Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2016-11-18 11:00pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Being as how he's Batman, he can pull competence out of a hat more or less at will, which I suspect he uses strategically to impress his doubters if and when he needs to.


More or less.
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-04 03:13pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 15: Reluctance​


The south lawn of stately Wayne Manor.

Bruce Wayne sat in the shade of a tree with his guests, Elias and Hazel Wellington. They had enjoyed a long conversation, for given values of ‘they’, ‘enjoyed’, and ‘conversation’.

After yet another lull, Elias slapped his knees and stood. "Whelp, Bruce, this has been a real gas, but we better scoot."

His wife Hazel followed, but Bruce stayed in his seat and sulked. "What? Ah, come on, Elias. Let's at least finish off this pitcher."

Elias inhaled and straightened his belt with a satisfied grunt. "Sorry, Hazel here wants to get the guest house ready for the in-laws." He said this with tired contempt. Hazel glared at her husband, but Bruce cut in, "Better in-laws then outlaws, am I right?"

The Wellingtons laughed. Elias wiped away a tear and added, "But not by much!"

His wife instantly stopped laughing, but Elias continued for a time. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha! Bruce, my boy, aren't you going to walk us to the car?"

Bruce had endured convulsions of pain just to put on pants this morning and was not keen to stand. "I'd love to, Elias, but I need to stay and look for finches."

"What?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you both? I've taken up birdwatching."

Hazel looked at him with surprise and pity. "Birdwatching."

Bruce smiled. "Yes, it's mighty good fun. I've been working down a list of birds from our region, and the only one I've yet to find is the purple finch or Haemorhous purpureus." Bruce's Latin was terrible. "Our feathered friend lives here year-round, but it's easier to find in the summer. I have stay here and watch that treeline. I swear every time I turn around, the little dickens passes on by."

Elias shook a finger. "Hang on a plum minute. Were you looking for these birds the whole time we were here?"

Bruce looked bashful. "I might have kept an eye out. But it's not like that. I can do two things at once."

Hazel crossed her arms. “I thought you seemed a tad distant. Here I assumed you found us boring."

Bruce lifted his chin, offended. "The Wellingtons boring? Nonsense. You know you two are always welcome here."

Hazel looked down her nose at him. "Hm. Well, I just don't about that. Never thought I'd have reason to call Bruce Wayne rude. Birdwatching while guests are over? Who does that?"

Fortunately, Elias disagreed with his wife on principle, the principle being that it was her. "Shucks, Hazel, that's our host you're speaking to. Let Bruce have his fun. A man needs a way to let off steam, after all. You don't mind when I talk to you while I'm working on my model trains."

"Yes I do! I think your little trains are childish and silly."

"Childish? I'd like to meet the child who could build the only working O-scale replica of the Fawcett City express line."

"And used half our basement."

"Woman, I used the whole basement. Elias Kentworth Ducksbury Wellington does not cut corners."

This line of debate was interrupted when Alfred appeared, cruising across the lawn in a golf cart. He stopped in front of them and stepped out to offer a short bow. “Sir and Madam, your driver is ready for you.” The Wellingtons squeezed onto the golf cart’s rear bench seat and each waved Bruce a bland farewell.

“Be seeing you, Wayne.”

“Yes, do take care, dear. Have fun with your birds.”

Bruce gave a friendly wave. “Come back soon you two!”

Alfred returned to the driver’s seat, and they were off. As they puttered away, Bruce overheard Hazel say, “I thought birdwatchers needed binoculars.”

Elias responded, “Youngsters have all that good eyesight.”

“And his voice is so scratchy today.”

“My guess? He’s sneaking cigarettes. His old man hated them, see, and I bet the boy doesn’t want to go against pop's memory in public.”

“Ah, how sad.”

“Yep.”

As the cart disappeared around the corner of the Manor, Bruce dropped his arm and rubbed his wrist, the joint protesting with quiet clicks. Bruce struggled to his feet. There was a flowerbed near the lawn chair, and he brushed some dirt aside with his shoe, uncovering a pair of crutches. Once supported, he hobbled up the grass to the Manor's nearest door.

There were advantages to being known as a dandy. After Bruce reached the Cave, he took off his hat, untied the gold cravat from his neck, and ripped off his white gloves. The inside of the cravat was smeared with peach-colored makeup, and the gloves almost tore over the swelling of his injured fingers. Bruce dropped the cravat and gloves on a table, then he refastened his neck brace and wrapped his finger splint back on.

Alfred descended down the steps of the Cave a minute later. He found Bruce's discarded accessories and a shopping list. As he read, Bruce limped by carrying a heavy welding helmet and a five-pound bag of aluminum powder.

“Alfred.”

“Bruce, what are you doing with that?”

“Making thermite.”

“And what is thermite?”

“A welding substance.”

“How innocuous. What do you intend to weld?”

“Not what. Who.” Bruce reached his laboratory bench and cut open the bag. “Only as a precaution, I promise.”

Alfred looked back at the list. “It says here you want sixty more of those bags.”

“Can’t be too careful.”

“Quite. Well, I’m off to retrieve the belongings you dropped yesterday.” He glanced at the discarded clothes. “I certainly have enough practice.”

Bruce didn’t look up from his work. “Good. Thank you. I wrote directions on the third page.”

Alfred returned to the stairs and left him alone. “I live to serve, Master Bruce.”

---​

The United States Capitol Building.

A long green town car pulled to the curb. Captain Steven Trevor, an officer and a gentleman, opened the door for Amanda Waller and Diana Prince to enter the vehicle. Steve followed after them, sitting across from the ladies on a rear-facing seat.

Diana was nervous. “May we speak of it now?”

Waller nodded. “The driver’s safe.”

Diana pressed her palms into her knees and exhaled. “How was my appeal received?”

Waller answered. “Well enough. Mr. Hucklebone will inform me of any obstacles in the Senate. The real challenge will be roping in the White House.”

“Shall we now join the special friends you described during our phone call?”

“Change of plans, actually. Captain Trevor, these are for you.” Amanda handed the surprised Captain a folded paper with War Department stamps. “Effective immediately, your leave is over, and the Army has stationed you in my unit until further notice.”

Steve’s eyebrows shot up as he read the paper. “Your unit?”

“A team of national security troubleshooters - mostly military, some civilian.”

“And what do they do?”

“They find trouble, and then they shoot it. I doubt you’ll find the protocol unfamiliar, knowing your record.”

Steve looked up surprised. “You know my record?” Amanda looked back with mild disdain. Steve scratched his neck. “Right. Never mind.”

Diana interrupted. “What are these changed plans?”

Amanda answered, “I have an urgent mission for Captain Trevor here.”

“You must leave now?”

“That’s right. We can’t delay another minute. But…” Amanda paused as if to consider something. “You may accompany him if you wish.”

Diana smiled, but then her forehead knitted in concern. “Alas, I am needed to-”

“I’m sure we can arrange a longer break from your clinical duties, nurse.” Amanda said, then muttered to herself, “Lord knows how you got that job in the first place.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. If you’re not interested, we’ll need to drop you off so I can give Captain Trevor his secret mission to save America.”

“Well then I would accompany him!” Diana beamed at Steve, who smiled back uncomfortably. “What is this mission?”

“I have a lead on Der Wehrwolf.”

Steve looked dumbfounded. Diana looked mildly interested. “Who is Der Wehrwolf?”

“A codename for the most dangerous Nazi spy in the Western Hemisphere.” Amanda fixed her new agents with a cold stare to impart how serious a statement she made.

Diana cocked her head and asked, “Out of how many?”

“What?”

Steve covered his face in his hand. “Diana-”

But Diana persisted. “It is a question of relative and absolute standards. If this spy is most dangerous relative to all spies, but there are not many spies, then perhaps he or she should not be regarded as a great threat, viewed objectively. Yet if there are very many spies that embody escalating echelons of danger, then the most dangerous would be very dangerous indeed, especially if their threat hierarchy scales exponentially.”

Amanda studied Diana with pursed lips. “We don’t know how many spies our enemies have. But I promise Der Wehrwolf is quite objectively dangerous, if that satisfies you.”

Diana nodded politely. “I defer to your insight.”

“Wonderful. Now, we have a source that claims Der Wehrwolf is Carlos Salazar, a Spanish diplomat to Argentina. We think the claim is credible. Carlos was educated in Germany, and both Spain and Argentina have strong pro-German elements that might have introduced him to one of the German intelligence services.”

Diana interrupted. “But I have heard Spain is neutral.”

Amanda smiled. “And so is Argentina. And so are we. And yet here we are in each other's business. It wouldn’t be the first suggestion that the Argentines are harboring Nazis. If Carlos is using his diplomatic cover to spy, he could run operations across the Americas , and we’d have a devil of a time tracing it back to him.

Steve asked, “What do you need from us?”

“Mr. Salazar will be at a party outside Buenos Aires three nights from now. We’ve intercepted two invitations and arranged covers for each of you to attend the party. Get there. Study the man, study his entourage, who he meets, what he talks about. Check his belongings if you can. Check his car. Find solid evidence to determine whether he could be Der Wehrwolf. Failing that, learn his schedule so we can set up further reconnaissance. Captain, you're going as a journalist from the American office of a well-connected Argentine newspaper. Miss Prince, you'll be the reclusive American widow of the late trade minister.”

Diana frowned. “I would rather be the journalist.”

“Miss Prince, these invitations don't grow on trees. It was a major effort to get what we have.”

“I just thought-”

“I sympathize with your attitude, but in this job you have to leave your less-urgent convictions at the door and focus on what's at stake. Can you do that?”

“... Why would anyone think invitations grew on trees?”

“I'll take that as a yes. The vital fact is, from what we know of the guest list, no one should recognize either of your covers. You can go in and act like perfect strangers. Couldn't be easier.”

“Very well.”

“Listen, you're the rookie, Miss Prince. Captain Trevor here is the expert. I want you to follow his lead. Normally, I would never send an amateur into the action like this, but you have extraordinary potential. Prove to me that you can do the job discreetly, and I'll prove to you that I can convince America to join the Amazonian cause.”

“Yes! Good. I accept.”

“And Captain, I expect you to show her the ropes. This is a serious operation, not a kindergarten. Can you handle that?”

Steve's expression wasn't pleased, but it was determined. “Yeah.”

“Excellent. Miss Prince, I believe this is your stop. Good job today. We'll meet tomorrow to set up the details.”

Diana said her goodbyes and exited the car.

Steve waved fondly after her, but when the door shut, his expression snapped to naked hostility. “Miss Waller, what do you think you're doing?”

If Amanda Waller was surprised or offended at his new attitude, she didn't let it show. “Whatever do you mean, Captain?”

“I get it. You want Diana to be another gun in your holster. She's strong enough to tip over a bus, and you want that muscle to break things.”

“I do. I want her because she's strong, but also resilient, and fearless, and shows integrity to a fault. And also because she might have an entire country of friends who are as strong. Is there a problem?”

“Hey, she can do what she wants. Enjoy your human howitzer. But where do you get off sending her undercover?”

“Oh? Are you suggesting she doesn't have a knack for trying on identities? That she lacks the charm and empathy to put people at ease? I understand her English used to be much worse even two months ago. That shows some brains, wouldn't you say?”

“But without any training, without any evaluation-”

“Espionage has a long, proud history of learning on the fly.”

“You know full well what I'm talking about.”

“Do I, Captain? Tell me specifically how I'm bad at my job.”

Steve grimaced and glanced out the window, then looked back at Waller. “She's reckless. She's impulsive. That's suicidial for quick infiltratrions. I've known her for months, and I still can't guess what she's about to do half the time.”

“You can't pinpoint her motivations?”

“She's got a big code of ethics, maybe call it chivery. I don't know. She gets these lofty ideas and when she sees something that needs fixing, she goes off half-cocked like Don Quixote and damn the consequences. That's fine for a wrecking ball, but it spells disaster for a sensitive op.” He finished the complaint in a loud rush.

