Chapter 4: Well that's funny
There were differences between the all-nighters of a cat burglar and those of a crimefighter, and Selina was not enjoying them. She had slept in, that part was the same—better, in fact, in the crisp Irish linen of Bruce’s bed. But the breakfast tray, the juice would have been fine, but just the smell of the coffee filled her mouth with a sour aftertaste. She had drunk entirely too much coffee researching Pequena. Entirely too much. She could still taste it, and the idea of tasting more—yuck.
But she did feel the need for some kind of stimulation to convince her body to start the new day, so she went across the hall to her suite and began a vigorous workout. It wasn’t caffeine, but it got her blood pumping (despite a brief interruption from Tim with yet another girl dilemma, and you really had to wonder if there was just something in the capes that made the bat boys such a mess with the opposite sex). Then she opted for a cold shower instead of a hot one, and headed down to the cave to resume her research on Eduardo Pequena, the chess set he coveted, and the museum where it was so briefly on display.
She had planned to announce her arrival with a few feline pronouncements about the inferiority of crimefighter all-nighters, but she heard voices. Bruce’s but not Tim’s. She had to wonder who he was talking to. Whoever it was, she couldn’t place their voice until she reached the main cavern and saw Bruce, fully in costume, and Aquaman looming on the big viewscreen.
“The childhood impulse to believe in a boogey man,” he said sheepishly.
“Explain,” Batman graveled.
“Hey Arthur!” Selina waved. “Kitty’s here, but don’t worry, I’m not getting cat hair on your conference call.”
After the expected greeting from Aquaman and non-committal grunt from Bruce, she returned to workstation 2 to continue her research on the chess set. She hadn’t intended to listen to the call, but it did sound interesting…
“The ancient history of Atlantis is far more civilized than surface cultures of a similar age,” Aquaman was saying, “but it was not a utopia. There has been turbulence and conflict, even wars, mostly having to do with displaced sea life in the early days of expansion.
“And there is one enemy that stands apart from all the others. We call them the Shadow Deep, a race with coral-black skin, monstrous claws, opaque eyes, and huge jaws filled with razor-sharp teeth, who live in the great trenches that line a particular seamount in the North Atlantic.
“The Atlantis Chronicles are not terribly precise about time, but most of our scholars place the Shadow Deep’s first appearance about eighteen-hundred years ago. They view light as an invasion, you see, and they first bubbled up to the ocean floor when our expansion into the waters above their trenches introduced light into their world for the first time. They rose to attack us for the intrusion, without any inkling, it seems, of what it was they were going to attack. They made two equally repugnant discoveries: they found the people of Atlantis were sentient beings with a technology equal to their own, and they discovered color. Viewing light as the ultimate evil, they seemed to view this notion of color as the ultimate obscenity. These three elements—Atlantis, light, and color—seem to be linked in their mind in a most irrational fashion, and a deep hatred developed for all three as if it was one reprehensible thing. They became consumed with the idea of eradicating us from the oceans.
“The first war lasted for nearly two hundred years. The Atlantean people fought long and hard, battling these creatures wherever they surfaced. The conflicts ranged from minor skirmishes to full-out battles, with each side losing soldiers by the thousands. Eventually, the Shadow Deep were defeated, and they retreated back into their trenches. They have resurfaced on occasion, but each time they are defeated and sent back to the depths.
“The problem is that they tend to wait centuries before creeping back up, so several generations have passed between encounters. All that is left are the stories, fables really. Most of my people scarcely believe the Shadow Deep exist at all, hence my remark about a boogey man.”
“I see,” Batman said. “Interesting, but as I said, there is no evidence that the container off Fiji came from under the ocean floor. I merely listed that among a half-dozen other possibilities. The most likely, as you know—”
“Is that it came from the surface, yes I agree. Fiji is far from the Shadow Deep’s territory, and nearly as far from Atlantis. There would be no reason for them to upset whales anyway. I suppose I am just a bit alarmist these days. It’s been one thing after another, as if some cosmic force is keeping me from going home.”
“A diversion?” Batman asked sharply.
