"... the voice of Gotham City on WGTH! And now for the weather report Stew Crossley here to give you the weather. Well that cold air front has moved in and its still chilly outside and the jetstream seems to have settled in right over Long Island Sound. We have clear skies for today and shouldn't see any of the turbulance we saw yesterday for which, I know, we are all grateful this Sunday morning. Temps may get up into the mid-30's today and then go back into the teens or 20's tonight. That will be the case for the next two nights. What we see coming is a storm out of the Arctic in northern Canada that may be sweeping down through the central praries and will be pushing cold weather and snow down to the Texas Panhandle by tomorrow morning. That storm will come in across the Great Lakes and then on through to the Northeast and us by Thursday. It will be one chilly Thanksgiving if things don't change. In the south that developing tropical storm seems to be running along the Florida coast and shouldn't pose any hazard out there and the majority of storm tracks show it going out over the mid-Atlantic tomorrow. There is a high pressure system in the mid-Atlantic keeping things nice and warm there all the way up to Long Island and we in Gotham are really envious of you on the Island today getting temps into the 40's! I will keep an eye on that storm, though, as will my weekday co-worker Tad Tipton so that you can keep up to the minute with the latest weather..."
Frank turned the radio off as he passed by it on the counter and took his bowl of pancake mix he had been working on and eyed the cast iron skillet that had been heating on the stove. He used a spoon to drizzle some on the oiled surface of the skillet and the mixture started to brown and pop on contact. He took a couple of larger spoons of the mixture and put them into the pan, each forming a silver dollar sized round patch of light yellow. He stood next to the Project who was chopping up onions for an omelette, and had the carton of eggs open on its left as it chopped the onions on a small cutting board.
"Not a nice sounding forecast for Thanksgiving," Frank said.
"No," the Project responded as it took the minced onion and put it in a bowl and took out another bowl and placed it behind the work surface and used the chef's knife to make short work of a small bundle of chives.
"Remember, food processor if its anyone else around," Frank said.
It nodded as it scooped the chopped chives into a bowl and then looked at the food processor on the counter.
"She does not use it often," it said.
"Martin got that for her. Family man. Good heart, but he should know better."
"Yes," the Project said, look at the cabinet over the counter and opening it, then reaching in to examine the spices and flavorings that were sitting there.
"What did Don get her for her birthday?"
"Tickets to a rock concert. She enjoyed it. She didn't like her date and has not been in contact with him since then."
"Uh-huh, that's right. Just another sacker type and I don't think he has ever driven over 70, anywhere," Vivian Rose said from the entryway into the kitchen behind them.
Frank looked back at her as then turned back to flipping pancakes.
"Good morning, Vivian. I hope you slept well."
"Good morning, Miss Rose. Breakfast will be ready in approximately 10 minutes. Coffee is available on the counter near you."
Vivian squinched her eyes shut and then open and pulled her terrycloth bathrobe tighter around her. She stepped into the kitchen wearing white bunny slippers and padded over to the counter that had the coffeemaker on it and took a mug down from the cabinet over it.
"Thanks, Tom," she said pouring herself a cup of coffee.
"You're welcome," Tom said as he walked over to a cupboard with bowls next to it and Vivian went to the chair at the far end of the table to sit and sip at her coffee. Tom took out a mixing bowl and went back to his position next to the stove, while Frank examined the underside of the pancakes and adjusted the heat.
"Say, Frank, do you know how to make, you know, real pancakes? Not ones where you throw in dehydrated creamer and just mix it all together?"
Vivian watched as Frank stepped back to another cupboard and took out serving plate and went back to the stove, setting the plate to his right as he started sliding pancakes across the pan. One by one they were flipped onto the plate and he was then using the spoon to pour more batter into the pan.
"Yeah, there's the readimix stuff that only needs water. Doesn't taste right without the creamer."
She could see him smirking as he kept watch over the pancakes and she shook her head.
"Uh-huh. Guess it'll do. I'd go out but my Cammy is out to the shop. Had to call in the boys at Craig's place to come tow it out to them. Not letting Scheib of any of those quickie places do the work. Besides it needs a real, you know, detailing."
"You mean cleaning out the bags from fast food places?" Frank asked.
"That, too!" she said brightly. "So what's up with you two, today? Going back home?"
Tom started cracking eggs into the bowl and then began a process of adding seasonings. To anyone else it would be a natural set of movements. A careful examination of what was going into the mix would show that Tom was putting in exacting amounts that would match those of any set of measuring spoons on the planet.
"No, we have a layover for tonight. Trying to work out a deal on a piece and got us roped into a double-date instead of a commission."
"A... say what? Frank! You haven't been on a date... ummm... geeze do you count range dates in this sort of thing?"
"Yes," Tom said.