Waller leaned forward ever so slightly, and Steve subconsciously leaned back. Her voice was unstoppably controlled. “The problem is, having a wrecking ball would be nice, but my team needs to be flexable. One day I may suddenly need her to play discrete. And that's not a challenge we can introduce gradually. Knowing Diana's sheer destrutive potential, we have to be able to trust her completely from the get-go.”

“And I just said you can't trust her. Not for that. I know her better than anyone.”

“You do, but I'm a fair judge of character. She's followed along on a few of your jobs already, and discovering that fact took some digging which suggests to me that's she can toe the line.” Waller smiled knowingly. “At least when you're there to keep her in line.”

“Yeah, through luck. I'm not exactly in a position to give her orders.”

“You sell yourself short, Captain. You're smarter than you act. And you care about her - too much for your own good, frankly - but that can be an effective motivation when you need to control someone. Plus, she feels close to you, and that's hard to fake. That's good. If she didn't already like you, we might have to invent you.”

“... Have you done that before?”

“Captain, there are many ways to manipulate someone. The basic tradeoffs are that affections are cheaper than bribes and safer than threats, but they're fickle and take more groundwork. It's not my favorite tool.”

“Even if you're right, this mission-”

“Is as close to perfect as we're going to get. Unless you slap the host and start singing the West Point fight song, your cover is solid. By all means, play this one cautiously. We have other assets that can follow this Salazar later. Diana's the real mission here. The trip will stress her. If she can handle it, great. And worst case scenario, if things get hot, all the witnesses and all the violence is in another hemisphere.”

“Why do any of this? I'll admit I brought her with me in the past, but I never had a hidden agenda. You must know that if Diana senses any deceit in your partnership, she's going to retaliate. She's dynamite. She's Diana-mite.”

“Captain Trevor, the paranomal humnoid entity that calls itself Diana Prince is not the most dangerous mystery I've dealt with in my position. She doens't even make the top five. But yes, if she decides to get mean, she could take apart a city block over breakfast. But it's not my mandate to handle damgers passively. It's imperative that I understand what might set her off. That means testing her in a controlled setting as soon as possible. Until then, as long as she's on American soil; as long as she exists on Earth, she's a threat.”

“Are you saying-”

“I'll make it very simple. She has to join my team. The only alternative is to nip her in the bud.”

“And you think a foreign op is a controlled test?”

“As long as you're there to grade it, yes. Should you discover that her obedience is in question, well, my subordinate provided you with our corrective measures.”

“Yeah.” Steve's voice was grave. “He did.”

“On that note, I have another gift. These are for you.”

Waller pulled a paper envelope out of her jacket and handed it to Steve. He unwound the string on shook out several X-rays of a skeleton.

“Are these ...”

“Our own Ms. Prince, in the flesh, coutesy of the strongest X-ray machines on the market. I had some doctors review the images. They say the muscles are inhumanly dense, and the major bones are utterly opaque. Even the thickest regular skeleton should have some some translucence at this resolution, but not hers. We don't know quite what that means yet, but let's assume she wouldn't get a fracture falling off a bicycle.”

“When did she get an X-ray?”

“Remember the elevator at the airport?”

“Yes. Wait, you hid an X-ray machine in the elevator?”

“We needed her standing still.”

“But I was standing next to her.”

“So?”

“Didn't the X-rays hit me?”

“We cropped you out.”

“I mean isn't that dangerous?”

“Captain, how many planes have you crashed in your life?”

Steve knitted his brow in thought. “Six. Okay, I see your point. So why give these to me?”

“Not to lecture you on tactics, Captain, but if the moment comes, I suggest you aim where the target defies medical science the least. We circled those in yellow.”

---​

Gotham City.

With two phone calls, Lieutenant King Faraday contracted a squad of four FBI agents in Gotham City for the better part of an afternoon. These agents subcontracted help from nine GCPD officers. Together, the thirteen men were tasked with finding a particular metal glove somewhere between Twelfth Street and the corner of the Canning District containing Gotham's infamous Meat Pool. The men were told to look for the scene of a large chase or brawl, most likely in an abandoned building as the police already established that the combatants were only witnessed at Twelfth Street and in the Meat Pool, so any intermediate encounter must have occurred somewhere without witnesses.

Fortunately, there were fewer than twenty locations where a secret fight of the implied magnitude could plausibly happen between the two sightings, even accounting for the most circuitous routes. The thirteen investigators split up into teams and searched the empty buildings one by one. This tended to be a slow process, since many condemned or unfinished sites already looked like the aftermath of a natural disaster, and even experts had trouble discerning tiny clues that might hint at fisticuffs amidst the general decay. Two buildings had squaters, but in both instances the squaters swore they hadn't been home on the night of the conflict, though they also hadn't noticed any unfamiliar damage.

The GothCorp plant was one of the later buildings inspected. Immediately, one of the savvy cops noticed the broken light bulbs, which wasn't conclusive, and the frequent footprints, which was. The team of three lawmen spent half an hour combing the building from ground floor to roof. They found ample signs that a fight had happened and a strong impression that one or both combatants had exited via a chute that led to an unused sewer tunnel. They even found a long steel rod that might have been used as a weapon. However, they found no metal glove, nor any of several other items Faraday warned them to keep an eye out for.

They might have arrived earlier if Amanda Waller had simply asked Diana where exactly her fight had transpired. Diana may well have told her. However, Waller was careful to the point of paranoia when it came to revealing her intentions with Diana. She played it close the vest, using her resources to find what she could without Diana being any the wiser.

Unfortunately, an hour and seven minutes before Waller's investigators arrived, Alfred Pennyworth visited the GothCorp plant, taking advantage of the fact that Bruce was happy to tell him exactly where the fight had occured, room by room, blow by ugly blow. In fact, Bruce had written him a list and sketched a map. Alfred knew where to find every accoutrement Bruce had left behind. He found several, but quite a few were missing, including numerous batarangs, one armored gauntlet, and Bruce's teeth. This was simply odd. Proper detectives wouldn't leave any evidence behind. Alfred wans't sure what to make of this, but he dutifully collected what remaind, including the other armored gaunlet. Alfred also wiped down several items Bruce had touched to remove any fingerprints, including the box above the sewer chute and the steel rod Bruce had weaponized. Alfred was an efficient cleaner, and his visit wasn't didn't take much time at all.

---​

That evening.

Officer Renee Montoya was dressed as forgettably as possible in an old brown coat and plain hat. She used a bus stop three blocks further than necessary, walking much of the way down Dog Road to its venerable First United Methodist Church. Renee was not a Methodist. She had never met a Dominican Methodist in Gotham, and she doubted any parishioners of the First United Methodist Church had either. Renee kept her head down and her hat low. There were no services at this hour, but even passing her on the street, it was clear she wasn't from the neighborhood. This certainly wasn't the only time she felt uncomfortable in her skin, but it was the only time she let it bother her. There was far more at stake than her own comfort and safety. For the sake of her Brothers, she couldn't afford to be noticed.

Renee slipped inside the church's empty vestibule. The lights were on, and she could hear a choir practicing in the worship hall. Renee didn't join them. Instead, she found a secluded staircase to a dark basement. She didn't turn on the lights but used a lighter to guide her way. At the end of the basement was a broom closet. She entered and shut the door behind her. The floor here was a hidden trapdoor, but Renee knew where to spot the handle. Below the closet was another staircase that led to a cramped tunnel.

Down the curving tunnel, Renee found several other tunnels join hers, all combining toward the same path. Finally, she reached a heavy door. Renee knocked with a complicated five-strike beat. A small slot opened, revealing light that was quickly covered by a pair of eyes.

“Dublin trail,” said Renee.

The slot closed. Several locks and latches were undone, and the door swung open. Renee closed her lighter and entered. It was a small room lit by a propane lamp hanging from the ceiling. The husky doorman eyed her. His face was covered with a bandana, and he was armed.

The doorman said, “Good to see you, Renee.”

She smiled and took off her hat. “Hey, Clarence.”

The doorman took her hat and coat and led her through another heavy door which he unlocked with a key from around his neck. It led to a larger space, about as large as a classroom, with enough chairs in rows to seat twenty. However, there were only eight people present, including one standing behind an old lectern at the front.

This leader nodded at her. “Hey there, Montoya.”

Renee nodded back, “Hey, Sergeant Gordon.”

Gorden gestured to the chairs. Renee sat and watched him expectantly. Gordon faced his audience and tapped his knuckles on the lectern. “We have plenty to discuss, so I call this meeting of the Dog Road Chapter of the Brothers of the Shield to order.”
Author: Batman 1939
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FaxModem1
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby FaxModem1 » 2017-01-04 06:40pm

Well, that's interesting. I was honestly half expecting Montoya to hit an underground speakeasy.
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-04 08:11pm

FaxModem1 wrote:Well, that's interesting. I was honestly half expecting Montoya to hit an underground speakeasy.

Good guess. The site once was a speakeasy. That's how the cops know about it.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-05 12:10am

Alfred showing up to sanitize the scene of the fight is a nice touch.

Stewart M wrote:Diana cocked her head and asked, “Out of how many?”
I like the idea of Diana asking a logic question like that- innocent, yes, a fish out of water, yes. But not dumb muscle. :)
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-05 12:55am

Simon_Jester wrote:Alfred showing up to sanitize the scene of the fight is a nice touch.

Stewart M wrote:Diana cocked her head and asked, “Out of how many?”
I like the idea of Diana asking a logic question like that- innocent, yes, a fish out of water, yes. But not dumb muscle. :)


Just wait and see how wise she can be when she gets her bearings.

If she makes it that far...
Author: Batman 1939
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-07 12:04pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 16: Contrapasso​

Gotham was built on myths.

The city loved urban legends like Milan loved fashion or Paris loved riots. James Gordon had lived in Gotham for many years but had tended to regard the city's myths as something between a weakness and a quirk. Only lately did he see the use. Myths, at their heart, were shared lessons. They were examples to follow in a world that so often failed to provide real role models. Myths were catalysts. Like in the old folk tale of the stone soup, when a traveler made a stingy town generous with nothing but a story and a pebble. Gordon already had the stones, and a year ago he found the story.

The myth was called the Brothers of the Shield. It was known only to cops, and only a few. It was said to be a secret society, resurrected whenever Gotham police were at their worst, so long as two honest souls wanted to do anything about it. Gotham City predated America, and its lawmen wore shield badges from the start, so it was anyone's guess when the Brothers were founded. For all Gordon knew, Bullock had invented it from scratch last year. There could never be records, only word-of-mouth, and for a wise reason.

Gotham police were not so different from agencies in other large cities. Individually, they weren't more corrupt or brutal or mismanaged. If the GCPD had a distinction, it was being fiercely tribal, suspicious of strangers and spiteful to critics. All police were clannish by nature, but Gotham's Finest were in a league of their own, or at least shared only by dictatorships and cults. Visitors struggled to understand just how quickly both brass and the rank and file could bring their fury on muckrakers, and heaven help whistleblowers. This wasn't by conspiracy; it was in the blood.

Since Gotham's cop culture had no checks and balances, all the little sins piled together into a system worse than the sum of its parts. It tended to sputter to an ugly wreck every thirty years or so. Then something shocked the system back into alignment – a new mayor, a new attitude of shame, a mass retirement. Rumor had it this shock tended to be started by the Brothers of the Shield. Of course, the cop establishment in every generation benefited handsomely from their crimes, and they were viciously opposed to even the rumor that some mythic reformers were in the habit of knocking them over.

However old it was, Gordon and his old partner Harvey Bullock had co-founded the latest edition of the Brothers of the Shield. As a leader, Gordon had thought hard about what specifically was wrong with his city. He believed they were long overdue for their cycle of reignition. Gordon suspected that Gotham's problem – well, one of its problems – was that Prohibition had done wild things to the old ecosystem of cops and crooks, and instead of falling to the usual dysfunction even faster, some canny crooks and desperate cops had hammered out a bargain, the so-called Peace of Falcone, that kept the city in an unhappy stasis for a decade. There was no fixing the Department until the Peace was broken, or at least they had to happen in tandem.

