My phone rang. An unknown number. I frowned as I glanced at it before offering a small shrug of my shoulders and accepted the call. "Vergil St. Jude speaking," I said, leaning into my chair. My desk had been righted, and the materials on it replaced. I popped my feet up on the mahogany desk, feeling good. Great even.
"Afternoon, St. Jude, this is the President speaking," I heard a voice on the other end and I blinked slowly. Then my ass clenched hard enough that I could have formed a diamond between my cheeks as my feet dropped to the ground.
Oh, right. I had tried to extort the President, hadn't I? Miranda actually got me in touch with the president.
"Good afternoon, Mr. President," I returned, shifting into high gear. Across from me, I saw Revy's eyes widen as she nearly fell back after leaning in her chair too far. "What can I do for you this fine evening?"
The President chuckled, "I received your… offer about a pardon for a Rebecca Lee - based on the evidence you've given, I have to question why you didn't try for a retrial," he remarked. I took in a slow breath, calming myself down, before answering.
"I'm afraid that I did that to myself. Seems like I'm being slandered for the actions of a me in another universe, so people would just think I bribed the jury. Getting a pardon from the President… well, I either have very deep pockets or it's legitimate ." I responded, keeping my tone light. The President made a noise of acknowledgment.
"Naturally," he said, adopting the tone of someone who knew I was full of shit, but was going to pretend that he didn't smell it. "I'll be brief with you, St. Jude - if you can provide a body, then I have a pardon on my desk waiting for a signature." There was an edge in his tone - I imagine he wanted the Joker dead. And it served as a warning to not waste his time.
To that, I smiled as I flipped a card in between my fingers, "In that case, feel free to sign it, Mr. President. The Joker is dead. I can drop him off at whatever doorstep you would like," I said, and I heard the President take in a slow breath, much like the one I had taken earlier. I set the card down on the table, a smile tugging at my lips, ignoring Revy's outstretched hand to demand the phone and her fifty million.
I could hear a smile in the President's voice, "That is the best news I've gotten all day," he admitted. "No need to go anywhere, St. Jude - my people are on their way to pick up his body. Pass on my thanks to Ms. Lee."
"Fuck your thank you, give me my money!" Revy shouted when I wouldn't hand over the phone, flipping me off when I mouthed for her to shut the hell up. However, the President chuckled.
"The money will be deposited into an account of your choosing upon confirmation," he told us, since Revy practically had her ear pressed to the speaker with me. "As will the signing of the pardon. I will let my men handle the details… but excellent work, Ms . Lee. The world is a safer place because of you," he said and, without so much as a goodbye, he hung up.
Revy leaned away from me, "Pardon?" She questioned, looking at me with a cocked eyebrow while I silently mulled over the very brief exchange I just had with the President of the United States, the leader of the free world. In theory. That had been interesting, to say the least. Either I had already been on the President's radar, or I now was with the death of the Joker. Apparently, Revy felt ignored because she slugged me in the shoulder, making my entire arm go numb. "Pardon?" She prompted.
I rubbed my shoulder before holding up the card that was marked with the corpse of the Joker. "Can't have a national hero be a wanted criminal," I told her, making Revy lean back, an odd expression crossing her face.
"Hero? Fuck that," she muttered, frowning at the idea.
"They'll probably give you a national holiday," I continued, making Revy grimace. "You really don't like the idea?" I asked her, tilting my head as I looked at her. Her body language screamed discomfort.
She blew out a sigh and tossed me a shrug, "I've been a wanted criminal for pretty much my entire life," Revy admitted, sounding uncertain how she felt about that fact changing. "Didn't really care about it either, but… a hero, huh?" She muttered, her lips pressed together in a thin frown. She was trying to brush it off, but it was clearly bothering her.
"You can remain anonymous if you want. To everyone in the world, the fact that you got a Pardon and killed the Joker would be two separate events," I offered a compromise. I thought that she would be happier about this. Revy never seemed to be particularly proud of the fact that she was a criminal, but she never seemed particularly ashamed of it either. I thought that the fact she was an ex-con was something she just didn't care about, but it looks like I was mistaken.
