Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Tribble » 2017-02-09 11:13pm

I will never look at doves the same way again :D
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2017-02-10 01:01am

Ares always was an odd bird. Supposedly, he's been holding off WWIII because it would depopulate the Earth to the point the gods would die from lack of belief/concept. No conflict/war, no Ares.
Thus we get the Syrian conflict, the Somalian Conflict, ISIS, etc... small battles, small wars, but nothing that will touch off The Big One.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-10 08:05am

“Pero cuidado! Ella esta de Idaho!” :D

Stewart, you may feel that the recent chapter had a similar flavor to The Dangers of Being Cold. However, the different characters, and particularly your Wonder Woman, make the similarities rather more subtle than you may have feared.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby FaxModem1 » 2017-02-10 03:10pm

I don't think it's similar. Steve and Diana have a very different dynamic than Bruce and Selina. They're also doing more social infiltration than physical infiltration, which is vastly different storywise.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-02-12 11:51pm

LadyTevar wrote:Ares always was an odd bird. Supposedly, he's been holding off WWIII because it would depopulate the Earth to the point the gods would die from lack of belief/concept. No conflict/war, no Ares.
Thus we get the Syrian conflict, the Somalian Conflict, ISIS, etc... small battles, small wars, but nothing that will touch off The Big One.

Who supposes this?

Simon_Jester wrote:Stewart, you may feel that the recent chapter had a similar flavor to The Dangers of Being Cold. However, the different characters, and particularly your Wonder Woman, make the similarities rather more subtle than you may have feared.

FaxModem1 wrote:I don't think it's similar. Steve and Diana have a very different dynamic than Bruce and Selina. They're also doing more social infiltration than physical infiltration, which is vastly different storywise.


Fair enough, but I will suggest the following:

- Male straight man, female comic relief
- Male is experienced in the kind of mission at hand, female is a novice
- Male concerned for danger of pressing ahead, female forces him to go into danger out of impulsiveness
- Male concerned from start that female is unreliable
- Mooks are military
- Mission reveals a conspiracy deeper than originally anticipated (not rare across fiction, admittedly)
- Male eventually captured
- Male injures hand trying to rescue female
- Female escapes under fire with unconventional transportation, leaving male to a dire fate
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-13 12:15am

Yeah, but by that standard Star Wars and The Matrix are the same story because they both have a lot of elements of the Campbellian monomyth.

If you strip out enough details from two works of art you will always, always be able to make them sound similar. That says more about the art of literary analysis than it does about the art of, well... art.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby FaxModem1 » 2017-02-13 12:59am

You'd also be surprised at how many noir stories, in general, have a male and female team working together on a mystery, with the woman being the comic relief in some capacity. It's pretty much a staple of the genre.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-02-13 10:31pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Yeah, but by that standard Star Wars and The Matrix are the same story because they both have a lot of elements of the Campbellian monomyth.

If you strip out enough details from two works of art you will always, always be able to make them sound similar. That says more about the art of literary analysis than it does about the art of, well... art.


I guess, though I still feel there are more than a few over-specific overlaps. I realized the other day that something like 5/6 of my cast has had hand injuries. I should call the series Batman: Digital Damage.

FaxModem1 wrote:You'd also be surprised at how many noir stories, in general, have a male and female team working together on a mystery, with the woman being the comic relief in some capacity. It's pretty much a staple of the genre.


Sure, the classic Nick and Nora template (though they were pretty equal in the comedy department in my opinion).

Call it artistic hubris, but I aim to use staples conservatively. ... Not that I succeed.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Tribble » 2017-02-13 10:54pm

Stewart M wrote:I guess, though I still feel there are more than a few over-specific overlaps. I realized the other day that something like 5/6 of my cast has had hand injuries. I should call the series Batman: Digital Damage.


To be fair a lot of it involved hand-to-hand combat so it's kind of expected. :P
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-13 11:07pm

Hand injuries are actually a very useful artistic tool and it's not a problem to use them heavily, within reason. Because they immediately provide a reason why an otherwise formidable character can't fight, or can't fight effectively. They're generally a realistic consequence of running around punching things, too- boxers wear gloves to protect their own fists as much as to protect their opponent's bodies, after all.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-03-10 11:48pm

Hype time. If you want a story that's like this story but isn't this story, you can find it here: Victory Bonds. Read it. It's good.

Simon_Jester wrote:Hand injuries are actually a very useful artistic tool and it's not a problem to use them heavily, within reason. Because they immediately provide a reason why an otherwise formidable character can't fight, or can't fight effectively. They're generally a realistic consequence of running around punching things, too- boxers wear gloves to protect their own fists as much as to protect their opponent's bodies, after all.


Agreed. They strike a nice balance of a dramatic injury that would credibly damage a person from almost any kind danger without incapacitating them (which leads to plot issues).
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-03-18 07:39pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 18: Falling Action


Diana made it back to the sprawl of Buenos Aries with little difficulty, but the city caused mixed feelings. Unlike the wild lands, she found it impossible to stay invisible on its streets. Anyone could be a scout for the guards and their craven masters, and Diana traveled with the unnerving sense of eyes upon her back. However, each step forward also emboldened her with a feeling of progress. This city’s port represented her best odds at finding passage back to the States, and she was almost there.

Diana’s all-consuming goal was to find Steve, but pursuing him in this enormous country required a different sort of hunter. Her only hope was Amanda Waller. Diana was reluctant to make herself dependent any institution of Man. She was in this world to demonstrate that her people were capable, to offer aid, not receive it. Begging for help was anathema. Diana only considered the option because Amanda was a woman, and surely any nation with the wisdom to elevate a woman to high command wouldn’t take advantage of an ally in distress.

Also, Steve was Amanda’s subordinate. A commander deserved every chance to recover her forces. That was only proper.

It was nearly one in the afternoon when Diana ambled into a café in some dusty neighborhood near the waterfront. By now she had much practice with her amble. It was a stride unknown to the Amazons. Only the tense social jungle of Man’s World could justify such a defiantly casual style of walking. Diana moseyed over to the counter and pantomimed that she wanted a bottle of Coca-Cola. She paid with more proceeds from her stint of unsolicited construction work and found a seat in the corner. Diana popped the cap with her thumb and downed half the bottle in a gulp. After she finished the rest, she took off her headscarf and wiped the sweat from her brow. Diana had found a new traveling outfit many days ago. The boots, brown pants, and white shirt were castoffs she found in a charitable village church, likely from some old farmer, and after a little crude tailoring they almost fit. While it would strain credulity to ever describe Diana as forgettable, at least she no longer looked like the victim of a fancy hurricane or an all-female remake of Ben Hur,

She relaxed in the corner of the little café long after her drink was empty. If anyone was following her, they would have to enter the café to check on her. She might be meeting a partner or slipping out the backdoor, and most stalkers weren’t patient enough to take those risks. It was a nice trick, one of her few. Working at Steve’s side in Washington had taught Diana some rudimentary Man’s World spycraft, which she glumly acknowledged was the only spycraft. The Amazons had no spies; they had no one on which to spy. Until now, anyway. It wasn’t a role Diana was eager to assume, but she would do it and a great deal more if that’s what it took to destroy the Nazis.

But no one entered the café, stalker or otherwise, and eventually Diana ambled out into the afternoon sun. As she walked through a square with a fountain, she saw a man hammering a poster onto the wall of a restaurant. When he moved away, she glanced at it and saw a poor illustration of her face. The text under it read:

Fugitivo Peligroso!​

Nombre
: Elizabeth Byrne

Nacionalidad: Los Estados Unidos (Concretamente de Idaho!!!)

Altura: Muy alto a absurdamente alto

Ojos: Azul

Cabello: Negro

Generosa recompensa por ayuda en arresto! Pregunte en la comisaría más cercana!
El fugitivo también podría tener un caballo. Recompensa adicional por el retorno del caballo.​


Diana didn’t panic. She walked up to the wall and leaned against it, concealing the poster. Whistling, she casually reached behind her back, tore the poster from the wall, balled it up, and stuffed it into her pants pocket. The poster quickly uncrumpled, causing her pocket to balloon. Diana, still whistling, sauntered away. She turned down the next street and found twelve identical posters.

---​

Meanwhile, in Gotham City.

Officers Ned Smith and Renee Montoya were dressed in their Sunday best for a plainclothes surveillance operation in a very nice neighborhood. Doctors, senior accountants, and the better sort of salesmen walked their dogs here. Smith and Montoya wore the finest outfits affordable on a police officer’s salary and looked dressy enough to convince the locals that they were perhaps someone’s sad out-of-town cousins or the crummy sort of salesmen fallen on hard times. They sat on a bench on a small hill in a small park. Down the hill and across a road was a row of townhouses. Smith and Montoya each had a copy of the largest newspaper available open in front of them. Each paper was angled so the officers could peek over the top and spy on the townhouses below.

Officer Montoya groaned. They were only on their second hour, and she had pretended to read the same pages so many times that the words had lost all meaning. “So why’s Gordon think this guy’s dirty?”

Officer Smith, who was idly memorizing the week’s scores for sports leagues he didn’t follow, responded, “Gordon says a friend saw him having lunch with the Roman.”

“What! Falcone?”

Smith hushed her. “Yeah, quiet down. But yeah.”

Montoya whispered back. “Since when does Gordon got friends who go to that sort of joint?”

Smith shrugged. “Who knows? Since when does Gordon got friends?”

“There’s-“

“Besides Bullock.”

“Right…”

They both went silent for a minute.

The surveillance had run fourteen hours a day for half a week now, and most of Gordon’s team had cycled through several times. Smith and Montoya had been busy with other crucial assignments, but Gordon finally tapped them yesterday to take a shift. Manpower was a luxury on the team, especially these days, and the team was growing skeptical at the value of the operation. No one had complained to Gordon yet, but that silence wouldn’t last long.