“A paranoid man might think that, but no. The oceans are big; it happens this way sometimes. One thing after another, I’m sure you know what it’s like. Like now, I have to go all the way down to Fiji to look for some remnants of this container to follow up on this theory of yours, so if it is a diversion to keep me from Atlantis, it looks like you’re a part of it.”
“It’s the only way to get answers, Arthur.”
“Yes, I realize that. I just meant that… never mind. I appreciate the time you’ve already given this, Bruce. I’ll let you get back to your case, and I’ll be in touch once I’ve been to Fiji.”
One of the persistent misconceptions about Atlantis is that the name refers to a domed city on the ocean floor. To sea dwellers, that city in the Atlantic is Poseidonis, the capital of Atlantis. The word Atlantis denotes a vast kingdom that extends across the Atlantic into parts of the Arctic and Indian Oceans and even includes outposts in the Pacific and southern seas.
Like any society spread over vast distances, there are local variations and peculiarities of culture. In ancient times, each settlement had their own oral traditions, histories, and folklore. In the reign of King Aigaios III, these were compiled into one official history that became the Atlantis Chronicles. It was, like similar histories, a royal mess. Scientific fact mingled with old wives tales, legitimate history with local tall tales. A few mythic fantasies made their way in, interspersed with folk wisdom for the proper harvesting of kelp and the construction of city domes. And all of it was slapped together with no real sense of structure, tone, or internal consistency.
No one seemed to mind the contradictions until two thousand years ago, when Atlantis went through a social, artistic, and technological renaissance. Huge advancements were made in the natural and theoretical sciences, as well as in art, music, mathematics, and literature. Philosophy came into its own, and with it, a passionate desire to learn the truth about the central contradiction in the chronicles: had Atlantis begun as a surface island which sank into the sea, or did it rise from a collection of like-minded sea-dwellers clustering together for mutual protection and companionship?
With caution and trepidation, the Atlanteans began making trips to the surface to find out. They discovered a surface world that was nowhere near as advanced as Atlantis, technologically or socially. It seemed mired in an unnatural belief system that linked its science, politics, and religion, slowing the progress of any to a crawl. Early attempts at helping the surface world met with disastrous results. In some cases, the Atlanteans were attacked; in others, they were worshipped as gods. In the end, it was unofficially decided that interaction with the surface world would be kept to a minimum, for the land-dwellers’ safety as much as their own.
That remained the status quo for centuries. Atlanteans noticed changes to the man-made vessels above their heads, but they took little interest in the surface world’s advancements until they began dumping the refuse from it into the seas. Soon, the shallow water near the coastlines became disgusting, and the inhabitants retreated to the central oceans. When word reached the palace, the unofficial policy became law. King Orlen I decreed that all interaction with the surface was now strictly prohibited.
In the centuries to come, Atlantis would become more insular, focusing on advancements in her own community instead of looking outward. It was only within the last century that she began to open herself up again to the world beyond her domes. Surface technology had progressed to the point where land-dwellers could bring all the air they needed to plumb the ocean’s depths as they had once sailed on its surface. Renewed contact was becoming inevitable. And then, a new king took the throne having such strong ties to the surface world that he lifted the ban entirely.
Which led to the particular challenge that king’s personal aide faced this morning…
Selina began to chuckle as soon as the viewscreen went dark.
“Yes, Kitten?” came the ominous gravel.
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s only that… As League nutjobs go, I always considered Arthur one of the non-fluffheads. Like you.”
“Meow. But now he’s bitching about going to Fiji? I mean, sign me up for that case. Better than being up all night with a pot of stale coffee and a fuzzy webcam in Istanbul.”
“He’s anxious to get home. Is that so hard to understand?”
“My city,” Selina graveled in her mocking impersonation. “But I see your point. After the stale coffee, I got to sleep in my own bed last night. That said, I wouldn’t say no to some sun on the coral coast when this case is over.”
“Did you make any headway on Paquena or the chess set?”
“Wouldn’t have to be a tropical getaway, you know. I’d settle for a long weekend on the Gatta.”
“Oracle was working on a feed from the security cameras so you wouldn’t be stuck with the webcam.”
“Oh come on now, if I solve the Bruce Wayne kidnapping, you don’t think a little reward is in order?”
“I’ll wear a bikini.”
