Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mirror, Mirror (Part 1 of 8)

It was dark, but the dim lighting did allow one to make out the surroundings. Here and there lights illuminated specific areas or pieces of equipment. Near one such light, a large, brooding figure sat at a computer console, thoughtfully staring at a picture of Aladdin, Gotham's most notorious crime boss and believed to be the main leader of the Mujahideen.

Aladdin claimed credit and was assumed to be responsible for an attack on the Gotham Towers, resulting in the collapse of those two buildings plus another skyscraper in the Gotham Trade Center. The extensive damage at the Gotham Trade Center resulted in the deaths of over three thousand of Gotham's citizens. Other operations of Aladdin struck other targets on that same day several years ago, prompting Gotham's mayor to declare a War on Crime, and elevating Aladdin to a prominent place on the Ten Most Wanted list at the Gotham Bureau of Investigation.

Currently, Gotham's law enforcement agencies and their allies were battling Aladdin's men (for the most part, Aladdin's criminal organization discriminated against women), mostly in the eastern part of the Gotham Metropolitan Area; that area was considered the main front in the War on Crime, and Gotham's law enforcement agencies, especially the Gotham Police Department, were definitely showing signs of strain after so many years of such a fierce battle against Aladdin's Mujahideen, a requirement that was placed on the GPD and other agencies in addition to their other, regular duties.

Back in the shadows, quite a distance across the cavernous interior of the facility, a smallish shadow moved almost noiselessly across the floor -- almost noiselessly, but not quite. It moved seemingly randomly, as if exploring now this piece of equipment, now that dark corner. The shadow was searching for something, but seemed unsure for what.

The large brooding figure heard the faintest of noises from the depths of the shadows behind him and to his right, and imperceptibly glanced in a mirror to one side, surveying what was there. Not seeing anything, he turned and looked into the darkness. It moved again, and this time he saw the shadow fairly distinctly. He made a mental note to mention it to Mr. Fox the next time they saw each other, and, satisfied, turned back toward the picture of Aladdin and the computer console, and continued to pensively brood.

Behind the brooding figure Alfred was entering the area from a staircase. The staircase was one of several entrances to the Batcave, most of which had their origin in a secret location in the enormous interior of Wayne Manor. He arrived just in time to notice the shadow and the figure's response to its movement. He was thankful, because he needed to disturb the figure, but hadn't wanted to do so; the shadow disturbed the figure for Alfred.

Sensing Alfred's arrival behind him and to his left, the figure was the first to speak.

"What's on your mind, Alfred?"

"I might ask you the same thing, sir."

"Just thinking...."

Alfred frowned; Bruce Wayne seemed to be spending more time in the Batcave lately. Alfred felt his boss needed to get out more, enjoy the company of others, and perhaps even enjoy himself some.

"Dr. Villanova called, sir. She said she'd be delighted to accept your invitation for a late dinner this evening."

"That's terrific!" the figure enthusiastically responded.

Then the figure paused, and looked into the mirror again. Alfred could make out a very puzzled look on his face, as the figure turned around to face Alfred.

"Wait a minute," he began. "I didn't invite Sandra to dinner."

"I took the liberty, sir. I thought you could use a break from the Batcave."

Bruce Wayne scowled. Dr. Villanova -- Sandra, as he called her -- was a professor at Gotham University. With an extensive background in law and psychology, she was very well-respected, but she was somewhat of a maverick, not really seeking to fit in to Gotham's social elite. Never having been married, she was thought by many to be married to her work. She and Bruce Wayne were friends, and that fact was known in Gotham's social circles; what was not known was whether the relationship ended there. Bruce Wayne was considered Gotham's most eligible bachelor, but had a reputation as a bit of a playboy, and seemed to many to be a shallow one at that. Many wondered what such a profound intellectual as Dr. Villanova could possibly see in Bruce Wayne. However, Dr. Villanova was a classic beauty, and, for his part, Bruce Wayne was considered by the tabloids and gossip columnists to be one of the most handsome men in Gotham City, and speculation about the nature of their relationship prompted many men in Gotham's social circles to elbow each other and wink when they saw Bruce Wayne and Dr. Sandra Villanova together.

"What time?"

"I suggest you leave now, sir. I myself will be turning in early, tonight."

"Well, who's going to be driving me, then?"

"Sasha will be driving you and serving as your bodyguard tonight."

"Bodyguard? I don't need any bodyguard," the brooding figure protested. "Who's Sasha?"

"Sasha was assigned by Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox feels your personal security could stand some enhancement, all things considered."

Resigning himself to the judgement of the two people he trusted most in the world, Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, Wayne nodded. "Okay, I guess I'll meet him soon enough."

"'Her', sir," Alfred corrected, "'meet her soon enough.' Sasha is a young lady."

Wayne looked at Alfred.

"Sasha is a crackshot with a 9mm, is very adept in kick-boxing, and holds a belt in Judo," Alfred explained. "She makes an excellent first impression," he added.

Intrigued, Wayne hopped down from his stool at the computer console.

"Well, I guess I'd better get going."

It was dark, but the little bit of light that leaked in from outside just allowed him to make out his surroundings. The alarm was set; he had to key in the code, close the door again, then reactivate the alarm. That done, he turned and looked into his living room. His large reddish dog sleepily greeted him. That done, the dog went back to his spot near the coffee table, and went back to sleep.

