aches and cramps to back aches. Only if it said that it felt woozy would everyone know that there was something truly seriously wrong with it. A back ache was either a major stress to its frame or other similar level malfunction. It was having problems and could deal with them, but needed to be away from the source of the induced electrostatic field. It saw that Guthrie Lewis gave no indication of even noticing the electrostatic intrusion into its body or the effects it had.
"Are you all right, Tom," Sgt. Rock said stepping next to Tom Octurian.
Tom nodded and extended his arm out to Sgt. Rock who came under it to put his shoulders under the arm to support it.
"I will be fine, but need to sit down."
"I'll get our table at the restaurant," Vivian said looking at the two and then at Bruce Wayne who nodded as he stepped to Tom's right.
"Do you need support on this side?"
Tom looked at him, his one eye blinking as it shifted past looking at Guthrie Lewis.
"I will be able to make it with Sergeant Rock's help, thank you Mr. Wayne. This should pass soon."
Bruce nodded as Tom and Sgt. Rock turned slowly to follow in Vivian's path as she walked ahead of them.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Lewis, I would like to talk more... if you care to join us for lunch?"
Guthrie Lewis looked from the retreating figures and back to Bruce Wayne.
"Ah, it was good to meet you, Mr. Wayne. I will take my repast elsewhere, this afternoon. I believe the local ethnic quarter by the riverside will have experienced less trouble than other parts of the city."
Bruce extended his hand and Guthrie shook it.
"Then it is good-bye, Mr. Lewis. I am glad we met."
"As am I Mr. Wayne. And I hope your friend, Tom, will recover from his injuries."
"Thank you," Bruce said letting go of Guthrie's hand, "and you might try Rousaka's, three blocks over which has a good selection of Mediterranean food."
"I'll keep that in mind," Guthrie said pulling his gloves back on as he started walking towards the parking area.
Frank Rock paid little attention to that as Vivian found a waiter and he pointed to a booth just around the corner.
"Will you make it?" Rock asked.
"Yes. It is a package problem."
Frank nodded as Vivian moved to help, but Tom waived her off.
"I will make it there, thank you Miss Rose."
Vivian nodded biting her lip knowing that any particular problem with this individual might go far beyond what they were prepared to cope with. She had been the one to do the work inside of the package and to move metallic shards back to metal on metal contact with some of the most primitive of means, as well as do rudimentary repairs on the bio-package exterior. She had heard about and seen the results of this Terminator when it was programmed by Skynet. With its base programming she had fewer worries about fatalities and larger ones about some of the problematical systems it contained, which included a small nuclear power generator.
The waiter was by their booth and assisted as the Terminator reached his hand out to steady its frame on the padding of the bench, but his hand was having problems finding it and the waiter took that as a cue to help support him as he sat down. Using visual indexing and adjusted distance calculations, plus IR sequencing, the Terminator ensured that it supported the majority of its mass.
"Thank you," it said to the waiter.
"My pleasure," the waiter said, "Do you need anything to help? Aspirin? A cold compress?"
Frank was about to speak up but stopped as the Terminator responded.
"Do you have any sports drinks available?"
The waiter nodded.
"Then one full glass. No ice."
"Yes, sir," the waiter said.
"He'll be fine," Frank said, "it comes and goes due to stress and surgery."
The waiter nodded.
"I do understand. I'll be right back with the drink and to take your orders," he said, pointing to the menus on the table.
"Great," Vivian said, waiting for the Terminator to be seated and then moving in next to Frank as he sat down and went around the edge of the curved booth bench to sit next to it. As Vivian was moving in, Bruce arrived and took in the situation.
"He says its a package problem."
"No," it said looking at Bruce, "it is an exterior bio-interface problem."
Vivian saw the waiter coming back and picked up a menu, and Frank took that as a cue and did the same.
"Will you be all right?" Bruce asked.
The waiter stood next to the Terminator and put a large glass of translucent green liquid down in front of it.
"Thank you," the Terminator said.
"My pleasure, sir. I do hope that you can stay with us for lunch, but we do understand if you need to leave to take care of your problem."
"I can stay," it said looking at the waiter, "I am not hungry, however, and only need this."
"Good! Welcome to Pendleton's Grill. I'm Sean Buxley and will be your waiter for the meal. Would any of you like something to drink?"
Another man dressed similarly to the waiter came up and started filling glasses with water.
Bruce looked at Vivian who looked up at the waiter.
"Hot chocolate. And coffee. I'm still half-frozen."
Frank smirked and looked at the waiter.
"Just water for me," Bruce said, "and whatever the chef recommends for today? Lanier Duval?"
"Yes, Mr. Wayne, Mr. Duval is our lunch chef today."
"Good, he does a fine steak, and he knows what I like."
"Very good, sir," the waiter said taking the unopened menu from in front of Bruce.