“I have a new one. Leopard spots, all the way around here.”
She gestured, slowly, the edge of her fingers just grazing her chest as she traced the border of the bikini top. The mental picture this evoked finally brought about the wordless scowl she’d been waiting for, accentuated by a barely perceptible stiffening of the muscles just visible through the eye slits of the cowl… Batman’s tell, the tell which meant victory. She had, once again, jostled the bat-brain until she jarred loose any thoughts of crimefighting. That task accomplished, she returned her attention to the computer screen with a purr.
“Let’s see, I know Barbara sent me something, but I hadn’t bothered to open it yet. I was just getting settled in while you finished up with Arthur. Let’s see what we’ve got here…”
Batman’s lip twitched as she typed away at her keyboard, babbling cheerily:
“Yep, there it is. She cracked eight different datastreams in and around the museum. You should give that girl a raise. Looks like a bonanza. Datastream 1 is… ah, it’s the parking lot. Woof.”
She was crimefighting.
“Stream 2… looks like a service entrance. Pfft, who cares?”
In his cave.
Just as he’d dreamed it.
“At first I was surprised you hadn’t make more headway this morning. I knew you’d been up for hours. I guess Arthur’s thing kept you busy?”
And she was still Catwoman.
“Hm, that must be the curator’s office, I think. Hey look, they’ve still got my picture up!”
Still completely that impossible woman he’d fought on all those rooftops.
“Come on, guys, get over it. You booked a blockbuster exhibit you did not have the security for, and Kitty picked up the option.”
Of all the things the Post got wrong, of all their absurdities she had taken offense at, she never seemed to notice the one that most offended him: their preposterous crimefighter cat had no hint of the vibrant, playful, sexy woman Catwoman was, no hint of the qualities that made her—
“Well that’s funny.”
Bruce’s train of thought was blasted off the track by a tone of voice and a formula of words he’d only heard in the laboratory. Cambridge, twenty-eight months into his years of travel, the Lensfield Road Laboratory, Dr. Frederick Glen. He’d led Glen to believe his interest was research, and he had timed his arrival to be placed on the Khimii team. Two weeks into the analysis of double oxygen bonds in polymers, Glen mentioned that moments of historic and significant scientific discovery seldom get a “Eureka.” The more common herald is a silent, crinkled brow and a barely audible “Well that’s funny.”
It might have been true, it might have been interesting, and it might have been insightful, but it had no bearing on his Mission. Bruce therefore filed it in the dustbin of his mind under useless trivia… until eight years later, when he actually saw it happen during a surprise visit to the Wayne Aerospace Facility. A League mission with Clark left him in the neighborhood, so he dropped in. Everyone in the lab had snapped to attention, dropped what they were doing, and fawned over him as the head of the company—everyone except for one chubby fellow who was the last to leave his station. He kept glancing back to a stack of papers while he waited for Bruce to make his way down the line. When Bruce reached him and mentioned that the guy seemed distracted, he looked back at his papers again and said “Well it’s funny, this one set of numbers doesn’t seem quite…”
A month later, WayneTech had fourteen patents on Aerogel and a virtual monopoly manufacturing ultralight materials for space travel.
“Well that’s funny,” Selina had said.
Batman walked over to her workstation and looked over her shoulder rather than asking her to explain.
“The chess set,” he noted coldly when he saw the screen.
“Yeah, screencap from Barbara’s new feed off their internal circuit. I zoomed in and cleaned it up a little. Is it me, or does that black king look like Ra’s?”
Intelligence reports now. Valerina was too ladylike to storm out of Vulko’s office, but she wasn’t above giving the door a good slam when she got back to the king’s private office behind the throne room. With Arthur out of the palace, there was no honor guard stationed there. With no one at all to hear, she opened the door again and gave it a second slam.
She should have known this was coming, she really should have. Not the specifics. Some problem with the satellite, some kind of “sunspots” making it necessary to cancel the king’s conference with Vulko, that she couldn’t expect to foresee. But that he would find some way to dump the intelligence reports on her desk again, that she really should have seen coming.