Of course, Gordon knew the alternative to a peace.

A police department was a business, an army, a fraternity, and a lobbying firm. In Gotham, all of those facets were accustomed to dealing with the Families. So when a gang of gunmen armed with .31 Hargraves enter a deadly firefight with a squad of boys in blue, it dropped a bomb on the organization. Almost the whole force from commissioner down was compromised by the Families in some way. Taking every sort of payoff and protection. Avoiding certain buildings, avoiding certain questions, certain cases, certain suspects. Telling enough lies in the mirror to float a cruise ship. However, while this state of affairs might sound rotten to the core, the GCPD did have a core. You did not strike the GCPD. Around the station houses, these two facts seemed in perfect balence at the moment. No one knew how things would shake out it they retaliated. Or what would happen if they didn't. There was enough old dirt around the office to dig for fossils, but a rat's sneeze could flip the whole Department on its ear. No one wanted to make the first move.

That wasn't strictly true. The Brothers of the Shield wanted nothing more. And if they lacked motivation before, several Brothers were hit in that shootout. Now it was personal.

Gordon called the meeting to order so their little myth could decide what move to make.

---​

Several days later. Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Diana arrived at Buenos Aries alone in the early evening, passed through customs with no trouble, and stayed the night at a hotel in the city. Here in Argentina she was widowed heiress Elizabeth Holloway Byrne of the Miami Byrnes. Diana soon decided that people just called her Lizzie. She practiced her new identity with porters, receptionists, waiters, maids, and anyone else obliged to listen to her. The plumbing, currency, and electric fixtures were different from the American varieties to which she had grown accustomed, but she was an experienced traveler now and learned the new ways without much trouble.

A black Mercedes picked Diana up from her hotel the next afternoon. She had heard that Mercedes was a German manufacturer. Several were in America. While her conception of Man's World was no longer so misguided that she believed all nations were at war with every other nation all the time, it seemed strange to her that a nation could trade a precious machine like an automobile one year and fight that nation the next. Apparently, this sort of pattern repeated itself several times a century. One might as well sell a rival spears and arrowheads. Perhaps this Mr. Mercedes was unusually altruistic and worldly. Perhaps he crafted his machines in secret. If so, he was very courageous to put his name on them. Granted, perhaps cars were not so special. Honestly, Diana had no idea how cars worked. This fact had shamed her until she learned that many people in Man's World had no idea either.

Diana's mind wandered, and she recalled a conversation she had with Steve from before she left.

“We'll have to arrive separately, of course. We don't know each other. Don't stare at me. Don't approach me.”

“Never?”

“I'll introduce myself in the first half hour. Just stay casual.”

“What if I see Der Wehrwolf?”

“If you see Salazar, keep your distance. Stay away from him and anyone you see talking to him.”

“How are we supposed to learn of him from a distance?”

“I'll decide our play when we get there, but don't try anything until we discuss it.”

“Then what should I do before we meet?”

“Relax. Work the room awhile.”

“Work a room?”

“You know, get a drink. Grab some hors d'oeuvres. Have a few dances.”

“I ask the men and women to dance?”

“Just the men, but no, you don't need to ask. They'll come to you.”

“Men will ask me to dance?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No.”

“Well, they will. I guarantee it.”

“I don't know Man's dances.”

"Watch a few. No one's going to care if you mess up.”

“What if someone tries to speak to me?”

“Everyone there speaks Spanish. Tell them you don't, and eventually they'll leave you alone.”

“How do I tell them this if they speak Spanish?”

“Just say 'no hablo español'. That means you don't speak Spanish.”

“No hablo español?”

“That's right.”

“But if I say I don't speak Spanish ... in Spanish ... won't I be seen as a liar?”

“Don't worry about it. No one expects Americans to know anything. It's great. Just remember: your husband just died. You never saw much of him anyway. You're bored. Nothing impresses you since you're used to the finer things in life. Maybe you're a bit snobbish, a bit stuck-up.”

“No I'm not!”

“Hey, hey, it's an act. Like theater. Don't they have theater where you're from?”

“Yes! But I have never acted.”

“Then get ready for your debut.”

The drive to the party was a two hour trip through the countryside. Diana was eager to practice more of her infantile Spanish with the chauffeur, but Steve had told her that now was the time to finish getting into character, and Lizzie wouldn't deign to speak with mere chauffeurs. Diana decided she didn't like Lizzie very much.

At least the scenery was lovely. She passed many ranches and horse farms. Diana had never seen so many animals. It reminded her of rural Virginia, but here the plains were more vast and wild.

Finally, the Mercedes pulled into the estate of a great stone villa on a hill. The host was some government official. Diana knew certain Americans would be suspicious that a civil servent owned such a property, but she was the child of an absolute monarch and didn't see an issue. Even before the main building came into sight, Diana could hear music across the expansive lawn. They passed a long row of parked cars, a most-wanted list of global brands, though this was lost on her.

She was driven to the villa's front door and the chauffeur graciously helped her out of her seat. She nodded primly and self-consciously brushed down the front of her dress. It was red and knee-length and had some sort of ruffling along the skirt. They told her it would help her fit in, and she supposed it did. Mostly she felt awkward. Mostly it itched. At least it matched her shoes.

Diana showed her invitation at the door and was ushered inside through the front hall to a lavish ballroom. There were at least seventy guests here in dresses and tuxedos, along with wandering servers, a live band, and a dozen soldiers in shining uniforms standing at attention along the walls. Diana marveled at the chandeliers and marble sculptures, then remembered that a savvy socialite like Lizzie wouldn't stand in an enterance and marvel at furnishings. She quickly glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her gawking. More than a few guests nearby had their eye on her, but they didn't seem unwelcoming.

Indeed, she hadn't been in the room ten seconds when a self-assured young gentleman with slick hair approached her with a grin and asked something in rapid Spanish. She squinted and leaned forward, struggling to make sense of him. He put his arm around her and tried to lead her to the dance floor. Diana flinched and raised her hands.

“Ah! Mucho lo siento, sir. Very lo siento, uh, pero no hablo español.”

The man looked amused and continued trying to lead her to the floor. Diana sidestepped and shoved the man's arm away. She glared at him. “Mucho gracias, lo siento, por favor.”

The man rubbed his arm and retreated, and several other men who had eyed the exchange decided to keep their distance. Diana brushed down her dress again and made a slow lap around the crowd. Ignoring the language, it was much like an American party, though the fashion, food, and music were a little unfamiliar, and the men possessed many more mustaches.

Quite a few more men tried to speak with her or bring her drinks, sometimes in groups, sometimes while they were already with a lady. Diana practiced poliety rebuffing them. She didn't mind talking, and a few even offered a smattering of English, but eventually they all wanted to dance, and the sort of dancing she saw was intimidating.

Diana was making her third lap of the room and beginning to feel lost when a voice behind her said, “Hey there.”

Diana spun. “St-!” The man silenced her with an intense stare. “I mean ... who are you, good sir?”

Captain Steven Trevor smiled cordially. “John Gibbons, journalist.”

Diana responded, “ Elizabeth Holloway Byrne, non-journalist. My friends call me Lizzie.”

“Are we friends?”

“We could be.”

“Well Lizzie, it's nice to meet someone here from the States. I got roots back in Houston. How about you?”

“That's a long story.”

“Can I get the short version?”

“Miami.”

“Neat.”

“You look good in a regular suit. Would you like to join me for a drink, John?”

“I'd love nothing more. What do you mean a 'regular' suit?”

“I mean ... nothing. Just a black suit. Just a regular suit. Black tie. Yes, good. Boutonniere.”

“Right.”

They moved to one of the open bars and Steve ordered them drinks. He leaned in to her ear. “How do you feel so far?”

“Good! I think. This is strange.”

“Yep.”

“Have I made errors?”

“None that I noticed. It's an easy role, just keep playing it. You're doing fine.”

“I haven't seen Carlos Salazar.”

“He's over there.” Steve subtly gestured to a gentleman in the middle of the ballroom floor. He was a balding figure with a large nose dancing enthusiastically against a young woman.

Steve hissed, “Don't stare too long, okay?”

Diana glanced away. “He does not look like his photograph.”

“Well, diplomatic portraits tend to make people look a little dead. The tango tends to do the opposite.”

“The what?”

“The tango. That's this dance. It was invented here.”

“In this party?”

“In Argentina. They're crazy for it.”

“It seems very...”

“Passionate?”

“Friction-y.”

“Yep, lot of friction. Got to be nimble. Want to give it a shot?”

“I, uh-”

“Unless you don't think you can handle it.”

“I didn't say that.”

“And it's the best way for us to get a better look at Salazar.”

“But I don't know this tango.”

“I'll show you.”

“You know it?”

“I know all sorts of things.” He offered his hand.

Diana soon discovered that Steve was a very good tango dancer, and he wasn't a bad teacher either. They found an empty corner of the floor, starting slow but gradually picking up speed as he introduced new steps and turns. Diana, of course, was blessed with the grace of Aphrodite and the balance of Artemis and proved an adept student.

Soon, they were trotting toward the center of the room, and when the next piece started, the pair easily kept pace with the crowd. The music carried far, but they were close enough to hold a conversation.

Diana's breath was just beginning to pick up, more from concentration than exhaustion. “Where did you learn to do this?”

Steve chuckled. “You mean, where did the big corn-fed Army grunt learn to dance?”

“I didn't say that.”

“It was a joke. Actually, when I was seventeen, there was a tango performed at this community center event. I didn't go, but my mother went and told me afterward that only floozies and loose women danced the tango. So after boot camp, I found a dance school and learned it.”

“Why?”

“To meet floozies and loose women.”

“I don't know what those mean.”

“Don't worry about it.”

“How am I doing?”

“Really good. If I were you, I would have tripped over my feet five times by now.”

“You teach well!”

“Thanks. I've never danced with someone taller than me.”

“Does that challenge you?”

“A little. Maybe next time I'll show you how to lead. For now, let's angle toward this Salazar character. And keep mum. No need for him to hear us sounding like Yanks.”

Diana nodded. “Sí.”

They carefully tangoed across the floor, picking their way closer to their target. Soon, they were only two couples away, and Steve navigated to stay in the diplomat's blindspot.

Diana whispered in Steve's ear, “Can you recognize a Nazi spy by how he dances?”

He whispered back, “No.”

“Then what do we look for?”

“For now I have no idea. He's been out here a while. When he takes a break, I'll improvise.”

So they continued to tango, with Diana showing steady improvement by the minute. However, their performance was beginning to draw attention, and when the band started a new piece, a short woman of early middle age with blushed cheeks elbowed Diana aside and grabbed Steve around the hips. She looked him in the eye, straining her neck to do so, and slurred, “Oy, gringo, este baile es para mí.”

Diana was too surprised to speak and stood there with her mouth slightly open. Steve looked supremely discomforted and shrugged at Diana. By the time Diana crossed her arms and thought of something to say, the rhythem had picked up again and Steve was swept away by his new partner. Diana knew that she couldn't march through the dancers and take her partner back by force, or rather, she absolutely could, easily, but she shouldn't because it would make a scene. Diana instead moved to escape the dance floor, trying her best to move her shoulders in a dance-like fashion as she walked alone though the couples.

Near the edge of the dancers, an older man with a neat white beard approached her. He grasped her hand and bowed to kiss it. When Diana pulled her hand away, she realized that she was holding a rose.

The man bowed again and said, “Hola mi hermosa flor, puedo saber tu nombre?” His voice had a deep, wispy quality.

Diana was taken aback, still trying to figure out how he had slipped her a flower. “Uh, uh. Nobre? Uh, Dia- no, Lizzie.”

The man smiled like he had smelled something delicious. “Ah. Dianolizzie. Perfecto.” He put his hand humbly to his chest. “Mi nombre es Juan. Podemos tango?”