They trusted their brave leader’s instincts, but the target was just so incredibly boring.

Smith cleared this throat. “I went to see him the other day. Bullock, I mean. But he was asleep. They say he does a lot of that, but he’s, uh, he’s pulling through. That’s something.”

“Yeah.”

“We do have one other thing on this guy. Get this: he’s the Deputy Mayor’s brother-in-law.”

“No way.”

“Gordon found out yesterday.”

“But in this neighborhood? He should a palace somewhere.”

“I’m dead serious.”

“Well, are they close?”

“Hard to say. They haven’t visited each other while we’ve been watching.”

“Do they call?”

“That’s funny. You think Gordon would approve a wiretap on this op? With the Deputy Mayor on the other end? We’re off the reservation as is.”

Montoya shrugged defensively. “It was worth asking.”

“Besides, being related to someone ain’t a crime, and we don’t even got whispers of dirt on the Deputy Mayor anyway. Seems he’s the nice guy in the Mayor’s office.”

“So you mean the fall guy.”

“Sooner or later, I- Hey! Look fast!”

Over the tops of their newspapers, they saw a taxi pull up in front of a particular townhouse. The officers dropped their papers and rushed down the other side of the hill. They spilled into Montoya’s car in an alley near the park and sped around the block, weaving through the sedate, gentrified traffic in her conspicuously un-gentrified lemon.

They turned onto the same road of townhouses as a rear door of the taxi closed.

Smith slapped the dashboard. “Alright! Keep a few cars away.”

Montoya shot back, “You think this is the first time I’ve trailed a car?”

“Is it?”

“Technically, yes.”

“You’re doing fine, just stay calm!”

“You’re the one yelling!”

They followed the taxi for fifteen blocks, nearly losing it several times, and once nearly getting hit by a train. Montoya was exhausted by the time the taxi stopped in front of a parking garage. Smith told her to let him out and circle back in ten minutes. She wanted to say that she would park somewhere discreet so they could go in together, but it occurred to her that no one would have built a parking garage here if street parking was that easy.

Instead, her car slowed to a crawl, and Officer Smith stumbled out. He straightened his hat and watched Montoya drive off, her acceleration closing his door behind him. Smith crossed the street just as a figure from the taxi disappeared through the garage’s pedestrian entrance. Smith crept into the building. He could hear someone climbing the stairs, several flights above. The garage was nearly empty now, so Smith moved slowly to stay quiet. He peeked in every level. Finally, at the top level, he spied the figure shuffling towards a money green Cadillac. Smith crouched and moved inside. The figure walked under a light. It was Walter Brown.

Walter made it to the car as a well-dressed man stepped out of the passenger’s seat to greet him. Smith saw the man and cursed in awe.

Ten minutes later, Smith stood on the curb near the parking garage. Montoya rolled up and Smith jumped in.”

Montoya was all business. “Was it Brown?”

“Yeah, and you’ll never guess who he drove away with.”

“Who?”

“Vinnie Grapa.”

“Who?”

“Geez, you’re fresh. Vikentios ‘Vinnie’ Grapa: bagman for the Nobilos. Ring a bell?”

“I’ve heard of Milos Grapa. Thought he was a bodyguard for Falcone.”

“Different guy. But they’re cousins. No one knows the story there. Anyway, Vinnie Grapa is deep with the Nobilos. Worked his way up from running with the Greeks in the East End. Never a top guy, but he’s been in the game a long time.”

“Okay, if he’s not a top guy, how’d you recognize him?”

“I’d know that mug anywhere. Back in the day I collared him on a two-bit possession of stolen goods charge. The Nobilos hired a whole flock of lawyers to fight it. Probably cost them five times what they would have missed if he just pled down to a couple years in the clink.”

“Did he win the case?”

“Yep. I went in thinking the prosecution would tie it up in a week. It ended up lasting nine months and two appeals. The Nobilos are quiet, but they don’t mess around.”

“What do you think they want with Walter Brown?”

“Who knows? I’ll leave that line of speculation to Sarge. Let’s get something to eat.”

“I know this sandwich shop a few streets north of here.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Smith and Montoya didn’t notice that moments after she picked him up and drove away, one of the cars whose driver managed to find street parking pulled off the curb and made a tight U-turn to follow them. Unlike Montoya, this driver had trailed cars incognito many times. In the passenger seat was a tall blond man with binoculars who had watched the two officers since the start of their shift.

---​

That evening, in Buenos Aries.

Amanda Waller’s advice had been well-informed. The city’s dockyards had many English speakers, as well as speakers of every other language. Diana found her ticket out of the country on her twelfth attempt. Late that evening, she met the tipsy first mate of a Panamanian tramp steamer. He was a dapper Singaporean who introduced himself as Zhang and informed Diana in passable English that they were setting out for Sao Luis, Brazil in the morning and could use an extra hand if she was willing to sleep under the bilge pump. Diana hadn’t understood most of his words, but she understood ‘Brazil’ and ‘morning’, and that was enough. He slipped her a napkin with a scribbled berthing address. She bid him goodnight and rushed to a nearby hotel. She couldn’t afford a room, of course, but she had seen an international phone in the lobby earlier. As before, it was difficult to explain where she wanted the call routed, and the transfers to Amanda Waller were as random as usual. The last operator said Waller had to be fetched from bed and kept Diana on the line for several minutes. Finally the line connected.

“Mm. Hello?”

“Miss Waller, this is Diana Prince.”

“… Wonderful.”

“Thank you, but I must speak fast. I have few pesos left.”

“You found a way out of the country?”

“Yes, I-“

“You’re in Buenos Aries?”

“Uh, yes, and-“

“Boat leaving early?”

“Yes? How did-“

“Cutting it close with that news, Diana. When exactly? First tide?”

“The officer said that, yes.”

“Describe the craft. What does it look like?”

“Err … Panamanian.”

“Length? Color?”

“… I have not seen it.”

The was an audible sigh over the line. “Who exactly did you speak with?”

“He said he was the first mate.”

“And what’s her name?”

“It was a man.”

“No, the ship. What’s the ship called?”

“The Azure.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, he said it many times.”

“Registered in Panama?”

“Yes.”

“And what are they carrying?”

“Soybeans, I believe.”

“Destination?”

“Brazil.”

“What port?”

“Sao Luis.”

“Buenos Aries to Sao Luis at this time of year? Let’s see. Grain hauler. Small crew. Turnover’s a problem if they’ll pick up any odd drifter.”

“Pick up who?”

“I’d guess your ship’s a ninety-footer. Something old. Yes, that’s fine.”

“What?”

“Well done, Diana. We’ll have a car waiting in Brazil. Now you watch yourself. Sailors are shifty. Don’t trust them.”

“I will watch myself. And I-”

“Good.”

The line went dead. Diana put down the receiver. This hotel was too close to the waterfront for the management to pretend to be refined, but even the scruffiest lobby clerk had standards. Giant dirty farm women could frighten the guests. Diana realized she was attracting stares and made a quick retreat.

It was a warm night outside. The moon was nearly to the top of the sky. Diana yawned. She had walked since daybreak and dearly wished to sleep, but if she curled up to rest in some alley, an informant might see her, or she might sleep late and miss her ship’s departure. These were vexing, but Diana judged herself a capable problem solver, the sort of woman who found straightforward solutions. Here, the straightforward solution was obvious.

---​

Eleven hours later.

Diana’s dreams were interrupted by a sharp poke to her shoulder. Her dreams struggled to rally, but they were finally dissolved by another poke and a loud voice yelling “Oi!” in her ear. Diana rolled over and blinked. A man’s disembodied head was frowning at her, and his free-floating arm was poking her with a mop. This earned her attention. Diana sat up and found that he had a body, but it was mostly out of sight, holding onto a ladder against the roof of the Azure’s pilot house where she had slept. Diana looked around. There was nothing but steel blue ocean in every direction. The pilot house roof was the highest point on the ship save the radio mast so she had an excellent view. The Azure was just over a hundred feet from bow to stern. Her hull was a rusted green metal and her deck was warped wood. A pair of smokestacks belched ugly black smoke which faded into a hazy cone behind the ship. Diana was impressed that the din of old machines and the calls of sea birds hadn’t roused her awake earlier.

The man with the mop asked something in Spanish. Diana shrugged groggily. “No hablo español.” He cursed and poked her again. Diana had half a mind to snatch the mop out of his hands but she worried he might fall off his ladder. Instead, she stood and hopped away off the other side of the roof.

She brushed herself off and stretched her neck. A voice called from behind, “Most unexpected!”

Diana turned. First Mate Zhang was striding toward her followed by two sailors who carried heavy wrenches. Diana suddenly recalled that last night Zhang had been polite and professional but not a bit somber. She hoped that wasn’t going to be a problem.

She nodded. “Hello, sir. It’s Diana.” She gestured awkwardly to herself. “Again.”

Zhang clapped once. “Yes, my favorite kind of stowaway.” The two sailors leaned forward eagerly. “One I invited!”

Diana basked in relief. Zhang dismissed his escorts and led her into the pilot house. There was a hefty man inside reading a map. The stranger had black skin and wore an impressive blue coat. Zhang greeted the man, talking to him in Spanish and glancing meaningfully at Dana several times.

Diana offered a wave. “Hola?”

The man mumbled something and returned to his map. Zhang made a short bow and drew Diana away. He whispered as they left, “And that was our illustrious captain.”

“What is his name?”

“He will not tell us. But that is not important. He approves of you.”

“Oh, good.”

“Diana, can you lift bags of soybeans?”

“Yes.”

“For six hours at a time?”

“Yes.”

“In a small space with little air and no sun?”

“Yes.”

“Splendid! I should have asked that last night, but no matter. There was a mistake at the docks, and the bags were loaded in the wrong crates. You will help us fix this.”