The alarm and the dog made him feel comfortable about coming home. With the alarm working, and his dog happily sleeping, he knew his home and his wife were safe. Hopefully, both the dog and his wife would be sound asleep; it had been a long day (in fact, it had been a long several days) and he wanted to be alone for a while.

He took off his shoes, walked over to the bar, poured himself a glass of Scotch, then walked over to the bay windows. From the darkness of his living room, he could see outside fairly well, since it was not as dark outside due to the reflected light from streetlights and the lights of neighboring houses. Things inside, but near the window, could be seen; for example, he could see the reflection of his face fairly well in the window from close enough away. From the relative light outside, even though it was faint, it would have been hard to see inside into the darkness. For the same reason that it was easier to see outside than inside, it was easier for someone farther inside the house to see him near the window than it was for him to see someone in the dark depths of his house; although, feeling safe, he was not looking. Had he really looked, he might have noticed that his sleeping dog was not the only one keeping him company inside: above his living room, high up in the vaulted ceiling, there was a place where the recreation room overlooked the living room. Up in the recreation room, from far back in the shadows, a dark figure, dressed in flowing black, regarded Special Agent Nicholas Kyle of the Gotham Bureau of Investigation, and wondered what he was thinking about as he drank his Scotch and looked out his bay windows.

Bruce Wayne walked out to the car that was waiting for him. There, by the door of the car, stood Wayne's new bodyguard, ready to drive him into Gotham City.

"Good evening, Mr. Wayne," she said. Wayne noticed a slight accent as she continued. "How are you?"

"Fine. How are you doing? Nice to meet you," Wayne held out his hand. "You must be Sasha," Wayne said, momentarily studying her: mid-to-late twenties, shoulder-length brownish hair, green eyes -- or, were they blue? -- medium height, athletic and slim. Very attractive, Wayne thought, immediately putting such thoughts out of his mind: he was very strict about how he looked at and even thought about employees.

"Sasha Bordeaux," she said, shaking Bruce Wayne's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you." Sasha opened the door for him, and Wayne got in the back of the limousine. Sasha closed the door behind him, then went around the vehicle and got in the driver's seat, sat down and closed the door.

"You know where we're going?" Wayne asked questioningly.

"Yes," Sasha answered, as the limousine pulled away from Wayne Manor.

That was good, Wayne thought, because he had no idea. It was his date that Alfred had made for him; Alfred had made all the arrangements, and everybody seemed to know what was happening on Bruce Wayne's dinner date except for Bruce Wayne!

Wayne looked out the window silently, as Sasha glanced back at him in the mirror. Bruce Wayne was every bit as attractive as she had imagined: tall, muscular and athletic, yet not excessively muscle-bound like many body-builders -- Sasha admired body-builders, but did not find them attractive. No, physically Bruce Wayne was exactly the kind of man she would be interested in -- not like her ex-husband, she thought disgustedly. The only thing she would have been concerned about was whether Bruce Wayne, for his wealth, might feel somehow better than those around him; specifically, how he would treat women. Sasha knew that Bruce Wayne had a reputation for treating his employees well; very well, in fact, and that reputation seemed to be deserved. He also supported Gotham's charities, and not just the Wayne Foundation. But, Bruce Wayne also had a reputation as a shallow playboy, and it was possible that, socially, women were to him merely playthings.

Still, she thought, as the limousine pulled out onto the Interstate highway, Bruce Wayne can't be as bad as her ex-husband. He was middle-aged, overweight, poorly-groomed and had bad breath. All of that could have been overlooked or easily fixed, if only he had treated her nicely. She wasn't asking to be treated like a queen; only to be treated like a person. But, Mr. Bordeaux, a successful engineer, had no idea how to treat people; they just didn't fit into his equations. He was not attractive physically, nor was he attractive as a person. To be sure, he was funny and charming as she was getting to know him on-line. But, when she agreed to leave her country and come to Gotham City to marry him, he changed from the moment she got off the plane. Reasonably well-to-do, he seemed to feel he was entitled to something better in his social life than whatever he had at the moment -- and that was usually very little. Sasha had come to understand that he had been picked on in high school, since he was rather nerdish. His social life in college wasn't much better, and for six long years he studied engineering, usually doing quite well. He could have graduated in four years, but stayed on an extra two, in part to master a couple of classes that he had had difficulties with, but mostly to take several additional courses that he found very interesting. As a result of that, when he finally graduated, his academic preparation and credentials were excellent, especially for Gotham City, where so many of the college graduates majored in business-related fields, and engineers had to be imported. Once established in his career, George Bordeaux felt like the world owed him something in his private life, in his social life, in his romantic life. George Bordeaux felt like he was finally getting what he had coming when he saw what a beautiful young fiancee he had, as Sasha got off the plane, and that feeling was what caused the problems: he never appreciated her, and it went downhill from there.

Pulling off the Interstate, Sasha again glanced in the mirror at Bruce Wayne. No, she thought, Bruce Wayne can't be that bad!

Sasha leaned over a little, and glanced at herself in the mirror. Despite what she had been through, not all of which was bad, she was still attractive and fairly young. She was an employee of Wayne Enterprises, she was athletic and in good shape, learning computers in her free time; her ex-husband had finally gotten the message, granted her a divorce and left her alone; all-in-all, things actually were going pretty well, and her future was brighter than ever.

Why, then, did she feel so empty inside?

For a moment, she almost wanted to cry, but had no time for that, as the limousine was approaching one of Gotham's finer restaurants, and she had to pay attention to getting Bruce Wayne inside safely.

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