"Oh," she said softly and sipped her coffee while eyeing the two of them. Tom picked up a pan and set it on the burner from where it had been sitting on the rear burners and then shifted to pick up small sausages from the nearby deli and cut those into the pan as it heated.
"Shit, Frank, those really shouldn't, you know? They aren't whatchya call, ahhh, formal, you know?"
Flipping pancakes over Frank smiled.
"Vivian, I've been out of the house more seeing people since I was brought in on Tom's case than in the preceding two years. Sally was the sociable one and I enjoyed going out with her. I'm not a man for concerts or walks on the beach, but loved time with the family doing those. This I consider business, nor pleasure."
"Yes," Tom said, shifting the sausage rounds in the pan.
"I'll give. Who is it with?"
"Selina Kyle, the woman we met at the gym. I'm looking to commission some work from her."
Pursing her lips, Vivian nodded.
"I don't think she works cheap, Frank."
Frank shrugged as the pile of pancakes grew on the plate as he flipped more onto it, and then started pouring more of them out with the spoon.
"She's waiving her fees for a date."
"But a double-date? Who with?"
"Her mother," Frank said, watching the pancakes as they popped and spattered in the pan.
Vivian tried to work that one through and shook her head.
"She can't... what? I'm not getting this, Frank. Is she trying to, like, set you up with her mom or something?"
"I think that was her plan. She wanted a date, I called the personnel match-ups. Tom gets her mom."
Vivian's eyes widened.
"Frank Rock! That is just cruel!"
"I'm sure her mother can handle it, Viv."
"Not her! But to Tom! If she doesn't like her mom... ohhhhh... Frank you are evil to do that!"
"Yes," Tom said, "it is necessary. Her mother will be flattered."
Frank nodded tending the pancakes.
"And maybe just a bit put-off that her daughter is dating someone old enough to be her father," Frank said, "We should get out unscathed."
"I feel sorry for Selina," Vivian sad after sipping some coffee trying to think this out, "I mean it would be perfect if everything worked out, but... what if something goes wrong?"
"That is what Old Reliable is for," Frank said, flipping pancakes in the pan.
"Yes," Tom said putting the egg mixture into the pan in front of him with a snap and sizzle to it as he did so.
Maria watched as Lisa dressed herself and tried not to look her in the eyes. She knew that such a look could be dangerous even to those who knew what it was, as it was something that could reach out beyond the eyes. The flecks of light amongst blackness looked like distant stars but were, instead, distant universes amongst all things, drifting in the realm beyond realms where Chaos was at the center of all things. It was not maddness in and of itself, but staring for a moment too long could draw away one's life and leave disorder behind in its wake. She feared those Others that lived there and the one that had sent Lisa's mind beyond where any could follow, left that Void behind it. The living Lisa Choi would immediately fill the Void as it was only a Void in things and could not displace that which rightfully belonged there. Unfortunately if that mind expired or this body did, then the Void would be able to expand without check. From one danger to another, Maria knew she must tread lightly as another Power had manifest itself in the City and that would warn her off under any other circumstance. Instead, because of the danger to all things and herself and her People, she had no choice but address these things one by one.
After having taken Lisa out into the cavern to use the makeshift toilet and help to clean her, she was now moving to Maria's words. This body knew, at some level, that it must have some protection against not just the elements but those things that would stop its reunion. That meant clothing and not going out immediately into the frigid weather that had descended leaving a scant trace of snow on the ground. Fed warm soup before this along with some solid pieces of cheese and meat, the body now processed food once more. All Maria could do was keep her own body in its land dweller form and attempt to keep track of what should be the meal times for a woman who had a younger body than her and a different frame and build as well.
"Now, you are dressed well enough for the weather, girl," she said looking at Lisa, "and we should attract no attention so long as you stay with me and Shlasuar. We know the way to the nexus point and it will be relatively easy to get there as I expect there will be only light traffic on any road this day."
Lisa looked at her and Maria avoided looking at her face.
Maria turned to start packing one of the smaller backpacks that was in John's cache of materials.
"Yes, the place where the powers were convening and where the Formless Ones were able to do the detachment. Usually a nexus is a time one with great events, but this one is a place one and very dangerous for those who come to it and can utilize its power and affinity."
Even after getting on boots and having a winter jacket on, Maria shivered, as she knew that a nexus point was not an end to them, not a real goal or objective. Only with that which inhabited the Island and was the spirit of it quiet, perhaps resting asleep, would she even think about doing anything with such a place. It might be, perhaps, the way to remove the Thing that was the spirit forever, as it had power. Using that power required knowing exactly what it was and how it worked, and as she had no true affinity, no direct lineage affinity, one mis-step by her would spell disaster. The girl, Lisa Choi, had that affinity by the attack of the Formless Ones, but her body could not reason beyond that of an animal, which was useless to her in understanding. Only the actual person of Lisa Choi, mind and body both, would have that knowledge. Maria had done all she could to prepare trying to utilize her, but doubted that her simple means would have any effect since the power to recombine mind and body into a complete whole was beyond her.
