Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Avenger: Prelude

She looked at herself in the mirror.

The bikini was a little more revealing than what she normally wore.

Actually, it was a great deal more revealing; she was more far modest than that.

Still, it would have been out-of-place to be haunting the grounds of a beach hotel in the tropics wearing clothes that she would have felt comfortable with.

She smiled.

Although it was certainly not her desire to exploit the fact -- indeed, as modest as she was, it was difficult for her to even admit the fact -- she did have a nice figure. Her constant athletic activity honed and developed a gift of nature that was hers: she was beautiful.

Her ex-husband had commented on that many times. For all his faults -- and they had been many -- he was sweet at times, and there had also been a great deal to admire and appreciate about him.

She sighed.

Now she was here.

She looked around the hotel.

It was nice, but not the kind she was accustomed to when she was escorting him. People would have expected to have found him in a five-star hotel, renting the very best suite.

Instead, he and she had adjoining rooms on the top floor of what was advertised as a four-star hotel, although she wondered if it really was more than a three-star hotel.

He had not wanted adjoining rooms, as he was still trying to keep a certain professional distance from her, but she pointed out that adjoining rooms would permit one to help the other in the event of a problem.

She had to phrase it like that, because, although she was his bodyguard, he had a very powerful chivalrous streak in him, and it would rub him wrong if she said it was so she could protect him, so she had to make it sound like it was a mutual thing; besides which, since he had taken her into his confidence and invited her to assist him on his missions, there had definitely developed a reciprocity in their interactions which transcended the official description of her job on file in the personnel office of Wayne Enterprises.

She wrapped an article of clothing around her. She had no idea what it was called, it was like a dress -- half a dress, really, maybe only a third -- and it was mostly transparent, but it made her feel less immodest in her bikini. She then put on a wide hat to protect herself from the intense sun, which beat down from above and blasted in as reflected light off the sea and the surrounding white buildings, she put on her sunglasses, picked up a beach towel, and headed towards the door.

Maria, with whom she shared the room, smiled and held the door for her.

Maria was another employee of Wayne Enterprises, accompanying the team because, as a native speaker of Spanish, her skills were indispensable on this particular mission.

She looked at Maria and nodded. "Thanks," she said, the smile half disappearing as she studied Maria again momentarily. With a dark complexion, black hair and dark brown eyes, and a tremendous figure, Maria was stunningly beautiful.

Why, she wondered, were there so many beautiful women around him all the time? Did he plan it, or did it just happen that way? Or, maybe, somebody else planned it for him? Lucius? Surely not Alfred!

She shook her head and hurried through the door.

As she approached the elevator, one of the hotel employees smiled and greeted her.

"¡Buenos días! ¿Dónde está mi esposo?" she asked, haltingly, trying her Spanish.

"Señor Malone está por la piscina," came the smiling response.

"'In the office'?" She looked at him questioningly.

"The pool," he said in English.

She smiled, blushed, and hurried off.

Apparent confusion is the product of good order; apparent fear is the product of bravery; and apparent weakness is the product of strength.

He considered the words, deep in thought, gazing out at the sea from his chair under the big umbrella.

"Good morning, Señor Malone!", the waiter smiled at him, setting a glass of tangerine juice and a cup of coffee on the small table next to him.

The large figure glanced up from the tropical sea, surprised, and nodded at the waiter, then looked back down at his book.

So, those skilled at making an enemy move do so by causing a situation to which he must conform; they entice him with something he is certain to take, and, holding the promise of tremendous profit, they await their enemy in strength.

Lucius walked through the facility. It was Saturday morning, but in the high-security area of the Wayne Enterprises research facility, there was a full crew of personnel, and they were busy.

Before leaving on vacation -- with quite a contingent of Wayne Enterprises personnel, including security people -- Bruce had asked for some special new equipment. In an off-handed way, right as he was leaving, he mentioned that it would be nice to have a Batsuit that could keep him alive in a furnace, then, after the briefest of pauses, he laughed and said that was probably impossible.

Of course, the technicians took that as a challenge, and now, when Bruce got back from vacation, he would get his Christmas presents from the staff. They had set up a Christmas tree in the basement workshop of Wayne Enterprises, and, under it, there was a completely-redesigned Batmobile, a new Batbot, and not one but two new Batsuits, both of which had tested as impervious to multiple hits from grenade launchers and to extended attacks from flamethrowers.

It was late evening already, but the fortune-teller and the master were deep in a conversation.

For all his training, for all his knowledge and understanding, for all that he had and for all he had passed on to his disciple, his conversations with the fortune-teller filled a gap that needed to be filled

"It was written anciently, 'Therefore, one able to achieve victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine.' Is this not among your teachings?"

He looked at the fortune-teller. "Yes, it is," he answered, serving her some more tea. "'Of the earth's elements,'" he continued where she had left off, "'none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some are short, and the moon waxes and wanes.'"

These conversations with the fortune-teller reminded the master of who he had always been, and helped him to not worry -- because he knew something was up, and it was something worth worrying about.

She approached him, but he was so caught up reading his book, he didn't even notice her; although he was on a beautiful tropical beach (surrounded by beautiful women, she noted), his book took him somewhere else, and she wondered where that was and why anyone would be so driven to be there and not here.

"Good morning, Bruce!"

Hurriedly, he looked up. "Good morning, Sasha." He smiled warmly at her, but just as quickly disappeared off into his distant place inside his book.

She looked at it. She had heard of it before. It was a translation of a work by someone called Sun Tzu.

There was no fixed date for the return, but Lucius knew it couldn't be much longer. Still, it had already lasted longer than anyone had anticipated, and Lucius was pleased and hoping it would last until the New Year.

He looked around the facility where, in a scene reminiscent of Santa's workshop, Wayne Enterprises technicians, complete with red-and-white tassel hats, were busy fabricating and testing new "toys" for their employer and, looking around, he knew, sooner or later, it would end.

Sooner or later, Bruce Wayne's long-needed vacation would end, Bruce would come back to Gotham City, and when he did, Batman would be back with a vengeance.

And, Lucius thought, in his mind reviewing what he knew about the situation in Gotham City, when Batman came back, there would be hell to pay.

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