It’s not like they were delicate state secrets or anything. That was clear the first time Arthur sent for her. He wasn’t Arthur back then; he was “My Liege.” He was more “My Liege” than he had ever been, because only that morning she’d had to go to his quarters to tell him about an incoming transmission from the Watchtower while he was still in his bedchamber. It was only her second time in the king’s private quarters, and the sight of him walking out of the washroom tying the cord around is robe had blasted all his instructions out of her head. She instantly reverted to the “Proper Palace Manners” she’d been taught since the nursery.
She left almost immediately so he could take his call in private, but he called her back a few hours later.
“Did you go pier hopping?” he asked casually.
“Sire?” she managed.
“Valerina, isn’t it? You seem young enough. Did you go pier hopping?”
“Yes, sire, once or twice,” she said with a shy blush.
“I thought so. It’s only the young who take advantage of the new freedoms. I expected as much. It’s nearly a thousand years since Orlen I and the Surface Prohibition Decree.” He said the last words in a gravelly baritone, making it sound absurdly dramatic, and then laughed like it was a private joke. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was in everyone’s best interests at the time. Surface civilization circa 1183 was not exactly civilized. But that was then and this is now, and we can no longer afford to cut ourselves off from the modern world. So I lifted the ban. I lifted it for the same reason King Orlen made it, for the surface world’s benefit as well as our own.”
“Sire, why are you telling me this?”
“What did I say about that? Call me Arthur, or at least Orin.”
“Orin,” she said awkwardly, “May I ask why you are telling me this?”
“Because after a thousand years of isolation, I knew it wasn’t going to happen over night. I knew it would be the young who first took me up on it. It’s always the young, Valerina, who will adopt a new idea or hop on board with a new freedom. You seem just about the right age.”
In one sense, she was a little young for what he was saying. The first wave of pier hoppers was many years ahead of her in school. But she knew what he meant. In the first years after the ban was lifted, it was only a nebbish subculture that visited the surface, to try this substance called “funnel cake”… until they noticed how much their parents disapproved, and then pier hopping became a right of passage every young Atlantean had to experience, at least once or twice.
“How many times did you go?” Arthur asked coaxingly.
“Ten times,” she giggled, sharing an embarrassing secret.
“Always the quiet ones,” he laughed, shaking his head.
Selina smiled to herself while Batman raced to his own workstation, closed all the Atlantis files he had open, and began typing with a savagery usually reserved for muggers with handguns.
“I remember the first time I saw you do that,” she laughed. “It was about six months after the masks came off, remember? Ra’s was in Gotham, fresh out of the pit and completely besotted with Black Canary, making appearances on talk shows trying to clean up his image.”
“Your point?” Batman growled without slowing his typing.
“I don’t have a point. I just love you and I love watching you do that.”
“Overreact. Just because it’s Ra’s al Ghul: light of the East, terror of the West, ego of egos and narcissist of narcissists. Yea that none born after Charlemagne can fathom just how in love with himself this guy is.”
“Selina, he set Bruce Wayne up to be kidnapped. The portrait on that chessman is no coincidence. Ra’s has to be involved. He has to have lent it knowing Pequena would want it and would do whatever he had to in order to get it. He contrived this entire situation—a museum only you can get into on short notice, lending the pieces for such a short time—all to set that kidnapping in motion.”
“Like a good chess opening. Yes, Bruce, I agree. I’ll go you one better. He knows you’re Batman, so he had to know whatever tracer, fixer, mercenary, or goon Pequena hired would fail. Wait, scratch that. ‘Fail’ is what happens when some hack from the Gotham Post tries to break into broadcasting. What Ra’s had to know would happen with Paquena’s goons is that you would hand them their ass.”
“Agreed. It’s a diversion.”
“Agreed.” This last said with the naughtiest of grins.
“Agreed,” Batman repeated, uneasy at the air of unanimous agreement. “And I am trying to determine what is happening that Ra’s wants to divert my attention from, so if you’ll excuse me—”
“Yes, of course you’re going to do that—in a minute. But first, Bruce, love of my life, stop! You’re already onto him, so take ten seconds and see the funny. He has a chess set… with a portrait of himself… as the king. I mean, he didn’t commission this last week, that thing is hundreds of years old. He had it. It was laying around someplace, in some dusty guest room in a castle in Mongolia.”
She laughed and Batman scowled.