“Okay.”

“I will show you your bilge pump, then lead you to the soybeans.”

“When is breakfast?”

“So sorry, you just missed it. Someone will call you for lunch.”

---​

Falls Church, Virginia.

Admiral Bernard Cornwell’s home was a red brick colonial with a round white portico. The building was, in Amanda Waller’s opinion, a perfect fit for the owner: large, genteel, and more expensive than it was worth. Waller said a silent prayer for the taxpayer before she struck the brass knocker. The door quickly opened.

“Yes?”

Waller briefly believed she was looking at a mirror. The woman in the doorway could have been her twin, though dressed as a maid instead of Waller’s office attire. Waller stared at her doppelganger for a moment then answered, “Amanda Waller, here to see the Admiral.”

The maid nodded, “As you say, ma’am. Jus’ a moment, then.” She retreated into the house and Amanda could hear her call, “Admiral, suh, a Miss Waller for you.” A man called back, “Very good. Show her in.”

The maid returned. “Ma’am, if’in you’d kindly follow me.”

Amanda entered the house and was led through a hallway stuffed with navel art and maritime souvenirs. At the end was a study where the Admiral worked at a long desk. He returned his pen to its stand rose from his chair. “Hello, Amanda.”

“Admiral Cornwell.”

He turned to the maid. “Yes, now Mary, do leave us please. I’ll call should I need your assistance.”

The maid, Mary, curtseyed and left the room. When she was gone, the Admiral’s expression fell to restrained annoyance. “Well?”

Waller folded her arms behind her back. “I owe you an explanation.”

“You’re right about that. You can start with why you’ve been dodging my calls for a week.”

“I only-“

“See, Amanda, you have a reputation for seeing things through discreetly.”

“If-“

“So when I hand over high priority intelligence so you and your little club can run a simple reconnaissance, it’s a big surprise when I hear the subject’s been murdered.”

Waller waited several seconds after he stopped speaking before she answered. “Are you done?”

The Admiral narrowed his eyes but gestured for her to talk.

Waller nodded. “I stayed silent because it would have been fruitless to report back until I had something to report.”

“And do you have something to report?”

“Yes. In short, I sent the wrong team. They failed. That was my error. However, I’ve contained the problem, and my people are tying up loose ends as we speak. Plus, the episode has not proven entirely useless.”

“That’s hardly a report.”

“But I’d like your help moving forward. First, I need to borrow a ship. Then I need to interrogate Carmine Falcone.”

Admiral Cornwell held up his hands. “Hold on there. You better start at the beginning.”

Waller took a seat. “Like you said, this should have been a cakewalk. So I sent a rookie along with a seasoned agent to offer the former some experience.”

“And?”

“I misjudged them both. First, the rookie was a zealot.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl was a foreigner who I’ve been trying to corral as an asset. Naïve but great potential. I don’t know all the details, but her people have been hit by the Germans, so she’s been carrying a grudge. I thought that would be helpful.”

“Just what country is she from?”

“No idea. Some island. She has names for it, but they don’t exist on any map. She’s one of my special projects, see, so her homeland might be, well, I suppose ‘paranormal’ is my favorite term lately.”

The Admiral grunted sourly.

It was quietly understood at the highest levels of national defense that there were strange things in the universe which most people were better off ignoring. Most famously, Professor Einstein had proven that time and space were connected, and matter could be converted into energy. This was perverse and shattered every intuition, so it was fortunate that almost no one had the brains to comprehend him. Likewise, strange things were best left to trusted authorities with cooler heads, and Amanda Waller had claimed a near monopoly as that authority. She didn’t have much competition. Like atomic fission, a few military leaders were faintly aware that strange things could one day rock the world, but in the meantime, they were happy to let someone else worry about it.

When the Admiral heard that brought one of her ‘special projects’ into this mission, his anger turned to obvious discomfort. He repressed the urge to change the subject. “So the Germans have invaded a fictional nation? Like Oz?”

“Not fictional. Just beyond empirical geography.”

“Of course …”

“As to whether they’ve been invaded, I can’t say. But my rookie certainly thinks so. I had hoped that insult would motivate her to perform.”

“But you fouled up on that assessment.”

“She was a little too motivated. Based on what I gather from her and other sources, our girl shows up and finds Salazar. My pro, who’s supposed to be her chaperone, tells her to play it cool. But what does she do? Catches Salazar in some empty room and grills him. No coordination, no plan, nothing.”

“Your pro doesn’t slap some sense into her?”

Waller coughed on a laugh and suppressed a smile. “No, that wasn’t an option.”

“So your dame tries to beat some secrets out of Salazar then plugs him. But I heard Salazar was shot in public. Did he try to flee?”

“Not the way you’re imagining. It seems their chat was interrupted. Our pair escape, leaving Salazar behind. Somehow, they manage things so he never gets a look at them. Security can’t help him since he can’t tattle on his assailants, so he decides to leave.”

“But your crew got away scot free. Why shoot him?”

“Well, when our girl roughed up Salazar, she heard some choice news. Salazar claimed the Krauts had two spymasters in the Americas, Der Wehrwolf and him.”

Admiral Cornwell looked disappointed then intrigued. “So we had the wrong guy. Der Wehrwolf is still out there.”

“Oh, yes. One more reason why it’s high time we spoke with your man Falcone and discover why a criminal boss in Gotham thinks he knows about the foremost Nazi spy on the continent.”

The Admiral sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Finish your story, Amanda. Then we’ll talk about it.”

Waller nodded primly. “Fine. Mr. Salazar admits to a veritable laundry list of bad behavior. Every sort of sabotage and subversion a man in his position could pull. Our girl thinks about it and decides he’s too much of a threat. She loathes the Reich. Couldn’t let him walk away. Makes an executive decision to set his plans back permanently.”

“And puts a bullet in him.”

“No, actually. My pro pulls the trigger first.”

What? Why?”

“Pity. Chivalry. Love.” Waller shrugged like these possibilities like ice cream flavors. “I don’t know. Maybe all the above. I thought he could stay objective, but clearly I was wrong. He gets arrested. She escapes. Problem is, while their little interview with Salazar was her idea, he does the actual talking since his Spanish is better. Our girl only hears the dirty deeds second-hand. Doesn’t know a whit of the details. If we want real intel; Salazar’s last words, I have to recover my man. Might be the biggest break on their domestic rings we’ve ever found.”

“And I’m sure Jerry wants to hear why he shot their man out of the blue. Let’s pray the Argentines aren’t in on it.”

“Speaking of ‘in on it’, we need Falcone.”

The Admiral stared down and laced his fingers. “Listen, Amanda, I know how reckless this seems. I’m not stupid.”

“I never said you were.”

“Do you know what U-boat crews have called the last year? Rumor is they call it ‘Die Glückliche Zeit’. The Happy Time. There were weeks when we lost half the tonnage we sent to the Brits. That’s countless ships and merchant crews lost when it takes months to replace one. It’s been a nightmare.”

“I’m aware of the situation.”

“They shouldn’t have been able to find our convoys so consistently. There had to be spies in our shipping ports. Gotham, naturally, was the big gorilla in the room. There were even strange fires and missing parts in some of its shipyards. But the FBI said their counterespionage office in town wasn’t picking up anything. They said Gotham was just too big to cover, too unwelcoming. They didn’t have the budget, they said. What could we do?”

“What indeed?”

“We heard that if you wanted to know anything in Gotham, there was this pack of old bootleggers who knew everything there was to know in the city. We talked to them.”

“I’ve heard the story, Admiral.”

“These old boys were smart, Amanda. I hate to admit it but they held all the cards. Some of our eggheads were warning that if our merchant ships didn’t start making it through, the UK would fall in two months. We had to turn things around. And these gangsters could sense we were desperate.”

“Admirals don’t meet with little crooks every day.”

“Guess not. They said they’d heard rumors of foul play that might interest us. The Feds had nothing to arrest them on, so we thought they wanted something sweet. But besides giving a few friends parole, they were willing to share their rumors for free. Just to help against the fascists, they said.”

“But that wasn’t all.”

“They shared all sorts of rumors, sure, but they insisted on one condition: we couldn’t ask how or where they learned what they knew.”

Waller stared at him like he was stupid. “And you agreed to that.”

“Wartime emergency, woman. It was easy enough to verify their intel through our own channels. And no gangster in their right mind would collude with the Axis. Hitler and Mussolini hang their type. They wanted a signed promise from the Justice Department that no consequence from any espionage-related admission could be used against them in court. And they got it.”

“So you’re saying-“

“We can’t interrogate Falcone because that would mean arresting him on suspicions from an espionage-related tip. We can ask him nicely to talk to us, but I suspect he won’t be forthcoming.”

“So he could give you a tip that, say, leads to half the Office of Naval Intelligence being ambushed because he’s playing both sides, and he could walk away whistling Dixie?”

“Look, I still have no proof any of them are dirty. Almost all of these tips have led to arrests or safehouses. We’re talking apart their network across the Eastern Seaboard in a big way. And it can’t be a ruse: U-boat attacks in coastal waters are dropping every month. There are plenty of regular selfish reasons why a criminal would keep his secrets.”

“If you can’t arrest him then follow him. Learn where he gets his data covertly.”

To her surprise, Admiral Cornwell laughed. “Have you been to Gotham?”

“Unfortunately.”

“These puffed-up racketeers are sultans there. They have everything sewed-up the way they like it. You don’t just follow a guy like Falcone around. Any agent we put on the case would be made in a heartbeat, probably by the cops.”

Waller studied him for a long moment. “I could do it.”

“Could you now? I’ve heard good things about your men, Waller, but I don’t think you’ve reckoned with you’re up against.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have they tracked. It’s too late for that.”

“Meaning?”