“Um. Okay.”

Juan clapped. “Excelente!” He took Diana's hand and began the dance so swiftly that she dropped her rose. Juan was a superb dancer, and Diana was beginning to enjoy herself as she kept an eye out for Steve. The piece ended and another man immediately cut in. Juan stepped back with a courteous bow. “Adiós, Dianolizzie.” Her new partner didn't bother to introduce himself and was not half as skilled, but Diana ignored him and continued her search.

During one elaborate spin she saw Carlos Salazar leave the ballroom to a nearby hallway. On the next dip, she glanced upside-down and saw Steve following briskly behind. Diana was nothing if not intrepid, and when her partner transitioned into a poorly-balenced turn, she let go of him and didn't look back as she heard him stumble into another couple. “Lo siento, por favor!”

Diana walked to the hallway and saw Steve rounding a corner at the end. She sped into a jog and quickly caught up. To her surprise, Steve was waiting just around the corner looking angry. She came a rapid stop.

He shushed her and hissed, “Quiet!”

She looked past him. Salazar wasn't there. She whispered back, “Where did he go?”

“Second door on the left. Probably a bathroom. Why are you here?”

“I saw you chasing our prey and wanted to back you up! How did you know it was me?”

“You have loud footsteps.”

“I can't run silently in these heels!”

“Then don't run in them. Listen, we can't be seen together. Find another path back to the party. Stay inconspicuous.”

“Shouldn't we be spying?”

“No, it's- It's not that important. We're not going to learn a jot from a bathroom trip.”

“Then how will we?”

“I don't know. If it wasn't clear before, this is a shot in the dark, okay? Most surveillance missions are gambles. That's the nature of the job-” They heard footsteps coming from the party. Steve instantly started saying something in Spanish and laughing. A fat man turned the corner and ambled past them. When he was gone, Steve dropped the act and continued, “We play this defensive. If our target lets something slip, then great! if not, we go home empty-handed. Okay?

“But this mission is to save America!”

Steve rubbed his eyes and looked past her. “Yeah, they say that. All missions are to save America. America can survive a little longer without us being reckless. This mission is not crucial. Get going!”

“Nazis are bad!”

“But he might be innocent. Unless you can read his mind in secret.”

At that remark, Diana looked at him more intensely. Steve could almost see the light bulb shine over her head. He sighed. “What?”

“Come!”

Diana slipped off her shoes and tossed them behind a suit of armor. She jogged to the second door on the left. There was a sign next to it that read, “Baño de hombres.” Before Steve could stop her, Diana tried the knob. It was locked, and an irritated voice inside barked, “Ocupado!” Steve grimaced and tried to pull her away. She turned and looked him in the eye. There was hardly an inch between them.

“Do you trust me?” she whispered.

“Y- No! No.”

“Good. Stand back.”

There was a console table nearby with a bowl of fruit on top. The bowl was sitting on a white cloth. Diana lifted the bowl and stole the cloth, stretching it between her hands. Steve watched this in silent incredulity. She hid beside the door, next to the hinges so she couldn't be seen when it opened. Against every better judgement, Steve crouched beside her.

Eventually they heard the sound of flushing inside. Moments later the door opened, and Carlos Salazar walked out. Before he took two steps, Diana reached around the door and caught Salazar's head in the tablecloth. He made a muffled yell and grasped at her hands, but Diana pulled the ends tight, cinching the cloth against his face like a bag. She tugged him close against her and quickly dragged him into the bathroom. Furious and terrified, Steve followed. While Steve locked the door, Diana shoved Salazar against a wall and deftly tied the ends of the cloth into an effective knot. Then she reached around and lifted a corner of the cloth over his mouth and nose, keeping the rest a blindfold. He started yelling again, so she quickly stuffed a hand towel into his mouth and dropped him to the tile floor. Then, with some difficulty, she rolled him over and pulled his tuxedo jacket half-off so the arms were trapped in the sleeves like an impromptu straitjacket.

Steve checked the room. It was a well-appointed private restroom: classical frecos, potted plants, and a glazed window. The villa was large, and surely had several restrooms, but with nearly a hundred people on site, he was sure they'd be interrupted soon.

He whispered as quietly as he could in Diana's ear, “What now?”

Diana whispered back, “Hold him down. I can make him talk.”

Steve's face went white. “We are not going to torture him.”

“No. I have a way you haven't seen. With my armor.”

“You don't have your armor here.”

“Can you keep a secret?”

“Obviously.”

“Then tell no one of this. Please!”

Before she could act, there was a knock at the door and a worried voice asked, “Estás bien?”.

Diana seized Salazar's throat with enough pressure to gag him then answered in her deepest voice, “Ocupado!” The voice outside muttered, “Olvidalo.” They heard footsteps move away. Diana released Salazar's throat and whispered in Steve's ear, “You must tell no one. I beg you.”

Steve had no response to that, so he simply kept a hand over Salazar's mouth and watched Diana as she stood. Diana inspected the tiny bathroom to judge the space. Then she held her arms out to her sides and began to spin. She turned like a top, faster and faster. There was a flash of groovy technicolor light and in Diana's place stood Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman looked down at Steve, expectant. Steve watched her dumbfounded. She took hold of her golden lasso and looped a bend of it around his hand. It glowed. She whispered to Steve again, “Now ask him our questions. Is he a spy for the Nazis?”

Steve, who was too shocked to register emotion at this point, shrugged and spoke to Salazar, then removed the towel from his mouth. Salazar struggled, trying to see her through the opaque table cloth, but finally answered.

Steve nodded and whispered back. “He said yes.”

Wonder Woman narrowed her eyes and nodded. “Ask if he is Der Wehrwolf?”

Steve spoke to Salazar again then reported, “He says he isn't. But we have no way to know if he's lying.”

Wonder Woman shook her head. “I don't believe he's lying. Ask him who Der Wehrwolf could be if it isn't him.”

Before Steve could relay the question, they were interrupted again. The guest on the other side was more insistent this time, whining and knocking again and again. Steve finally convinced the man to leave him alone. With the interruption gone, Steve asked Salazar about Der Wehrwolf. The discussion lasted almost a minute, with Salazar growing angry in a way that had nothing to do with being held captive. Finally, Steve told Wonder Woman, “He doesn't know. They both work for the Abwehr - that's Nazi intelligence - but he says they're rivals. Salazar has tried to ruin or steal Der Wehrwolf's operations several times, but so far Salazar's still playing second-fiddle in the region. His best guess is that Der Wehrwolf is stationed in the US. Probably the east coast. That's about all he knows.”

Wonder Woman crossed her arms. “Disappointing. While we're here, what has Salazar done as a spy? Who are his contacts? What is his plan?”

This caused another long discussion. Much of what Salazar said was recited with the bored cadence of a grocery list, which disturbed Wonder Woman. However, in the middle of the talk they heard a pack of loud footsteps approaching outside. A heavy hand smacked the door.

“Salir ahora!”

Steve and Wonder Woman stared at each other. Salazar used this opportunity to yell, “Ayuda! Ayuda!” before Steve could gag him again. Someone kicked at the door. It shuddered, almost popping inward. Wonder Woman rose and placed her back to it, bracing herself. She pointed at the window. Steve hesitated. Another kick shattered wood around the doorknob, but Wonder Woman kept the door shut. Salazar continued to yell. Wonder Woman reached down and picked up a potted plant, chucking it at the window. Steve ducked. The clay pot shattered half the window. Wonder Woman pointed at it again, giving him a look that brooked no disagreement. Another kick bent the hinges and smacked the broken door against her back. If nothing else, the door would fall soon. Steve tore off his suit jacket and tossed it out the window, then climbed after it. There was another impact, she guessed a shoulder this time. Wonder Woman wrapped up the loose bend from her lasso and put it away. There was one last impact, and the hinges finally snapped off. The door tottered for a moment. Wonder Woman turned around, lifted her knee, and kicked the door outward.

The door cracked against the far wall and fell the floor. Two soldiers had been bowled over. A third man in a tuxedo stood to the side, stunned. Wonder Woman turned and leaped the eight feet through the broken window.

She ran. A stone hit her arm. Steve was hiding behind a hedge. She held on to him and in two jumps they ascended to the roof. Keeping low, they crossed to the other side of the villa and hopped down onto a second floor balcony. With a spin, Wonder Woman returned to her red dress, her hair again done up again in its stylish bob. Steve brushed some glass off his dirty sleeves and put his jacket back on.

Arm in arm, they entered what turned out to be a bedroom. Moments after they stepped inside, a soldier opened the door. He pointed at them and said something scolding. Steve chuckled and apologized, nodding at Diana with some saucy comment and an eyebrow wiggle. Diana didn't know what he said but slapped him. The soldier rolled his eyes and ordered them out of the room.

They were led back to the ballroom and left alone with a warning. The music was still playing, and several couples were still dancing, but the hum of conversation had fallen in some corners to a concerned mutter. Diana doubted anyone here had heard the yelling or the sounds of the door over the lively music, but there was some obvious commotion among the soldiers. She asked if they would stop the party and investigate the guests. Steve said he wasn't sure; that depended on several things: how professional were the guards, whether they believed the assailant was still on the property, whether a panic was a threat to the host's reputation, how much did they care about the victim, and whether there were any witnesses. Diana at least could answer this last point. She mentioned that a man did get a brief look at her. Steve looked perturbed but decided her appearance had changed enough to blend in.

Steve also considered that since Salazar was a spy, he might not want to draw attention to himself. He would want to get out quick before the questions came. Unless their Argentine hosts were part of his ring. That would be a very serious problem.

Diana asked about her shoes, and Steve told her she wouldn't be able to get them back. The hallway was doubtless swarming with security now. Bare feet weren't a smoking gun, especially after a long bout of dancing, so it wasn't urgent, but it was one more reason to leave before anyone paid too much attention to her. Anyway, he mused, extra height didn't do her anonymity any favors.

Steve went to ask the bar what folks had heard and whether they were allowed to leave. Diana found a unattached young man and simply offered, “Tango?” He agreed. On her second orbit of the floor, she passed a pair of large windowed doors leading to an expansive dining room. Inside, she spied Carlos Salazar arguing with several important-looking men and several soldiers.

Soon, Steve caught up with her and begged the next dance. When they started dancing again, he told her, “The guards have blocked the exit, saying they're cleaning up an accident in the front hall. It's not an excuse that will hold for long. They'll either open up soon or stop the party and grill everyone. Now we wait.”

“Carlos Salazar is in that dining room.”

“Yeah?” Steve peered in its direction. “Well, now's not the time to ask what exactly you did to him-”

“You promised you would the secret!”

“Yeah, Diana, I will. Fine. We'll talk about that later, but we need to get the information back to the States pronto.”

“What did he say he had done?”

Steve gave a rueful whistle. “You name it. Reporting navel movement on the Atlantic seaboard. Finding landing beaches for submarines. Coordinating spies in munitions plants. Meeting gangs and rebels across Latin America. Planting listening posts in the Caribbean. Running a black market for war goods in Spain. They even asked him to start a list of Jewish and Gypsy communities there. 'Just in case', as he put it.”

“Can we ask Argentina to arrest him now?”

“No. Even if we had proof, he's got diplomatic immunity. He'd be kicked to Spain.”

“Can we ask Spain?”

“Sure, but it won't do any good. For all we know, Franco's in on it.”

“So he will get away!”

“Worse, now we've tipped him off. He'll reshuffle all the projects he spilled. Or his replacement will if his bosses learn he's been made. Steve shook his head. “Geez, Diana, what were you thinking? There's a reason we do this slow. Best case scenario, we've set him back a few months. And we won't get another easy crack at him. Way to go.”

Diana continued to tango as fiercely as before, but she wouldn't meet his eye. Steve assumed her expression was sullen, but she was actually deep in thought.

Finally she asked, “These agents of Abwehr are in competition?”