"Steak?" Frank asked.
"Yes, with a pan glacee is what Lanny normally does. Mushrooms, shallots and a touch of wine," Bruce said, "served on the side. His special mix seasoning is good all on its own. I always have it done rare."
"Sounds good, Bruce. Make that two," Frank said handing the menu over to the waiter.
"OK, if everyone else is ordering, I'll have the seafood salad as it sounds yummy and has that toast they make here."
"Yes, Miss Rose, and it is prepared fresh each day."
"Great! Normally get served at the bar around here, so this is a treat," she said handing the menu over.
"Indeed," the waiter said turning to the Terminator, "and you will let me know if you need anything more?"
"Yes, I will," it said sipping at its drink.
"Very good! Your meals will be out shortly," the waiter said turning and walking off to the left towards the waiter's station at the end of the aisle.
Bruce had been watching the Terminator and saw it shifting to a mode that indicated it needed visual feedback cues to confirm gross bodily position. It was a form of concentration to utilize its infiltration programming and adapt it to its situation and had been ongoing ever since the repairs done to it over the past few months.
"So, what happened?" Frank asked, "You haven't had a problem in months now."
The Terminator put the glass down and looked at Frank.
"My infiltration package interacted with an electrostatically charged cold plasma field that envelops the body of Guthrie Lewis."
"A... what?" Vivian asked.
"Cold plasma field. It retains a constant temperature around his body at 1.5 to 3.0 inches above his skin level that shifts with motion and contact with other objects to avoid them. The electrostatic field would not be noticed by people and has no internal dishcarging between postive and negative shifts across it."
"Did he attack you with it?" Frank asked.
"This was not indicative of an attack, Sergeant. My bio-package has many similarities with human cellular structure and is based on them. Nerves are dissimilar using metallic salts for conducting information they are attuned to and served as pathways for an intrusion of the electrostatic field. It is a randomly variable field that set up chaotic signalling and induced charges in my frame, which required an interface shutdown and restart. There are still charge problems and a neutral ionic fluid with salts is required to help remove those from my system."
Bruce Wayne inhaled and watched as the Terminator sipped at the sports drink. It knew its own systems and adapted quickly to problems as he had witnessed first-hand, but this was something that required a level of subtlety to cover as well as managing human interactions, while making a problem clear. As the Terminator had described its programming, there was a level of adaptability and mutability to underlying codes that allowed it to conform to human cultural norms. He doubted that the corrupted programming it had started with could ever achieve such sophistication and it was a testament to those who would now never live in the design of such a system and its result.
"Have you ever encountered anything like this before or have records of it?"
It finished its sip and carefully set the glass down.
"No. All plasma based attacks I am familiar with require a heterodyne and homogenous frequency range to work. A static oscillating system would not work against any system without a package and then only impede package function. Cold plasma systems were rare and confined to precision metal working, not part of offensive systems."
"So its not... something like you?" Vivian asked.
"It is a humaniform biological entity with no automated systems. I cannot get a clear IR definition to understand it beyond the plasma field."
Bruce gave a slight hand gesture as he saw the waiter coming back with a push cart.
"Hot chocolate and coffee for you, Miss Rose," he said arriving at the table and setting the mug down with the hot chocolate and then a cup on saucer down with the coffee.
"And your coffee, sir," he said putting another cup of coffee down in front of Frank.
"Thanks," he said taking a sip from it and not tasting it. Having been involved with a surprise attack on the Terminator using modified DU rounds for Old Reliable, he knew just what it could take. He had seen Vivian working on it and understood that it had taken far more in the way of damage to it than he had imagined and still continued to function, although not well, to be sure. He had expected that any new attack necessary to take out the machine would require something like a tank or at least a recoilless rifle, but finding that something could effect it while not effect them was disturbing. There was always that possibility, yes, but after months of recovery with him, Frank had started to feel an assurance that he could not place his finger on. Now it was experiencing something that had no real analog to humans and it was something he couldn't understand, and that worried him just as such things had worried him across the battlefields of Northern Africa and across Europe.
The waiter continued to unload the cart which held a basket of breadsticks along with pre-sliced baguette. Next a dish of butter pats was put down and then a small tray of stuffed mushrooms.
"Compliments of the chef," the waiter said.
"Thank you," Bruce said, "and thank Chef Duval, as well."
"Of course, Mr. Wayne," the waiter said nodding as he smiled, "and it will be another 5 minutes to prepare your meals."
"Great, I'm still getting warmed up," Vivian said.
The waiter bowed and turned towards the waiter's station and walked crisply off.
"It wasn't directed against you, then?" Frank asked.
"Negative. The passing of charge across my package happened due to physical circumstances, not directed flow."
Bruce nodded, looking puzzled.
"Vivian, have you heard of anything like this?"
