Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-07 06:46pm

Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 11: Pro Patria​


One of the most crucial steps of the thieving business was judging the physical dimensions of the loot before trying to remove it. This sounded obvious, but every rookie since the beginning of time (or at least the beginning of loot) had an uh-oh story. Some of the dumb ones had nothing but uh-oh stories. What was an uh-oh story?

Take a hypothetical thief, Johnny Pants. Late one night, Mr. Pants climbed through the second-story window of a Parisian mansion. Inside was a luxuriant study, full of treasures and antiques, and on a pedestal in that study was nothing less than the legendary lance of the legendary Sir Lancelot.

Lancelot's lance was nearly as famous as Lancelot because Lancelot lanced a lot. The lance of Lancelot was used by Lancelot a lot, and because there was a lot of Lancelot, he could lift a lot of lance. Lancelot advanced lancing as he advanced his lance; foe after foe stood no chance against his enhanced lance stance. And whether romance or finance, the lance dance advanced Lancelot's lot a lot. But even legends pass away. In time, the lance found its way by happenstance to France where it entranced Johnny Pants at a glance.

The fictional thief had come intending to pilfer a few rare books, but this was too glorious a prize to ignore. He seized the lance from its pedestal and tiptoed victoriously back to the window.

The window around a corner at the edge of the study.

The corner whose two walls formed a hypotenuse shorter than the length of the lance.

The lance that therefore couldn't go around the corner.

And therefore couldn't leave the room.

At this juncture, Johnny might say many heated and vulgar things, but the first thought to fall out his mouth would inevitably be "Uh-oh".

This would be Johnny's uh-oh story. Every thief had one, even Catwoman, though the stars would fade to ash before she shared that whopper. Secret or not, it still served as a sharp reminder; Catwoman was exactingly careful about what she tried to carry around.

Tonight that was proving difficult.

"And this is Dr. Pyg's femur stress tests from yesterday. The man's a hack, but he's had tenure since the last ice age so his job's friggen' bulletproof."

Catwoman stared at the door. "Uh-huh."

The pile of papers her captive scientist was adding to in her freshly-stolen briefcase looked awfully large. Large was bad. Large was heavy and awkward. Large was the foundation for an uh-oh story. This was not the time for an uh-oh story.

"Speaking of bulletproof, I added a few ballistics charts for light calibers to different extremities."

She sighed. "Uh-huh."

"Long story short: don't get shot in the extremities."

"Thanks for the tip."

"Don't mention it."

"I won't."

Once he got over the shock of his uninvited guest with her uninvited threats, Daniel - the glassy-eyed researcher she found - proved surprisingly eager to help. She could only assume the Dark Knight School of Motivating Confessions and Bean-spilling had its perks. The kid (they were probably the same age, but he seemed as gangly as any adolescent) explained to her that this chamber was where they tested combustives and pyrotechnics. Back in the day, they used the place to see what conditions the influenza virus could survive.

It seemed risky to explain the particulars of why she was here, so Catwoman had trouble articulating what she was looking for. She eventually asked to see results from the most recent tests. The clues would be freshest. At least it killed time; no doubt Batman was right behind her with better questions.

"-And the last experiment my team fit in this week was just some general sensory organ melting points." Catwoman cringed. Daniel didn't see her reaction and chuckled. "You'd think since fire's practically the oldest tool known to man, there'd be more solid data on the subject, but nope. Funny that."

"You're sadistic."

"Corpses can't feel pain."

"Still, how can you stand there and be so casually, well, ghoulish?"

"Look, Miss Trespasser, I respect that the ethical underpinnings for medical research are nuanced, but I save lives." He stuck out his chin with casual pride. "Every test here helps an engineer somewhere build a better helmet, better bandages, safer cars, stronger parachutes-"

"Better weapons."

"And yes, better weapons. Those save lives too. That's what happens when you donate your body to science." He shrugged. "Well, the weapon part isn't strictly spelled out in most-"

"Donate!?" Catwoman grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back into his chair. "Donate? Is that supposed to be funny?"

"Judging by the look on your face, I'm guessing the answer is no."

She backhanded him. "You're a monster."

"OW!" He rubbed his cheek. "I'm a scientist, not a mad scientist. There's a bold line between the two."

"Yeah, and it says: 'Don't kidnap the local peasantry for twisted experiments in the bowels of your castle!'"

He held his hands in front of his face. "Don't - wait, what? Kidnap?"

"You-" She searched his eyes. " … You don't know."

"What? What don't I know? Please tell me what I don't know."

Catwoman frowned but didn't hit him again. She paced away thoughtfully, hands on her hips. "How many people have you researchers used?"

Daniel stood and moved so there was a desk between them. "Overall? About thirty."

"When?"

"We started back in August. Nine cadavers the first month. Not great quality either. Then the supply trickled off; we only got two in September. Messed up our workload something fierce. The Army told us it was a bureaucratic thing with the medical schools. Some paperwork snafu."

"Medical schools?"

"Yeah, there's not a lot of places to get a corpse, surprisingly enough. Most come through a ring of universities that folks will their remains to once they kick the bucket. I think its legally called a gift. The schools are the big clearinghouses."

"Okay."

He shrugged. "I heard you can also pick up executed convicts now and then, but they're sort of fried."

Catwoman winced. "I didn't need to know that."

"Sorry."

"Just- just go on with the medical schools."

"Not sure what the problem was, but the Army solved it eventually. We began to get new shipments around late October, maybe the start of November. Around two or three a week. Heh, gave us lab rats plenty to do, believe you me. Like Chirstmas come early for some of the new guys who missed the first batch."

Catwoman felt the stirrings of a temper behind her eyes. "Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. Last pair they picked up was really great, not a scratch and hardly a day old; virtually no decomposition." He spoke with the relish of a sculptor finding a flawless strata of marble. "You see, they usually come from car accidents or typhoid which really limits our opportunities. This pair though? Unprecedented."

Catwoman tried very hard to keep her speech calm. "Was this pair ... a man and a woman?"

"Uh, yes."

"Young? Arrived five nights ago?"

"Yeah, friends of yours?"

She took a step towards him, voice dangerously level. "In a roundabout way."

"Wow. Um ..." Daniel swallowed and stepped back. "Sorry. If it interests you, uh, they've done a great service to humanit-"

"Shut it. What interests me is what was done to them, and furthermore, what I'm going to do to-"

A sudden stampede of noise echoed from down the hallway, a burst of yelled orders and shoving. Catwoman froze. Batman! It sounded like half the base was trampling through the level, right past where she had left him. Warnings about a manhunt floated through her head. Catwoman cringed. She knew as well as anyone not to underestimate the Dark Knight, but she had a sinking feeling he wasn't overcoming that.

The rational part of her brain narrowly pushed down the urge to dash towards the scuffle. Instead, she unwound her whip and struck the light switch, casting the lab into darkness as complete as the hallway outside. Then she turned and flicked it around Daniel's head, stifling his noise of surprise. Catwoman flew forward and pinned him against a desk.

They waited in the darkness: her anxious, him baffled. A minute later, the noise died away. Catwoman let go and cautiously turned on the lights. Daniel pulled off his impromptu gag and spit. "What was that?"

Catwoman exhaled in relief and deftly rewound the whip. "Thanks."

"For what?!"

She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You could have cried out for help."

"Well, yeah, until you tackled me. Rude, by the way."

She dropped her arms incredulously. "Well, why didn't you? I've been nothing but a threat to you."

"I'm aware of that."

She studied him. "In fact, you've been really calm this whole time, all things considered."

He shrugged. "I suppose."

"Why?"

He looked at her thoughtfully. "A few things."

"Enlighten me."

"Besides the threats of bodily harm, well, and then the actual bodily harm, you're one of the nicest people I've talked to in a long time."

"Oh."