However, I was getting some mixed messages when Revy scoffed, "And let some other pissant take credit? No way," Revy dismissed the idea out of hand. "Fuck it, just get me the pardon. I want my holiday. Not even Superman has one of those," Revy decided, flipping me the bird as she headed for the door. I cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing as she left my office.
The door closed, leaving me alone for the moment. Miranda was making progress with the Narrows and balancing her duties as my secretary. The increased workload meant that Tifa was overworked, so I sent B to help her out. Cass was patrolling Lowtown, something she had started doing out of the blue. She was putting her abilities to good use by trying to find people with ill intentions.
I was similarly overworked - it was starting to look like two secretaries weren't enough.
Shaking my head, I looked at my computer - everything was progressing ahead of schedule, so the sleepless nights were worth it. Lowtown was being rapidly developed. For months, we had been stuck developing a single tunnel. We were able to put up around a house a day, which was fast, it just hadn't been fast enough. Now, with the aid of major corporations and in a fraction of the time it would have taken alone, nearly all four of the original highways were nearing completion.
The population had skyrocketed again - from fifteen thousand to closer to fifty thousand permanent residents. And the sharp increase showed no sign of dropping-off.
Which is why I had entered phase two - across Gotham, I was purchasing buildings. The Narrows, Cauldron, Crime Alley, the Hill, Tricorner, and Little Asia - two buildings in every major part of the city with the exception of Downtown, because even as a billionaire, that shit was way too expensive for me. Each building would become a business with each building also serving as a connection to Lowtown. Which would make one think that the property value would skyrocket, but it was a fact hidden through various shell companies that were then sold to SE.
Lowtown would be going from a single entrance with an unofficial backdoor to thirteen in total. Each entrance would be locked down - not only would I be implementing the batproofing measures I had stumbled across, but I would also be ramping up security even further.
And as if that wasn't enough, I was finally doing something with the blueprints I had gotten from 2B and Pod 042. I had purchased an old, abandoned factory space to serve as Sainthood Enterprises' first factory. And I did intend to use it, but…
Honestly, I only intended to use it as a cover. I wasn't a gear head. I knew precisely fuck all about machines. Hell, I didn't even know what RPM stands for. But one thing was abundantly clear - B was advanced. Extremely advanced. Her design secrets were not something I was going to trust in a factory above ground. Absolutely no way in hell. That was just asking for someone to break in and them.
Which gave me an idea.
I had Lowtown under lock and key. Apparently, not even Batman could sneak in here without me knowing. So, what better place to put my factories than underneath Lowtown? It was pretty much perfect for it. Not only would I not have to spend shit loads of money on purchasing land space for factories, but it let me protect my production secrets. Underneath Lowtown would be a city-wide production center for the various things that Lowtown would produce - Androids, cars, planes, boats… then stuff like electronics. Tvs, phones, game systems, and so on.
Logistics would be a problem, but I had the answer to that in the palm of my hands.
"I really wouldn't be anything without you," I remarked, looking down at my cards. Who would have thought that all of the things that I could have picked up in that boat of stuff, it would be a set of cards that would forever change my life? I owed my success to a lot of things - Tifa, Cass, Revy, 2B, Pod 042, and Miranda most of all. Them, and a little bit of cunning and quick thinking on my part. Above all else though, it was the cards that paved the way for my success.
Sainthood Enterprises was hiring. With my public debut, I was getting barraged by resumes. And if that wasn't enough, I was doing my absolute damnedest to poach talent from Star Labs. There were a few names that I recognized - Silas Stone, Victor Stone's father, who I knew better as Cyborg. Adam Strange was another.
Silas was a chief scientist and the head of a department that officially didn't exist. He was the one that would reverse engineer the items I created to figure out how they worked and how to apply the improvements in other fields. Like the anti-gravity tech in the Pods that was used in my first stealth plane. I was working on expanding his team by recruiting his wishlist of team members, most of which worked at Star Labs. So, I had to fork over shit loads of money as bait to get them to switch careers.
But it was worth it. I knew reverse engineering technology was supposed to be extremely difficult. If you went back in time and gave the native Americans stealth jets, it didn't mean that they would have planes when the British and Spanish arrived. More often than not, figuring out how something worked was more difficult than puzzling out how to get something to work in the first place.