“Best as we can tell, the whole Nazi leadership is a game of King of the Hill. And now we know they're serious enough to sabotage each other.”

“Hmm. Salazar has many secrets. He would make it difficult for other agents to take his work.”

“I guess.”

“And he might even hide knowledge from his leaders.”

“Probably. Until they force him. What do you have in mind?”

“And surely no servant would know all his schemes?”

“You better tell me what you're thinking, Diana.”

She finally looked him in the eye. It was a predatory thing. “You said he will run and and cover his plans, and thus will only be delayed some months.”

“If he's good.”

“He is the center of a great net. If he is not present to warn the many threads, no one else will, as we know he hides them jealousy. Without him, our forces could snip the exposed threads with ease, or they will break on their own. It will be chaos greater than any mere delay.”

“Look, we have no clue how his assets will react if he goes silent. Besides, there's no way to convince him to switch sides today, unless you're also a hypnotist.”

“I am not.”

“Then get your mind back on track. Please. We have to get out of here.”

They passed the dining room again. An attendant was bringing Salazar his hat and cane. Diana grew stiff, her steps even more agressive. Steve was struggling to keep pace. Diana spoke, almost philosophically. “He is a wicked man with no fear of justice. The world is poorer for him.”

Steve didn't respond to this. He had trouble understanding her at the best of times. He was busy making plans. He was nervous. He was scared. He was tired of keeping the mission straight. And doing the tango with Diana Prince in that dress was as distracting as a brick to the head.

They turned and saw Salazar crossing the ballroom, two soldiers trailing at a polite distance. Diana wouldn't take her eyes off of him. She was an animal. Steve realized in one chilling instant that their path would bring them within yards of the man. And her words finally rang with an unmistakable intent.

He held her close and begged. “Don't.”

She twisted away, keeping at full arm's length, barely holding his hand. He pulled her back and turned both of them toward another wall. Salazar was at ten paces. She stepped over his leading leg and crossed ahead of him, a move he hadn't taught her. Salazar was at eight paces. He turned again and reeled her in, her back against his chest, his hand on her waist, her hand on his neck.

He begged again. “Please.”

Salazar was at five paces. Diana leaned ahead. Steve pulled a little derringer pistol out of his jacket and pressed the cold metal against her lower back. Her lips parted, but she made no noise. Salazar crossed their path.

Most vital organs were protected by big bones and muscles. Diana might be indestructible, and Steve had no idea what munitions her strongest tissue could resist. The obvious rear target was the kidney. Its bottom half was exposed under the rib cage, shielded only by thin muscle and skin. It wasn't a large target, but it was large enough.

Diana made to step forward.

A soldier's job was to follow orders and shoot. Captain Steven Trevor wasn't the most disciplined soldier in the Army, nor the shrewdest. Yet he was sent alone on sensitive missions again and again because when the chips were down, Captain Trevor was very good at his job.

He used her momentum to lead her in a sudden twirl, then guided her down in a low dip. She looked up at him. He looked down at her. A bead of sweat dripped off his brow and landed on her lips.

He brought her up, then aimed past her and shot Carlos Salazar.
Author: Batman 1939
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LadyTevar
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby LadyTevar » 2017-01-12 04:44pm

WOW.

The way you turn their physical movements into the tango was inspired, and also sexy.

I don't think Waller will appreciate what happened, tho.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 06:19pm

LadyTevar wrote:WOW.

The way you turn their physical movements into the tango was inspired, and also sexy.

I don't think Waller will appreciate what happened, tho.


Well, you know what they say, "Batman 1939: come for the violence, stay for the jokes, come for the sexy."

Waller can be a bit of a grump.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-12 07:56pm

I'm rather relieved that Captain Trevor decided that he's a man first and an agent second.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 08:22pm

Simon_Jester wrote:I'm rather relieved that Captain Trevor decided that he's a man first and an agent second.


I'm not convinced he made the right play, but the poor guy was dealt an awfully bad hand before he even arrived.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-12 09:36pm

I'm not saying he was right by whatever metric someone else may have. I'm sure we can find someone out there to think he's wrong.

I'm saying I'm glad he made the decision he made, because he's right by my metric.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 09:41pm

Simon_Jester wrote:I'm not saying he was right by whatever metric someone else may have. I'm sure we can find someone out there to think he's wrong.

I'm saying I'm glad he made the decision he made, because he's right by my metric.


When you say he behaved like a man, what specifically do you mean my that, if you don't mind me asking?
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-12 10:04pm

That he's not going to shoot Diana in the back for thinking Salazar is better dead, and be damned to what Waller thinks.

This is not fundamentally an attribute of "a man" as such, compared to "an entity capable of looking itself in the mirror" in some abstract sense. But the simplicity of phrasing in saying "a man first and an agent second" appealed to me.

I thought about it for a minute, and I couldn't think of another way to say it that would be vaguely true to the pulp-ish mindframe within which I read Batman 1939, or another way that wouldn't be needlessly complicated.

Had the sexes been reversed, I'd have said "a woman first and an agent second" in much the same spirit.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 10:14pm

Simon_Jester wrote:That he's not going to shoot Diana in the back for thinking Salazar is better dead, and be damned to what Waller thinks.

This is not fundamentally an attribute of "a man" as such, compared to "an entity capable of looking itself in the mirror" in some abstract sense. But the simplicity of phrasing in saying "a man first and an agent second" appealed to me.

I thought about it for a minute, and I couldn't think of another way to say it that would be vaguely true to the pulp-ish mindframe within which I read Batman 1939, or another way that wouldn't be needlessly complicated.

Had the sexes been reversed, I'd have said "a woman first and an agent second" in much the same spirit.


Understood. I guess we'll see if his scruples are vindicated.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-12 10:18pm

I'm not saying he made an objectively correct choice, or a choice by the standards of anyone other than myself, and I will be totally unsurprised if all manner of disasters result from his actions.

I still won't disagree with his decision, though.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 10:24pm

Simon_Jester wrote:I'm not saying he made an objectively correct choice


Averaged together, no one in my stories has ever made an objectively correct choice.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-12 10:43pm

Er... do you mean that no one in your stories has always made an objectively correct choice?

Or that literally no decision made by any of your characters at any time has been objectively correct?
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-12 10:50pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Er... do you mean that no one in your stories has always made an objectively correct choice?

Or that literally no decision made by any of your characters at any time has been objectively correct?


Let's split the difference and say that everyone is frequently wrong.

...Except maybe Falcone.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby madd0ct0r » 2017-01-13 05:10pm

And Alfred.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-01-13 06:04pm

Alfred accidentally almost shot Batman, remember? ;)
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-13 06:52pm

madd0ct0r wrote:And Alfred.


It begs the question: to what extent is Alfred a dangerous enabler? Not to mention complicit in like a thousand felonies.

Of course, Alfred here has his own complicated past ... which you may never get to see
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-01-28 02:50am

ATTENTION ALL READERS, DO YOU LIKE TO DRAW?

Let me know if anyone is interested in drawing a cover for Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx. A fan volunteered one for the last novel and I think it turned out really nicely (it's also my avatar). I'd be super pleased to have another cover to match, and I can't draw.

There's no rush to decide. For what it's worth, I'll probably finish Swimming in the Styx in about two months, so if no verbal imagery in the first 100,000 words struck you as interesting, there's a few more chapters that might do the trick.

If anyone is interested, feel feel to post here or message me. Whatever works for you.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-02-09 08:57pm

Note: the following chapter contains sections with the GCPD that I've moved from earlier chapters. It should not impact the continuity of the story. I just thought it was better here.

Also, I realized while writing the last chapter and this one that the current section with Diana and Steve resembles the Dangers of Being Cold in a multitude of ways. For some of you, that might be a positive thing. Still, I need to stretch my plot-building muscles, and I feel this was a minor error in that exercise goal.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Postby Stewart M » 2017-02-09 08:58pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 17: Portents of the End​


Thanks to clever engineering, the muzzle energy in Captain Steven Trevor's concealed two-shot pistol rivaled a large hunting rifle, but no clever engineering could replace a rifle's stock, which allowed the rifleman to support the weapon with both hands and a shoulder. Instead, the pistol hardly had room for a trigger, and when Steve fired, it kicked into his palm with the recoil of a large hunting rifle. This broke his hand and sent the hot pistol flipping over his shoulder.

Curiously, when the noise cleared, Steve was the only injured party screaming, despite being the least wounded. Milliseconds after firing, the two bullets passed cleanly through Carlos Salazar's chest. He never made a conscious noise again. One of the bullets then went through the arm of an elderly lady who was sipping wine behind the mortally wounded Salazar. She gagged and coughed, and her glass shattered on the floor, but she never screamed. Meanwhile, the flying pistol struck a gentleman far behind Steve in the face. That man cursed and collapsed backward but didn't scream. Only Steve screamed.

At least until the crowd screamed. Crowds were shrewd at realizing when something was wrong, but they tended to be helpless at learning what. The echo of a single gunshot was too low and abrupt to cause a panic through the entire ballroom. Only those circled around the bloodshed began to react. These witnesses caused a ripple through the crowd, and it was slower than one might expect. But within a few moments, everyone was appropriately terrified.

Steve had expected to be shot dead. It would occur to him much later that losing his pistol probably saved his life. The two soldiers escorting Salazar were too surprised to react instantly, and by the time they turned on him, a convenient block of escaping dancers blocked their path. Steve realized he wasn't dead yet, so he grabbed Diana's wrist with his good hand to get her attention.

She watched him, still wide-eyed.

He brought himself to her ear and rasped in pain, “Don't d'nothin', 'kay? G'out!” He then shoved her as roughly as he could, and she was bewildered enough to let this propel her a few steps. The pair of soldiers finally crossed the distance and dogpiled Steve. He didn't put up much of a fight, mostly bleating whenever an errant limb smacked his broken hand.

Diana curled her fists. Her instinct was to rush in. He had put a gun to her back like her dream foretold a man would, and this sensation still split a cold streak over her spine. Here the murderous Man finally showed his colors. But instead he shot Salazar. Diana wasn't certain what had happened, but she made a snap decision to believe that Steve was still her dear friend. A strange, rash, violent friend who had pushed her away. Diana's trust in his intentions was just strong enough to restrain her titanic impulse to seize these presumptuous guards by their collars and toss them through an ice sculpture. Instead she watched as a third, fourth, and fifth soldier joined the pile.

Diana winced and turned. Carlos Salazar bleed to death in plain view on the dance floor. She realized that Steve had acted to protect her. He was making a sacrifice, rescuing them both from her own impetuousness. She had broken her oath of deference; that much was clear. He had always been adamant that she keep her divine capabilities hidden, and a normal woman had neither the strength nor the will to kill with empty hands. When her blood boiled, she tended to forget that. If she had taken the diplomat's life, it would have sparked a hostility that would ruin not only her immediate mission but her long-term prospects as an ambassador of peace. The Amazons believed many unflattering myths about Man's World, but even they wouldn't think men stupid enough to ignore the murder of a high official. She would be branded an outlaw and despised.

Likewise, she couldn't dig Steve out of his predicament now without risking the same exposure. Besides, Diana while was coolly confident that she could exit this room by force no matter the mortal obstacles, she couldn't guarantee Steve's safety. He was only a man.

Diana knew that Captain Trevor's half-lucid admonition was correct. For good or ill, he had played his part. Now she had to g'out.

Diana tried her best to stay inconspicuous as she followed the panicked masses to the exit. However, this was difficult with her being the one of the tallest people in the room and failing to lose her composure. Her efforts ultimately proved moot when the crowd was stopped at the entrance by a sudden line of guards and staff. Returning the guests to the ballroom would have been obscene, so they were ushered en masse into several parlors and bedrooms. Diana was stuffed into a room with fifteen strangers near the rear of the villa. There was only one door, blocked by a soldier, and no windows or other obvious paths.