"Lot of grumps around here. Furthermore lady, you got legs for miles. I respect that."

"Um. Thanks?"

"No, believe me. You hang out here for half a year, that's a big deal. Seeing you is nigh-on spiritual."

"..."

"Third, in regards to you being found out, it really doesn't matter what I do. I could give you a pair of ruby slippers and a map to Switzerland; there's no way you're getting off the Fort. They're gonna catch you and try you for who knows what. That's if you're not shot to pieces in the process." He held up his hands apologetically. "No offense."

"None taken."

"Right, So I think to myself, why hurry the inevitable? Didn't want to give you an excuse to slice me up 'fore they took you away. Plus, I get to see those fine stems in the meantime." He whistled appreciatively.

"Can we change the subject?"

"Sure. Fourth, and most importantly, I'm pretty sure you don't exist."

Catwoman stared at him dumbly.

"I don't know how to respond to that."

"It's not your fault, if that makes you feel any better."

"I exist."

"Round of applause for that self-esteem, but I'm pretty sure you're a figment of my imagination."

She spoke patiently, like one would to a slow child, "Daniel, I'm very confident I exist."

"Of course you are. Any psychic manifestation of mine will have read Descartes. But empirically, the odds are stacked against you."

"I'm unconvinced."

"It doesn't matter whether I convince you or not, you being a figment and all."

She raised an eyebrow. "Humor me."

"Think of it this way: what are the odds that some lady would break into the Fort in the middle of winter just to see me?"

She grudgingly shrugged. "Low."

"Low. And what are the odds that this lady would look you and, you know, dress like that?"

"Hey!"

"That's right, next to zero. And that was a complement, by the way."

"Hmph," She crossed her arms, "No wonder you don't see many women."

He ignored the remark. "But might a man in my circumstances dream of a lady who looks like you and dresses like that? Certainly. No crazier than any other dream. It's downright likely if you're feeling Freudian."

"Okay, but you're not dreaming, you're awake."

"Am I?"

"Obviously."

"But am I?"

Catwoman generally respected philosophy as a cultured pursuit until that point when she felt the urge to slap someone out of an infinite regression paradox.

She restrained herself. "Let's assume you are."

"Suppose I am awake. There are, shall we say, alternative states of wakefulness."

She eyed him suspiciously. Catwoman met her fair share of crazy people prowling the night. She tried not to judge - stones and glass houses and all that jazz - but she knew that you could often spot the normal-looking ones if you could just get them on the right subject.

"What do you mean by that?"

"How do I put this gently? As I said, it's not easy here. Sure, we do important work, but we throw ourselves into that work, me more than most. Maybe we lose a little sleep. Go a little stir crazy. Start picking up some funny habits." Daniel was building towards a rambling rant, speaking with loose hand gestures. "Lighting things on fire sounds like a lot of fun, sure, but that only lasts a few minutes; the rest is paperwork. So much paperwork, you wouldn't believe it! Do you have a lot of paperwork in your job?"

"Not as such, no."

"Well, thank your lucky stars, lady. It's not even for the science, just bureaucracy and bookkeeping! Look, it gets really boring around here and-"

"Daniel, what are you getting at?"

"Do you have any idea what peyote is?"

"No."

"That's ... that's probably for the best. Listen, the moral of the story is: I don't know what you're here for, but you seem to at least believe you have the moral high ground, and I have a soft spot for self-righteous crusaders doing dangerous things. It's what got me into medicine. Plus, if you and your friends annoy the brass before you die, that's a plus in my book. They could stand to be taken down a peg, got no respect for workplace satisfaction"

"Wow, Daniel. That's-"

"Save it."

"Okay, but you ought to know that the Army's been taking-"

"I said can it, lady. I'm not in the mood for grand revelations. Besides, I'm going back to school after New Year's, don't much care about this place anymore. It'll be a bad dream as far as I'm concerned. You best get moving."

Catwoman was mildly shock at the kid's major league moxie. It took one to know one. She snapped the heavy briefcase shut, strode up, and gave him a peck on the cheek.

He looked puzzled. "What was that for?"

"An apology."

"For what?"

Catwoman swung the briefcase with both hands right into his mouth.

Daniel spun and flopped onto the floor. A bruise instantly began to rise on his cheek. "OWWWW!" He looked up. "What was that for?!"

"When they come, tell them I hit you until you shared the research. That way you're in the clear."

"Oh. That's smart. Thanks."

Catwoman smiled. "No problem." Then she kicked him in the ribs. Twice.

"OWWW! OOWWWW! What was that for?"

"For being stupid enough to work for a bunch of murderous psychopaths! Don't take jobs where you test flamethrowers in underground bunkers. Go work in a hospital or something. Got it?"

"OWWww. Fine."

"Good. I'm off for some more self-righteous crusading before they shoot me. Bye!"

"Ow."

---​

To cope with troubling circumstances, a well-adjusted person will often recall fond memories of happier days. Batman didn't have many of those. That was okay. He wasn't the coping type.

As a rule, happy and well-adjusted people were terrible at infiltrating military sites, though he wasn't doing much better at the moment. He wished he could say this was his first time arrested by military police, but there was that winter in the gulag. In fairness, he only stayed twenty-three days, which was a terrible experience by the standards of anywhere else on the planet but very reasonable for a gulag. Besides, Aleksei had taught him how to count cards and treat frostbite, so his stay wasn't all a waste. Tonight might not be as fun.

After they slapped the handcuffs on, one of the MP's had the bright idea to throw a bag over his head. Laudable initiative, but it didn't matter. Trying to break away when surrounded was a challenge of tactility and body awareness, not sight. Not that he intended to try; no style of Gong Fu could overcome the physics of a seven-man dog pile handcuffed. More importantly, the lieutenant that subdued him was part of the guard detail.

That someone had, in fact, gotten the drop on him was deeply compelling to Batman. It wasn't that his pride was stung. It was, but his prime reaction was curiosity: a scholar in an ignorant land who finally meets a peer he can converse with, though the language they shared was violence. Batman was a superlative fighter. His methods depended on an absolute confidence that he would prevail in any arbitrary encounter at fist-length. He had met or seen perhaps a hundred souls who might best him one-on-one, a list he shortened every year. Most lived in another hemisphere.

And yet he was beaten. So who was this remarkable soldier? Experience had taught Batman again and again that exceptional individuals caused ripples in the world. They were rarely the background noise of someone else's story. Sooner or later they carved their own. The lieutenant was more than just a lieutenant.

But the World's Greatest Detective had to hold his curiosity for another time. Part of his attention was spent considering the blood slowly pooling under the bandage on his sword wound, some was spent counting steps to judge where they were taking him, but mostly he worried if Catwoman had the good sense to stay out of sight. He consoled himself that it was a stupid concern - if there was one thing she could be relied upon to do, it was dodge the authorities.

Still, he worried, and he wondered why. The answer wasn't hard to figure out. Catwoman was his backup plan. She could still get the word out. Sure, that explained his concern.

They dragged him back to the central freezer room and into the freight elevator. They could only fit four guards now. As the door shut, he judged his options. There were two schools of thought in escaping arrest. An old racketeer he once met in Bogotá called them the Jackrabbit and the Wolf. The Jackrabbit believed that the best time to get away was now. Every second in custody gave the policía time to reinforce and find tighter restraints. It was easier to flee on the street than from the back of a squad car, and it was easier to flee from a squad car than from a jail cell. Conversely, the Wolf believed you had to wait. Captors were most alert just after an arrest. Later, once the captive seemed beaten and submissive, the guards would let their guard down. Basically, the two schools differed in whether to look for the first opportunity or the perfect opportunity. Batman found both schools useful, but the Wolf seemed more prudent now: his margin for error at the moment was microscopic. He bide his time.