Normally. But, I guess when your IQ is closer to two hundred than not, normal rules just don't apply to you, because every single thing I gave them as a proof of concept was getting chewed through at a ravenous pace.
As if to prove my point, I got an update. They had a breakthrough on the teleporter that I asked for as a side project. The kind of thing to work on when you had some extra time on your hands before you clocked out. It wasn't done yet, but that would massively help out my strategy. When I could teleport stuff in and out, then the factory being deep underground wouldn't be an issue. Hell, depending on how aggressive I felt like pushing the technology, I could kill the international shipping industry. I could even kill the automotive industry.
Though, that wouldn't happen. Laws were in place that stopped me from patenting technology that would cause great harm to fundamental industries. And the public release of such technology was illegal.
"It's shaping up to be another good day," I decided. Shifting through my cards as I locked eyes on the Joker Card. He was dead. And all that was left was delivering the body.
Though, some things came first. Grabbing another card, I fed in the nano trackers that I had developed to track intruders and spies down. The card fed into the card, tagging the Joker's corpse. Revy thought I was way too paranoid, but the joke was on her - if this asshole, somehow or for some reason, ever got up again then I would know. I would know where to find him. And then, I would kill him all over again and this time I'd fucking destroy the card so he would be lost in the ether.
Leaning back in my chair, I tapped a finger on my desk. On my schedule, there was another note. Something else I should be doing, but I was stalling. It was a move that I knew I was ready to make, but if things didn't go to plan, then it really could blow up in my face in a very bad way.
Taking in a deep breath, I unsealed a phone. A router phone. The only thing that it was missing was a landline. Inserting my finger, I spun the dial to write out a number and when I finished it, I heard a ringing in my ear. My contacts switched to a feed of Samantha Vanaver, who heard the ringing from her study.
Her eyes narrowed into slits before she quickly got up. It was a rare thing that she was called rather than she called others. Which was why it took me so long to get the phone number. She approached quickly, picking the phone up, but before she could speak, I began.
"Jacob Falinskie. Robin Sander. Tomas Finch," I rattled off three names to start with. I could see the blood draining from Samantha's face the moment that she heard those names. After all, they were members of the Court of Owls. But I continued. "Alexander Lancefield. Susan McGennis. Barry White." More names came out of my mouth, and Samantha half-collapsed into her chair.
I listed down every single member of the court. From the bottom to the top. Until I finished with, "Samantha Vanaver."
"Who are you?" Samantha breathed, caught so thoroughly flat-footed that she was too shocked to be angry. That wouldn't last. The shock would wear off, and then she would take action. But that's what I wanted. She would take action and in doing so, she would reveal whatever cards she had left up her sleeve. Provided that her last-ditch efforts failed, I would have beaten her.
"You may call me Rook," I told her, picking the name of the chess piece conspiracy handler that the former leader of what had been the Two-Face mob had been told he worked for. "You have tried to steal something that does not belong to you."
Samantha, to her credit, held herself together well. "That being?" She questioned her tone even.
"The Saint is a pawn on our board," I told her, and that made Samantha go still.
"I see. The Saint made no such notion that he belonged to anyone," Samantha stated, and I could see her mind racing.
"What our dear Saint doesn't know won't hurt him," I said. That would be my cover. As far as Samantha would know, I had no clue that I was anyone's pawn. I was being maneuvered by another - chess-themed - secret society, and in attempting to recruit me into the Court's ranks, they had tipped their hand.
Samantha frowned, her hand curling up into a fist that she made to thump her desk with, but she stopped herself at the last moment. "I suppose this is where I ask you what you want," she stated, sounding uninterested and unimpressed.
"Ah-ah-ah, that's no attitude to take. We do not have to be enemies. Perhaps, we could even be friends, Mrs. Vanaver," I said, making her eyes narrow dangerously. "We share a similar cause. I would go as far as to say that I should thank you - the Court's influence has accelerated our plans." It was an olive branch that Samantha could take in a couple of ways. She could come to the conclusion that the chess-themed secret society was the Court's equal or inferior, or that it was so much stronger than them that they weren't a threat.