Diana sat on a couch and tried to avoid eye contact. Surely, they would be released eventually. Many minutes later, an officious-looking soldier entered the room and escorted a man away. They eventually returned, and the soldiers took another man. Diana found this pattern concerned concerning. She just needed a minute alone to hide so she could start her hunt for Steve. Who knew what these uniformed thugs were doing to him?

When the soldier returned again, he approached Diana. This didn’t surprise her.

“Te llamas Elizabeth?”

“It is.”

“You come, si?”

It wasn’t much of a question. He led her through several hallways to a kitchen, then through a door to a spacious storeroom. The walls were unvarnished wood, dust floated in the air, and bags of grain and bushels of fruit were stacked to her shoulder. The escort stayed at the door. Another soldier, an officer by his medals and attitude, stood behind a pair of dining room chairs. The officer scrutinized her.

“You are una norteamericana? Only speaking English?”

“Yes, just English. Sorry.”

“I know small English. It must do. Sit.”

Diana sat. The officer sat in the other chair across from her. He pulled her invitation out of his jacket and inspected it.

“You are Elizabeth Byrne.”

“My friends call me Lizzie.”

The officer gave her a cool stare. “Forgive me. We are no friends, Elizabeth.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I am Teniente Primero Juan Perez, and I am leader of the assassin search. I must see if you are involved.”

“But you caught the man. There were a hundred witnesses, surely.”

“We have this man, John Gibbons, but I am no certain he worked alone.”

“Well I don’t know him.”

“Several people say you danced with the shooter for much of the party. Including the time of his attack.”

“How would they know me?”

“Ms. Byrne, you have remarkable, uh, cómo se dice … proportions.”

“I beg your pardon?”

The officer was unashamed. “You are easy to remember. And people remembered.”

“Fine, yes. He was a good dancer. That's all.”

“And also un norteamericano.”

“That’s right. Fine. It was nice to meet someone from home. It gave us something in common.”

“Ciertamente. And there are so few norteamericanos here.”

“But I just met him today. We’re both from America, but that doesn’t mean we knew each other. Do you think I would spend time with terrible murderers?”

Perez was blunt. “I can no say. I do no know you. But I know that one of my men says he found you and our shooter in another room of the villa. Alone.”

“Oh.” Diana blushed. “John said he wanted to show me something.”

“Ah. I’m sure he did. But then you, a young widow, go with him? Dios mio.”

“Well he didn't want to show me a gun.”

“You miss your late husband, yes?”

Diana was surprised by this change of topic. “We weren’t close.”

“No? Ah, pobrecita. I saw your husband once.”

Diana’s stomach dropped. “Really?”

The officer’s expression remained level. “Yes. Tell me, Elizabeth, what was his hair’s color?”

“His hair?”

“That is what I said. You lived far apart, I hear, but you must notice it at your wedding at least.”

“My husband was bald.”

“Hm.”

“But he had a little beard. It was black.”

“And his mother’s name?”

“Juanita.”

“And your wedding day?”

“April 8th. Six years ago.”

“Where?”

“Foredeck of the Southern Delight, anchored off Aruba.”

Perez looked past her, disappointed. “Hm.”

“Is that all?”

“Another question. Your accent. It is strange. It does no sound as inglés estadounidense. Where are you from?”

“It sounds like that because I grew up in … uh … uh … Idaho.”

“El estado de Idaho! Of course! Muy exótico.”

“May I go? I don’t like being stuck in the same building as a killer.” Diana shivered. “A killer who even held me. Oh, the shame. The disgust!”

“Do no worry, Elizabeth. This man has been taken far away.”

“What?”

“He is gone. He will no see outside a prison again. That must please you, yes?”

Diana forced a smile. “Oh … yes. So much. Thank you.”

“De nada. But you will stay in this villa until I am done. I may have questions more. Now go.”

Perez waved her away. Diana stood and followed her escort out the door. In the kitchen, another soldier was leading a guest to the storeroom. This guest was oddly familiar, and he didn’t take his eyes off Diana as she passed. She was almost out of the kitchen when he pointed at her and yelled something in Spanish. Diana’s escort stopped and asked the guest an irritated question. Diana tried to understand what was going on. Then she remembered: this was the man in the tuxedo who glimpsed her when she kicked the door off the bathroom. Her outfit had been different, but he clearly remembered her. Teniente Primero Perez was right: Diana had remarkable proportions.

For example, arm span.

Before the excited guest could answer, Diana reached across a counter and picked up a distant bread knife. In a quick motion, she turned and cut the strap on her escort’s hip holster. Diana grabbed the falling holster, backhanded his face, then threw the holster at the other guest's escort. The leather missile carried three pounds of metal and struck him in the ribs at the speed of a bush league fastball.

Teniente Primero Perez heard the commotion and stuck his head through the doorway in time to see Diana breaking through a window.

He found a ladle and rapidly smacked a hanging pan, yelling, “Guardias! A mi! A mi! Ella es escapando!”

In seconds, a line of soldiers ran into the kitchen, and Perez ordered them through a nearby door which opened out to the same yard where Diana had fled.

“Pero cuidado! Ella esta de Idaho!”

Out in the wide yard, Diana was pleased to learn that she could run in her red dress. The expensive fabric gently ripped as she accelerated barefoot over the grass. An occasional shot sped past her, too wide to worry about. Diana didn't bother to consider the cars parked in front of the villa. She hardly knew how to drive, and some cars required keys to start their ignition. Beyond the small hill of the yard was arid grassland out to the horizon. Diana reckoned that she could outrun a foot pursuit indefinitely if forced, but there was nowhere to hide nor landmarks to follow out in that wild land.

Instead, she turned and made for a long stable. Even in her brief stay in Argentina, it was obvious to Diana how the citizens were fond of horses. She was too. The running squad of soldiers had nearly lost sight of her when she enter the stables. They were nearly to the entrance when Wonder Woman burst out a side door on a chestnut racing colt, wearing some strange metal outfit instead of her party dress. The soldiers swiftly leveled their carbines and opened fire. A bullet struck the back of her breastplate and deflected. Another round traced to her chin, but her forearm was already there, and it ricocheted off her silvery cuff.

The Amazons hadn't known of saddles, so Wonder Woman had no trouble riding bareback. She might out-sprint a horse, but a top thoroughbred would get the better of her over a few kilometers. Also, riding was less tiring than running and gave her a platform to see ahead. She rode around the villa to the long driveway. At least the road would get her to a town eventually, and she recalled passing woods not far from the estate.

Hours later, four soldiers astride their own horses picked their way through a forest. They were following a trail of hoof prints, but the setting sun made their tracking difficult. Eventually, the group agreed the prints were too faint to see and turned around.

---​

That evening. Gotham City.

A burial ceremony was coming to an end in the Old Lundergrin Cemetery. Land was expensive in Gotham City, and the GCPD had invested in a hundred plots here nearly a century ago to hedge against inflation. Any officer who fell in the line of the duty had the right to be interred here, and roughly one in four were. Since then, seventy-two graves had been dug and filled. Now the undertakers filled the seventy-third. They called this place Blue Hill.

The minister, a sallow, ancient figure, recited psalms to the assembly as dirt was shoveled behind him.

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples; a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain; the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

A crowd of fifty circled the fresh grave, many in polished blue uniforms. All hats were held. All heads were bowed.

“Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’ So sayith the Book of Isaiah.”

Officer Francis Gilford had been young and popular. He was cop-from-cop, meaning his father and grandfather were police. People had said he was going places. Even joining Jim Gordon’s band of malcontents hadn’t dimmed his potential. And the poor kid left a wife behind. They weren’t quite newlyweds - that would have been too tragic for words – but the couple had only been married for two years. Much of the crowd had attended their wedding.

Gordon could see her from where he stood. He tried not to stare. The girl had enough witnesses to her grief. There was a small chance Mrs. Gilford hated him now. That was her right, of course, but the widow rarely took it out on the commander, even when she should. Gordon stared at his shoes and tried to listen to the minister. Once again, he felt the hot bile of guilt in his gut. He should have been there. It was Gordon’s own standing order that his crew would jump on any credible lead on the Bertinelli case without delay. But he was in court that day, just pure bad luck, giving a deposition on an unrelated larceny. But he should have been there. And now Officer Francis Gilford, that young man with so much potential, was cold and six feet under.

The bile jumped to his throat. Gordon coughed.

When the ceremony ended, Gordon waited for the knot of family and closer friends to move away, then he knelt beside the grave and placed a white lily. “Sorry kid.” He turned and headed down Blue Hill. Officer Danny McCoy called to him at the cemetery gate.

“Yo Sergeant.”

Gordon nodded. “Hello Danny.”

“Sergeant, hey, would you hold up a minute?” McCoy looked anxious. Gordon stopped.

“What can I do for you?”

“Listen, hey, I’ve been wanting to say something, but it hasn’t seemed the time, but I got to say it now. So I’m just going to put it out there.”

“What?”

“Sergeant, it’s been great with you, but listen, I just got to do it. Nothing personal. I’m no coward, you know, but I can’t take this.”

“Officer McCoy, what are you trying to say?”

McCoy clenched his eyes tight. “I’m resigning.” He opened his eyes. “I’m putting my papers in tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you first.”

Gordon was stunned. “Resigning? But Danny, you-“

“Sergeant Gordon, look, I know this isn’t the place to do this. I’m sorry. But I’ve been trying to work up the nerve, and I’m scared if I don’t say it now, I never will.”

“Why? But why?”

“Listen, I can't take it any more. They're after me. I can't so much as use the John without checking for some goon with a knife.”

“Who?”

“Look, I remember the Vendettas, Sarge. And I shot one of them.”

“Them?”

McCoy shuffled close. “The Bertinellis, Sarge. No mistaking those gats. Well, I shoots one of 'em. Pretty sure he's dead now. You remember what they used to do if you knocked off one of them? Back in the old days?” He held two fingers to his head like a pistol. “Pow! Never see it coming. Even in your own bed. And that's if they're friendly.”

Gordon tried to sound unimpressed. “Hey, we haven't seen any retaliation yet. Lord knows they've had the opportunity. I think they're lying low for now. It isn't the old days anymore.”

“Look, look, I know the deal. Yeah, we're working for something bigger than us. Yeah, yeah, I get it. But I just don't have the heart for it any more. I haven't, well, haven't slept in days. Got no appetite. Geez, Sarge, I almost shot my cat. Twice! I'm real sorry. I just got to get out of town, go somewhere they can't find me. Like the moon. I'll see ya at the office. If they don't get me first.”

And with that, Officer McCoy turned and slumped away.

Gordon watched him go. He was too tired to frown. He eventually went to find his car. There were a few tasks to finish at the precinct before he called it a night.

Later, he was signing papers in his office when he heard a knock at his door. Gordon should have recognized something was off when he first heard a hush cross the office floor, but his mind was on the paperwork. Gordon muttered, “Open.”

Someone stepped inside. Gordon glanced up then straightened with a start. “Sergeant Harrison!”

Sergeant Wallace Harrison was so old, his first sidearm was a bow and arrow. Harrison was so old, he broke labor strikes at the Great Pyramids. Harrison was so old, literally no one alive had seen him do a full day of work. He was a quiet institution of the GCPD, as constant as a mountain. There were many thousands of officers in the GCPD, but he seemed to know everyone over detective, and his memory for names was legendary. He had never been an especially competent cop, nor ambitious, nor all that ethical, but his sheer averageness was so quintessentially ‘police’ that it made him an icon. All this, combined with the facts that he stayed out of politics and any rivals were long retired, gave him a reputation as the Department’s great uncle.

Gordon would later recognize that it made sense for the brass to sent Sergeant Harrison to break the bad news. They weren’t stupid.

Harrison started his talk with that old man sucking noise that sounded prepared to either spit or burp. “Ho there, Jimmy.”

Gordon straightened his glasses. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Sir? These old eyes could be fleeced, but seems we got the same rank now, Jimmy. Ain’t that right?”

“I suppose, yes. Yes it is. How can I help you?”