Vivian looked at Bruce and then the Terminator as she sipped her hot chocolate.
"Ah, you mean charge build up and stuff?"
"Well.... yeah its a problem going through, like, storms but aircraft are built to just pass that around the outside, you know? Get hit by lightning and the power goes over the skin, not to the interior. About the only time its a worry is when a plane is wheels deep in something, usually sand. Remember one guy at the old hangar complex," she said referring to the small municipal airport north of Gotham City by 15 miles, "said that their tires could get melted and stuff if the plane was actually grounded out on the ground. But that's lightning, not... hmmmm..." she looked at the Terminator.
"You were insulated, right? Boots and shit doing that?"
It looked at Vivian and paused for a moment.
"My boots were dry. I was insulated by them."
"And your skin normally passes charges around it?"
She shook her head and looked at Bruce.
"Lotta physics and biochemistry going on here, Boss. I had to crack some books to work on him," she said shivering as she took another sip of hot chocolate, "but you would need an expert, like, to figure it out. My guess is that this is outside of what it was designed to handle because it normally just doesn't happen. Can't see it being useful as a weapon, either, come to think of it."
"No weapons were designed utilizing this mode of attack."
Rock watched Vivian as she talked and then looked at Bruce.
"Bruce, from what Vivian said this is an effect of a clound of particles. Storm clouds, dust clouds. I've seen static lightning during a dust storm in North Africa and its the weirdest thing to see as it doesn't come from all that high up and can travel just about anywhere. That's what happens in a storm cloud, right Vivian?"
"Uh-huh, that's right, Frank. Friction charge build-up. Makes for a great light show."
"So, Bruce, is there any way you know of to do that in miniature? Put it around a person like that?"
Bruce shook his head negatively.
"I don't think its possible to do that."
"It is happening around Mr. Lewis continually, Mr. Wayne," the Terminator said.
Bruce sat back and raised his eyebrows looking at the other three.
"If he is field testing something then... if its safe around people normally, then there is no reason to bother him. In fact that would put The Project at jeopardy to do that, and that makes it impossible to do."
"You got that right," Vivian said, switching to coffee.
"And if it isn't something made to be field tested?" Frank asked.
Bruce Wayne sat back as the war veteran looked at him.
"I just don't know, Frank, because that is impossible."
"Yeah," Frank said taking a sip from his cup of coffee, "so is he," Frank said nodding to the Terminator.
"I think... we should eat and discuss other topics... because this is not something I'm used to dealing with."
Outside the hotel the cold north wind given its westerly flow continued to chill down Gotham City. Winter had arrived.
John came down from his outpost when he felt the wind had finally lessened. Along the ridge it was not a fearsome howling nor driving thing that held the teeth of wind created sea flakes, but one that made tree limbs rustle and many crack as it came plowing into the forested slope. The temperature drop was a palpable thing, as well, and while he was dressed well enough for the season, the biting cold told him that no surface dweller would be venturing out to the ridge without good cause. He was tired, as well, and looked forward to the warmth in the old storage cavern. He picked his way down the slope, avoiding the few blown down tree limbs, and went through the jumbled material and slid his way to the warmth of their concealed hiding spot.
He came upon Maria and Shlasuar changing warm cloths on Lisa's back, with Maria wringing each out into a small pot and then putting them into a plastic garbage bag.
"No one will be out for the rest of the day," he said as he came in, Maria turning slightly and nodding, while Slashuar sidled over to the small stove to pour him a cup of coffee. Slashuar stood up and walked over to John as John removed his outer coat and hung it up so that it could lose what small amounts of frost had built up on it.
"Thank you, Shlasuar, it is much appreciated," he said taking the cup from Shlasuar.
"It's pretty bitter," Shlasuar said as he smiled.
It was bitter, but also warming and John had tasted far worse while in 'Nam.
"How is it coming?" he asked sitting at the table.
"She is doing better," Shlasuar said turning to go back and help Maria.
"Will she be somnambulant soon? Or at least interrogatable?"
Maria wrung out the last of the cloths that Slashuar handed to her and shook her head. She was wearing rubber gloves and removed those, placing them on the ground next to the bag.
"Replace those with fresh, Shlasuar, just like last time," Maria said taking the pot of wrung out water and placing it on the stove and putting the coffee to one side. The burner was already on low and she left it that way, using a wooden spoon to stir the pot of water that she had wrung out.
"She is still in very deeply, John. Breathing is maybe one breath every ten minutes, but heart rate almost one beat a minute, which is very good as it allows the toxins to be metabolized much faster. At this rate another two or three days and she will be as you want her to be, somnambulant and in a suggestable state."
John made a sour face as he set his cup of coffee down.
"You felt the wind, right?" he asked.
Maria sighed and stood up, then walked over to the table to sit down across from John.
"Yes, I did. There is a power at play out there."