Selina walked over to his workstation, took his hand, and led him back to her computer. With the two of them standing before the monitor, she pointed at the closeup of the chess set’s black king.
Then she looked at Bruce.
He glowered at the screen… the king glowered back… and then…
Batman’s lip twitched.
“Good. Meow in fact.” And with that, she bobbed up and kissed his cheek. “Now we go get him.”
“Impossible woman,” he grumbled (with yet another lip twitch) as he returned to his workstation.
“My liege, King Orin, sire,” Valerina had teased with a daring she would not have been capable of moments before, “Am I to understand that you called me to your quarters just to ask if I had ever been pier hopping? And you still won’t tell me why?”
“It’s these intelligence reports,” he said, returning to his desk and pointing at a stack of paper with disdain. “A kingdom as large and prosperous as Atlantis can’t rely solely on the rest of the world for information about the rest of the world. It’s called a conflict of interest. Surface governments, surface media, surface corporations, it’s like they’re genetically incapable of telling the truth. We need spies, Valerina. But after a thousand years of isolation, we’re not very good at it.
“A few years ago, General Phriss had the idea that, if his men couldn’t infiltrate a fishing village in Norway or a hot spring in Japan, they could certainly infiltrate a cafe just outside the palace walls. They could find a few men and women who looked young for their years that could slip into the schools and the young people’s hangouts, find out where the pier hoppers have been going and what they’d seen.”
“Yes, sire. The narcs.”
Arthur looked up sharply.
“Thought so. You know about them?”
“Oh yes, sire. Everyone does, they’re very easy to spot when they come around. Although, I don’t know why they’re called that. Some sort of silverfish with faulty camouflage?”
“A surface term. Long story. Tell me, when you and your pier hopping friends identified one of these narcs, did you have a little fun with them? Tell a few tall tales?”
“Uhm,” Valerina grinned sheepishly, “we may have spun a few, yes, sire.”
“Thought as much. That will be all, Valerina. Thank you very much for your candor.”
Six months later, when she was promoted to the king’s personal aide, she learned a position had been created shortly after that conversation: the Minister of Surface Intelligence Evaluation, who would monitor surface media and crosscheck it against the findings of these pier hopper agents. Arthur was forever passing his memos on to Valerina for “her take.”
Now he’d sent word through the relay station at Sub Diego that he would be delayed another day, possibly two (no surprise there, the way this trip was turning out)… and that, because of these sun spots, he would miss his scheduled call to Vulko and wanted her to go through the intelligence memos and give him a quick overview.
Valerina knew that, sun spots aside, any excuse to give her the intelligence memos instead of Vulko was a good one, as far as Vulko was concerned. He always complained about Minister Grah and his increasingly depressed, jaded, and bitter reports.
It began with TiVO. The idea that a flash of nipple could catapult an entire technology into the mainstream of surface culture was obviously a pier hopper fiction. Minister Grah spent six weeks trying to determine how far the hoax went. The nipple incident was clearly a whopper, but what about this TiVO technology? Did it actually exist? What about this Super Bowl? What about this Justin Timberlake? Was there really such a thing as a pasty? The realization that every bit of the story was real, followed by the dual blow of Simon Cowell and Hot Pockets… Well, Valerina understood why Vulko no longer wanted to read Grah’s reports. The progression in the ones she read was striking, from “this so-called civilization” to “these allegedly civilized beings” to “borderline sentients” to, finally, “land krill.”
A chess game consists of three distinct phases: the opening, middle, and end game. In the opening, the goal is to take control of the board and line up your attack, taking care not to expose your king in the process, since he is, ironically, the weakest piece on the board…
Bruce often found himself using chess analogies when studying Ra’s al Ghul. It suited the Demon Head’s meticulous but plodding nature. The strategies were long range. Intricate and complicated to those who immersed themselves in studying the game to the exclusion of all else, but to a casual, more objective observer, they were all variations on the same two or three standards: Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, King’s or Queen’s Gambit, declined or accepted. As a metaphor, it suited Ra’s to a tee.