“We take him. Question him. He doesn’t even need to know who’s responsible.”

“I hope you’re kidding.”

“I admit my girl put us in a rough place, but if Salazar was credible, my team froze half the Nazi operations in the Americas in one blow. It seems the only source who could possibly point straight to a nerve center like that is the other half of Nazi operations in the Americas. Either Falcone has a mole at the very highest echelon of their spy rings or he’s being controlled by them.”

“That occurred to me, obviously.”

“And he might be special.”

“Special?”

“My kind of special. Paranormal. There’s a lot that’s gone well for him. He knows more than he should. Things he can’t know. And his little whisper somehow set in motion us murdering of a diplomat.”

“That’s weak logic. Sounds to me you’re biased. Or compensating.”

“There’s a lot that isn’t adding up. Call it a hunch.”

“But he’s an American citizen. Outwardly, he’s done no wrong. We can’t justify it.”

“Oh yes we can. Like you said: wartime emergency.”

The Admiral was a man of rules. He folded his arms and his features turned cold. Waller leaned forward and doubled-down. “Do you know the fundamental difference between you and me, Admiral?”

He idly scanned her features. “I suspect I do.”

“No, it’s got nothing to do with how we were born and everything to do with how we were trained.”

“How?”

“You’re a military officer. And in every military, men are commodities.”

“Well, I shan’t describe-“

“Come now, if the President gave you a fleet and orders to attack a fortified harbor, and you knew this would expend a thousand shells and a hundred drums of fuel and a hundred sailors’ lives, what would you do?”

“I would take every precaution-“

“And then?”

“Fulfill my orders.”

“And I’m sure you would mourn the loss of those lives.”

“Naturally.”

“But it wouldn’t stop you. Given a clear mission, you would spend those human lives as quickly as you spend fuel. Maybe quicker if supply lines are desperate.”

“What’s your point, Waller?”

“Suppose one sailor doesn’t play along. How do you treat insubordination? Do you let him go home? Do you sit and chat over coffee, try to convince him through rhetoric?”

“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”

“No. You throw him in the brig. You flog him. You shoot him. If there’s a rotten grape in the bunch, you toss it. In fact, it’s even more important to get rid of a man – one bad grape won’t ruin the rest, but a man can spark a mutiny.”

“If you intend to lecture me, you’re gravely mistaken.”

“I came to offer an olive branch and a comparison.”

“What comparison?”

“You have intelligence responsibilities at your rank, Admiral, but you were trained as a combat officer. In combat, you can afford to spend people because they’re conditioned to obey but moreso because they have no place to negotiate. You have all the leverage. But I wasn’t trained as a combat officer. I trained in intelligence. And in intelligence, you don’t have all the leverage. The fate of nations may rest on a single turncoat. You can't trust a turncoat, he isn't inclined to take orders, and you can’t arrest him. The best you can hope is to use influence. If you want something from a spy - and by God, you do - then you must wheedle and flatter and frighten and lie like a rug. All to influence a greedy coward whose defining trait is a criminal lack of loyalty.”

“I am in intelligence, Waller.”

“Your desk is, but is your attitude?”

“Word games now?”

“Like it or not, we have been born into the generation when humanity meets its betters. If an extraordinary boy can run like a cheetah and lift a car, or if he casts illusions with his mind so vivid you’d never know the difference, do you think can you draft him into your wars like any other grunt? What if he says no?”

“… I’d need to influence him.”

“You’d need to wheedle and flatter and frighten and lie like a rug. You need to throw him in a dark room and make him think you’re the only one who can save him. And those aren’t skills you can learn overnight. You study them like you study for a degree. Study for years.”

“And you've studied that degree?”

“I’m the professor.”

---​

Meanwhile, near a small prison deep in the mountains of Argentine Patagonia.

The United States had always leaned isolationist, which was a luxury for nations. However, as an isolationist - not to mention a wishy-washy democracy – America’s peacetime military was seen by peers as a joke, and its intelligence services were considered (when acknowledged at all) to be temporary gangs of amateurs, adventurers, and yahoos.

Still, every batter has his wheelhouse, and if Uncle Sam’s spies could claim to be the authority on one subject, it was mucking around in Latin America. The State Department had dossiers on dozens of officials they deemed ‘open to negotiation’, and if Washington had a question about something happening south of the border, it was a straightforward matter to knock on doors until someone had an answer. Then it was just an issue of price, and while the Americans might be amateurs, no one called them stingy.

As far as doing business went, Argentina’s relationship with the United States was tepid. Its government wanted to trade with both the Axis and the Allies, and its pro-fascist military was threatening to become its government. After the news was published (passing the censorship bureaus) that the killer of a Spanish diplomat was possibly American, Argentine-American relations took a further nosedive (reactions from Spain were also less than positive).

In that environment, it was challenging for Amanda Waller’s agents to find where John Gibbons, aka, Captain Steven Trevor was being held captive. And it proved an absolute non-starter when they tried to arrange his release. Instead she sent a team to take him out: literally if possible, figuratively if necessary. Trevor was a seasoned operative, but the conventional wisdom was simple: if your captors knew their business, breaking a man was just a matter of time.

Four members of the extraction team camped on a cliff overlooking the prison. They wore plain leather jackets. They had watched the site for two days, hoping to find when the prisoners were let out for exercise. Evidently, the prisoners weren’t. Now the team was resigned to ready Plan B: going inside. It would happen that night. Fast. Silent. No trace. If they made it to Trevor without raising alarms, they would spirit him to a waiting aircraft. If the mission went loud, they would neutralize Trevor and leave empty-handed.

Lieutenant William Vickers lay on the cliff edge with a pair of binoculars. He saw a civilian car trace the winding path up to the prison gate. The team had observed a few trucks come and go, but a car was new.

“Hey, Wilson, take a look at this. Got a car.”

Waller’s agents kept their previous rank, leading to situations that would be bizarre in the regular military, like staffing a tiny field outpost with multiple officers. But her team followed a simple rule: Lieutenant Slade Wilson told everyone what to do.

Wilson crawled over with his own binoculars. The camp’s two other occupants followed. Down below, the car was waved into a side lot. Three tall men with conservative suits and briefcases stepped out. All had pale skin and yellow hair.

Vickers asked, “Any idea who these boys are?”

Wilson answered. “Well, how many pasty blond guys over six feet have we seen around here?”

Another agent, Private Floyd Lawton, added, “Foreigners at a place like this? Must be up to no good.”

The three visitors passed through the gatehouse and entered the main detention building. Minutes passed. Then the noise of a long klaxon erupted from the prison. Even away on their cliff, Waller’s agents could hear it clearly, followed by the stinging cracks of gunfire. A side wall of the building crumbled, and the three men rushed through the dust. Two of them dragged a fourth man.

Vickers swore. “Look, that’s Trevor! They’re taking him!”

The fleeing men carried guns and dragged Trevor with surprising ease as they raced to the wall. Bullets from the guard tower spat around them, but it wasn’t clear whether any hit. One of the men leaped and caught the edge of the eighteen-foot wall. He grabbed a handful of barbed wire coils and tugged, ripping off several yards of it at once. His partners fired automatic weapons back toward the new hole in the detention building, pinning down the guards behind the rubble. The man on the wall dropped the yards of loose barbed wire. One of the pair below seized Trevor around the waist with one arm and hopped, catching the hanging wire with his other gloved hand. Incredibly, the man then climbed the wire with one hand and his feet. He passed Trevor like a baton to his partner already sitting atop the wall who leaped over the other side. The third man stopped his suppressing fire and followed. They disappeared.

Wilson quietly sighed.

Vickers whispered, “We sure these guys ain’t ours?”

Wilson answered, “Pretty sure.”

When the escaping men came back into view, they threw Trevor into their car and sped down the mountain road. Several trucks soon raced through the gate after them, but the car had an impressive head start.

Wilson nudged Lawton and pointed down to a bend in the road that passed near their camp.

“Can you stop that car without crashing it?”

Lawton considered for a moment. The road was a maze of tight turns, no shoulders, and steep ridges.

“Probably.”

“Do it.”

Lawton crawled away from the cliff edge and returned with a scoped M1903 Springfield rifle. They waited as the car came into range.

“Firing.”

As the car turned onto a short straightaway, Lawton fired. The car’s rear left tire popped. The car quickly skidded to the edge. Lawton ran the bolt and fired again. The car’s rear right tire popped. The car skidded the other way, back to the center. It gently fishtailed, slowing as its fender kicked up sparks. Lawton ran the bolt and fired once more. This shot missed. Lawton fired again and again. These rounds destroyed the two front tires, gently correcting the car’s course with each impact. Lawton ejected the stripper clip in his rifle and reloaded.

The car rolled to a stop. The three men hurried out, and one carried Trevor along. They didn’t seem panicked. After a brief discussion, they started running up a nearby rocky slope. A line of trucks soon arrived. A force of prison guards poured out. The agents on the cliff could see that many guards only carried revolvers, and even their few rifles would struggle to hit the targets on the slope. The trio would soon be out of sight.

Wilson ordered, “Trip ‘em.”

“I can pop Trevor.”

“No. Stop one of the runners. Leave Trevor and his carrier.”

Private Lawton dubiously steadied his rifle again and fired. The heavy round hit the last escapee in the calf. He stumbled and started to roll back down the steep slope. A cascade of stones and dust followed. The other two escapees paused and looked back. The wounded man struggled against his rapid slide, making an impressive show considering the hole in his leg. The two standing escapees turned back and kept running uphill. They were almost at the top.

Wilson ordered. “And the other.”