"I've experienced an w'gah'n'shuggoth'nyth, Maria, and that is not one of those."
Slashuar moved warmed towels from a bowl by the stove and onto Lisa's back.
"What is a w'gah'n'shuggoth'nyth?"
Maria turned towards Shlasuar.
"It is an elemental part of this realm, Slashuar. They can be used as servants or controlled to some degree as their primitive drives can be swayed if one is prepared to do so."
"And that can be... the wind?" Shlasuar asked, placing a layer of plastic wrap over Lisa's back to cover the warm cloths and then pulling the blanket up over her.
"Wind, water, fire, even the ground, although those tend to be slow moving," John said, "though the most controllable. That wind was not natural and was no w'gah'n'shuggoth'nyth under control of someone. There are many others, but those are the most well known."
"Shlasuar, would you take the bag of towels and place them on the table, now?"
The young one gave a quick nod and picked up the bag with the used cloths and towels, and stood up as he walked over to the table, placing it next to where Maria was at the table.
"Thank you, youngster, come and sit down with us."
Slashuar stepped over to the chair next to Maria and looked between her and John.
"We did not attract such attention, John, to have another power like that interested in us. It is here for its own reason."
John sipped his coffee as he watched her.
"And it is one that would not normally venture forth if the thing of the City was in its normal posture. While resting it is less well protected."
"It is, yes," John said placing the cup down on the table, "and yet there is little here beyond the place itself to attract such attention. Unless you know that something else of power is there. Then that is very attractive on its own."
Shlasuar watched as the other two gazed at each other, exchanging something that he couldn't decipher. He was learning about the meanings of looks between adults, but some he could not figure out, as yet, and this was one of them.
"She is still in some form of f'tagn," Maria said, "and that slows our progress. I've been saving the leavings of the toxins and concentrating them."
John leaned forward in his chair and clasped the cup of coffee in his hands.
"Maria that is... extremely dangerous..."
"Worse, John, is my tracking down the Ghoul by hafh'drn lw'nafh ph'athg wgha'n'ch'shagg has drained me and I can't do that again for some days. I can't be the one to track her down in ch'shagg to find out what is going on."
John's mouth set in a taut line as he looked at her.
"FUBAR," he said.
Maria closed her eyes and inhaled, then nodded.
"If you can't go, John, then it is Shlasuar who must go."
That unfroze John's face as he looked from Maria to Slashuar.
"He can't handle that, Maria. Not enough experience in such things as a Maker..."
"I've been on a hafh'drn lw'nafh ph'athg wgha'n'ch'shagg before," Shlasuar said, looking at John, "I can go."
"That was with a Priest guiding, yes?" John asked.
"Well, yes... but a very experienced one."
John took a sip of his coffee and looked at Shlasuar.
"Shlasuar, you came in to a set place or at least one that is relatively safe. Also a Priest has a familiarity with where that place is, and what the normal dangers would be. Anyone trying to follow...", he nodded towards Lisa, "... that one, will go to where she is as the toxins now have her affinity. I will go."
Turning from Shlasuar, John looked at Maria.
"No idea where she is, then?"
Maria raised her eyebrows and looked at him, shaking her head.
"I think you will be at the Precipice, but I don't know."
"Great. Wonderful. Lovely," John said taking down the last swallows of coffee in the cup.
"If some Other Being with such power is after what we seek, John, then she is our means to find and take those items before it finds them."
Grimacing, and closing his eyes John nodded and shivered. Then he stopped and froze for a moment and looked at Shlasuar.
"You will see Maria through this if I don't return."
That was not a question and Shlasuar understood that and simply nodded.
"I shall do that," he said.
"Good. I've survived a couple of suicide missions in the Army, and then one all on my own in 'Nam. Those I at least knew what I was getting into. This time...", he looked at Maria who held her head down, "...I will be lucky to arrive alive."
Maria nodded and said softly, "I'll prepare the toxin mix."
Looking at Lisa, John shivered.
"How did you ever end up like this, lady?"
He did not feel like a gallant rescuer and, instead, saw only a gallows in front of him.
With lunch at Rousaka's finished, Guthrie took a stroll down through the North Island's 'ethnic quarter' which had been the entry point for multiple waves of immigrants starting with the Dutch and English through the German and Italianic waves and now hosting a variety of Eastern European and Near Eastern ethnicities. It was easy to tell which buildings had stood the test of time: look at the bricks.