Shlasuar came into the room and was wearing his warm clothing, some of it John's, and had a walking stick in one hand which could, with a simple twist, be turned into a spear.
"I've put John's gun into the weapons locker, Maria, in the cave. I found the instruction manual and disassembled it, as John would have wanted."
Maria snapped buckles into place on the pack and lifted it to her back.
"You have done well, Shlasuar. I carry deep knives with me as well as a spear stick, but must be the one to carry the supplies. You will guide the girl on our way over the trails and then to the bridge on the South Island. There we will cross and go down the ladder to the platform for the subway tunnel and re-enter. Soon this part of our journey will end and our mission can truly begin."
Shlasuar nodded, looking sullen.
"Don't worry, young one. After this journey none can say you are not an adult. You have learned much and now understand why things are done a certain way amongst the land dwellers."
"Yes," he said, "its very complicated, Maria. But it isn't always like this, is it?"
She chuckled and nodded.
"No, it isn't. Normally we have far fewer worries about being noticed as the land dwellers prefer to think that someone who looks like them is one of them. Most things we have to do are to find our kin or changelings who have been lost amongst the land dwellers. Because our nature puts us apart, they are usually in solitude and it is much easier to find them. Missions like this are rare. Very rare."
He nodded and pulled a scarf around his neck, twice and watched as Maria started to turn the lamps off inside the office area.
"Now lead the girl out to the trail while I finish up here. Soon we will be in the tunnels of the City and out of sight, out of mind and not out of place."
Holding out his hand to Lisa he said, "Come with me girl," and watched her move in a way that showed she walked with instinct, not forethought, and knew that guiding her would be a problem as he would have to think for her. With her gloved hand held by his, he did not look at her face and led her out of the office and then out through the jumble at the cave entrance and into the cold air of the outiside and then along the train tracks. Only a dusting of snow had fallen and ice had started to hang from tree limbs and the rock itself. When Maria came she took the lead as they walked along the edge of the old industrial complex and then the side of the hill slope it was built into. Their way was clear, their future less so.
The third Brandenburg Concerto had just started as Guthrie was taking the South Island's northern bridge out to the road that paralleled Gotham City. It had been a long morning and he had spent most of it removing three more power pools that had been placed down on the western part of the North Island. He had thought that he had gotten to a major tangle point of affinity when he found the old cornerstone of a building that had once been a tannery and was now a social club of some sort. There was a tangling of color there that made finding out what was holding it together crucial to begin to sort out what else was on the North Island. Alas, that was not the case and, if anything, the color mixtures on the South Island became stronger and more confused with the removal of the pool at the cornerstone.
What it had revealed, however, was that a tangled set of affinities pointed out and off of the North Island and back to the mainland, which meant that something that was crossed between the Formless Ones and that other set of lines was actually outside of Gotham City. And to him the most important fact is that the main set of confusion power was not tangled with it. To him this meant quite a lot as there was now something outside of Gotham City that just might actually be available for him to get to those things of power that he knew existed in Gotham City but were so well masked that they could not be readily identified. To him this was not a setback but a path forward and as he had not been attuned to the affinities coming into Gotham City he had readily overlooked the various forms of affinity and power that flowed through it. He was now oriented on the peculiar things that had made Gotham City home and all else faded into the background as his search continued.
The drive went through the rest of the Concerto #3 and then to #4 as he started seeing signs for the Interstate, Gotham City's airport and the cemetary. He thought, as he passed by the lines of affinity, that he would end up at the airport until he saw that the lines would have to cross the cemetary first. A service road took him to a back entry road and he pulled the Bora to a stop and shut it down at the gate there, which was closed. There he could see that the lines ended in a grave in the southeast interior of the cemetary, just at the edge of empty land reserved for future use. Clambering over a fence mattered little to him and he also saw as he approached that there was a very weak loop-back affinity to Gotham City, with a weak intensity but color to it that was the other color, neither Formless nor Gotham Maker, and he kept its general direction in mind as he approached the grave. Getting closer he also saw that Maker's affinity which was not giving a surface color reading because it was attached to the bottom of the headstone and, probably, to something beneath the grave which meant that its line was underground.
"I am getting tired of that Maker, whoever it is," he said to himself as he stepped to the grave and took a moment to see that there was something wrong with it. He was no expert in the affinities of ground and rock, those things were not of his normal caring and he rarely had to deal with them, and the affinities here were tied into a ground affinity of some sort.
"Ahhh... Shag. There are many denizens of that part of the realm of sleep," he said softly to himself as he ran his hand over the grass in front of the grave and read the name on it.
"Lisa Choi," he said softly and knelt to inhale over the surface of the grave.