Lawton fired. Different leg, same tumble. The final man carrying Trevor didn’t bother stopping now. He reached the crest of the hill and disappeared behind a rock formation. The guards from the trucks were still bounding up the slope. If any noticed that two rifle shots had come from an adjacent cliff, none mentioned it. The first sliding man had stopped after he hit a flat ledge halfway down. He rose to his knees and pulled out a handgun on the guards. It was twelve against one. He went down shooting. The guards didn’t give the second sliding man a chance. He expired before he hit the bottom.

Wilson’s team had already crept away from the cliff. He addressed his men, “Break camp. Radio blue squad to swing around the south face and watch footpaths traveling east for a package on the move. Tell them Dad canceled Capture the Flag. We’re playing Tag.”

---​

Meanwhile, in Gotham City.

Sergeant James Gordon was at his desk reviewing a stack of overtime slips when his door opened.

“Hello Jimmy.”

Gordon looked up and suppressed a flinch. “Flass.”

The tall, blond Detective Arnold Flass casually walked into Gordon’s office like he owned the joint, kicking the door shut behind him. He was the epitome of everything wrong with the GCPD, and he was all smiles. “Long time, ain’t it, Jimmy?”

“That’s Sergeant. What do you want?”

“Not much. Just to be here so I can see you squirm when you finally get what’s been coming to you.”

Gordon eyed Flass the way a jungle guide watches an anaconda. He put down his pen more firmly than usual. “And what do you think I have coming, Flass?”

Flass opened his long camel hair coat and plucked out an envelope. “Don’t worry, most of your crew saw me on the way in. They can’t all be as dumb as they look, so this won’t come as shock.” He tossed the envelope onto Gordon’s desk. “Recognize the stamp?”

Gordon inspected the envelope. “The Major’s office.” That was unsettling. Majors were only three ranks under the Commissioner. Gordon was management now, but he could count his meetings with his major on one hand.

Gordon slit the envelope and pulled out a letter. He read aloud, “Sergeant James Gordon, effective immediately, your Special Vigilante Task Force is-“

Flass interrupted, “’-Hereby disbanded due to attrition of manpower.’ I love that line. Great opener. See, Jimmy, it turns out there’s a little rule that says special units like yours must have a certain minimum number of active officers as a fraction of their original allotment. If you drop below the minimum – say, because some poor souls kicked the bucket or ended up in the hospital or quit - then clearly there’s not enough hands to do the job, and the unit is broken up. The officers return to normal assignments where they might finally do something productive. Make sense?”

Gordon kept his features from trembling. He read the letter slowly. “Are these our new assignments.”

“Yes, end of page three.”

“It says I’ll run Homicide for the river patrol.”

“Good post; you’ve earned it.”

“It would make my commute an hour and a half.”

“That’s rough.”

“It says Clarence will walk a beat in Upper Purdue. Ned will work an evidence warehouse near Downtown. Ernest will liaison with the Petty Crimes Division of the county police. These are all too far from where these officers live.”

“And career dead-ends too. Don’t forget that.”

“Right. And … Hold on … Officer Montoya was given the assignment ‘Eye Candy’, but someone drew a single line across that and scribbled ‘Filing and Reception’ beside it.”

Flass shrugged. “Must have been a typo.”

“And she’ll be with Third Division.”

Flass offered some mock surprise. “Hey, Third Division’s my neck of the woods.”

“I know.”

“Well, at least she’ll know one friendly face.”

“There’s that.”

“I’m impressed, Jimmy. You don’t look too broken up about all this. Awfully high-minded of you.”

“When was that minimum manpower rule established, Flass?”

“Yesterday.”

“I see.” Gordon folded the letter and stood. “I’ll tell my team.” Gordon moved to pass him but stopped. “Oh, one other question, Flass.”

Flass looked down at him with an expression that was almost fond. “Shoot.”

“You dirtbags could’ve pulled a stunt like this since day one. Why now? I’m strong now. Never been stronger. You know you’re going to feel pain over this.”

“We both know the answer there.”

Gordon nodded thoughtfully. “Guess so.”

Flass held his arm out to the door. “You had a good run, Jimmy. Let’s bring this story home. Final scene. Your audience awaits.”

Sergeant Gordon set his jaw, straightened his tie, and opened his door. He called out, “Everyone, gather round. I have an announcement…”

---​

A week later, 90 nautical miles off the coast of Brazil.

In some ways, Diana’s time aboard the Azure was her first normal week since arriving in Man’s World. There was no way to make the ship travel faster, and there was little she could do to prepare while aboard. She had a few simple tasks to complete each day, and the rest of her time was her own. Contrary to Amanda Waller’s warning, the sailors were excellent companions once she proved that she could pull her weight. Her Spanish improved by leaps and bounds, and she learned a great deal about card games and songs and jokes and judging the weather and mixing tattoo ink. The sailors also knew a daunting array of knots and rope tricks, but the Amazons played many binding games, and Diana was usually the teacher on that topic.

But in Diana’s new life, her normal time never lasted long. She was working in the hold one morning when the watch spotted a ship cruising toward them from the northeast. That alone wasn’t remarkable; this was a popular trade route, but the ship had no flags or insignia. First Mate Zhang was at the helm. He found binoculars and examined the mystery vessel for himself. It looked like a tiny warship, perhaps a corvette.

A hail was coming through on the bridge radio. He pressed the speaker. A dull voice said, “-craft identify yourself. Navío, cuál es su identidad? Vaisseau, quelle est votre identité?”

Zhang took the microphone. “This is independent freighter Azure bound for Sao Luis. With whom am I speaking?”

He received no answer. The line was dead. Zhang muttered, “What the devil?”

Then he noticed a white flash in the water off starboard.

The torpedo struck the Azure amidships, nearly tearing the stubby vessel in half. The Azure began to list and take on water. The second torpedo hit its bow, blasting much of that structure off.

A sinking ship was a wild creature, bucking faster than anything its size on land. Even collapsing towers don’t rock and spin and tip the way a ship sinks, and all too soon the Azure slipped beneath the waves.
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-04-23 09:18am

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 19: More Vignettes Than Usual


The wilds of Argentine Patagonia, a week before the sinking of the Azure.

It was no easy thing to chase a man over a mountain. Lieutenant Slade Wilson and his team had hiked eight miles uphill since breaking camp. Fortunately, August was the end of winter in Argentina, and the hills were still white with the slush of half-melted snow, leaving a trail for his team to follow. The jail guards, their competition for the hunt, had neither the skills nor the gear to follow the trail and had fallen behind hours ago. However, the team was concerned that they had yet to catch up to their target. They were seasoned soldiers dressed to hike. He was a huge man in a business suit carrying another grown man like a ragdoll and still outpacing them. Worse, the sun was setting.

Lieutenant Wilson's team traversed a cliff over a lush valley painted pink and gold with the evening sun. They could see wild horses in the meadow far below. Sound carried far across a valley like this, so the team heard the big engines before they saw the trucks. Six long trucks raced into the valley. It was the Argentine Army. Their camouflage paint was a giveaway, though there weren't many groups in this part of Argentina who owned six trucks. Perhaps a few mining firms, but the dozens of men who exited the trucks were too well-armed to be miners. If they were here, they'd be sending forces to every other valley to lock the region down. Wilson ordered his men away from the cliff so the fading sun wouldn't illuminate their silhouettes.

Their path soon turned away from the valley and into a craggy decline. The rocks here had acted like curtains against the season's snows, and many patches were almost dry. In minutes, they ran out of footprints. Wilson judged that they had another hour of useful light. They could survive the night on these peaks if they set up camp, but that would leave them sitting ducks if the Army came their way. Otherwise, they could give up the hunt and climb down to warmer altitudes before dusk, then march through the night to escape.

Wilson held up a fist, and they all stopped. "We don't know how far we are from this guy and blue squad must have missed him at the crossing, but we're finally on a downhill, so we might see him at a distance. We split up here. Pick a direction. Head down as fast as you can. If you find him, take him out." His three men looked at each other uneasily. Their first rule when hunting unnatural targets was to work as a team. Wilson answered the unspoken complaint. "We've seen his type put down with small arms, and he didn't show any tricks with remote awareness, precognition, speed, or accuracy. You know the drill. Don't approach until he's four five past dead. If you find Trevor and he can walk, take the kid with you. If not, put him out of his misery. Either way, break off twenty minutes before nightfall. Make your way back to Point Bravo by midnight tomorrow. Move."

The four took different angles down the uneven slope and lost sight of each other. Lieutenant Wilson galloped down the mountain at a skidding lope, kicking lines of dust and pebbles with every step. He entered a copse of dead pines and nearly tripped over a sharp cliff hidden in the trees. Wilson stopped and looked for a way down. Suddenly, he saw an odd shape against the cliff face. It was in shadow, but he was sure it had moved. Wilson dropped prone and crawled to the edge. He watched through his binoculars. The shape moved again. It came out of the shadow thirty feet below, and he saw it was a man carrying what appeared to be a long bundle under one arm. The man hung to the cliff face with his feet and one hand for several seconds, then he released, dropped a forearm's length, and caught another handhold. This one-handed descent was plodding and awkward but still an incredible feat of athleticism.

Wilson unslung his weapon and loaded a magazine as quietly as possible. He had expected the violent part of this mission to happen indoors, so he had ordered his team that only their sharpshooter should bring a heavy rifle. The rest traveled light. This was the opposite of his usual habit, but he knew they might have to cross the wilderness to make their escape, a prediction that had proven almost correct, though he only wished he was making his escape. Instead of some proper artillery, he was carrying a prototype Winchester carbine. Thirty caliber, fifteen round magazine, just under six pounds loaded. It was an impressive piece of firepower for such a feather-light package, but it didn't have the punch he preferred against the supernatural.

He waited while the big man approached the ground. Wilson inched forward and pointed his carbine over the cliff edge, aiming nearly straight down. He would only have a moment before the target disappeared into the tree line below. The big man dropped the last few yards and landed on his feet. He stretched his limbs, adjusted his grip on the bundle, and set off.