When they reached the surgery room, he was shoved onto the operating table. Six hands held him down as someone unlocked one of his handcuffs and attached it to a peg on the table. People joked about the contradiction of military efficiency, but this crew gave the phrase plenty of credit. In no time, they removed his belt (easier said than done, it wasn't a typical buckle) then stitched and dressed the wound in his side. His medic must have administrated a shot: his hearing began to fade and his vision swam as they worked. His limbs grew numb and heavy.

But, fortunately or unfortunately, Batman had a fierce tolerance for anesthetics; he came to his senses a few minutes later. The bag was off his head. He was still on the operating table. Someone was talking nearby.

"-Collapsible binoculars. Seven vials of unknown liquids, presumed hazardous. Four vials of unknown powders, presumed hazardous. A small camera. A roll of film. Twenty yards of nylon rope. A folding grapnel. Half a stick of dynamite-"

"Nah, take a whiff of it. That's no dynamite; that's some nitroglycerin substitute."

"What does-"

"Means it's stable."

"How can you tell the difference?"

"Used to be a miner 'fore I enlisted. Learned the difference well."

"I thought a judge sentenced you here."

"Yeah, for blowing up the mine."

"If you blew it up, then ..."

"... I may have learned the difference the hard way."

There was silence.

"Braxton, you don't get to cook for us ever again. All in favor?"

There was a quick muttering of assent.

"Agreed. Moving on, we have a lighter. A magnifying glass. Tweezers. A flashlight. A wire brush. A syringe. A packet of sterile gauze. A large multi-tool. And seventeen throwing knives, the seventeenth sample kindly provided by Lieutenant Wilson."

So his name's Wilson. Batman turned his head to find the speaker.

Someone yelled, "He's awake!"

Bodies moved around him. Batman found it difficult to focus; the chemical hadn't yet worn off. He saw the contents of his utility belt laid on a counter beside him.

"How's he awake?"

"Murray, you got the dosage wrong!"

"Maybe he's just twitching."

"Why would he be twitching?"

"Adverse reaction?"

"So he's about to die."

"Probably."

"How's that going to make us look?"

"Hey, if he dies, we finally get to sleep."

"True."

"Shut your hole. He's not dead, idiots. He's just waking up."

"We could tell for sure if you took that mask off."

"Hey, I tried. You're welcome to try, buddy."

"Drug him again!"

"Then he might die for real."

"When you say 'might', is that a strong might or a weak might?"

The swinging doors opened.

"Atten-shun!"

All movement stopped. Batman lifted his head.

Four figures stood in the doorway. In front was Lieutenant Wilson, face thickly-bandaged. Behind him were two older men Batman recognized as Staff Sergeant Hank Jackson and Colonel Abner Tanner. He would have said that Tanner was the head of the Fort, but body language in the room was clearly giving the most deference (or fear) to the fourth visitor, a heavy-set woman of color. Hmm.

The Colonel glared down at him incredulously. "What in God's holy name is this man wearing?"

His guards shrugged. Lieutenant Wilson answered, his voice altered from the broken nose. "We're not sure, sir. We think he's a lunatic."

The Colonel frowned. "Obviously."

The woman briskly walked up and inspected a handful on his cape material.

The Lieutenant stepped forward, "I advise you keep a distance, ma'am. He's dangerous."

She chuckled darkly but moved away, looking at the assorted tools on the nearby table.

"Where's his gun?"

"He wasn't carrying a firearm."

"Really?" She sounded surprised. "I don't see a cudgel or a blackjack here."

"He wasn't armed-" Wilson glanced at the bloody batarang, "with that kind of weapon."

"Then if he didn't hold you at gunpoint and he didn't have a club, how do you explain the crater where your nose used to be, Lieutenant?"

"He hit me, ma'am. You can see the bloodstain on his suit elbow."

"Ah, so he ambushed you. Popped you in the face when you weren't looking."

"He did ambush me, but this strike was later."

"Are you saying that he did that in a fair fight, Slade? With his bare hands?"

Slade had the look of a subordinate who strongly desired to end a conversation. "Yes, ma'am."

"Huh. I don't know whether to be impressed or disappointed."

"I don't think either of us were fighting fair, ma'am."

"Well, Mr. Prizefighter here has been awfully quiet." She stared down at Batman. "Go on, sit up."

Batman slowly sat up. If the guards tensed, she didn't seem to care.

"Good. Now, who are you?"

Batman stared coolly back and said nothing.

She lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, have I been impolite? I haven't introduced myself. My name is Amanda Waller. I'm a special investigator for the United States government vested with plenary legal powers to manage threats ordinary and extraordinary. What does this mean to you? This means I'm your Momma and your Daddy; I'm the Lord and all his angels; I'm Santa Claus; I'm all of them rolled up with sugar on top because right now I'm the only reason you're still alive. Give me what I what and I might be persuaded to continue that policy. Now: Who. Are. You?"

He continued his stare. "I'm Batman."

The room was silent.

"Never heard of you."

The burly staff sergeant stepped forward. "Uh, excuse me, ma'am-"

Amanda pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Now is not the time, Sergeant."

Sergeant Jackson whispered in her ear.

Her expression turned sour, "You Gothamites are all the same with your-"

The Sergeant continued to whisper.

She turned and eyed Batman. "Are you trying to tell me that-"

The Sergeant whispered more insistently.

Amanda Waller paused, eyes shut in the timeless expression of a caretaker tired of cleaning up after children.

"Staff Sergeant, have the men escort Mister - ugh - Batman to my office. Then have them isolated to barracks until such a time as they can be properly debriefed." She walked to the doors. "And someone change his dressing. I will not have bleeding on my floor!"

---​

It took a minute for everyone to walk (or be dragged) out of the surgery room. Then the lights were flipped off as the doors swung closed.

Six seconds later, Catwoman climbed out of the elevator shaft.

Her green "cape" was now a sling over her shoulder. The ends were tied to the handle of the heavy briefcase filled with research papers. This left her hands free to climb, or to hang awkwardly for four minutes as she listened to the commotion above her.

In Catwoman's felonious career, there had been one instance where someone tried to hire her to retrieve a person. The details didn't matter. She rejected the proposal out of hand. Managing a painting or a statuette was awkward enough, but at least those objects were inert. Trying to handle a squabbling, bumbling human being who was dumb enough to get captured in the first place was an uh-oh story waiting to happen.

Yet for some reason, the thought of simply leaving didn't occur to her.

No, that was a lie. Of course it occurred to her, but the idea didn't seem as appealing as it usually did.

Not that she had any idea what to do next, of course.

---​

In contrast to her personal quarters, Amanda Waller's office was a modest size. It was no larger than its neighbors, with a desk and a set of filing cabinets. Inside her top desk drawer was a single-barrel sawed-off shotgun. She started their new conversation by pulling it out.

Batman was handcuffed to a wooden chair in front of the desk. In the corners behind him stood Colonel Tanner and Lieutenant Wilson. They were clearly spectators; this was Waller's stage, whoever she was. The space was tight between the four of them. Batman could sense their bodies, hear their breathing (the lieutenant's especially, his septum sounded like a pretzel). He was used to cozy interrogations, but rarely from this end.

The lone bulb cast long shadows on the bags under Waller's eyes. She began without preamble.

"I was wrong; I heard the name once. Only it wasn't the Bat Man then, it was the Beast of the Narrows or the Dark Wing or one of the dozen other stupid monikers that cropped up last year. He was a folk tale, a sort of patron devil to gangsters and dirty cops. The question is: are you sincerely deluded into believing you're the character of this myth, like some troubled men believe themselves to be Napoleon or Christ, or is all this," she gestured at his outfit, "an elaborate disguise for some other motive?"

Batman still fought the last traces of the painkiller. He managed to raise his head and look her in the eye. "I have no delusions. This is no disguise. I'm Batman."

"So I heard. Fine, you're a Bat Man. What should I call you?""

He glared at her.