"Ghoul?" he asked as he peered at the ground and stood up to walk around the grave.
"Have you been predated?" he knelt again and saw other affinities now that he knew a Ghoul from Shag was involved. He saw that it was not a pure affinity and that it was mixed up with some other affinities. He followed that trail until he found a place where the Ghoul's affinity abruptly ended and there he squatted over the grass and looked at it.
"Ahhh... you have been killed! The evidence is on the grass for all to see, albeit brown red and frozen. By spring all traces will be gone... " he stood up and stepped two paces back and looked around and now saw that the realm of Shag was tangled not only with the Ghoul but with Lisa Choi as well. Spending a moment he inhaled again and other color started to change in intensity as he sought out what it was that would take interest in a dead woman. Slowly the gray-green affinity shifted out from amongst others and to show that they were attached to Lisa Choi.
"She was buried... alive? But what of Shag? N'gha f'tagn? But that couldn't be."
He had, of course, run across those who were n'gha f'tagn, and even see how they had come to be that way, but those were not things that a human could undergo and get to that state of being. Indeed that which had breathed the Winds out was f'tagn, body ripped asunder to give its life for that which was, but Lisa Choi was on no order of being that could accept such a state of being. Those who had come to get her, however, they knew about beings who could be n'gha f'tagn and its associated states of being. In fact that which they held up as the One they obeyed was n'gha f'tagn and while It slumbered It could still make It's will felt. This was dangerous, of course and he turned back to the grave to look at it once more.
"Now I know what your affinity looks like, Lisa Choi, or at least those attached to you. These ones who came for you..." he shook his head and thought a moment. "What happened to you, Lisa, is something beyond my knowledge. I do not believe that it was ever meant to happen, to have one like you become as you are. Something else is making its presence felt, here, and their attachments to you are plain for me to see and smell. The smell and sight of that other woman that coursed through the Convention Center, that is attached to you, as well, isn't it? Hers was slightly different in tone and held a simpler aroma, but I can see it and smell it here as well."
He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly as he stepped onto the grave plot that had held Lisa Choi.
The he inhaled slowly, deeply, and the sound of a wind whispering through the branches of trees could be felt and heard. The Valley of the Gotham River had a chill north wind push down it and he held out his arms to let it flow around him. Then, as quickly as it came, the wind went and Guthrie stood for a moment with his arms outstretched and then opened his eyes quickly.
"Yes! Symmetry. Three for three, and a set of opposites."
Slowly he exhaled and smiled.
"Well, Lisa Choi, you are bound together with those other two while still living, and if those who have taken you have any skill with affinity, then I could spend a week here searching for you and you would be gone to their purposes. Still what binds you will draw you together when strain is placed amongst you, and you will flow towards each other and to the center of the storm, and everything else will be dragged with you. I know how storms work, Lisa Choi, and it is not just the items that matter, is it? If those who took you cannot solve your riddle of n'gha f'tagn then no one can. For me, it is time to find those things that center the storm and then control it."
He turned to look at Gotham City in the distance and smiled.
"They do not know what such a storm can bring, dear souls. It can make rock meaningless and turn it into powder. And it can breathe life, such a storm can, even into one forgotten who is n'gha f'tagn. And that is why I am here."
In a few minutes he was in the Bora and hearing it sigh like the wind. As he drove icicles that had formed on trees and drainpipes facing south started to fall with a clatter, the remains of chill wind on the move.
The day was chilly but the air still as she walked in front of Monroe's. It was a favorite chocolate store of hers and she could remember back to when her father took her there in her childhood, with its wooden floors and bright white service bar behind which Olaf Monroe stood in his white outfit with the large apron. He was a jolly man with red cheeks and red hair, and always had a bag of gumdrops for her when she could sneak on the bus to get to the old streets of Gotham. Today was cloudy and she could see her reflection in the glass and the large glassy structure that was Wayne Tower with its wide lawn, with cars at the entrance. As she gazed into the store she could see a mother with two young children at a table, midway into the shop, and Olaf's eldest son, Taylor, was now in charge of the store and bringing the three their orders.
She felt something like a rumble, perhaps of a distant storm or a subway train coming into the nearby station.
Blinking she saw that she was in her night-time attire with mask on, and that no one remarked on this.
Or that her attire was a ghostly red, not black.
Movement in the window caught her eye and she turned her head to gaze at the movement.
There was a woman in the window... not inside the store but in the window... on hands and knees with a white hooded robe on. She was on some sort of a path made of sand and she had stopped to look off to her left. A pool of darkness hovered there. The woman stood up, wearily, and shifted enough so that her face could be seen.
There was a rumbling that started low and she looked across the street as it was coming from Wayne Tower.
Motion in the glass showed the sand shifting under Lisa's feet and she started to slide down into some form of quick sand that had no water to it.