“Welp, I’d take it kindly if you could bring your boys together. Got a matter that needs shared.”

“On it.” Gordon stood and clapped. “Hey, team! Round up here.” Pens dropped, phones were cradled, and two rows of chairs squeaked as the occupants hustled over. Unlike Harrison, Gordon was extremely competent, ambitious, and ethical, and his role in Gotham’s law enforcement had quickly grown from an oddity to a pariah to a bona fide faction. A small faction considering the competition, but nonetheless a movement with legs, a challenge that couldn’t be silenced without consequence. But they tried.

Harrison lifted a hand. “Alright, alright, gather round, boys. Sweetheart, why don’t you fetch us coffee.”

The last remark was directed at Officer Renee Montoya. The other officers tensed. Montoya was about to speak but Gordon beat her too it, “We’ve not much in a mood for coffee, if you don’t mind, Sergeant. And I’m sure Officer Montoya here is eager to hear the news.”

Harrison looked mildly taken aback, but he shrugged it off. “Captain Donnelly heard I was passing through and wanted me to tell you that your multiple requests to aid the investigation into that gunfight on 85th Street have all been denied.”

There were sounds of disbelief across the row. Montoya stood up. “You mean the shooting we were in?”

Harrison remained seated. “Look here, darling, your participation would be what us old-timers call a ‘conflict of interests’. Can’t let anyone who was involved or anyone on their team be on the case.”

“We-“

“Now don’t you worry your pretty lil’ head over it. By the way, the Captain also wants you lot to stop asking when you’ll be interviewed. Your statements at the scene are serving just fine, and he’ll visit if he needs more.”

Gordon asked, “He? You mean the Captain?”

“No. I mean Detective Pettigrew.”

Gordon looked like he had been slapped. “Pettigrew! That cross-eyed narcoleptic twit is on this investigation?”

“No, Pettigrew is the investigation.”

This caused a chain eruption of disbelief. Officer Smith threw his arms out. “So they put one detective on the case? Just one? For a multiple shooting in broad daylight that put cops in the dirt? One detective? What is this?”

Harrison made a sad nod and whispered, “... Ain’t straight.” Harrison had the moral integrity of a jellyfish, but the old cop was still a cop.

Gordon's team quickly wandered away, and Gordon was about to offer Sergeant Harrison a brisk walk to the door when Harrison rheumy eyes turned uncharacteristically serious and clear. He faced Gordon and folded his arms. “Look Jim, I’ve seen your boat before. Want my two cents?”

Gordon shrugged. “Sure.”

“You kids stuck your necks where they didn’t belong. No, don’t tell me why. Don’t much care why. Details mean diddly-squat. What matters is you crossed a line. And some good boys here got the short end of it for their trouble.” He shook a stern finger. “But you’re lucky. Most times, this would come back to eat all of you, one way or the other. The plain fact that that you lot are still wearing that badge is no small miracle. I see you're proud. You got big ideas. But be grateful you dodged what you did. Best toe the line now, hear? You let this go!” Harrison leaned back and sniffed. “Or next time they’ll fit you for a pine overcoat.”

Gordon watched him leave. He returned to his desk but did nothing for a minute except examine a pencil and think.

Gordon had contemplated for years about what specifically was wrong with his city. He suspected that Gotham's problem – well, one of its problems – was that Prohibition had broken the old game of cops and crooks. It gave the cops so many impossible demands, and the crooks so much leverage, that canny crooks and desperate cops had hammered out an unholy bargain, the so-called Peace of Falcone. It kept the city in stasis, each rotten side proping the other up at every turn. There was no fixing the streets until someone fixed the cops, and there was no fixing the cops until the Peace was gone.

Of course, Gordon knew the alternative to peace.

---​

The scummy pond of Gotham's back alleys was rich in curious and rare creatures who filled specialized niches in their unique ecosystem. One curious creature was Blind Henry. The man known to all as Blind Henry was born Henry Walter Mellon, and his life was remarkable in three ways: he practiced dentistry, he went blind, and then he practiced dentistry blind.

After an accident took his sight on his fiftieth birthday, Henry Mellon's dentistry license was revoked, and he despaired at finding work again. That is, until late one night a distant cousin visited and asked Henry to insert a dislodged tooth. Henry feared the harm his sightless fumbling might cause and refused, suggesting a colleague across town. But his cousin stayed and begged, and Henry, against his better judgment, agreed to give it a try.

A painstaking hour passed. Amazingly, the now-unlicensed dentist discovered that his keen sense of touch and decades of experience won the day. Henry expected that strange and stressful episode to be finished, but soon more patients began arriving on his doorstep after midnight, seeking all kinds of dental care and claiming to be friends of his cousin (these friends usually brought a companion to do the actual talking due to their jaw fractures and such). Henry hated to hear folks suffer, so he usually gave the poor souls a shot (or, when he made a mistake, several). In short order, he had developed a steady clientele.

Henry wasn't stupid. He typically saw that cousin's branch of the family in prison or wanted posters. It wasn't a challenge to guess what sort of “friends” might need a dentist who couldn't identify them on the witness stand later. And he was okay with that. Blind or not, Herny was a proud dentist. Everyone deserved healthy teeth, whatever their choices, and it was his duty to care for them. If blindness prevented him from treating lawful citizens, then so be it. And if his income happened to be double what he received at his old licensed practice, well, a professional ought to be rewarded for a good job. And if reports of purse-snatchers and petty burglars on his block soon fell to zero, who was he to complain?

Most of Blind Henry's patients didn't schedule appointments. This was fine; he charged them a hefty walk-in fee. But John Doe always called ahead. Henry liked John. He liked the man's obvious refusal to put any energy into a pseudonym. Too many folks hemmed-and-hawed about their disguises, thinking up ridiculous things, but John understood the whole point of the service and didn't play games.

John stopped by every few months to fix some trauma. He arrived at his first appointment already sporting several fake teeth, and Henry helped him order and install more as the need arose. John claimed to be a boxer, and maybe that was true. Henry didn't care.

The bell on Henry's door rang. As usual, John was right on time. His dental suite was set up in his basement, and entrants had to descend a short staircase just around his back door. He didn't have a receptionist.

“Hello, Henry.”

“Well, well. Mr. John Doe. Haven’t seen you around.”

“Ha.”

“What's new? Got a cavity?”

“Not quite. Remember when I said I was training for a big exhibition match?”

“Uh-huh?”

“I got the worst of it a few nights ago.”

“Uh-huh. Let me guess. Lost a tooth?”

“A few.”

“Johnny, you shouldn’t wait so long to see a dentist if you lose teeth. I can't always get them back in.”

“You couldn’t anyway. I don’t have 'em.”

“Oh. So when you say you lost them, you…”

“Really lost them.”

“Must have taken a serious whack.”

“You could say that.”

“Bet it hurt something fierce.”

“Wasn’t bad. They were all fakes already.”

“I imagine you’re here for some replacements, then.”

“If you’re not too busy. And a cleaning while we're at it.”

“Well, I'll feel out what you need then get some pearlies from your reserve. You know my rates.”

Bruce put a hand on Henry’s arm and handed him a few bills. Henry rubbed each greenback between his fingers with a look of concentration. Then he smiled. “Yep. This’ll do it.”

John whistled. “That trick never ceases to amaze me.”

Henry grinned as he put the cash in a shoebox. “Better pay attention. Next time you climb the canvas, some fella might knock you blind, then you'll need it.”

“If I'm blind, at least I can always be a dentist.”

“Ah, but this job takes book-learning. Can you handle books, John?”

“I don’t know, Henry. I’ve never been much for book-learning.”

“Few too many blows to the head?”

“That’s part of it.”

“Well, it's even tougher reading blind. And you have to pay through the nose for books in braille. That's if they even have them.”

“I see.”

“Ha. What a knee-slapper.” Blind Henry picked up a big dental pick. “Get in the chair, Buster Keaton.”

---​

That night.

Officer Renee Montoya was dressed as forgettably as she could in an old brown coat and plain hat. She used a bus stop three blocks further than necessary, walking much of the way down Dog Road to its venerable First United Methodist Church. Renee doubted any parishioner of the First United Methodist had seen a Dominican in their church, and she wasn't eager to be the first. She kept her head down and her hat low. There were no services at this hour, but even passing her on the street, it was clear Renee wasn't from the neighborhood. This certainly wasn't the only time she felt uncomfortable in her skin, but it was the only time she let it bother her. There was far more at stake than her own comfort and safety. For the sake of her Brothers, she couldn't afford to be noticed.

Renee slipped inside the church's empty vestibule. The lights were on, and she could hear a choir practicing in the worship hall. Renee didn't join them. Instead, she found a secluded staircase to a dank basement. She used a lighter to guide her way to a broom closet at the end. Renee entered and shut the door behind her. The floor here hid a trapdoor, but Renee knew where to spot the handle. Below the closet was a ladder that led to a cramped tunnel.

Down the curving tunnel, Renee found several other tunnels join hers, all combining toward the same path. Finally, she reached a heavy door. Renee knocked with a complicated five-strike beat. A small slot opened, revealing light that was quickly covered by a pair of eyes.

“Dublin trail,” said Renee.

The slot closed. Several locks and latches were undone, and the door swung open. Renee closed her lighter and entered. It was a small room lit by a propane lamp hanging from the ceiling. The husky doorman eyed her. His face was covered with a bandana, and he was armed.

The doorman said, “Good to see you, Renee.”

She smiled and took off her hat. “Hey, Clarence.”

The doorman took her hat and coat and led her through another heavy door which he unlocked with a key from around his neck. It led to a larger space, about as large as a classroom, with enough chairs in rows to seat twenty. However, there were only eight people present, including one standing behind an old lectern at the front.

This leader nodded at her. “Hey there, Montoya.”

Renee nodded back and took a seat, “Hey, Sergeant Gordon.”

James Gordon faced his audience and tapped his knuckles on the lectern. “We have plenty to discuss, so I call this meeting of the Dog Road Chapter of the Brothers of the Shield to order.”

Gotham was built on myths. The city loved urban legends like Milan loved fashion or Paris loved riots. Gordon once regarded the city's myths as a defect. Only lately had he seen the use. Myths, at their heart, were shared lessons. They were examples to follow in a world that so often failed to provide real role models. Myths were catalysts. Like in the old folk tale of the stone soup, when a traveler made a stingy town generous with nothing but a story and a pebble. Gordon already had the stones, and a year ago he found his story.

The myth was called the Brothers of the Shield. It was known only to cops and only to a few. It was said to be an ancient and secret order resurrected whenever Gotham police were at their worst. Gotham City predated America, so it was anyone's guess when the Brothers were actually founded. There were no records; the legend could only pass by word of mouth. For all Gordon knew, Bullock had invented it from scratch last year.

They had a very good reason for the secrecy. Gotham's police weren't individually more corrupt or brutal than other agencies. The GCPD's claim to infamy was its radically tribal attitude, suspicious of strangers and spiteful to critics. All police were clannish by nature, but Gotham's Finest were in a league shared only with dictatorships and cults. Visitors were stunned by how quickly brass and the rank and file could come together to eviscerate muckrakers. And Heaven help whistleblowers. So Gotham's otherwise regular police had no checks and balances, and all their little sins piled together into something far worse than the sum of its parts. Historically, the corruption tended to sputter to an ugly wreck every thirty years or so. Then something shocked the system back into alignment – an angry new mayor or mass retirement. And rumor had it that every shock tended to be sparked by the hidden machinations of the Brothers of the Shield. Naturally, each generation's cop establishment was hostile to even a rumor of mythic reformers in the habit of knocking them over.

So Gordon had co-founded the latest edition of the Brothers with the cop he trusted most, Harvey Bullock, his old partner from the Skeleton Crew, that gang of has-beens and dead-enders that served as the only law in the Narrows. The pair agreed that the Famlies needed to be taken down, but the Familes had taken down Bullock first.