If it was the former, then she would be more inclined to take direct action. If it was the latter, then she would be more subtle about it. Either way, I won - if she was overt, I would know what she had to her sleeve sooner. The slow approach gave me time to further pin her under my thumb, thus the Court of Owls.
"That might be more believable if you hadn't greeted me with a threat," Samantha remarked, a bitter edge in her tone.
"Perhaps," I agreed. "But you are correct - this is where I tell you what we want. Our demands are quite simple. You are free to run the Court how you see fit, but whenever the phone rings, you will answer it and you will do as we say. You will not speak of our existence. You will not look for us. You will abandon your plans for the Saint."
Samantha couldn't stop herself this time. Her fist thumped into the table hard enough to give it a jolt, but it was quiet. "You wish to make the Court of Owls your puppet. You wish to make me your puppet." She bit the words out, a snarl in her tone that she couldn't quite keep out.
"That is one way to look at it," I agreed. "But, as I said, we share mutual interests." I didn't make an offer, but I was dripping breadcrumbs to see which ones she picked up on. Would she take that as an empty gesture? Would she take it as a reassurance? Or would she see that as an offer?
Samantha took a calming breath, "What shall be done with the Saint? He's under the impression that he will join the Court when the time comes. He's smart enough to figure out our recruitment strategy." Ah, I was going to blush.
"Let him join. Or refuse. Should you benefit from him, then so be it. It is of little consequence so long as you understand that the Saint is ours. You do not command him." I told her, tapping a finger on the card that contained the Joker's corpse.
There was a beat of silence and I could see the cogs turning in Samantha's mind. Despite how badly she was caught, she was trying to flip this around to her advantage. That's what I did. And because of it, I suspected I knew exactly which path she would take.
"The Saint, once he requests his third wish, shall be welcomed into the Court. As far as the Court will know, he will be my personal pawn. You will control him through me. Is that acceptable?" She questioned, her tone flat. And there it was. Samantha was trying to retake control over the situation. She knew that I had value to 'Rook', so she was keeping me close. She was planning to dig her hooks into me - malicious compliance. She couldn't be seen breaking the rules, but she was setting things up so that if I had to choose between Rook and her, I would pick her hands down .
"That is acceptable. We will speak soon," I told her before I hung up. I watched Samantha's face contort between a half dozen expressions before she slammed the phone onto the receiver. Then she picked the entire thing up and flung it across the room.
"Fuck. Fuck!" Samantha cursed, thinking through the situation and realizing that 'Rook' had the entire Court by the balls. After all, I knew their names. What else did I know?
After a moment, she blew out a long, angry breath, "I have to seduce a sixteen-year-old. Fuck me," Samantha cursed, all pretenses dropping.
Huh. I resolved to keep an eye on the situation, but for now…
I had done it. The Court of Owls was now unofficially under my thumb. I would be joining the Court of Owls under my regular identity, and from there, I would be giving myself orders through Samantha to keep her unaware. The Court would be taking orders from me through her. As far as they would know, it would be business as usual. When the Court was ordered to expand their influence on my behalf, they would do so under the impression that it would be for their benefit.
There were no pitched battles. No conflict of wills. Or screaming in each other's faces as we powered up to beat the shit out of each other.
A simple phone call and a lot of planning. That's how I won my fights.
And, with a little luck, that's the only kind of fighting I would do.
Barbara Gordon groaned as she pinched the bridge of her nose, her brain pounding behind her eyes. Her stress headache was combining with her burgeoning caffeine headache to create a baby migraine. A migraine that grew in potency the longer she looked at the computer screens in front of her. There was a lot going on in the Batcave.
Things had been tense since Vergil announced Lowtown's existence in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable. Lois Lane was right - it was the biggest case of fraud in the history of America and they, along with the entire country, was trying to figure out how it was done. Only the thread to the puppet master went nowhere. Key witnesses had been murdered. Data was expunged.
There were mummers that Vergil was cleaning house, but Batman had told her dad the truth - Cobblepot was somehow behind legal mindfuck that made Lowtown legal. However, like always, the Penguin worked through proxies and deniable assets. There was no evidence connecting him to the fraud nor the murders. He covered his tracks well.
It also didn't help that on the same day that happened, they got a message from Vergil that Bruce Wayne was in the crosshairs of the Penguin, and that the entire manor had been bugged.