Another rumble and she could hear a sound to her left and looked to see the well tended lawn in front of Wayne Tower start to crack open and fall into a hole.
"A subway accident...?" she started to ask and then remembered.
"Gotham's subway is closed, abandoned."
The window of Monroe's shattered but did not break, with a series of cracks that looked like a web radiating from where Lisa was sliding into the sand.
People were pointing, and then she heard the screaming. Running, people running away, past her. A car swerved and skidded as the driver desperately tried to avoid the cracks in the pavement that were opening up.
As Lisa slid into the sand a sink hole opened in front of Wayne Tower and a form started to lift up from it.
She felt warm in her clothes even though the air was frigid.
Ground broke away as a great head, elongated with scales, lifted up from the hole.
The window of Monroe's shattered next to her as the ground rumbled even more and a cold, nearly arctic wind tore across the city as the great beast inhaled and lifted up its wings.
She gazed at it, mesmerized, as the beast bellowed and the wings beat down sending a wind through Gotham City unlike any other. She was knocked down by it and clung to the sidewalk so that she would be thrown no further. From high above her she could see the shadow of the beast as the clouds parted for it, and then heard it again, but this time not in a roar.
Redness, at first a dot, appeared and then grew and went past red hot... yellow hot... blue hot... as it came down.
As it burst around her she could feel the heat, hear people scream, see the pavement shatter and melt, and heard buildings cracking with the force of the fire. Even as all else burned around her, she was untouched. And what she saw amongst the flames were pathways that roiled in the air in front of her going in so many different directions. She did what she knew she had to do and stepped forward towards the place the path started, just by the sink hole. With careful steps she walked amongst the flowing street and burning cars until she reached the base of the pathways stretching out around her and stepped onto it.
The fires went out.
The redness even from her clothing faded.
She heard the voice of Lisa Choi.
"But can't you see? Nothing is here but a scarecrow..."
Selina Kyle jolted awake in a cold sweat, her bed sheets and blanket tangled around her like some serpent.
She could not shake the vision of her dream and felt as if everything she did had some part to play in that dream she had. It was a dream of the outcome of failure and she couldn't believe that anything like that would ever depend upon her.
"I'm just a burglar..." she whispered as she saw Conrad sitting at the foot of the bed, looking south as the mid-day sunshine flowed in through the window. The hackles on his back were raised as he stared out towards the south. The sound he was making was not purring but a soft growling as if something he did not like was lurking just beyond.
"What have I gotten myself into?"
The small space heater in the boat house was enough to take the chill out of the room and the Project watched as Sgt. Rock changed into his blue dress uniform from the closet.
"I always try to have a back-up set of clothes and what is at Vivian's needs to be dry cleaned. Old mess uniform is hard to come by, even at milsurp stores, at least from the War. I had to buy this one when Sally died since my old one had shrunk and was beginning to look worn and it wasn't right for her funeral or the other events for what is left of Easy Company."
"Yes," the Project said, "recent production clothes are different than from the 1942-1945 and immediate post-war era. With a hairdrier and misting device it is possible to do dry cleaning at a domicile."
Rock had gotten socks on and was pulling the pants up, and then took a belt off of the hanger that the pants had been on. He pulled the belt through the loops and sighed.
"Need a new belt, soon. The back is cracked all to hell on this one."
"It needs an additional hole," the Project said as it walked over to take a shirt from the closet.
"We'll visit the Charter Store this week, see if there isn't a good garrison belt there. Those don't change much over time. Too bad a holster belt isn't something most people wear these days."
The Project handed frank the white shirt and he pulled it on over the tank top shirt he was already wearing. And then the light blue suspenders with the crossed muskets insignia.
"Your shoulder holster wears well with a suit coat or dress jacket."
"If I leave the jacket open, it does, can't do that for mess uniform, and it would get in the way of the suspenders," Frank said as he buttoned the shirt up and then tucked it into his pants and fastened the belt. "Doesn't need an extra hole. It just keeps catching the fabric to the side, that's why its here with my spares. I never expected to actually have to wear any of this any time soon as the Easy get-togethers are usually in July. Nice cedar closet here for keeping clothes, even at the waterside," he said taking the bow tie and shifting it around his collar, tying it and then turning his collar down.
Rock took a look at the mirror on the dresser and walked towards it and close enough to shift it so he could inspect the results and straighten his bow tie.
"You can get away with a turtleneck and a suitcoat, at least. That is still respectable even for high class establishments as long as you have good pants and shoes with them."
Looking down at its attire the Project shifted its feet which were in black wingtip shoes.
"Boots would be preferable for the weather conditions," it said.
"Heh. Yes, they would. Welcome to being part of society, Tom. I hate formal events and only put up with them for family and close friends."
The Project looked up and back at Sgt. Rock.
"Is Selina Kyle a friend?"
