Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vasilissa the Beauty (Part 3 of 12)

"Mr. Wayne, are you okay?"


Bruce Wayne looked up. He tried to focus on where he was. He could see Lucius Fox, the president of Wayne Enterprises, and Sasha Bordeaux, his recently-assigned body guard, looking down at him.

"I'm fine," he answered. "I'm okay." He paused, then looked at Sasha. "Nice move. Where did you learn that?"

"I hold a belt in judo. Didn't you know?"

"I told you she would be a good workout partner, Bruce." Fox smiled, offering his hand to help Wayne up.

"Thanks," Wayne smiled back. Wayne got up, then stood there, looking at Sasha for a moment.

"Alfred and I both find her quite impressive," Fox said significantly.

Wayne studied Sasha for a long moment.

It made Sasha uncomfortable, reminding her of things that had happened to people she knew, and almost to herself, as well. She thought in particular about one person she knew, but shook those thoughts off -- Sasha was here at work at Wayne Enterprises, and though she did not really know Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox that well, she felt that it was just a matter of time before she would consider them friends.

Friends, she thought. How casually that term gets tossed around in America. In her own country, there were several words that conveyed the meaning of what Americans meant when they called someone a "friend". True, Americans also had the word "acquaintance" and often used that as well. Beyond that, there were friends that you might go out and have fun with, and then there were friends that you knew you could count on, friends who would be there for you no matter what, friends who would risk everything for you if necessary -- these were true friends, and in Sasha's language, there was a special word for that. This meaning was only approached in the English expression that "A friend in need is a friend indeed." She hadn't ever really even gone out and had fun with either Bruce Wayne or Lucius Fox -- although she had been out with Bruce Wayne, but that was on duty, as his bodyguard -- yet she felt that Wayne and Fox were both the kind of person who could become that kind of close, personal friend that she thought of when she used that special word in her own language.

That is, she thought, to the extent that men and women could be friends -- that was not always easy. She smiled as she thought of Bruce Wayne.

"Sasha, go ahead and hit the showers, then report to Lucius when you're done."

Sasha nodded and left -- something was up, and this felt like it was moving in the right direction.

As she was heading to the door, Wayne and Fox slowly started walking behind her.

"What do you think about giving her access to the lower level of the panic room at Wayne Manor?" Wayne asked.

"The Batcave?"

Wayne shot him a glance.

"Sorry, Bruce, but that's what everybody calls it." Fox smiled. "The first time I sent people downstairs to begin work down there, the place was full of bats. They nicknamed it 'The Batcave', and that's what they've called it ever since." He lowered his voice conspiratorially, and leaned over to Wayne, adding, "It has nothing to do with you."

She looked down at the stack of old letters. She was almost done. She picked up the next one, and began to read it, occasionally jotting something down in a small notebook.

The letters were old, but what they contained was news to her -- news about her half-sister.

Half an hour later, she was done. She carefully put the letters away as she had found them, then hurried to the telephone and dialed a number.

"Hello. I need to book a first class seat on the next flight out of here," she hurriedly said. "I don't care where it is going, as long as it is a major airport somewhere." She paused again. "Yes, that will be fine. I can arrange the rest of my journey later, but I must leave as soon as possible." She paused again, listening. "Tomorrow morning at nine will be fine."

Holding the phone, she looked out the window into the darkness. It was already well after midnight; her flight would be only a few hours away now. Gazing into the night, she recalled a similar night several years ago, when a tall American had been in a remote Asian village.

Shaking off her memories, she answered the voice on the telephone. "Yes, of course. The name is Talia al Ghul."

Showered and changed, Bruce Wayne was in his office, looking out the window at Gotham City, deep in thought.

Hearing the door open behind him, he turned and saw Mrs. Jones come in with some files, closing the door behind her. He looked down at his email, stared at the computer screen for a moment, then looked up.

"Mrs. Jones, would you please have Mr. Nygma come up?"

"He's already waiting outside, Mr. Wayne. Ms. Callahan is with him."

"Show them both in, would you please?"

Mrs. Jones stepped toward the door and opened it, stepping into the outer office. "Mr. Nygma, Ms. Callahan, Mr. Wayne will see you now."

Edward Nygma and Linda Callahan both stepped in, and Mrs. Jones closed the door behind them from the outside, as Wayne stood up to greet them. "Mr. Nygma, Ms. Callahan, hi, nice to see you again. How's work going on the technical manuals?"

"Boring, to be totally honest, Mr. Wayne." Callahan was the first to answer, as Nygma shot her a glance.

"I know, for that reason alone it's a tough job, and we appreciate your efforts," Wayne smiled.

"And we're happy to be able to help," Nygma added.

"Are the working conditions okay? Is there anything you need? Have a seat, please." Wayne stepped over toward the sitting area near the window, and invited Nygma and Callahan to follow him. Nygma and Callahan both sat on a large sofa, while Wayne sat down in an armchair. The furniture was arranged in a semicircle around a coffee table, facing a large window with a panoramic view of Gotham City.

"So, what's on your mind, Edward? You wanted us all to talk."

"Yes," Nygma began a little more quietly, hesitating, looking at Callahan. "Linda, I don't know where to begin." Turning back to Wayne, he said, "Do you remember my first day in Wayne Enterprises, when we met here and talked about the stock trades that had been run through the computers in the Gotham Trade Center the day of the attack?"

"Yes," Wayne answered, looking out in the direction of where the Gotham Towers had stood.

"Well, as you recall, Wayne Enterprises in Germany got subcontracted to do some of the recovery work for information on the hard disk drives that were found in the rubble." Nygma glanced at his colleague, as she looked at Wayne. "As it turns out, during the course of the subcontract work, information from the damaged drives was stored on Wayne Enterprises computers. Later on, of course, the information was deleted, when the contract was completed."

Wayne nodded, looking out the window.

"When those computers became obsolete and were replaced and disposed of, the hard drives were removed and retained, for security reasons," Nygma explained.

Bruce Wayne turned from the window, and looked at Edward Nygma.

"Where are those hard drives now?" Wayne asked.

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