Vergil had unknowingly protected Bruce's secret identity. All of their secret identities.
A good thing too, because of Jason…
Barbara laid her head down, uncaring that her forehead was pressing down on the keyboard. Jason had run away. Which was pretty normal for him. Jason liked his space. He probably spent more time in Lowtown than he did the manor. However, the latest time was something different. Jason had actually run away. For real. He fled to Africa of all places and found his birth mother.
"A cup of tea, Ms. Gordon?" Alfred said, sneaking up on her, and her head hurt so much she couldn't even be startled.
"Thanks, Alfred," Barbara said, knowing that there was an imprint on her forehead, but she didn't care. Alfred poured her a cup, and for a few minutes, while it steamed, there was a deafening silence in the Cave.
It was broken by a sigh, "How are things upstairs?" Barbara was compelled to ask even though she wasn't sure if she wanted to know.
Alfred's expression said it all. "Master Bruce and Master Jason are… sorting out their differences… with various degrees of success," Alfred said, a restrained sigh audible in his tone. He passed her a cup and she breathed in deeply before taking a sip. It was perfect.
Yeah, that sounded about right. "On the bright side, Dick and Jason are getting along." Mostly to drive Bruce up the wall, but that was something. Progress. Though, Barbara doubted that Bruce would see it that way.
"Yes, I suppose there is that," Alfred remarked drily. The long and short of it was that Dick was absolutely furious at Bruce for Jason running away. He was projecting a fair bit, choosing to see it as Bruce driving Jason away like he had driven Dick away. Jason, on the other hand felt guilty, and to hide his guilt, he projected it into anger, because vulnerability wasn't something he could show. Bruce was Bruce - absolutely brilliant, but had the emotional intelligence of a particularly emotionally stunted rock.
Hence, she was staying in the Batcave until the dust settled.
"How are you holding up, Alfred?" She asked him, earning a small smile from the aged butler. There was a tension in him that hadn't left since Jason ran away, even though he was now back in the Manor, proving to be a volatile emotional wrecking ball.
"I shall manage. Though, I feel that is a question I should be asking you," Alfred returned. He did that a lot.
Barbara took another sip of her tea, reaching out and deleting a long line of f's. "I'm almost through. I'm more worried that all of this is going to be for nothing." They had limited data recovered from the original breach. Vergil had followed through on his end, but all the info on the server he had provided had been junk data. A decoy.
"It is a time of frustration for the family," Alfred said, sounding like he expected the worst. Barbara set aside her teacup and finished typing in the last bit of code that she needed. Then she pressed enter and watched as it began to compile .
The cipher she was developing was born from her encounter with Vergil's servers. Not to crack them specifically, but to give her cyber utility belt another tool. Vergil's servers were encrypted with a remarkably advanced code. Not only that, it was encased in layers of it. So many that she hadn't yet found the extent of how many layers there were. A cipher, in the end, was an encryption-breaking tool. So, she was creating a tool to break into his servers, but mostly because that kind of encryption was the kind she was hoping to beat.
When it encountered simpler encryption, it worked surprisingly well. The files that they had gotten from the Penguin's servers were quickly decrypted in record time .
Barbara adjusted her glasses as she began sorting through them. It was tiresome and tedious work. As she expected, most of it was corrupted. The files were just too damaged to be completed. She could try recovery, and she intended to, but she didn't expect much success.
Despite her headache, Barbara poured more hours into combing over the screen in front of her , inspecting each file and trying to recover every line of data that she could. In the end, her efforts managed to net her a very small pile of recovered information. All of it incomplete. None of it particularly incriminating. Just references to accounts, a few names of known associates that didn't provide any context, and…
"Hold on," Barbara muttered, a sinking feeling forming in her gut as she clicked on a file that was almost complete. Clicking a name, she inputted a code to find references to that name. It didn't take more than a moment for the Batcomputer to give her the answer.
"I take it there's bad news," Alfred remarked, and it was only then that she realized that he was still there.
Barbara half collapsed into her seat, slowly dragging her hand down her face.
"Depends. How would you describe evidence that the Penguin was working for the Light?"
The next chapter is currently available on my Pat re on and Subscribe Star, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!