"Oh. Oh, dear. You're serious! Ha. You actually call yourself that. Are you suggesting you started the myth? I thought it was just some dross the newspapers in your crummy burg made up on a deadline."

"When those newspapers know your atrocities here, they'll forget all about me."

"So that's it? You came for blackmail?"

"Not blackmail. Justice."

"An idealist! I guess you are delusional. And you've wasted your time. There are no atrocities here."

"I think Wendell and Alice Dupree would disagree, if you hadn't killed them."

Waller's eyes lowered to slits. She casually pumped the lever on her shotgun and walked around the desk. The Colonel and the Lieutenant stepped discreetly away from her line of fire.

"I think I've been carried away by the dramatics tonight. It doesn't matter what costume you have on. You're here for justice? Very well, I'll administer the law." She leaned forward. As a short woman, this put here just above eye level with him. "Mr. John Doe, you are under arrest for criminal trespassing, breaking and entering, battery, and conspiracy to commit espionage, though I have a feeling that's just the tip of the iceberg. Once the details of your identity are confirmed, we'll discover what rights you have under the Constitution or the Articles of War. Anything to say on your behalf?"

He looked thoughtfully at the top of the cabinet behind her.

"That's the casing of a German S-mine. Hops upward on a propelling charge nearly three feet before it detonates to extend its shrapnel. Diabolically efficient. Not many on this side of the Atlantic. How did you get it?"

Waller rose up, mildly taken aback. "A little store called None of Your Business. If you think you can impress me with a piece of trivia, you have another thing coming. Lieutenant, why is this Halloween mask still on?"

Lieutenant Wilson frowned. "The men said they couldn't find the fastener, and their instruments couldn't cut the hood material."

"Is that so?" She tilted Batman's chin up with her shotgun. "Care to share the secret?"

Batman said nothing.

"Didn't think so. Lieutenant, willing to give it a shot?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Try not to slit his throat in the process."

Lieutenant Wilson pulled out a long, serrated knife, held it beside the Dark Knight's chin, and started to saw. After four jagged tugs, the rugged cowl began to tear. He continued on the other side. Soon, both sides had enough slack to use. Wilson grabbed hold of the mask and pulled backwards ...

... Revealing another mask, a tight black fabric that hid most of his head. Whereas the cowl had holes for his eye-lenses, the lenses were actually part of this under-mask.

Amanda raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

Wilson tried to tear this second mask off, but it wouldn't shift a centimeter.

"Sorry, ma'am. It's like it's stuck to his scalp with industrial glue."

"Do I look like I carry industrial glue solvent? Cut it off."

"Much as I'd like to, the force would lop off a decent chuck of his skull."

"Well, that's just g-"

Suddenly, a sharp odor pervaded the air.

Colonel Tanner's breath stuck in his throat. His pupils dilated. He broke out in a cold sweat.

He screamed, "Gas! Gaaaas!"

Amanda Waller wrinkled her nose at the smell but frowned, "Colonel, please control yoursel-woaaaaah!" Tanner grabbed her by the arm, kicked open the door, and threw her through it. Lieutenant Wilson began to undo the handcuffs, but the Colonel smacked his arms away. "Get to fresh air 'fore it melts your eyes! That's an order! Now! Now! Now!"

They sprinted away like men possessed.

---​

Eight seconds later, Catwoman stuck her head into the office.

"Hi!"

Batman had just finished escaping the handcuffs. He looked up at her, mildly suspicious at his reversal of fortune.

She lifted an eyebrow, amused. "You've been Zorro this whole time?"

Batman tossed the handcuffs on the desk, unamused. He reached behind his head and pulled the cowl back over his eyes. Its hidden cords were severed, but it fit tightly enough to not slide off accidentally.

"How did ..." he paused in thought, "Chlorine bleach in the vents."

"Nothing gets past you, huh?" Catwoman sauntered in. "I brought a gift." She tossed him his utility belt.

He caught it and checked through the pouches with practiced swiftness, moving tools and vials around to match his preference.

"Thought I'd do you a favor and fill it up." She walked around him. "I can't believe you wear a mask under your mask."

Batman shrugged his cape aside and put on the belt. "I needed it, didn't I?"

She spotted his wound, "Hey, are you alright?"

He frowned, letting the cape hide his side again. "Three-inch laceration to the lower ribs; stitching's amateur but serviceable. I'm fine."

She moved the cape and touched his dressing in worried surprise. "You call this fine? What happened?"

He stepped away from her touch. "Naval saber."

"Are you saying you were stabbed ... with a sword?"

"A lateral cut, but yes."

"Who did it? A Cossack? A pirate?"

"A soldier. Won't happen again."

"Unless you have a time machine, I don't think it could happen again."

He grunted. He wanted to question why she would be so reckless as to save him; they had a mission to keep in mind. But he knew if their roles were reversed, his answer would make him a hypocrite.

Instead, he asked, "How did you know to try the bleach?"

"Your file said that Colonel Tanner suffered gas attacks in the war. I've met veterans; it's something a lot of them fixate on, and I happen to know that certain poison gases smell like chlorine. Seemed worth a try."

"I'm impressed you remembered that detail."

"Thanks."

"Or any of it."

"Funny. Remind me again: who just pulled who's leather-clad derriere out of the fire?"

"It was ... an ambitious gamble."

"Awww, is that admiration in your voice? Are you just trying to say 'Thank you'?"

Batman normally wouldn't rise to the bait, but he didn't like the implication that he was too cowardly or aloof to express himself. Also, the lingering haze of the morphine was making it hard to keep his usual reticence.

"Thank you."

"You're very welcome." She grinned, all dimples. "That was pretty genius of me."

He blinked away the blur in his vision and went to Amanda Waller's desk. "What was your plan if this hadn't worked?"

"Convince them to let you go with my natural charm and allure."

He looked through a drawer. "And when that failed?"

She slapped his shoulder. "Jerk."

"Well?"

"I found a crate downstairs with about fifty hand grenades."

This earned her an approving grunt.

She turned the question around. "Okay, what would you have done if I didn't come to your rescue?"

"If no other outside opportunity presented itself?"

"Yeah."

"Kick them."

"Weren't you handcuffed to a chair?"

"Dislocate thumbs, slip the handcuffs, and then kick them."

"Didn't they all have guns?"

"Kick them quickly."

"See, now I wish I had stayed out just to see that."
Author: Batman 1939
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The Romulan Republic
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2016-09-07 11:29pm

Excellent. :)

Hoping we get a Slade/Batman rematch.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-08 11:47am

A Jim Balent fan then? Hopefully we won't see any appearances of Tarot :P

Kidding, but seriously, so far this has been very good. Keep it up.
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-08 12:25pm

The mask under the mask is a nice touch, though it's actually logical given that he has multiple layers of protection integrated into the mask. Especially with the lenses.

The Romulan Republic wrote:Damn, Slade actually beat the Bat one on one. Not a lot of guys can do that.

He and Waller together make a good match for Batman. Waller being one of the few who might be able to match his brains and resources, and Slade being one of the few who can match him physically.
Now I'm having Vizzini flashbacks... :D

Anyway, this iteration of Slade has about ten years' worth of extra combat experience compared to this iteration of Batman. Plus his arsenal of weaponry comes in handy, not just because the weapons are physically injurious as because they enable Slade to pull many, many surprises in the fight. Batman can do this too, but not to the same extent.

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby U.P. Cinnabar » 2016-09-08 12:59pm

Simon_Jester wrote:The mask under the mask is a nice touch, though it's actually logical given that he has multiple layers of protection integrated into the mask. Especially with the lenses.


And, an excellent allusion to "The Cape And Cowl Conspiracy," from Batman: The Animated Series. An episode most BTAS fans hate, but the scene where Bats truly unmasks himself to Wormwood was worth watching the rest of it, in my opinion.
"When you send a man out with a gun, you create a policymaker. When his ass is on the line, he will do whatever he needs to do.