Frank inhaled, and shook his head.
"No, she isn't. Vivian, however, is and for a gift for her, it is worth the inconvenience. I'm glad we had time to drop her off at the motor pool so she could get the Trans-Am out. I know she would have wanted to drive us out here, but that would require more questions than I really want to answer right now."
The Project nodded.
"Do you think your birthday gift to her was appropriate?"
Frank watched as the Project moved to the closet to get his Army dress coat out of it.
"You weren't with her on the way from KC to Gotham. She complained a few times about not having a duffel that would store her clothes right. A good pack with compartments and pockets is what she needed and that is what I got her. And she has used it a few times taking Wayne out on business trips."
As the Project removed the coat from the hanger, Frank turned so that he could slip his arms into it. The Project shifted the shoulders so that the coat hung properly on them.
"She enjoys the space of it and that it allows her to carry more clothes when they are properly folded. She has accessorized it with internal bags and external pouches."
Frank turned as he started to button down the coat, which gave a lean and trim appearance to his body and one that spoke of an earned condition that only the battlefield can grant.
"She will wear it out in five years if not sooner. I want her to have something durable."
"She is good at wearing things out," the Project said.
Nodding Frank stepped to the dresser and picked up a black plastic comb and slid it through his short hair. He slid that into a pocket inside his coat and then started to put his wallet, changepurse, and keys into appropriate pockets that he was long accustomed to. After that he picked the blue cap up from the dresser and put it on. With its precise folding and sharp corners it completed the mess uniform. Frank shook his head.
"She does at that. More or less presentable but I still feel like a salad bar with all of that color and metal on the left, but its good enough to be seen at an upscale establishment."
"Yes. The M1911 will be in the case."
"Have to. Easily seen when I'm dressed like this and no real good holster to go with it. Dress and holster are hard to match, and I hate white holsters."
"It would have a good contrast with the belt and be suitable for formal events. White is a local cultural sign for peace."
Frank Rock raised an eyebrow as he took the cap off and handed it to the Project, as he walked over to turn the space heater off.
"They look like hell, though. Great for MPs. Not so good for formal dining."
A travel case was open beside the dresser and the Project set the folded cap down on top of the other clothing in it, then snapped the top shut and picked it up to move it by the coat stand. Each of them helped the other get their winter coats on and zippered them up before they left the room and the Project took up the case as it did so. Frank had picked up the case containing Old Reliable.
"Where is our next destination?" the Project asked as it waited for Frank to leave the room. As he did it closed and locked the door to it.
"Flower shop, if we can find one open, at least. Candy store if we can't."
The Project turned to look at him.
"Corsage and bouquet will mean I expect entirely formal and civilized behavior. If not a small box of gift chocolates will do, similarly."
"Is that expected of you?"
"Of course not. I'm a gruff soldier, steel worker, and grandfather. A rough man who went through rough times and had a rough trade. If her mother knows of me, then it will help you by giving her a reminder of what it was like to be treated by a gentleman."
"You are utilizing psychoanalytical covert subterfuge to gain a desired end."
Frank raised his eyebrows and nodded.
"I've seen what parents can do to their kids, Tom. Selina wants me to deflect her mom, keep her on better behavior. I am going to make like I'm actually dating her daughter, or at least give the impression that I'm interested in it. She may or may not like that, but she will be faced with a rough man acting in all the right ways and at our first meeting I am to impress her. Even the most manipulative of parents knows not to screw up a good thing. And not to bite off more than they can chew. The war spit me out at the end."
Frank's face hardened as he spoke, turning into a grim scowl.
"There are complexities to human inter-relationships that are not covered in my background programming, Sergeant."
"I'm no expert," Frank said, "and didn't date anyone but Sally. My friends did that and I got to see what they got over time. Plus my own kids from other parents. Seliina appears to be a nice enough young woman, and if she needs an old hand at side-tracking her mother, then it is worth the heartache. The best way to side-track is right from the start. By the time her mother gets on track it will be time for dessert. That is my plan and I'm sticking to it."
Looking at Frank the Project tried to process all it had heard, what it saw of Frank's gestures and biological signs. It was coming up with multiple UNKNOWNS in categories covering human interactions, human intent and psychological analysis with forecasting included. There is a difference between knowing typical human interactions and seeing them played out at first hand. The descriptions were not fitting with what was being seen and that threw the Project over to its base adaptive software to deal with what was going on.
"I will follow your lead," it said after a large number of nanoseconds that stretched into a few actual seconds.
"Great. Now lets get out of here. I know of one or two shops that might do, but have no idea if they are open, and navigating the streets will be difficult in a few places. Once we are done, I'll find a men's room to change back into my regular clothing, and not feel like a blue flower display. Next up, flowers."