The post-war surface 'renovation' and 'rationalizing' of Gotham City under the guise and monied context of 'Urban Renewal' meant that the oldest and poorest part of the City which had been the Northeastern district just beyond the old high class Riverside district, was slated for the most 'renewal'. Votes in the City Council ran rampant with pay-offs, greed and grabs for land that just might become valuable, and the various contractors and middle-men worked their magic of green to ensure that the poorest districts would be demolished. This had been the Warrens and Shops district which was the part of Gotham that had weathered good times and bad and had served for much of the labor pool of Gotham City for decades. It was a section of the city where streets and alleyways had been difficult to tell apart and where petty thieves and crooks had preyed upon the weak. The actual doom of the old Warrens and Shops disctrict came one night in the late 1950's when an unknown small-time crook held up a wealthy older physician and his wife at gunpoint. Thomas Wayne had been not just a respected physician but local businessman made good on pre-war investments. If their slayings served to change the path of their only son, it also served to change the course of the entire City as a whole as even those in the Warrens gangs realized that this was going too far. Within a year the wreckers and bulldozers had arrived, as well as hundreds of construction jobs which would serve as a small boomlet for a few years. Only one or two of the largest of the shops remained to serve as the anchoring points for the new road system and as a continued place of employment for those still living nearby. Thus the old masonry of Gotham City of red brick low-rises and walk-ups had given way to steel and cinderblock construction and the contrast in styles was stark when they were staring across a much widened street from each other.
In front of the Old Komeski Building, which had served as one of the few survivors to the flattening of the district, a simple placard set into stone held a map of the district as it was along with the names of the Mayor and City Council members who presided over the first blasting of buildings and laying of new foundations. Poor families had moved into the South Island's Central and Western districts and the new ten story buildings would soon find themselves serving host to the middle class and then, as the nature of traffic resumed in the 1970's, to the next few waves of immigrant poor. Not that Guthrie cared about such things or even did more than to see the faint spray of color that only he could see which served as yet another obfuscation point in Gotham City. That stone that plaque was set into was yet another rock from the outcrop at the ridge but this one had no Guardians, no other signs and was a camouflaged set of inscriptions that he was sure no one else could see. It was a simple matter to drain its residual pool and then take stock of the colors and spaces that changed with its departure.
"Ahhh... now that is much better! Just a minor drawline left in the northeast, but it is faint and not enough to change things locally. Now that central part of the Island, it is still a bit roiled. Perhaps it is time for a drive?"
In a few minutes he was back at Pendleton's and in the Bora, driving out to the Riverside district heading to the west. As he drove he saw a few scintillations and signs of color of about the same level he had at the dedication stone of the old Warrens and Shops district. They were confusing, yes, and he was hoping to sort them out and perhaps even get some direction from them so he could finally find out just who or what was behind all this work. He slowed the Bora as traffic increased and something caught his eye to the left.
"Why, it is a different set of traces there! Now I wonder what could be behind that?"
Taking the next left and the next one after that, he circled back on a side street until the positive indications of some other affinity was dimly showing up. He pulled over next to the curb across the street from a house that had a ROOMS FOR RENT sign that had been blown over. Shutting down the Bora, he stepped from the car and crossed the street, looking at the sign and then stepping over to set it upright again before walking to the front door. He rang the doorbell and looked about absently to try and see where else this color path would go but could find no other evidence of it.
The door opened and a young woman with dark hair, wearing a light red dress looked at him.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"Ah, yes. I see that you have an apartment for rent and I was wondering if I could see it?"
An older man appeared behind her and she turned to use sign language to him to explain the situation. He shrugged and nodded, reaching up to a key hanger on the wall and taking down the keys to it and handing them to the younger woman.
"It's fine with my dad," she said reaching for a coat before opening up the door, "I'm Elaine, by the way," she said extending her hand.
"Guthrie Lewis, and pleased to meet you. The sign was blown over by the wind and I couldn't help but wonder what a set of rooms here might go for."
She pulled on her coat and led him down the walkway to the driveway and then towards the back of the house.
"We've had problems getting offers since the deaths here last month. Dad had the place cleaned out by contractors, but still no bites."
Guthrie looked surprised as he walked beside her.
"Deaths, you say? I'm from out of town and might just need some temporary quarters so I'm not familiar with the local news."
She looked at him side-long and shivered.
"Dad and mom had let the place out to a couple who were part of... an Organization. You know?"
He shook his head familiar enough with the terminology to understand it.
"They were running drugs and prostitutes out of the back which was bad enough... I moved out of town for work reasons and didn't understand that part of it, and neither did they. Still the Bosco Organization knew enough to keep things... distant... from here. So no one really knew what was going on."
She opened the back gate by the side of the house and then led him back further up the driveway, where a small garage could be seen at the back of the property, and fences ran along the side and part of the back of it as well for privacy.
She shrugged as they turned the corner.
"The police they... well they say it was a gangland killing but have no evidence... and what little anyone could find out after they cleared out the crime scene didn't show... you know... no blood... no broken windows... no broken furniture... hell no screams or yells or anything that the neighbors heard..."
"Really? How many died here?"
They reached the back door and she opened the screen door and then reached into her pocket for the keys.