And, if the implications of that bother you, the time to do something about it is before you send him out."
—David Drake


"Oh, but you did! You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! But, since that's a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around, then, you've got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne, and that's a fact."

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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-09-08 07:04pm

I know im missing most of the references, but i am enjoying every installment
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-08 07:55pm

Elheru Aran wrote:A Jim Balent fan then?


Ehh. Not really. I share about 2/3s of his ideas for the outfit, so I used similar drawings to get communicate those, but there's a lot to his designs that don't interest me or actively turn me away. Namely, the twig-ish, occasionally Liefeldian anatomy, the long boots and gloves, the wild hair, and (this may be biased by my poor memory) her tendency to either scowl like she wants to murder me or grin like she wants to murder me. I tried to find pictures where those traits are muted.

Simon_Jester wrote:The mask under the mask is a nice touch, though it's actually logical given that he has multiple layers of protection integrated into the mask. Especially with the lenses.


"Multiple layers of protection integrated into the mask" might be a fancy way of putting it. The thing is only slightly more sophisticated than an old-school football helmet (or rugby for those across the pond).

Simon_Jester wrote:Anyway, this iteration of Slade has about ten years' worth of extra combat experience compared to this iteration of Batman.


More or less. Slade is about a decade older than Bruce, though the extent of their respective lives you might define as "combat experience" is ... nuanced. E.g., Bruce is younger, but he has a moderate advantage in unarmed combat, both in years of training and number of real-world encounters. As you point out, the fight turned when it stopped being unarmed.

U.P. Cinnabar wrote:And, an excellent allusion to "The Cape And Cowl Conspiracy," ...


Right, an allusion. Let's go with that.

madd0ct0r wrote:I know im missing most of the references, but i am enjoying every installment


Well, that makes two of us.
Author: Batman 1939
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby Stewart M » 2016-09-08 08:11pm

Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Chapter 12: Ghosts of a Legionnaire


Tragedy was the fall of a valiant man.

Colonel Abner Tanner possessed great calm in the face of adversity. He had only cried twice in the Army: at the wedding of his sister and the funeral of his father. Tonight, he cried a third time.

Amanda Waller watched him sit in the snow outside the Brick, lines of tears turning his face red. She hadn't seen shaking like his in a long time, not since Chicago. She used to watch the cokeheads get the shakes on their low days, their hands trembling so badly they couldn't hold soup in a spoon, and Tanner was looking worse. She couldn't tell what he was mumbling to himself, but he was clearly a wreck.

She didn't especially like the Colonel - she didn't like most of humanity - but she had a grudging respect for the man. He was a professional. Plus, he was useful. Tanner wasn't stupid, but unlike most officers who lasted as long, he wasn't political. He asked the harsh questions. It was good to have some pepper in a subordinate. Toadies could follow a plan, but a good critic kept a plan honest.

In any case, it wouldn't do to have him seen like this. Leadership was largely appearances, after all. Lieutenant Wilson was shepherding the sentries away to form a new line, offering the two of them a window of privacy. Waller heaved and struggled but managed to pull Colonel Tanner off the snow to his feet. Breathing like a mule in a sauna, she slung his arm over her shoulders and walked him forward. This was tolerable. If anyone noticed, it would just look like he was injured. There was no disrespect in that. Waller and Tanner stumbled past the quickly-organizing perimeter. Whatever had happened in her office, at least no one was sneaking out after them. She did her best to make the Colonel look upright and ambulatory, a trick she learned for FDR at a White House function. Waller led him down a side path and finally found some privacy, a shoulder-high pile of frozen, half-rotted potatoes. They sat, displacing enough tubers to make decent impromptu chairs.

The noise on the other side of the building faded in the wind and falling snow. Neither broke the semi-silence; he had nothing to say and she couldn't breathe. The back door was nearby, although door was more of a decorative term now. Someone had ripped it off its hinges - she could guess who - and someone else had welded it shut. The seam still glowed. Waller made a note to give whichever cocksure engineer thought that up a medal; it was one liability she didn't have to deal with.

When she caught her breath, she saw Tanner had stopped shaking. He looked at his knees with that endless stare.

"Colonel Tanner?"

He didn't respond.

"It's time to take command, Colonel. We have to control the situat-"

"Those ... those godless ape fiends. They did it to their own."

This non sequiter came out with such flat surprise that Amanda Waller was sure she misheard him. "Excuse me?"

He closed his eyes in pain. She shook his arm. "Abner!"

"Have you ever seen a human die, ma'am? Have you seen a man die?"

Amanda Waller was a strategist, not a shrink or a bartender or a priest. She wasn't cut out for this and right now she hated him for it.

"If you must know, yes. Yes I have. Once."

"Was he young? Was he a young man?"

"Not especially."

"Was it peaceful?"

She moved to stand. "I can't say I'm equipped to compare such-"

He snatched her sleeve. "Damn it, Waller." He glared down at her, red-eyed, "You have nothing to win or lose here. Would it kill you to speak plainly a spell? I just- I just want to know."

She sat. "As such events go, I suppose it was peaceful."

"Then I envy you, ma'am. Never had that luxury. I think that's how nature generally is, you know? Ain't peaceful most times, death. Nature's artful cruel at that. But when a man commits that to man … to his own man ... well ..."

"What are you … what's wrong with you, Colonel?"

"Oh. Oh-ho." He chucked joyless. "Ain't what's wrong with me. S'what's wrong with the world. 'Spect I owe you an apology."

"For distracting me from my investigation?"

"I came here to make ready to hurt Nazis. Made no secret of it either."

"I know that."

"I beg you, lady, hush your lips fer once. I'm saying that even then I had it wrong. Got the enemy right, but I thought the fight was on honest terms. Knew they were cruel, but I thought they had standards. I tried to run this camp the honest way. I thought you took your fly-by-night ideas too far, regardless of what muckety-muck signed off on it. Crossed lines that an American ought never cross. Fact is," he wiped some snow off his cheek with a sleeve, "You were the only one with the foresight to bring it their level. You saw their hand. They'll sink to anything."

"What are you-"

"I didn't think the Germans would do it twice. Didn't think anyone ... Old Adolph was there. He knew. He knew! How does he … he saw what it did the first time."

"I don't know th-"

"The gas, woman! The gas! A million boys going blind; their skin-" he pulled at his shirt, "Skin burning off. Dying on their own vomit." He seized a potato and crushed it to dust. "They've had twenty years to learn the lesson, but now we find a spy, and some kraut conspirator hiding nearby sees fit to … to use ..." He touched his face in shock, "Just to keep his lips tight!"

"Colonel-"

"Forget the fact we hardly got out safe ourselves. We left a man in the there, Waller. Won't call him an innocent, but a man. Stuck to a chair; can't even stand up as it wafts around him. Stuck in the dark. Like swine. Nowhere to go when he starts to feel it in his throat. Do you know what we're gonna find when we go back in?"

"I-"

"I do. I've seen it. The thing we find tied to that chair won't look human anymore."

" ... "

"We'll have to see if the quartermaster has some masks around here. I'm not sure how long it takes toxins to fade indoors. Was just a green enlisted at the time. Sure, they told us how long it might be, but that was outdoors, and I always suspected they knew jack. And who knows what sort of ugly spray the dogs have brewed up in the meantime?"

"Colonel-"

"Come to think of it, I bet we won't even have to hunt down the rat who did the deed. Wherever he is - next to a vent in a broom closet, I guess – he has to know we're out here. He didn't just silence his own buddy; he tried to take us all out. He knows there won't be kiddie gloves twice. Surely, coward like that's turned his gas on and- and took a whiff."

Waller waited until she was sure he was done. "May I speak?"

Eyes closed, he gestured permission.