Before his second step, Wilson fired. The round struck the big man high in the back. He stumbled and dropped his bundle. The big man started to turn, and Wilson fired again. Another hit, somewhere on the torso. The big man was holding a submachine gun on a sling, but he seemed unable to find where the shots were coming from. Wilson fired twice more. The big man buckled, losing his footing and landing on his side in a scramble. Wilson fired eleven more shots, pulling the trigger nearly once a second. He replaced the magazine with its spare in a practiced motion, aimed down the sights, and waited. He aimed motionless for ten seconds. It seemed like a year, but he had the discipline of an expert. He wouldn't rush.

The body didn't move. Wilson finally reslung his carbine and started to climb down the cliff. Hanging from the cliff face in the dim, he thought he heard the echoes of voices down the mountain. With the right conditions, the noise of one gunshot could travel miles. He had fired fifteen. He climbed faster.

When he arrived, the bundle was kneeling beside the big man's body. Wilson readied his carbine again and slowly approached.

The bundle spoke, "H-he's dead."

Wilson saw that the bundle was Captain Steve Trevor wrapped in an enormous suit coat. The coat had clearly belonged to the man in the dust, who was even bigger than he appeared from a distance, almost seven feet tall. And without a coat, his extreme physique couldn't be missed. He had limbs like a gorilla, his shoulders and biceps half again as large as any strongman. His broad chest tapered considerably to his waist, which was still too wide for a common belt. At least he made an easy target.

"Slade? That you?"

Wilson stopped inspecting the body and looked at Trevor. "Hey. Ready to move?"

Trevor gradually stood. Even in the fading light, he looked starved and pale. The big coat slid off one shoulder, and under it he only wore a thin gray prison outfit and soft-soled shoes. Wilson had assumed the coat was to keep Trevor from slipping out of the big man's grasp, but it must have doubled as a blanket. It had done a poor job.

"Not sure how f-far I can get tonight. Can we bivouac here?"

Wilson shook his head. "Can't do that."

"Then what's the plan?"

"I'm sorry, Steve. I wanted to get you home. I really tried."

"Huh?"

"Figured I owed you from Jamara. We’d be square."

"You don't owe me anything."

Here." Wilson dug a small tin box out of a pocket and tossed it at Steve's feet.

Steve picked it up. "What's this?"

"The Argentines are coming up that hill. I don't know what you've spilled already, but my orders are to plug you before you spill anymore."

"Plug me? Hey, I -"

"It's cyanide, Steve. We can do this another way, but I thought you'd like the choice. They say it's quick."

"Well when you p-put it that way." Steve shrugged the huge coat off his other shoulder. Under the coat, he was holding a pistol pointed at Wilson's ribs.

Wilson's eyes went wide and he started to turn his carbine, but Steve already had him dead to rights. "Don't try it, buddy." Steve straightened his arm. "Don't even blink."

Wilson slowly slung his carbine and raised his hands. He nodded at the huge corpse. "Courtesy of our friend here?"

"Yep."

"What are you going to do, Steve? You can't make it out on foot. They're going to find you again. And if you shoot me, they're going to hear it and find you faster."

Steve exhaled and saw his own breath. He was very cold. "I know."

"Forget the danger to your country. If you go back with them, you're just going to die in some pit. Is that what you want?"

Steve shrugged. "I might die. But I'm not dead yet. And you know what?"

"What?"

"I really like being alive. And I realize now that I've got a lot to live for."

"Okay?"

"So thank you, Slade. I don't know what this bucko had planned for me, but I bet it wasn't fun."

"You don't-"

"There's one thing I need to mention. I heard the three of them when they threw me in their car. They tried to speak Spanish to each other, but they weren't any good. One kept slipping in "nein" and "ja" and other bits of German. Waller might like to know."

"Thanks." Wilson responded dryly.

"Don't mention it. Now drop your little rifle and go. I don't want you sniping me."

"I can't leave this behind. It's a prototype."

"Then take out the bolt."

"I-"

Steve tilted his arm a few degrees and fired. Wilson covered his ears. There were yells from down the mountain. Steve gestured for him to hurry up. Wilson dutifully pocketed the round from the carbine's chamber, took out its bolt, and threw it into the trees. Steve fired again. Wilson turned and ran. Steve fired once more in Wilson's direction, then he shivered and wrapped himself in the big coat.

He was going to have a difficult time explaining this.

---​


Gotham City. Four days before the sinking of the Azure.

Avery Cotter was a gaunt man in a ragged fleece coat and dirty boots. He still looked like a steelworker, but these days he was President of United Shipwrights, Coilers, and Undersea Welders League Lodge 77, more commonly known as Gotham City's Shipbuilders Union. Shipbuilding had been the city's most famous industry since rioters demolished the stock exchange in 1930, and it employed seventy thousand residents. Avery Cotter could stop that massive enterprise with a snap of his fingers. People treated him with respect.

And if Cotter's position didn't demand enough respect, folks were certain he was in with the Four Families. The connection was nearly axiomatic: gangsters cut deals with labor leaders, gangsters shipped contraband, so gangsters must know labor leaders involved in shipping. During Prohibition, the District Attorney put away five presidents of the Dockworkers Union in a row. But folks were wrong: Avery Cotter had never met anyone in organized crime. Shipping and shipbuilding were two different industries, and the Families had never dealt with the labor side of shipbuilding. Too big. Too conspicuous. That was back in the day, and now they were rich enough to side with management.

Still, Carmine Falcone could invite Avery Cotter to lunch with a twenty second phone call. The Chart House was a restaurant on the old boardwalk, a block from the Lodge 77 offices. Two of Falcone's senior men sat at the table, and bodyguards were obvious near the exits. Cotter had come alone. There was no sense of intimidation in the arrangement. Falcone wasn't some crook; meeting him was like meeting the President. The President wouldn't muscle a civilian in public. He wouldn't pull a gun on his guests. That was understood.

Both had found it occasionally useful to lie about their assumed friendship, but they made an odd pair. Falcone was impeccable in his pinstriped suit, a red rose in his lapel. Cotter walked in looked like he was starting a shift at the assembly line.. Like most gangsters, Falcone was the product of rough, blue-collar stock, and he wondered whether Cotter still dressed like a working man as a political prop or because he still saw himself as one. Falcone sat reading a newspaper opened to an article titled ‘TASK FORCE DROPS HERO COP – SCANDAL AFOOT?’ when he saw Cotter was finished his pat-down. Falcone stood and they shook hands.

Cotter asked, "What can I do for you, Mr. Falcone? Boss boys uptown constipated about something?"

Falcone smiled. He was a silent partner in several major shipyards, and their boards occasionally asked him to intervene in labor disputes. He always declined. The Shipbuilders would be a powerful enemy, and it would jeopardize his relationships with other unions. Of course, Falcone had still prepared for such a day.

"Mr. Cotter, I'm here on behalf of the Mayor's office. I'll like to talk about our civic duty."

"You're kidding."

"Rarely. And not today."

Cotter sipped his just-arrived beer. "You're here about that destroyer contract."

Falcone nodded. "Your people elected a shrewd man." His thumb twitched and he tapped his knuckles on the table.

Cotter eyed this twitch suspiciously. "Please don't flatter, Mr. Falcone. What's your angle here?"

"At the last round of negotiations, you demanded an extra twenty cents an hour for all skilled tradesmen."

"That's not all. We demanded new gloves and welding masks, plus an extra break every six-hour shift-"

"I'm sure. But the wage increase was the center of the dispute?"

"True. They wouldn't budge, so we walked away. You better bet we won't work any new navel yard contracts until we get some consideration."

"Mr. Cotter, twenty cents an hour sounds very ambitious." His hand twitched.

"Listen. We ain't stupid. We remember the last time Washington geared up for war. They signed the orders, so we opened our doors, trained up an army of shipwrights, put them to work. Saved the world. Then those gov'ment boys make peace, and what'a you know? No new contracts. Zilch business. We have no choice but to kick our new recruits out the door; couldn't even afford to throw them a party. Wars don't last, Mr. Falcone, but people get their lives set up in such a way, it hurts to knock 'em down again. I say that's not how we do it. So this time, if we're going to expand again for Uncle Sam, we have to save up for lean days, see? We look after our own."

Falcone glanced at one of his silent companions and folded his hands. The covered hand twitched again. "I respect your attitude, Mr. Cotter. I truly do."

"Yeah? Good."

"Though if war does come, and you continue to drive a hard bargain, the government may nationalize your shipyards. They would say you wage, and you would lose what bargaining position you enjoy. Wouldn't it be safer to compromise now and keep your place at the table?"

Cotter crossed his arms. "Let 'em try."

"I see." Falcone sounded mildly disappointed. He studied his menu.

Cotter scoffed. "Not hardly."

Falcone's men shifted, and their boss looked up in surprise. "Hmm?"

"Come on, Mr. Falcone, I know you have something more to say, and I hate dancing. What's your pitch?"

"Simple. The board offered you a three-cent raise. I happen to know they'll settle for seven. Some of your union friends already want the deal at three. Deliver them seven and you'll win the vote. Take the offer."

"Seven cents? Ain't happening. I got principles here."

Falcone gave a thin smile. "Yes? Is that what your wife thinks?"

"Huh?"

"Or should I say, wives?"

Cotter had the sudden expression of a pole-vaulter whose pole had snapped. "I-"

Falcone's eye twitched. He seized his fork with more force than necessary. "A lesser man would deny it."

"You-"

"You hate dancing, Mr. Cotter, so here we are. Many years ago, you visit Star City for a wedding. During the festivities, you meet a flower of a girl named Edna Hausp, daughter of a tailor. Drinks flow, the two of you are carried away by the moment, and you happen to meet a radical pastor at a party. You and Edna are wed in holy matrimony, and the only other witnesses to your vows are a barkeep and a taxi driver. The next morning, you sober up and run like a coward."