That should have been the spark. Police looked after their own, and when a gang of gunmen armed with .31 Hargraves entered a deadly firefight with a squad of boys in blue, it should have caused a wildfire accross the Department, but it didn't. Gordon's name was so dirty in the GCPD that casualities in his team were evidently considered acceptable losses. Something to be negotiated. Even Gordon hadn't expected the brass to stoop so low.

But, as Gordon explained in his opening statement at the lectern, that was the reality they faced. A large police department was a business, an army, a fraternity, and a lobbying firm. And in Gotham, the Families had their claws in each facet. The whole force from the commissioner down was compromised. Taking every sort of payoff and protection. Avoiding certain buildings, avoiding certain questions, certain cases, certain suspects. Telling enough lies in the mirror and on the stand to float a cruise ship.

While this state of affairs might sound rotten to the core, Gordon still believed the GCPD had a core. Something they would not stand for. The Brothers of the Shield just had to find it. And if their order lacked motivation before, several Brothers had been gunned down by those dirtbags. Now it was personal.

---​

Three days later.

Diana traveled through six towns before she found a public phone that took international calls to the United States. She spent the better part of a morning haggaling with several operators to let her call collect. Eventually she gave up, visisted a construction site across town, and without saying a word, carried a few hundred cement blocks up a tower during lunch, took some pesos from the baffled foreman, and purchased the call.

Amanda Waller had given Diana and Captain Trevor instructions on how to handle several epsionage emergencies, including a number to reach if they were stuck in South America.

It took five minutes to patch through the many networks between the Argentine countryside and Washington DC, not including the several decoy operators it seemed screened all of Waller's calls. The call was picked up on the seventh ring.

“Waller.”

“Miss Waller, it is Diana. I need your assistance.”

There was silence on the line for a moment. When her voice returned, it was full of carefully-supressed anger. “Do you want to tell me why I see the saw the assassination of Carlos Salazar in the papers yesterday?”

“Yes! That was Steve's act.”

“What? Hand that boy the phone.”

“I cannot! He has been arrested. I beg you, help me find where they have taken him.”

There was another silence on the line. “Why don't you start from the beginning?”

“We found Carlos Salazar at the dance. I wished to quesiton him and-”

“Did Captain Trevor agree to your idea?”

“He ... eventually!”

“Uh-huh.”

“We found Salazar alone and caught him. Then I made him reveal his identity and mission.”

“And how exactly did you do that?”

“I ... force. I used force to cower him.”

There was more silence on the line. Waller's voice came back oddly muted. “I see. Very well. What did he say?”

“I ... can only suggest. Captain Trevor spoke with Salazar at length, but did not have time to repeat him in full. Salazar is not Der Wehrwolf, but works for the same army, the Abwehr.”

“Oh?”

“Salazar competed with Der Wehrwolf, whom he expects is somewhere in East America. They oppose each other greatly.”

“Really? That's what he said? And you're this confident he was truthful?”

“I am certain. When I learn the truth, there is no mistake.” Diana briefly thought of the Batman but repressed the memory. “I learned he is a Nazi with a hand in many cruel Nazi acts.”

“What acts?”

“Many! Spying. Destruction. Aiding rebellions. Steve heard more. Sadly, Salazar was freed from us, so I sought to kill him before he could escape. Steve tried …” Diana's voice caught. She said nothing and held the receiver stiffly down.

Waller's modulated voice squaked through the speaker. “Did what? What do you mean?”

Finally, Diana continued. “He was carrying a gun. He fired on Salazar for me, then was overwhelmed by the guards. He wished me to stand aside lest I implicate the two of us. So I did not touch his captors. Instead I escaped.”

“And you got away quietly?”

“No, I was chased with great vigor, but I eluded them on horseback.”

“Horseback.”

“Yes. And I've been moving elusively since.”

Diana could hear Waller rubbing her forehead. Finally, Waller said, “A search for Captain Trevor takes time. For now, get back to the States. We can talk more in person. But their police will be watching borders and airports, and they'll probably pass around a sketch of you soon if they haven't already, so you'll have to be careful. Head to a major port. Every dockyard will have English speakers. Find a small tramp steamer leaving the country soon. The US would be great, but we can pick you up from Mexico or the Caribbean. Do what you have to do to get on board. Just remember one thing.”

“Yes?”

“Whatever you find, call me first! Tell me the ship, its destination, and when it plans to depart. Ideally a day before. Can you do that?”

“Yes.”

“Good. And good luck. You better get going.”

“Okay!”

“Oh, Diana?”

“Yes?”

“One last question. You've said you've been away from your home less than a year, never heard from the outside world before that, and you've only visited America. Why exactly do you hate the Nazis?”

Diana paused, sounding like she was suprised to hear such a simple quesiton, “They are the scourge of the world. We must cast them down.”

“Right. Just curious.”

---​

Many moons ago.

Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira sat playing the lyre late into the night on the terrace of her bedchamber. After many sour attempts at a difficult chord progression, she stopped to watch the moonlight on the lapping waves far below. The round terrace was the highest point of her royal palace; the Queen could see across her domain in any direction. Her people had never been inclined to hide nature with walls and roofs. Their cities were festooned with balconies, courtyards, porticos, and windows of every size to take in Themyscira's beauty and enjoy its gentle climate.

When she had rested, the Queen returned to her music with a new focus and worked through the chords on her first try. She smiled lightly, played it again at speed, and continued with the haunting piece. A dove fluttered onto the balustrade rail. She watched it as she played. It didn't preen or hop away as birds did but seemed to eye her keenly. Queen Hippolyta watched amused until she plucked another false note and looked down at her instrument.

A large shadow covered her, and the bitter scent of bronze and sweat wafted across the terrace.

Queen Hippolyta turned. "Great Hera!"

"I'll tell mother you think so."

A giant stood behind her, ten feet tall and clad in gilded armor. His sharp features and coal eyes held a steady and enormous passion. The giant looked down at her with interest. "Hippolyta of Themyscira, Forsaken Queen of the Exiled Amazons." He offered a short nod as courtly as one could hope from a warlord and as humble as one could hope from a god. "Fair greetings."

She stared flatly up at him. "Ares."

Ares stepped around so he no longer cast a shadow on her. Though the terrace was large enough to host a small party, he circled it halfway in three steps. All to see her more clearly, the Queen noticed. She wore a diaphanous sleeping dress that draped across the floor and her long curling tresses lay unpinned over her shoulders. He seemed to approve.

"My dear, beauteous Hippolyta, still as ravishing after all these years."

Many Olympians and their kin would eye a queen in her nightwear as a juicy prize - or worse - but Queen Hippolyta didn't worry. His complements were idle talk. She knew Ares' lusts were never for beauty.

(Except for Aphrodite, of course, but if ever an exception proved a rule ...)

The Queen raised her brow with impatience. "A dove, Ares?"

"I'm in an ironic temper today. Blame Dionysus."

Queen Hippolyta didn't know whether to take his excuse literally or poetically. She put down her lyre. "Why did you come here?"

Ares casually planted his foot on her marble balustrade and looked over her island. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

"I thank the Fates Themyscira hasn't offered cause for your attention."

"Ha! You are a peaceful little flock. I've often wondered why you even bother with your vaunted forts and towers and tournaments. Compared to the rest of the world, I'd say you're practically Switzerland."

"Who is this Switzerland?"

Ares shook his head and paced back around her. "My dear, for such advocates of wisdom, you must venture out more."

"We're content here, Ares. Reminding me of Man's savagery is weak enticement to travel. You'll have to slake your thirst elsewhere. And our warriors have been busy here."

"Yes, yes, the mighty Amazons: guardians of this mortal realm, scourge of the Plutonian hordes. How many of you have shed blood this year? This decade? Your legions have hardly seen a skirmish."

"And I pray that may continue for decades to come."

For the first time, Ares' smile dropped to a less-pleasant sneer. "Pitiful."

"Why have you come, Ares?"

"I come bearing prophecy, Hippolyta of the Amazons."

"I didn't know that was among your gifts."

"When there are storms on the horizon, it is."

"Very well. I beseech you speak your message, Lord Ares."

"All the mortal world is engaged in a vast war, and soon your island's isolation will no longer exclude you from its flames. There are hosts on the march whose cruelty and ambition exceed even your biases against them. Extinction rides forth, valiant Amazon, and it casts a long shadow before it. You may ready arms and join this war, but it will be a great sacrifice for you and those you hold dear. And they may yet sacrifice in vain."

She stared hard in his eyes as she mulled these words. "So simple? I thought prophets were supposed to be cryptic."

"I loathe to twist words. The raw truth serves my aims just as well."

"And why should I believe you?"

"I care not either way. Take up the sword, or hide in paradise until your own shores are besieged. The second road will be more costly in flesh, but the first might let us witness a long and contentious campaign. Both please me."

"You dismiss our defenses. The Amazons can stave off a phalanx a hundred ranks deep. No army will pass our beaches."

Ares sighed. The sigh of a god was a mighty event. "My dear girl. I almost wish to agree just to let you feel the barb of your hubris. You are clearly too ignorant to know even the stratagems that might add glory to your doom. But I am the god of war, not the god of slaughter. Heed then this vision, that you may act to dignify your fate."

He made a sweeping gesture, and a rush of thunderheads rolled in front of the moon. Themyscira's night sky faded into an orange dawn. Queen Hippolyta saw a long line of ships on the horizon, but these were imaginary vessels - hundreds of feet long and lacking sails or oars. Smaller ships sped towards the shore at an unnerving pace. She saw ranks of Amazons girded in armor along battlements and hilltops above the beach. Grey soldiers - men - hustled through the surf, twenty or thirty at a time. Many fell to the constant rain of arrows and incendiary shells. The few who reached cover struck back with stick weapons that spat bulbs of fire. There was a terrible thunderclap from one of the distant ships, and a square of archers disappeared in a flash of light. There was another thunderclap, and a nearby tower of her palace collapsed, its marble turned to dust.

A host of Hippolyta's swift cavalry bearing swords and lances galloped along the beach to flank one wing of the amphibious infantry. But a great silver bird dived out of the clouds with a tooth-shaking shriek. Lines of dust whorls stitched across the sand. The twin streaks met the mounted host and three riders crashed. Women and horses were rent open; even from a distance, the Queen could see smears of dark red. Further inland, a company of Amazons ran down a road to reinforce the frontlines. Another silver bird crossed far overhead. Two round shapes fell out of its innards like rotting fruit from a tree, and the advancing company was consumed in a sudden inferno. Queen Hippolyta was too far away to hear the screams, but she was near enough to see the writhing.

Hippolyta flinched. "Stop! I beg you stop!"

Ares lowered his hand, and the soldiers and ships and smoke disappeared. The black clouds rolled away to let out the moon, and the orange light of morning faded into night. "It is a brave new world, Queen of the Amazons."

Queen Hippolyta put a hand to her chest and realized her heart was racing. She hadn't felt this way in many years. "Is this- Does this- Is your vision a promise of the future, Ares, or-?"

"Even I cannot say. It is a possible future, yes. Perhaps the only one, perhaps one of many. The only way to know is to live it."

"How do I start? Even if we should venture out, how do I know which factions to seek accords and which to fight?"

"You will soon have a message from the sky. It will guide you to your path. Send out a champion to study the ways and actors of this age. Then you might stand a chance."

"When will this come to pass?"

"Goodbye, Queen Hippolyta."

She stood and reached for him. "Wait!"

Ares folded into a dove and flew away. Queen Hippolyta watched in despair. The night on Themyscira suddenly felt cold.

There was a violent knock on her bedchamber door. She harnessed her composure and went down from the terrace. "Yes?"

A palace runner nearly broke through the door. "My Queen, urgent word from the coastal sentries!"

The Queen's breath caught in her throat. Her heart skipped a beat. "Of what sort?"

"The spotters from the Sappho Cove tower swear a great silver bird has fallen into the sea!"
Author: Batman 1939
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