Together the two went to the vehicle and Frank took the driver's seat. Soon the Z28 was pulling out of the small parking area and onto the access road to hit the State highway. A work crew was on the North Island's highway bridge diverting traffic and trying to figure out exactly what had bent one of the mid-structural members of the bridge and, if it was a vehicle, exactly what sort of vehicle could do that sort of damage. The Project stared at it as they passed but made no comment.
A side door opened on the darkened room, from a barely lit hall carved from the rock beyond. With a soft click lights awoke over the large room, a place that had once been large wine cellar had been expanded, had concrete poured for walls, floor and ceiling and was turned into some strange cross between a bunker and a workshop. The dark figure walked into the room, passing by large objects with black tarps over them, and past shelving that stood back to back along the left side forming an aisle next to the wall that held yet more shelves. Lower objects also had tarps on them, and there were three that the figure walked towards.
His gloved hand slid over the first, giving a slight rasp as it did so.
"The Gaunt," he said softly, "more racer than practical. Still it served when I started, but its days are over."
Some steps past that he came to another object that was larger, longer than the first.
"Longnose," he whispered, "I think my father would have liked it."
At the last vehicle he stopped.
"It isn't fully prepped, but it is armored. I haven't had time to get all the electronics in and that may be a good thing."
He grasped the tarp and pulled it off the vehicle, which looked very similar to the one just ruined. His eyes ran over it as he reached to his belt and signaled the vehicle, which turned its lights on and swung the left side door open. It was not the sleek gull wing, but one with a single step stair and raising door. The light on the inside gleamed a yellow-red and he walked towards it, stepped into it and started flipping safeties up from switches and then began the sequence to bring the vehicle back to life.
"Nothing this good is left to waste," he said sitting in the test prototype vehicle made up before the competition model that now laid at the bottom of the Gotham River. "And now I have need of it."
The memory of pulling the ejection lever which would also engage the thermite charges were bitter to him. The cape had saved him from the ice cold Gotham River and allowed him to land on the far side of it to see the last of thermite consuming the vehicle as it sunk to the bottom of the channel and out of sight. He had looked back and seen the figure get back into the Bora and then leave the scene. Leaving him for dead.
"I still don't understand who you Guthrie Lewis, or what is going on. But after what you did, there must be some connection."
He looked at the gauges, and started making a mental list of what had to be done to get the vehicle prepared for use. It was only meant to be a back-up vehicle for when the main vehicle needed servicing or repairs. It was either this or the armored Longnose, the vehicle he had put together out of pieces that his father had collected to keep the old '39 Cadillac V16 in service as the family excursion car. While he enjoyed putting that vehicle together, he knew that it was no match for the Bora, and while the old Gaunt could do, it was lacking in armor. If he lost this vehicle, then he would be back to the Longnose.
"If this vehicle cannot survive another encounter with Guthrie Lewis, then I doubt that I will, either."
He would have long hours and little rest to get the back-up vehicle fully up and operational and he looked forward to the hard work to allow him to vent his anger and frustration into some useful activity so that he could clear his mind of such things and then look at events dispassionately. That was when he was most effective, but simple meditation would not do at this point, to allow clarity of thought.
As he stepped out of the car he started to take his helmet off, as well as the cape and then gloves.
It was time for Bruce Wayne to get to work as if his life depended on it.
Because it did.
Barbara had been surprised that everyone had eventually gotten some rest in, or at least she and Erin had somewhat fitfully on the old bed after she had gotten Dr. Gotham to get a phone extension down to the basement so she could let her mother and father know where she was and that she was safe for the night. Neither of them liked it, but she indicated that there might be some clue as to what was going on in Gotham with the weather and her father had grudgingly agreed not to send a patrol car over to get lost in the Shambles.
Dr. Gotham was up before either of them and made toast and offered to fry up some eggs or cook some hot cereal on the hot plate. He would have had to make do with the sofa, and it did have a blanket on it that looked used, so she assumed he had rested somewhere in the early morning hours. Barbara had stuck with toast and coffee as she used the old bathroom area and used a washcloth to clean off her face, and then used one of a stack of white hotel towels that were in an old box to dry off. Erin woke up soon after and while she was eating Barbara wandered back to the work table and examined it.
A semi-circle was drawn on a large piece of paper rescued from some box, and it had a number of notes written on it along with other notes on readjustable adhesive paper which was very handy as some items had to be moved a few times as the circle was drawn. She could hear Dr. Gotham cleaning the dishes in the old sink and setting them out to dry and in a few minutes he and Erin had joined her to look at their work.
"It's a mess," Erin said.
"An organized mess, Ms. Norris. Without the two of you I would be unable to fill most of the events in or understand what had happened in Gotham City during my absence."