Chess provided a frame, a wire mesh on which to hang the known facts of a case, providing context. Before long, you saw the connections, the associations, the patterns beginning to emerge: fund Gregorian Falstaff’s bids against Wayne Enterprises; pawn to king-4. Send Talia to assassinate Falstaff, insuring she will meet the Detective; queen’s pawn to queen-3. Assume Talia will tell the Detective about the operation in Maccau, since she’s a weak-willed woman who can’t keep her mouth closed after her lips have been kissed; castle to protect the king which enables the rook to threaten the bishop, forcing the knight to intervene…
In any other Ra’s operation, chess was the key to unlocking his strategy. But not today. Somehow in using a chess set—an actual, literal chess set—in his current plan, Ra’s had wrecked the metaphor. A chess set on the game board. Chessmen as a pawn in a larger strategy. It was too self-referential. For Mxyzlptk or Riddler, that would be fine. It might even be helpful. But with Ra’s? No. Ra’s was simply not that kind of opponent.
“I can feel you seething from way over here,” Selina said mildly.
“It’s not going well,” Batman spat.
“You’ll get him,” she said, unconcerned. “Worst case scenario, it’ll be dark in a few hours and you can go into Chinatown, shake them up at the White Dragon.”
“Negative. DEMON takes ‘need to know’ to a new level. Ra’s seldom tells his own men what’s going on until it’s already happening. Even those who do ‘need to know’ don’t find out until the last minute, or are given only a fraction of the information at a time, or—my favorite—they’re given disinformation, so an individual minion never really knows if his orders constitute the real plan or if he’s just part of an elaborate decoy.”
“Luthoresque paranoia without the charm,” Selina smirked.
“Even if none of that were true, I wouldn’t want to question his minions in Gotham. Right now, Ra’s should believe his diversion is working. Paquena did try to kidnap Bruce Wayne, and Batman is on the case. As far as he knows, I don’t suspect a thing about DEMON pulling the strings.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Selina said sadly. “I just saw you sitting there, boiling, and I thought it would do you good to hit something.”
“I was thinking of firing up the Strategic Defense Regimen before lunch,” he admitted.
“Oh Bruce, not Zogger. I’ll fight with you if you want.”
“I don’t,” he graveled. “I don’t want to take the time. I just want this solved.”
Selina got up from her workstation and positioned herself behind his chair. She started rubbing his neck, and purring.
“Let’s see the calendar again,” she suggested.
In a flicker, a number of square grids appeared on the main viewscreen, at an angle, as if floating in space within the monitor. They began exchanging position, super-imposing over one another, and realigning into multi-colored matrices.
“Is there really somebody at WayneTech that does nothing but think up pretty graphic displays like that for ‘pull up the calendar?’” she asked impishly.
It was Bruce’s turn to grin.
“He needs to be replaced, Arthur. I know it’s not my place to say, but it’s not my place to be reading the intelligence reports in the first place. If you’ve got me doing the one, you get to put up with me on the other.”
…:: Yes, yes, ::.. Arthur said irritably. ..:: You know I don’t mind that. I don’t mind ‘promoting’ Grah to… I don’t know, “Counselor in charge of inter-city festivals” or something.::..
“After a long vacation,” Valerina suggested. “In his current mood, I don’t want to go to any party he’s planning.”
…:: Fine, let him take his wife out to Kapheira for a few cycles before starting his new duties. Warm currents, see the ruins, swim through the fortress. He’ll come back a new man. But I’m not ready to replace him yet, Valerina. I hoped the next minister would be one of your generation, someone who’s actually been up there a few times, who knows the difference between Rocky Road ice cream and Rolling Stone magazine. But your generation isn’t old enough yet, and until then, I can’t see burning through the Grahs like White House press secretaries.::..
“Arthur, did you see Vulko’s shortlist for Sub Diego ambassadors?”
…:: Hm? No, I had to cancel our conference this morning, remember? Why? ::..
“There’s a name on it. Litheoi Bythos.”
…:: Weasley?! Vulko’s got Arthur Weasley on the shortlist for Sub Diego!? ::…
“I don’t know why you persist in calling him that, Arthur.”
…:: Don’t read a lot of surface books, do you? ::…
“Not a big fan of reading, our stuff or theirs.”