Cotter ran his tongue across his teeth: a nervous tic. "How do you know?"

"The barkeep who saw your ceremony worked for a friend of mine. It's a good story, and I have a reputation for rewarding anyone who can bring me good stories about important people. I heard yours the day you stepped in as your Lodge's junior treasurer. In fact, I've made some quiet efforts to smooth your rise to the high office you now occupy. Little things only. Consider it on the house."

"Suppose I do deny it."

Falcone held his arms up in languid disregard, still clutching the fork. "I could march out the pastor or the witnesses, but that's an ugly method. You ran just after the wedding, so there was never a license. Was little Ms. Hausp ever Mrs. Cotter? This is a question for lawyers. The real danger is to your reputation and the strength of your current marriage. As a bachelor, back in Gotham, you meet your dear Gretta and propose to her in the proper way. But you don't take chances. Before you have your next wedding, you start sending Edna a bit of each paycheck to buy her silence. Now her bank account offers a compelling testament. Whether your nuptials were complete in the eyes of God or the state, this payoff certainly makes it look like she was special to you."

"You dare blackmail me?"

"If I ..." Falcone paused. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he stabbed the fork into the table deep enough to stand on its own. Then he started rubbing his hands like he was washing them.

Avery Cotter stared in mute surprise. Falcone's two men rushed to their boss, shaking his shoulder and muttering. Then Falcone blinked and stood up, bumping the table. He rubbed his eyes.

Cotter pointed at him. "Hey! What just happened here? Buddy, you need a doctor or something?"

One of Faclone's men whispered in his boss's ear and tried to guide him away. Falcone stayed long enough to tell his guest, "Mr. Cotter, you have one day to choose. We won't meet again. Goodbye."

Falcone's entourage tried to make a dignified exit. Back in his limousine, he ordered a quick ride home. His senior men entered their own limousine behind Falcone's. They wouldn't talk about the meeting here. The driver had only worked for them six years, and loose lips were fatal. But when they were alone with other trusted men, the pair would have much to discuss.

This was the Don's second case of fits this week. Carmine Falcone gave an impression so strong and controlled, so permanent, that even his closest circle was unnerved to see him ill. Worse, he refused to talk about his tremors. In theory, if a boss lived long enough to grow senile, young upstarts would oust him. But Falcone wasn't feeble. In most ways, his mind was sharper than ever, and he had led his empire so well, there was no faction who wanted him gone. His authority was absolute. But the condition could start to impair his mind in other ways. Perhaps it already had. What could they do?

As they worried in the back of their limousine, they didn't notice the road sign funneling traffic into a tunnel. Sudden detours were common in Gotham, so the driver didn't bother announcing the fact. Traffic slowed to a crawl. Near the middle of the tunnel, a police officer standing on the sidewalk saw Falcone's convoy. The two limousines and a support car were easy to spot. He knocked on a maintenance door in the tunnel wall. It opened and six more police officers poured onto the sidewalk. The seven officers jogged through the stalled traffic and surrounded the convoy. They started blowing whistles and banging on the doors of the limousines.

The first limo driver rolled down his window enough to speak through and barked, "Hey, do you know who-" But he was interrupted when the officer drew his sidearm and stuck it through the gap. Similar threats were made across the convoy. Three large men tried to get out of the support car, but the officers quickly shoved them to the pavement at gunpoint.

Car horns started to blare at the frozen convoy, and a few intrepid drivers tried to navigate around. One officer was almost sideswiped. If the squad was impatient before, now they were furious. Finally, Carmine Falcone opened his door. But before he could speak or step out, two officers dragged Falcone onto the pavement, then together they picked Falcone up and set off at a near run. The rest of the officers followed in an arrow formation. They made it to the maintenance door and disappeared. The entire incident, from the first whistle blow to the shutting of the door took under a minute.

---


One hour later, in an undisclosed federal building.

Admiral Bernard Cornwell and Amanda Waller stood in front of the translucent side of a two-way mirror. Carmine Falcone sat at a table in the well-lit room beyond.

Cornwell appraised Falcone. "Well, that was easier than I expected."

Waller responded, "Basic fieldcraft Admiral. Though we did get lucky."

"How?"

"His escort could've seen this as another Valentine's Day Massacre and fought back."

"That's an old gang, Amanda. Perhaps they've lost the touch."

"Must be. We're lucky the driver rolled down that window."

"You think they bulletproofed the cars?"

"Absolutely. We didn't have a plan if the real cops arrived."

"Say, where did your boys get those costumes so quickly anyhow?"

"Would you believe there are places in Gotham where they sell them on the street?"

Cornwell paused to consider this. "That's horrifying."

Waller nodded. "I'd be lying if I said I cared two bits about that city, but I am curious to see what houses of cards will collapse now that we snatched their king out of the deck."

"Do you try to talk poetic like that or does it come naturally?"

"I have my moments."

"And you're sure you want me to go through the deal we made after today?"

"Better he doesn't suspect you were involved in the abduction. As far I can tell, he has no motive besides the obvious in wanting Arturo Bertinelli out of the country. And if it's an excuse to set up the destroyer deal in his backyard, he's set to profit handsomely. Sometimes a gangster is just a gangster."

"We'll see."

In the bright room beyond, they watched the door open. A man in a suit almost as nice as Falcone's entered. Falcone looked at him idly. The man took a seat across the table.

"Carmine Falcone, you can call me Agent Faraday."

"An agent of which agency, sir?"

"Department of Justice."

"Am I under arrest, Agent Faraday? No one has spoken to me."

"You are in our custody."

"Ah. This is going to be that sort of conversation."

"Mr. Falcone, let's get down to brass tacks. We know you have an arrangement with parties in the military to inform on espionage activities by operatives of German intelligence. I need to know who has been supplying you with this information."

"If you know I have an arrangement with the military, Agent Faraday, you also know I have an agreement with them as well as your own Justice Department to not answer that question."

Faraday gestured amicably. "Yes, legally you are correct. I work for an office that disagrees with the limitations of these promises. Legally, our hands our tied. Legally, we can't follow our mandate to act in accordance with the best interests of national security. Legally, we have to announce all citizens taken into custody within a day, and you'd have a right to see an attorney."

Falcone make an expression of sudden understanding. "Just as you can't legally impersonate officers of the Gotham City Police Department."

Faraday snapped his fingers like an approving tutor. "Now you're getting the hang of it. We'll be happy to let you go if you answer my questions."

"And may I presume, Agent Faraday, that once released, if I bring a grievance for this custody to the Justice Department, they will have never heard of your office or you personally?"

"That's a good guess. Now, Carmine, you recently passed along information about a German spy codenamed Der Wehrwolf. You're not leaving this table until you tell me how you know about this spy and why you believed you knew their location."

"So until I answer, I'm not leaving this table?"

"Nope."

"Hm."

In a moment, Falcone's features twitched, his eyelids went slack, and he slipped to the floor. Agent Faraday sped around the table and stood over Falcone's limp body. He felt for a pulse and yelled, "I need a doctor in here!"

Across the two-way mirror, Admiral Cornwell and Amanda Waller watched with disappointment.
---​

Meanwhile, in the home of Admiral Bernard Cornwell in Falls Church, Virginia.

Mary Franklin had been Admiral Cornwell’s housemaid and cook for several years. The Admiral believed that Mary was polite and deferential and performed her tasks in a minimally-satisfactory fashion, which he assumed was all she was capable of. He had never married, deciding long ago that the sea would be his wife, but he thought any bride should behave essentially the same way, freeing him from domestic cares so he could focus on the sea. Having Mary was like being married without the hassle, and he treated her with a sort of fond apathy. The Admiral never worried about leaving the home in her care.

Mary worked to earn that trust because she liked her job best when the Admiral wasn’t home. He was a tidy man, so she could usually complete a day’s chores in two or three hours, but to justify her paycheck, she had to make it look like six. That was made possible by the Admiral’s utter indifference, but it took some acting. When he was gone, she didn’t even need to act.

Mary was relaxing in the Admiral’s leather armchair, eating a bowl of his peanuts and reading the works of Plato from his library when she heard a knock at the front door. She rushed to hide the peanuts and brushed down the creases on her skirt. When she opened the door, she found a mustachioed white man in a suit who leaned on a cane he was too young to need. He opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw her, he froze.

Mary was still getting over the shock of a guest and didn’t think much of it. “Can I help you?”

The young man closed his mouth and seemed to ponder something. He had a roughneck's strong hands, but he was awfully pale unlike any white boy who worked with his hands in the Virginia sun. Finally, he doffed his hat and got to business.

"Afternoon, ma'am. M'name's Malone, and I’m an investigator with the United States Secret Service." He spoke quickly and paused only to hand her a folded paper. "This here's a warrant to search these premises. Is the owner home?"

Mary shook her head. "No, suh."

"Okay, then." Malone walked into the home uninvited. "I trust you are employed here?"

"Yes, I am. What is this all about, Mr. Malone?"

"'I've reason to suspect your employer of perpetratin' several crimes which I am not at liberty to disclose to anyone but himself. Now kindly follow me, ma'am." He limped ahead on his cane.

She followed behind him while reading the warrant. “Pardon me, but don’t law enforcers tend to deliver warrants in pairs?”

“They do tend that, ma’am. Regrettably, we are short-staffed at present, and my partner has been called away on other matters. Now, does this house have an office or study where the owner keeps his work?”

“Yes, indeed. It’s right down this corridor.”

Mary led the investigator to the Admiral’s study. “Here it is, Mr. Malone, though I daresay the Admiral does much of his work at the Navy station. You may want to try there instead.”

Malone “Oh, I know what he does there, ma’am. I’ll ask you to take your leave elsewhere in the home while I perform a search here. Once I’m done, I won’t bother you further.”