Barbara walked to her right around the table and looked where they had left off, with the Urban Renewal project that had also created the Underworld. She looked at the notes that were stuck to the semi-circle and the one for Dr. Gotham and the amulet containing the supposed tooth of Tiamat had its start date March 29, 1935 with the start of the semi-circle being just a few days ahead of that. With the Curiousity Shop there were notes adhering to it for the inscribed ring being 1899 and the Faberge Spider necklace in 1937.
"Why isn't the ring the start of this circle?" she asked looking at Dr. Gotham.
He looked from across the table at her from a chair he had dragged in from the other room. A stash of folding chairs was stuck in an old coat closet and had provided semi-modern if uncomfortable seating for each of them.
"It is a good possibility, of course, and I did see that the inscription dealt with the mother of Quetzl or mother of dragons being resurrected, but it seemed to be something that attracted little attention and sat without any interested people coming to look for it. The caretaker of the Rhinold Estate had liquidated it via a naval stores shop and the sailor that purchased it thought the item was undervalued and sold it to the Curiousity Shop and made a profit. There had been an influx of overseas items due to the Exposition which had been in 1896 and was closed at the end of 1897. Rhinold had already disposed of the amulet in the cave by then, and the final close-out of the Estate would record the ring as sold off for estate maintenance. The Faberge Spider would go to Estrella Rhinold and only appear in the shop after I was put in stasis."
"I think that fits better," Erin said, "going with the whole circle thing, you know? If thats how this Boreas sees things, then the ring would be key, being round and all, wouldn't it?"
"I just don't know," Dr. Gotham said as he looked at Erin, "My personal feelings do get involved, and that snatching away of me in Train 125 may be giving me a bias in this case. I will go with what the two of you decide because of that, as I was just looking for some starting point."
Barbara picked up the magic marker and drew back from the previous start of the circle and went back a bit to 1899, and moved the note for the ring to there.
"Hmmmm...." Dr. Gotham said leaning forward and bringing his fingers together under his nose, "... then all three items are associated with the shop, two by purchase and one by commissioned work, in 1937. The Spider had been a Rhinold purchase, one of the last before his commitment and need for an estate manager, after he returned from China in 1893-94 from a minor noble family that would have some fame during the Great War. By 1895 Chester Rhinold's insanity had started and the amulet was not to be found, and that would be the last time all three items were together. He did have some periods of sanity, but nothing that was longlasting. Thus nearly 40 years from the items last being together to Martha Wayne nee Culligan finding it where it was hidden, presumably by Chester Rhinold."
He reached forward and detached a note and placed it before his disappearance and wrote down the amulet and Martha Culligan on it.
"And she was the actual owner of it by finding it?" Erin asked.
"There were no claimants, Ms. Norris," Dr. Gotham said, "it is the right of finding and it was hers. Even after the shop paid fair value for it, and then a bit more, if found it rightfully belongs not to the shop but to the original owner or successor."
Erin reached for a magic marker and drew the circle a bit further up and curving as she did so, while Barbara wrote a note for the return of the Amulet to Bruce Wayne in October of 1984.
"Why that is almost 90 years after the Amulet was put on that hidden ledge!"
"He could have done it in the late fall or early winter of 1894, couldn't he?" Barbara asked.
"Yes, he could have."
"And now the Amulet and the Ring are together, at the Historical Museum," Erin said looking at the circle, "and you said you sent someone to steal the Faberge back for you."
"I did, yes. The best that I could find in such things, a professional. The woman of cat, sent to be your replacement from the South, Erin. I have an item she thinks is fair trade for such work and while it would be an illegal contract to the law, that is only to the legal system which is just one form of law, though it is the public form."
Barbara shook her head.
"Catwoman! Daddy would... well... she's really been a pain to not just the GCPD but to the FBI and a few other departments as well. I can't believe you got her to get the Spider necklace. And I can't tell him a word about this, either."
"Correct Miss Gordon, that is the consequence of being here and trying to save our lives. There are unknown consequences if we try to expand this beyond those already involved. And in almost every circumstance that such things happen, they do not end well for any involved. I keep her name from you two so you will not be tempted by it in the future."
"But why isn't she replacing West? I mean, from the way you described it, wouldn't she have that... affinity... for West being cat oriented and everything?" Erin asked.
"It would be a transformation to be White and West and the Tiger. While she has Tiger, she is neither of White nor West and is easier recast into Red and South, the Phoenix, which is not an easy place to be. The Batman holds White, West and has the heart of a Tiger and cannot be dislodged from that role, unless the Frame or Loom is shattered. In a circle he is just another part of the Gyre of Events, of no consequence due to orientation as all are swept up equally."
Barbara looked at Dr. Gotham and sat down in her chair.
"Wait a moment... Isn't Catwoman supposed to be the spear that breaks the Frame or Loom?"
Dr. Gotham nodded his head forward.
"If Boreas is breaking it, then what happens to her?"
Dr. Gotham sat back wide-eyed and whispered softly to himself.
"What have I done?"