"Thank you. Clearly this … event has brought up some unseemly memories. I'll forget the outburst here. But it ends now. Got it?"

Abner Tanner popped open an eye and frowned, but at least it was a thinking frown. She continued.

"Good. We won't talk of this after tonight. And I 'll remind you that we don't know what happened. You think you smelled a kind of chlorine gas. Bertholite, I presume."

"Hand to God, I know I did."

"I suppose you would be the authority. Fine, say you did. We all smelled something. But espionage is my expertise, and we can't make too many assumptions. For all we know, the gas may have been set by our John Doe."

"What?"

"Preemptively, I mean," she paused, "Perhaps as some elaborate cyanide pill."

"I … well ..."

"And although it does seem likely, we don't have firm evidence he was or is an agent of the Axis powers. There are always other factions to consider."

"What do you mean by 'was or is'? The man's a goner, Waller."

"Well, hypothetically, the gas might have also just been a distraction."

"For the love of- Sure! I suppose death can be pretty distracting!"

"I'm no chemist. Perhaps ... perhaps it was diluted. To cause enough pain to scare us away, but weakened so their man could survive and slip free." She held up her hands. "I'll admit that's conjecture, but in my experience the sort of skillful agent we met would not plan an endgame of bombastic suicide. Not from this side of the Pacific. It's not impossible our intruder is sleuthing around inside right now, thinking he can rig up a radio or wait for a gap in our lines. Do you understand, Colonel?"

Colonel Tanner was silent for a moment. She feared he had fallen numb again, but then he stood and helped her up.

"If that's what the krauts think, they got another thing coming."

---

In the forest outside Fort Morrison, Lieutenant Harrison Stevens and Private Benjamin Greene stood watch beside the parked Ford.

"Well, I just don't get what's got you so out of sorts, sir. I think it's good fun!"

"Alright. Here's what makes me uncomfortable, Private."

"Yeah, sir?"

"Donald Duck wears a shirt, right?"

"And a hat."

"A shirt and a hat, like a sailor. But no pants."

"Not a stitch."

"He wears a shirt but no pants. That's ridiculous."

"It's just a funny cartoon, sir."

"Nothing funny 'bout it. The way I see, there are two possibilities. He's either a talking animal or a feathery person. If he's a duck wearing clothes, that's awfully strange. Ducks don't wear clothes. Where'd he get clothes? How'd he know to put them on? And if he's a person, then he's nude from the waist down! Why even bother to wear a shirt if you go around showing your nethers all lewd and such? Why do the other characters tolerate his nudity? Why is this shown to children? All sorts of questions crop up."

"So it's the shirt that doesn't make sense to you. A normal duck wouldn't have it, and an anthropomorphic duck wouldn't only have it."

"I don't know what anthropomorphic means."

"How about this: maybe the shirt's only a status symbol. Maybe his society's got no shame for nakedness pants-wise."

"Not hardly. Mickey Mouse wears pants, and he's clearly the trendsetter in that community. Heck, even Goofy wears pants, and that poor soul's mind-addled."

"Maybe pants are just an optional accessory, like the hat."

"Nah. There's no way pants are as voluntary as hats. Never. Not anywhere. But here's the part that really bakes my noodle. When Donald Duck gets out of the shower, see, he wears a towel around his waist. Not to dry himself, just for modesty. But when he's ready to leave, he takes it off! What's that all about?"

"Bully if I know, Lieutenant."

The pair leaned against the car, contemplating their fourth cigarette. An owl hooted overhead.

"So ... Florida."

"Born and raised, sir. Ever been there?"

"Nope. I hear it's nice."

The Private shrugged. "It's pretty enough. Not a big fan of the mosquitoes."

"Yeah?"

"They're terrible, mess you up right good. Can't stand'em. I even told the recruiter man, I told him 'you send me so far away there ain't no bloodsuckers and I'll sign today'. Now look around." He nodded at the snowy pines. "People told me the recruiters can't be trusted, but I got to hand it to Uncle Sam. The Army came through."

"You said you've only been in the State of Gotham for a few weeks?"

"A-yep, just finished boot camp."

"Hate to break it to you kid, but these mountains are chock full of skeeters come springtime."

The private blinked. He screamed a chain of creative profanities that scared away the owl.

---

In the recently-vacated office of Amanda Waller, Batman and Catwoman were decidedly alive and arguing what to do next.

"I'm sure those binders are fascinating, but shouldn't we be leaving? Now?"

As Catwoman kept anxious watch by the door, Batman combed through Waller's desk drawers, occasionally picking up a folder or envelope to peruse. "The Army will stay outside. I'm taking advantage of the stalemate."

"How do you know they won't charge in bayonet-first?"

"Thanks to your deception, they believe the building's fumigated. That's a massive risk to them. Even if they have doubts, they'll tolerate waiting as long as they have us surrounded. Sieges are strategically comforting."

"How do you know they have us surrounded?"

"I'm Batman."

She rolled her eyes but spoke more quickly than she intended. "Okay. Let's say they do have us surrounded. We have to leave eventually. That sounds like the kind of thing we should be worried about. You don't seem worried. Should we be worried?"

He gave a dismissive head-shrug. "It's a concern."

"You say that like it's nothing, but then you get captured all the time." She held her wrists together like they were handcuffed and tried to imitate a grumpy Bat-scowl.

He glanced up and frowned. Her impression was pretty good. "We'll be fine."

"Is there anything I can do in the meantime?"

He held out a file. "Have you studied uranium isotopes?"

She read the title: Technical Memos from the National Bureau of Standards.

"No, Batman, I have not studied uranium isotopes."

He took the file back. "Then no."

"What if I read you what's inside this cabinet."

"Fine."

"That won't distract you, will it?"

"Has that ever stopped you before?"

"It's more fun when I'm not under siege by an Army battalion."

"A platoon, at most."

"Fine, a platoon."

"The difference is nearly twenty-fold."

"You knew exactly what I meant."

"Start. I'll listen."

"Glad to hear it." Catwoman deftly undid the lock on the top cabinet drawer and rolled it out. "Um, is there something I should be searching for?"

He grunted "Hard to say. Sometimes the relevance of a file isn't obvious. Anything to do with Gotham, raids on civilians, or medical experiments."

She skimmed through the drawer. "Here's a debriefing from something called the Third Innsmouth Raid. Does that sound useful?"

"... No."

She looked further. "There's a telegram from the Santa Priscan ambassador. Maybe a sales pitch by the looks of it. It mentions laboratories."

"Does it mention Fort Morrison?"

"No, but it mentions someone or something called Peña Dura."

"I don't think so."

"Okay." She looked further. "The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment?"

"Worrisome name, but doubtful."

"The storage of antiquities from the excavations of a Doctor H.W. Jones, Jr."

"No."

"How about … huh ..." Catwoman paused and read a minute. "Hey, you might want to see this one."

"Is it about Gotham?"

"Kansas."

He paused and looked up at her strangely.

She shrugged. "Yeah, I know, but take a look at it."

Batman stepped to her side and took the brown accordion file stuffed with papers.

It was simply titled: The Alien(?)

He looked inside. The papers were extensively redacted, with whole sections covered by black marker. One old photograph fell out. A penned caption dated four years ago said it was of a processing plant fire in Topeka. He squinted at it under the light.

There was a blurry … something in the top right corner.

Catwoman looked over his shoulder. "Maybe it's a bird."

He made a thoughtful noise. "Or a plane."

They studied the photograph with vague unease.

Finally, he put the file aside. "I don't think we'll find any pertinent records there in the time we have. Let's try something else."

"Don't you want to know about this briefcase I'm lugging around?"

Batman had noticed it of course, but he had been busy with a rare concern that outranked Catwoman holding something that didn't belong to her.

"Where did you get it?"

"I found a researcher inside one of the laboratories."

"Hm. And you took that without his notice. Good."