"The PD put it at ten dead but..." finding her keys she looked at him, "... look I'm not trying to scare you or anything, but normally there are body outlines. There were only a couple of those anywhere in the apartment. We checked the basement and three floors and and even the attic space and only two outlines you could talk about on the main level, a kind of big outline in a room on the second and then just a couple of more on the third. Three of the outlines were on beds and only they had any real, you know, body outline to them. That doesn't cover ten bodies."
Guthrie inhaled and nodded as she opened the door and put the keys back in her pocket.
"After you," he said with a smile.
She shook her head.
"I'm not going in there again. Ever. I'm not... you know... afraid of ghosts or anything like that. The place just feels... you can't fix up what happened here and even scrubbing the walls and repainting it only makes it look better."
He closed his eyes and nodded his head once.
"Understood. Thank you, Elaine."
"You're welcome, Mr. Lewis. Let us know when you leave so I can come back and lock up."
He held on to the screen door as she stepped back from it.
"Most certainly. Thank you for your time and information. I will tell you when I'm done."
She pressed her lips together and nodded.
"I just thought you should know, being from out of town and all."
"I'll be fine, thank you. Very little in this life frightens me."
Elaine hunched her shoulders together and walked away and only gave one look back as Guthrie walked into the back of the house that had been converted into an apartment over a decade previously.
As he stepped in he saw a whole different light that he had only seen faintly before. It was now something that he could almost touch. Instead he leaned forward as he went in until he came to the spaces pervaded by it and inhaled deeply. Of spaces he knew about and this color spoke much of spaces amongst and between. Now he could begin to see and understand just what it was that had been here.
"Power," he whipsered, "and hunger. Oh, yes, very, very hungry, indeed."
"... and that arctic blast is continuing today and looks like it will be us the rest of the week. Now moving down the coast a late season tropical storm has already left inches of rain in the Bahamas and is heading towards Florida. Luckily that shift in the jet stream has brought a central high pressure ridge down into the Carolinas which should keep that storm from the coast..."
With a soft click he turned the radio off.
With his plate of toast and mug of coffee he walked over to the table and looked it over. There were collections of articles on it, as well as signs with names, places and events neatly organized on it, although the number of question marks that were on it were also numerous it was enough for him to see a pattern when he first grasped that it was there to see. He had told Henry and his son to leave that and the back area as they were until the packing of goods was complete. Already the main window had been taken down and its modern replacement was installed with a simple sign hung from the inside telling the store's name. He had not decided on where to move to as the City had not shown him that, although he suspected it would be on the North Island. He did not need a real shop space, of course, and could run what business he had nearly any place, which meant mobility for him. His was a job not so much of seeking custom, although he always welcomed customers, but of finding the right place for the right piece with the right person. Henry and Louis had done well in his stead, letting the shop inform them of what to do and not to do in ways most subtle. The shop had not always been here, had not always even been in a building as he had started it in the native way before the waves of settlers and operated out of everything from treehouses to boats to bars to even a simple pack and blanket. Dr. Gotham didn't need the shop, as such, but it was a means and a way to achieve ends that he did not understand but comprehended without question.
Going around the main table, he pulled out the smaller table he used to hold paper, envelopes and had a surface utilized for mugs, cups and plates that he would often set upon it as he perused and felt what needed to be done. Occupying its surface again, he took out note cards, modern pen, paper clips and a large envelope.
"Now, it is winter which comes from the North. Black. Chaos."
On the card he wrote NORTH and then hesitated.
"But what causes such a wind to happen? No one controls the Wind like that and it was clearly brought in, not a product of circumstance but of created circumstance far from here by thousands of miles. Arctic? That is not correct, really, is it? And yet Arctic Wind sounds..." he sighed. Just as when this framework first appeared he faced problems, since it was so hard to classify entire directions until they finally appeared. Of this he could be sure, and he set down the card on the top of the table as he removed those things relating to the N'gluioth and its Formless cousins: they were not here and were not the causation of any wind. He collected the items on the table opposite him and put them in an envelope and simply labeled it Formless Ones. He looked East and shook his head and took out the clippings pertaining to Lei Sung and put them in an envelope with his name and the word AVATAR under it. They went into the bottom drawer of the side table. Looking to Southeast he saw the name of Lisa Choi and closed his eyes.
"You did not deserve that fate. You were, unfortunately, between East and South, not a position of safety for that event."
Slowly, with his lips pressed tightly together, he reached out and took the scant few bits of that woman's life he was able to gather and placed them in an envelope with her name. He trembled as he did not like doing this as he felt it a failure on his part, and that he could only neutralize East with the help of the White Tiger of the West. He wrote the word INJUSTICE on the envelope and put it in with the others. He looked over the rest of the table and could not determine what he should do, save place the card for North with the word ARCTIC and WIND with a question mark next to it as he knew of nothing that could so utilize the wind in its service.