Mary curtseyed and closed the door behind her. She trusted this stranger about as far as she could throw him. Her first instinct was to call the police, but then she remembered that wasn’t necessary. The Admiral lived in a sheltered suburb on base, and it maintained a neighborhood watch that was nosier than a rhinoplasty convention. No doubt half the cul-de-sac was already making inquiries with the Admiral’s secretary as to why an unfamiliar vehicle was visiting while he was away. The last time, a pushy door-to-door salesman had tried something similar and was escorted to the state line.

Mary sat in the next room and listened to Mr. Malone shuffling folders and opening drawers. She knew the Admiral kept his most secretive papers in the floor safe, and even she didn’t know the combination, so at least the man couldn’t do much harm. A few minutes later, she heard another knock at the front door. There was no reaction from the study. Mary went to open the door. Outside were four masters-at-arms, sailors who acted as the Navy’s police. Their expression showed that they didn’t take kindly to intruders in the homes of admirals.

The senior sailor spoke, “Ms. Franklin, we heard tell a stranger entered the home?”

“Yes, Petty Officer Grove, do come in. He says he’s with the United States Secret Service, a tall man with a cane, here on account on a warrant to search Admiral Cornwell’s papers.”

The sailors frowned at each other. Petty Officer Grove spoke, “We’ll just see about that, ma’am.”

“He’s in the study if you gentlemen would like to discuss the matter.”

“That would be a kindness, ma’am.”

Mary led them to the door of the study. One of the sailors tried the knob, but it was locked. He hit the door with his fist, “Naval security, open up in there!” There was no response inside, nor any noise. They called out twice more, but no luck. Finally, they kicked open the door.

The study was empty. Mary entered and searched in disbelief. “He was right here, I swear.”

One of the sailors noticed something odd at the window and inspected it. The latch was undone. It swung freely when he pressed on a pane. “Seems awful limber for a guy with a cane.” They heard an engine start at the curb outside.

Ten minutes later, Bruce Wayne pulled off his fake mustache and brown wig. He was driving on a back road well outside the naval base. His legs ached terribly, and his spine burned. He was gratified to learn that he could still walk quickly and resolved to never do it again. Bruce felt his coat pocket. Inside was a slim, sophisticated camera. On its film were shots of documents describing several curious programs, among them an Operation Underworld.

---​


Four days later in the South Atlantic, two minutes after the sinking of the Azure.

Diana woke in complete darkness with an odd tightness in his chest. Her skin felt moist and her head hurt. It took several moments to realize that she was underwater. It took another moment to realize that she wasn’t breathing, her mouth and throat were full of water. She panicked. She thrashed.

Then out of the darkness, a hazy dot of light swam into her peripheral vision. Diana turned to face it. It glowed like an indistinct star in the endless murk. She swam to it with hollow limbs. As she approached, another dot glowed beyond, growing from a pinprick to a bead to a bulb. Then a third dot appeared, further still. Diana’s vision faded, but when she pulled a final stroke toward this last dot, the world cracked over her head.

Air! She was still in the near-dark save for the faintest lights in the water below, but now her head and shoulders were heavy and her eyes stung and she could hear echoes of herself and she could breathe. Diana coughed and coughed, expelling a cup of seawater with a force that made her ribs hurt. She took deep, greedy breaths. As her wits began to return, Diana realized she had no idea where she was. She took another deep breath, sunk into the water, awkwardly spun, and with a flash of groovy subaquatic technicolor light, Wonder Woman kicked again to the surface. She took her golden cord and willed it to light. Holding a bend of the cord above her like a candle, Wonder Woman saw a riveted metal hull above her. She was still aboard the ship. But the hull was slanted at an impossible angle. Either gravity had changed, or the Azure was nearly vertical. Realizing that most of the ship was underneath her gave her a rush of vertigo. Looking around, Wonder Woman saw that even her weak light could reach the edge of this air pocket. It was four yards across at the widest. Except for a few bits of floating trash, she was alone.

Then she heard a grand and powerful voice, “Diana!”

Wonder Woman flinched, splashing. “Great Hera!”

“Yes! She is great indeed!” The marvelous voice echoed in her little pocket of air, seeming to sound from all directions at once.

Wonder Woman tried to look around. “Who speaks?”

“Hark! It is I, Poseidon: lord of the seas and all the living beasts therein. And also earthquakes. And horses.”

Wonder Woman smiled uncomfortably. Some Olympians were venerated as patrons of the Amazons. Others were feared as ancient threats. Others were just odd. Poseidon fell somewhere between the last two camps.

She finally said, "Hail, Lord Poseidon. By what honor dost thou come?"

“Hail, child! I bring ill tidings. Your craft has been sunk! As we speak, it lowers swiftly to the briny depths. You should leave!”

“But I don’t know where to go.”

“Fear not! For I have bid a disciple to aid you. He has caused a school of glowing fish to guide your path to safety, much as the first of their number led you to your current respite.”

“Glowing fish? A miracle?”

“Not so! They are natural creatures who live in the deepest seas. Now, it is unnatural for them to rise so far. Such strain will surely kill them, and soon!”

“Oh! Uh. Then I am humbled by the sacrifice of your subjects, Lord Poseidon.”

“Think nothing of it, child! Fish die all the time. Now horses! Those are sacred creatures. Do you like horses?”

“Yes.”

“A triumph! And here comes your royal escort to the surface. Farewell, Diana of the Amazons.”

“Farewell, Lord Poseidon. You have my gratitude.”

Wonder Woman heard nothing more, but she saw a beautiful circle begin to glow beneath her treading feet. She took a tremendous breath and dived. Through the gray haze, she watched the circle transform into an arrow. She crawled down through the water to catch it, but it shimmied just out of reach, moving ahead. It tucked and bent, moving through what she faintly recognized as a staircase, then out a porthole. Then suddenly there was twilight – an awesome oppressive monochrome horizon stretching out to infinity – she was in the ocean, many hundreds of feet under the waves. Wonder Woman had another bout of vertigo, and now she began to feel burning in her lungs.

She felt motion on her back and glanced around. For just a moment, she watched a black metal hulk the size of a building slipping past her in silence. Her glowing arrow was now pointing upward, but she didn’t need the help. Wonder Woman set her muscles to the task and willed herself toward the light.

Minutes passed. Finally, she broke free into the waves and breeze of the Atlantic. This was less reviving her first new breath in the hold of the sinking ship, but it was a more diverse sensation, with the rich sounds and smells of the green ocean. Wonder Woman felt the sun on her face and realized she was chilly. The water was calm, and she could see that a collection of flotsam: crates and barrels and planks and tools and more miscellany. She swam to a large crate and climbed atop. It bobbed but held her weight.

Wonder Woman looked around. Her heart sank at the devastation. What had happened?

She heard a familiar voice call behind her. “Diana?”

Wonder Woman turned. Far away in the cluster of flotsam, she spied First Mate Zhang sitting on part of a radio mast. “Zhang!” she called back. Wonder Woman dived into the water and quickly swam over to him. She could see another two sailors sitting on the mast. One wasn’t moving. She climbed up next to them.

“Hello. Are you okay?”

Zhang smiled at her but his eyes were forlorn. “For the moment, yes, but I’m afraid this is it. I am sorry, Diana.”

“What do you mean?”

“I envy your innocence, girl. We are not so far to the trade lanes, but it is not likely we will see another ship in the few days before we expire of thirst or the sun.”

“Which way is the nearest land?”

The other moving sailor pointed. “Oeste. Casi ciento setenta kilometros.”

Zhang began to translate but Wonder Woman interrupted. “I understood. West. 170 kilometers. Let’s do it.”

Zhang looked confused. “Do what?”

“Here.” Wonder Woman unwrapped a length of her golden cord and handed it to Zhang. “Tie it to something sturdy and hold on.”

“Diana, have you been drinking sea water?”

“Yes, but we will need fresh water soon. I must be swift.” She tied the other end of the cord around her waist and dived into the ocean.

Zhang asked, “Where did you get this?”

Wonder Woman called over her shoulder. “A gift from my mother. Am I going the right way?”

Zhang realized that as she swam, their small platform was gradually moving. This lady had to be the strongest swimmer on the planet! He shouted back. “Yes, you are going west. But this is foolish. Come back and save your strength.”

She called back, “After we get to Brazil.”

Zhang had no response to this. Tragedy could drive people to madness. He hoped she would stop before she was too tired.”

After a minute, the other sailor asked, “Cuando recibiste un segundo, uh, outfit?”

Zhang agreed. “Yes, you’ve been wearing just the one for the entire voyage. And don’t you find it difficult to swim in a metal shirt?”

Wonder Woman called back, “It fits me well. I don’t find it difficult.”

She swam for another ten minutes. They saw no other survivors and left the flotsam behind. Now it was empty sea all around. Diana rolled over and started to backstroke. “What happened to the Azure? I was in the hold when it sank, and I don’t remember the moment.”

The other sailor answered, “Una gran explosion. Boom!”

Wonder Woman frowned. “Do ships often explode? I didn’t realize sea travel was so dangerous.”

Zhang shook his head, “It was no accident, Diana. We were torpedoed. I saw it from the bridge.”

“What’s a torpedo?”

“Well, it’s a bomb on a fast little boat.”

“We were bombed?”

“Yes. Twice.”

“By who.”

“I cannot say. The warship responsible, for a warship it must be, did not fly a flag. They are pirates and cowards.”

“But why? They had no chance to take our goods. Near all of it sank.”

“Again, I cannot say, Diana. I would guess the German fleets, but we are not at war. No country blockades us here. Who knows? Do you know anyone who commands warships?”

Wonder Woman seemed concerned by this rhetorical question. “I'm not sure."
Author: Batman 1939
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