She tilted her head. "Wellllll, not quite."

His eyes narrowed. "Then how?"

"I, eh, sort of recruited him."

She could see the elaborate gear box of Batman's mind grind on this for a moment. His eyes narrowed further.

"… How?"

"I threatened him. Then I asked for his help. Sort of."

"That's different than your usual M.O."

"You think you're the only one who can be persuasive?"

"Of course not." Yes.

"Don't worry. He was helpful."

"What did he give you?"

"Funny you should ask," she hefted the briefcase onto the desk, "I actually have no idea. The newest tests his team did according to him."

"So it could be anything."

She untangled her carrying sling back into a cape and tied it on. "He seemed honest. He said this program originally got test cadavers legally through-"

"-the university donor system."

"Yes, Captain Interruptsalot, that's what they told him. He didn't know about the thefts in Gotham. I think the supply dried up so the Army started skulking around the city to pick up the slack."

"Let's see what else your informant offered."

Batman opened the case and picked up a loose pile of documents. Catwoman was about to describe what little she remembered about the contents, but after a blink he put down the first sheet. She looked at the page he dropped. It was a dense chart of heat and pressure measurements followed by three paragraphs of tiny, single-spaced footnotes.

"Did you just read this?"

He paused in concentration and put down his second page. "Yes."

"You didn't skim it? You read every word?"

"Yes."

"And you understood it? "

He put the third page down. "As much as I could out of context. Is there a problem?"

Catwoman picked her jaw off the floor. "No, nope. No problem."

"Our circumstances aside, his work is interesting," he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Your researcher has solid methodology."

Catwoman gave him a concerned look. A popular strain of Bat-rumors believed he was a literal monster in the Bram Stoker sense of the word. Naturally, she knew better - besides being human, he obviously had scruples - but some nights when she saw him, she couldn't shake the uncomfortable notion that Batman might have a very personal use for the tensile strength of the human ribcage or the melting point of an ear.

Finally, he put the fourth page down. "Some of this might be useful, but it'll take half an hour to sort through, and we're almost out of time."

"If you want to carry it, handsome, feel free. As long as we get back to the car."

---

At the car.

"Nah, it's Astaire."

"It's Rogers."

Private Benjamin Greene threw up his hands in frustration. "I'm sorry, sir, but you can't tell me you think Ginger Rogers was a better dancer than Fred Astaire. Have you been in a theater?"

Lieutenant Harrison Stevens crossed his arms and glared. "Hey, watch it, Private. And yes I do think so. That dame could cut a rug like the free world depended on it."

"Sure, they both jigged real fancy, but don't you think the better dancer is the one who looks just as keen while doing the harder job."

The Lieutenant shrugged. "I suppose."

"Well, there you go! Fred Astaire didn't just have to dance, he had to lead the dance! That surely makes his job harder."

"Fine, he had to lead, but Ginger Rogers had to do everything he did backwards and in heels."

"True, but Fred Astaire had to live with people pointing that out to him all the time."

"And that makes him the better dancer?"

"It makes him the better person."

"And?"

"And better people are better dancers."

"Yeah? What, did Saint Francis win the all-Italy waltz contest five years running?"

"That's an absurd example, Lieutenant. The waltz wasn't in fashion till the eighteenth century."

"Of course. That's why it's absurd."

Suddenly, there was a rustling in the treeline. The two soldiers dropped their smokes and had their rifles leveled in a moment. Lieutenant Stevens nodded and pointed to the side. Private Greene crouched and duckwalked to the other edge of the clearing to set up overwatch.

Easing his eye down the sights, the Lieutenant yelled, "Hey! The Navy can go ..."

A voice responded out of the woods, "... Suck a lemon!"

The two soldiers relaxed and lowered their weapons. The Lieutenant smiled. "You shouldn't try sneaking up on us, Jenkins."

Into the clearing stepped Private Jenkins. "I'll wear a bell next time, sir. Any luck with the car?"

Lieutenant Stevens shook his hand. "It's a mystery. Where's Nowitzki?"

"Command latched him to another patrol at camp."

"What else did command say?"

"You can ask them yourself. I brought friends."

Behind Private Jenkins slogged an engineer the Lieutenant knew faintly as Tubby Frank and a man he didn't recognize from the Signals Corps. Tubby Frank carried a heavy toolbox and the signal-man wore one of the new "Walkie-Talkie" backpacks.

Salutes were traded, and Tubby Frank got to business. He moved with the start-stop air of hurried patience seen in mechanically-minded men who have a puzzle to crack. He paced around the car, testing the handles and muttering to himself. The radio man, who identified himself as Corporal Grimes, explained that he was there to keep headquarters informed. The Fort was dealing with some sort of intrusion and the Ford might be involved.

As Grimes radioed in their arrival, the Lieutenant and the Privates watched Frank fiddle with a long strip of metal that fit into the driver's door. A moment later, the lock clicked open. They looked inside.

Tubby Frank scratched his head. "What are those straps?"

Private Jenkins answered. "Looks like lap belts. My cousin has them on his crop duster."

Private Greene gaped, "This car can fly?"

This was ignored. Lieutenant Stevens stepped back. "Alright, this jalopy has more unexpected additions than my Nana's fruitcake. At least one of them has to be a clue toward the owner. Find it."

The team got to work.

Tubby Frank was the first to find something interesting. With a long pry-bar he forced open the trunk. He peered inside and did a double-take. "Y'should see this, sir." The Lieutenant walked over as the engineer hung a small lantern. They searched the drawers of the unexpected storage case.

As the Lieutenant thumbed through a Turkish-to-Russian dictionary, he remarked, "Good find, soldier. It's like half a department store in here."

"Doubt you'll see these at a department store." Tubby Frank held up several sticks of dynamite.

Lieutenant Stevens gingerly took one and inspected it. "No label. What kind of lunatic drives around with loose dynamite in the back of his car through the middle of the woods?"

"It's a miracle we didn't find a crater, sir."

"Hm. Keep looking."

The Lieutenant began to pace and studied the dynamite. Corporal Grimes reported the find. It continued to snow.

Then Private Jenkins yelled out, "Found something else, sir!"

Lieutenant Stevens strode over. The Private was in the passenger seat, pulling something out of the glove compartment. He showed the Lieutenant a folder: De-orbit Moon in Seventeen Steps.

"What's it mean, sir?"

The Lieutenant's eyes narrowed to slits. He glared at the Russian dictionary in his left hand and the dynamite in his right. The veins in his neck bulged with righteous American fury. He muttered in a tone both oath and curse, "It's the Commies."

---

Back in Amanda Waller's office.

"If you want to carry it, handsome, feel free. As long as we get back to the car."

"No."

"No!?"

"You go, of course. I'll support you to the barricade. Descend the cliff. Find the Ford. Head south. Your pay is inside the passenger seat cushion. Cover your tracks. I suggest you light the car on fire once you get to Gotham. Or push it into a river. Or both."

"And in the meantime, you intend to, what? Enlist?"

"I have unfinished business here. Beyond the scope of our agreement."

"Is that business to die?"

"Our window for retreat is closing. Let's move."

"Hold on. A minute ago, you said we're stuck in stalemate. Now you want to shove me out of here. What's going on?"

He frowned. "I have another task here in the Fort, but I can reach it alone. You did your part."

"I also saved you from a firing squad. That wasn't 'my part'. Do I get a bonus for that?"

He ignored her and walked away. "Catwoman this is no time for-" Batman walked into the door frame and collapsed.

Catwoman blinked. That shouldn't have been possible. Batman was the paragon of coordinated motion, like an ever-frowning mountain goat. She once saw him hop out of a third floor window and land on a flagpole.

She stared at the crumpled heap on the floor. It occurred to Catwoman that she should ask if he was alright.

"... Did you just walk into a wall?"