…:: We’ve got to fix that. ::…
“No, we do not. I like to do this thing called sleeping, and considering the hours around here, that’s more than enough to fill my free time.”
..:: Arthur Weasley is a character from surface literature. He’s a wizard who possesses an impish, childlike fascination with the non-magical world, quite like Bythos and his enthusiasm for surface culture. ::..
“Ah. Well, yeah. And that’s why he’s on the bottom of the shortlist. Since those people in Sub Diego have been torn away from their surface lives, it’s probably a sore subject, and his curiosity could be—”
…:: Intrusive, I agree, but would make him a perfect choice for Grah’s job. I’ll talk to Vulko.::..
“I really hope you mean you’ll talk to him in person when you get back.”
…:: One more day. ::…
“Arthur, not another delay!”
…:: I’m onto something with the whales. I want to get it up to the Watchtower for further investigation. The nearest transporter is in Sydney. ::..
…:: Relax, Valerina. From the Watchtower, I can teleport back instantly. ;;…
“Mhm. I’ve heard that before.”
…:: And, since I’m coming through Sydney, I’ll bring you a funnel cake. ::..
It is the nature of a great city to be the crossroads of many worlds: finance, publishing, fashion, advertising, diamonds, theatre, shipping, these were but a handful of the fields for which Gotham City was Mecca. Batman was proud of his city and its people, but this dominance of so many specialized niches made a comprehensive “calendar of events” a practical impossibility.
So he downloaded calendars from many organizations: corporations, universities, chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and newspapers, each listing dozens of events each day with virtually no overlap.
He compiled them into a master document, with data-trails linking back to the source documents for automatic cross-referencing behind-the-scenes. In this way, events appealing to a particular rogue’s theme would be automatically tagged and displayed with greater prominence. It was this complex sorting and sifting routine that Selina found so amusing, although what was so funny about a graphical representation of the software’s subroutines, Bruce found hard to fathom.
“The problem,” he declared flatly, “is that so much goes on in a given day, in so many of these smaller, self-contained worlds: conventions and conferences, movie premieres, product launches, book signings and public appearances. We need some way to narrow it down, but we know nothing of Ra’s actual scheme except the timing. He lent the chessmen for this 3-week period, provoking the Wayne kidnapping to occur in this week…” He pointed. “That event was meant to keep me occupied, keep my eye off something else that is happening somewhere in this timeframe.”
“Okay, what’s that orange one?” Selina pointed.
Batman touched a key, and the shuffling of 3-dimensional data-grids began anew, until the square with the orange text zoomed to fill the screen. Once again, Selina smirked.
“An exhibit on the Crusades at Redding College Museum,” Batman read. “There’s a gold shield embossed with a lion, that might be of interest to Catman, and a vermeil chalice covered in doves, that might intrigue Oswald.”
“Hmph. So orange is for Catman? Gold lion might interest me too, you know.”
“You’re no longer in the database.”
“I feel the love,” she said while the screen reset. “Okay then, hang on, if Catwoman targets aren’t tagged, why is that line purple?”
Once again, Batman zoomed in, exposing details of the event, the source material from which it was taken, and why it was tagged.
“It’s purple for you, all right,” Batman said with a faint grin, “but not as a Catwoman target. It’s tagged as having an overlap with recent searches on your workstation.”
“No. E.J. Meadows. Tim’s science symposium. You must not have logged out last night; he came in and used your terminal.”
“Woof. I thought we were onto something.”
Batman looked thoughtful.
“Maybe we are,” he breathed. “A third of the conference is papers on bio-fuels. Bio-fuels mean energy independence, which would mean a huge tip in the balance of global power.”
“That does sound like Ra’s,” Selina said, a soft almost-sexual excitement in her voice, a predator sensing prey.
“Strategically speaking,” Batman said brusquely, “sixty of the top minds from around the world in a given field in the same place at the same time. Kill them, you set that technology back seventy-five years. Take them, you set the rest of the world back seventy-five years and monopolize the technology for yourself.”
“You can almost see him drooling,” Selina observed.
“It does sound like a perfect fit for a DEMON operation,” Batman admitted, but he didn’t trust this haphazard means of identifying a target. It was nothing but a glorified guess.
Then again, chess wasn’t working.
To be continued...