He drew another card out and smirked.
"And where was the locus of destruction of the wind? In the East at the Maritime Museum. I told them that was not a good place to build that because of the destruction of the Eurus and the fort after it by..."
He gasped and shivered.
"Oh, no... that can't be..." he said looking to the North again and then to the East, "... that's Greek. They are not a players of the Ordinals and the Crosses nor of the Loom and Frame... they... it cannot be."
He knew that this was not the sometimes sighted Ghost of the Eurus coming back, but it was a sea vessel and the wind had pointed its force at the sea this day. He wrote on the card EAST and SEA. Then thought and put in under those Eurus, destruction, cannon, wind. That card went to his right and he now looked north again and thought.
"Boreas? But this is not the season of the sirocco... and you Winds are only..." he almost said 'fiction' and then realized that much of what he knew was 'fiction' to such a vast majority of inhabitants that he had no right to judge that. He had picked up much, much information in his centuries of service and he could not remain skeptical when something he thought of as pure ancient fiction actually had some basis in fact and that fact had blown through Gotham City with a force that could not be denied. With a trembling hand he reached forward and wrote under the other two AUSTER and then placed it back.
"But it fits, does it not?" he asked himself. "What brings you here? We are beneath your contempt and only fit for your passing and random blowings for enjoyment. Yet only one of your Kind have the power to dispatch a Guardian as if it were nothing and someone has been defrosting my set places of warning. Oh, yes, you have announced yourself and you undoubtedly, think very little of me or of anyone else here. And yet you have come to give us attention. Why?"
The card just in front of him caught his eye.
SOUTH. ERIN NORRIS. PHOENIX?
"No. I'm moving another into that..."
Again, he shivered.
"But she has not acted yet. And if you..." he started shaking his head, "... she has suffered enough, I say. To Perdition with you, Boreas, I will find her and pull her out of the way or die trying. And this one..." he said taking a card out and putting SOUTH and then SELINA KYLE then under that WOMAN OF CAT, "... she will beguile you."
He placed down the card and pushed back from the table and stood up, turned and walked to the coat stand to take up his coat, fedora, walking stick and perched his glasses on his nose. Putting his gloves on he stalked out of DR. GOTHAM'S CURIOSITY SHOP, opened the door, closed and locked it and left the hot coffee and toast to chill in the back room. Injustice he would suffer once. Not twice.
"Thank you for the lunch, Bruce," Frank Rock said shaking Bruce's hand and carrying a case in his other hand.
"My pleasure, Frank. And as for the rest... I just don't know what to make of what happened. There is nothing we can actually do without getting attention and there is no reason to, either. I didn't get a chance to find out who he was representing or what his line of work was, and what happened appears not to be intentional."
As Frank let go he turned to the Project who looked at him and then at Bruce.
"Yes, Mr. Wayne. There are still unknowns involved that cannot be determined."
Bruce chuckled looking at the Project and then back to Frank.
"It is refreshing to have someone just come out and say things that way."
"The best damned adjutant I could ever ask for, Bruce. He tells it as it is and that is all I ever asked for in life. And I have concerns enough without worrying about a man with unknowns around him. That isn't my business unless he makes it my business, and then I will end the business."
"And I will leave you to those, Frank. Tom, it was good to see you again," Bruce said shaking the Project's hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Wayne. It was an unordinary experience."
As he let go, Bruce shook his head.
"See you two later. At the Project dinner if nowhere else, I hope."
"I wouldn't miss that for the world, Bruce. With luck it won't be sooner."
Bruce Wayne turned and waved at the two as he walked out of the parking garage and to the elevator on the other side of the garage.
Turning to the Project, Frank looked at him.
"What time is the appointment?"
The Project looked at him and said, "2:30 PM. There is 47 minutes between now and then."
"Time enough to work around and get there," Frank said turning and walking towards the driver's side of the black Z28.
The Project got in the passanger's side door and sat down next to Frank and took the case he was handed and placed it on the floor at his feet. They both buckled in and Frank started the car up, put it in gear and smoothly backed out of the parking spot reserved for it. This had been the vehicle the Terminator had switched to after it had purged the active Skynet enforcement code to restrict its programming to preset parameters. It had been rescued by Vivian the day after it had been stopped, laundered through a couple transactions in different States and purchased by Frank Rock after it had been purchased by Wayne Corporation. At each point it had been thoroughly checked, examined, repairs made and, finally, a few enhancements put in to Frank's specifications like the secure stowage compartment for Old Reliable. There were many car thieves in Gotham City, and the fuel interlock, electrical disconnect along with other alarms were standard to dissuade such activities or at least impede them. This one had an electrical bolt retraction system added into it so that attempts to start the vehicle after bypassing any other system would then bolt the doors to the added vehicle body components and the steering would automatically disconnect. That was a purely custom feature that was rare to see even in high end armored limousines.