Batman rolled to his knees and grabbed the door for balance. She helped him stand (or tried, the man weighed a ton). He leaned on her shoulder for a moment, gradually finding his footing. Then he grunted.

"This is no time for a discussion on-"

"Woah. Hold on, buster. You don't get to fall over, get up, and keep talking like nothing happened. What's wrong?"

He grunted. "My narcotics."

"Your what?!"

"Morphine was my first guess. Could be another. It was fast-acting."

"Excuse me?"

"When they stitched my cut, I was shot with a needle. Anesthetized. Probably intended to double as a pacifying agent."

"And now you're flying halfway to Neverland. Great. I'm relying on a guy who can't find his nose with his hand."

"Please. I'm obviously lucid. The drug wore off in minutes."

"Then why did you just fall?"

"In my experience, the symptoms of disorientation can return in brief waves."

She raised a critical eyebrow. "What do you mean by your 'experience'?"

He grunted dismissively. "Surgical necessities. Nothing more."

"Uh-huh. Either way, it sounds like you have a problem."

"It's immaterial. Won't happen again."

"You know what's very material? The floor."

"I'll be fine. We have to get you out of here."

"You're still running that track?"

He glared at her in disbelief. "Stubbornness aside, why would you possibly care to stay?"

That hurt. Catwoman glared back with a fiery riposte on the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated. The Leading Lady of Larceny closed her eyes and took a deep breath, resting her forehead on her palm. Her shoulders slumped.

Batman stared at her puzzled. Well, this is a new trick. They had traded blows a dozen times, leaped into thin air off skyscraper balconies; he once tackled her into an aquarium, but now was the first time Catwoman ever seemed beaten. No, not beaten - he still couldn't imagine that. She had fight left in her. No, the truth was she looked worn. Tired.

He waited. She took the favor and spoke.

"Look, you said yourself I wasn't heartless. Sure, we have our differences-" He made a skeptical head-tilt. "-And okay, that might be something of an understatement. But all this, this whole nightmare?" She gestured to the walls around her. "Well, I've seen it. I can't un-see it. That makes it my problem now. And as far as solutions go, you're the only game in town. So what's your big secret, and what do we have to do?"

Batman stared at her. You're going to regret this.

Catwoman crossed her arms and stared back. I'm not the regretting type.

Fine.

He stepped past and handed her a folded letter from the bowels of Amanda Waller's desk.

She held it up to the light. The other records thus far were cheap notebook pages or carbon copies. This document had class: rich cream cardstock, embossed letterhead, and a pair of neat cursive signatures. She began to read.

"Yadda, yadda - initiative by the Under Secretaries of State and War mandating Amanda Grace Waller to study and prepare innovations in war materiel and personnel pursuant to statute - yadda, yadda, yadda - extraordinary measures - yadda, yadda - adjutants on request - yadda, yadda - quarterly committee oversight - yadda, yadda - top secret." She handed the letter back to Batman."Is that it? We knew the bureaucracy fairy had flown in and granted this lady her magic slush fund. What's new?"

"Look closely. Fourth paragraph. See the list?"

"Yeah. Something to do with 'cooperative officials and groups'. Bunch of obscure government offices. They can't all be in on this, can they? Not knowingly, anyway."

"Read the seventh."

"... Rook Ltd." She looked up. "Never heard of it."

"Fort Morrison had a research arm from day one, but it was first and foremost an administrative center for the planned quarantine. The lion's share of influenza research was conducted elsewhere, predominately Johns Hopkins. When laboratories need to transport biological samples that dangerous, they use special couriers, and Hopkins preferred a Baltimore firm called Rook Brothers."

"Why bother showing me the letter when you knew you'd have to explain things anyway?"

He ignored the comment. "With their unique track record, Rook Brothers soon won contracts with the leading hospitals and military clinics. They dominated their industry."

"Good for them."

"When the disease passed, they went bankrupt. The mothballed leftovers of the company were bought in '32 by Lex Pharmacuticals. The original brothers were fired, but they kept the name."

"LexCorp owns a company just to shuttle Petri dishes around?"

"If that's what they still do. I told you Fort Morrison was closed after the Flu ended. That's not entirely true. The Army wanted to keep virus cultures on permanent storage. The Fort was the most remote site they owned with the right equipment. A maintenance crew stayed behind."

Catwoman visibly tensed. "Are you saying the Spanish Flu is in this building?" She sounded terrified.

"No. It was until the most recent labs were installed. Now I'm certain it's been moved."

"Where?"

"That's exactly what I ... what we need to know. The sample might be elsewhere in the Fort, but to transport off-site calls for specialists."

"Like Rook Ltd."

"Precisely, and when a virus is stored successfully for two decades, you don't move it unless-"

"-Unless you suddenly want it for something besides storage."

He nodded. "The company might be on her list for other purposes; I hope it is, but having seen what these sanctioned murderers will do for mundane research, I need to know if they have plans to use virus samples. It could be vastly more important than stolen corpses or even someone hunting the homeless. We have to see if it's still here."

"And then we head for the car?"

"Then we head for the car."

---

Meanwhile, at the car.

Lieutenant Harrison Stevens dug through the glove compartment. He had already found the binder of Fort Morrison information, as shocking as that was. This small pile was a motherload of brazen plots and conspiracies judging by the titles (he didn't have time to read inside). Submarine attacks. Wild animal rampages. Bank heists. Dirigible crashes. A baffling number of threats involving clowns. Some desk jockeys in an intelligence office somewhere would fall out of their seats when they saw this. He would just look over a few more then carry them up to the Fort. A hundred analysts across the country could be combing through the pile by early next week.

As he searched, he placed a hand on the far grooves of the compartment. Something shifted. Curious, he moved his hand. The motion engaged an unseen mechanism. The back wall slid away, revealing a hidden recess with a much larger pile of files.

"Heh. Well, I'll be!"

The hidden chamber was deep, nearly out of reach. He idly took the stick of dynamite from his coat pocket and laid it in the glove compartment where it wouldn't bump or roll. Then he reached inside to seize a new stack of binders.

Little did he know, Batman had customized the Ford with one last precaution. When Catwoman had opened the glove compartment's secret chamber earlier, he had discreetly flipped a switch under the steering wheel to allow her. No one was here to deactivate it now.

Three seconds passed without the manual override being switched. The secrets were jeopardized. A small tape buried in the innards of the vehicle began to play over the radio. It was a low female voice, scratchy but unmistakable.

"Unauthorized access. These records will incinerate in five ... four ... three ..."

Lieutenant Stevens nearly jumped out of his seat at the first word. He tumbled though the door and scampered a healthy distance away. The other soldiers had already stepped far back.

"... two ... one."

There was a pop and a hiss. A tiny burst of sparks fell in the glove compartment. The papers swiftly grew to flame, lighting up the night.

Sergeant Franklin Thurbert, a thoughtful man, stared at the row of dynamite he had laid in the snow. One was missing. "Uh, sir?"

Lieutenant Stevens briefly glanced back at him, saw what his engineer was looking at, and absently patted his own pockets.

His mouth went slack with a sudden, grave realization.

...

It took two seconds for the stick of explosives inside the Ford's glove compartment to detonate. This was slightly longer than it took the squad to sprint into the trees (which caught most of the debris).

It an instant, the front third of the beige Ford Model 48 was a charred knot of steel.

In the next instant, the fire caught the row of dynamite laying nearby.

In the final instant, there was nothing of the car but slag and snow and ash.
Author: Batman 1939
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The Romulan Republic
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Re: Batman 1939: The Dangers of Being Cold

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2016-09-08 09:24pm

Lucky break, for the dynamite to blow the evidence like that.

And Lex huh? The plot thickens.

Loved the Spoiler
Superman
reference. Also "A baffling number of threats involving clowns." :lol:

Also, the private and Lt.'s conversations on movies were hilarious.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.