Frank enjoyed the vehicle and had discussed it with the Terminator who explained it was a necessary piece of 'fitting in' to humanity given its mission, stature, haircut, appearance and general lack of adaptability in human interactions. And it would get him to Gotham City and prove an expedient means to get back to Los Angeles if he needed to do so having chased the wrong Sarah Connor down to her new home town and job.
"Damned hard person to buy for," Frank whispered to himself.
"Yes," the Terminator said in response, "she is not typical in her ranges of likes. Your back-up would still be the best."
"That was my first Captain's sidearm. Told me I could have it if anything happened to him. He had gotten it from some LT that died a week after the landing trying to take that fortification. He had gotten it from the Captain of his unit right after the landing. Everyone thought it was bad luck. The war was bad luck. After The Pass it went to me and proved everyone else wrong. Too many good men there for me to let go of it. Just like Old Reliable. So something different. I didn't take trophies or send any back home, beyond that porcelain figure for my mom."
The Project stared out as Frank Rock navigated south to the Interconnector's termination road on the South Island. As they passed one intersection they had to wait for police to direct them as the signals were out. By now the recovery from the sudden wind passage had started and insurance agents would have a busy month and try to explain how mere wind was an Act of God in court cases that would see judges decide that it wasn't. Frank shook his head as they went through that intersection and waved at the officers who were in their winter gear, using signal flares and hand signs to direct traffic.
"Looks like most of the lights are coming back on south of here," Frank said.
"Yes. It is not more than 80%."
Frank pulled onto the ramp for the Interconnector and they left downtown Gotham City behind them. There were a number of trucks with flashing yellow lights on either side of the highway and large CAUTION REDUCE SPEED TO 40 signs normally used for when the snow cover was not removed to bare pavement. Magnetic blocks covered up the ICY ROADS portion just above the caution warning, as the hazards were not, particularly, ice but lamps blown down and at least the remains of three wrecks along each side of the highway.
"The guardrails have been stripped to metal," the Project said.
Frank narrowed his eyes as they darted left and right, and he pulled a bit away from one wrecked semi rig as he drove.
"That just isn't normal."
"No," the Project said.
"I'm going to take the 5th and backtrack," he said looking at a blocked exit coming up.
As he drove on Frank surveyed the damage, much of it purely superficial in the way of signs, overturned cars and many emergency lights on along the waterfront for the smaller facilities which had damaged docks and a few loose vessels to bring under control if not one or two that had been beached or were drifting out to the current. The latter had the Gotham tug services busy and they were earning their keep today.
"You know, this isn't what you would call a disaster. It's just a major SNAFU that will keep people busy for days if not a week. Right at the holidays. People will be glad to celebrate Christmas this year."
"It will consume the time of authorities for days," the Project said.
"I don't like it. It isn't natural."
The Project turned to look at him.
Frank shook his head and pulled off the 5th Avenue exit and started driving across the surface streets, deciding to jog down named streets to try and avoid downed trees and roads blocked by other damage. He could tell the streets that had some form of protection be it a slight jog of the street or a building that was built around during the years of urban renewal: they had undamaged street signs driving east.
Looking out the Project took in the damage.
"It is general damage. Not directed."
"Yeah. You saw what the Maratime Museum looked like while we waited for Wayne's people to get a limo over, right? How is that classified?"
"That's right. And the last time Gotham has ever had an event like this?"
"None since major street renovations took place in the 1950's and 60's."
"Could anyone predict this? Even from your era... anyone?"
It looked at him again.
"No. There are too many elements necessary to coincide for this to be predictable."
"Thought as much. So this wasn't a natural event?"
Frank shivered as even the heater of the Z28 couldn't mask the cold thought that someone could actually have intended to do this to a city. Yet how could an entire city be made to do just this thing? By chance? To Frank Rock that idea passed well out of the realm of probable and lurked only out in the hinterlands of the possible.
"What are the odds that this is a thoroughly natural event with nothing else going on to cause it?"
"Min-Max estimation is at 3 to 17%"
"OK. What is highest on your probability tree?"
"Unknown at 70%"
"What is in-between those two using the average for natural?"
"Directed and causative attack at 16% Designed caused trap event by chance at 4%"
Frank saw a parking garage near where he wanted that had reasonable rates and looked to be semi-respectable. It was covered and faced north, so he pulled into it and got his ticket from the machine at the gate.
"I guess we each have our own perspectives. You were mission oriented, never on a battlefield. I've been on a battlefield. Lots of them. What I can't figure out is why it was done or who did it."
Frank pulled into a parking spot, put the car in neutral and put the parking brake on, then shut down the car.
"We have 8 minutes remaining."
"Good. I don't mind being a few minutes early."