"I'm guessing," I began as I entered the room, the door closing behind me, "That the three of you know what questions I'm going to ask." I said, looking down at Cheshire, who was in the middle, her mask still on. Sportsmaster was to her right, while Spider-Guy was on her left. Revy was behind them, her pistols in hand, and there was a dangerous look in her eyes. An almost empty one. Almost as if she was wishing that they would try something to give her a reason to put them down.
Their response was silence. They hadn't said a word since their capture a few days ago. I had planned on dealing with them sooner, but dealing with the aftermath of the quake took precedence. Lowtown was the last bastion of civilization in Gotham. Everywhere else… it was just looting and madness.
I nodded, expecting the lack of an answer. "Silence is golden. I can respect that," I said, before I hefted my bat, letting it rest on my shoulder as I approached the three. "But, I'm a little short on time at the moment. I'm betting you can guess why. So, I would appreciate it if you could just answer those questions, then I can go about my day."
The reason this interrogation had been put off was because I already had the answers to those questions. This was just a formality. This was a justification on why I could have some information that I otherwise shouldn't have. But, if it was that easy then the League of Shadows would have a much harder time of it. The three remained silent and unflinching.
I could feel Tifa's gaze on me. She had given her blessing to be whatever I had to be. And I had the President's pardon to kill who I had to kill. So, I was in the clear. In a manner of speaking. There was the Justice League to worry about, but they couldn't move against me. For now, at least.
The silence dragged on for a few seconds, then a minute. Then I sighed, "Right. How about this then?" I questioned, leveling my bat at Cheshire. She didn't flinch back or give any reaction. She was made of sterner stuff than the Blackgaters that had last seen the bat. Murder Weapon was an unnerving thing. Sinister. I felt uneasy welding it, so despite her game face, I knew beneath the mask that she was uncertain. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe," I began slowly, pointing the bat at each kneeling person with each word uttered.
It was easy to guess where the rhyme would end, though, so I mixed it up. "Catch a," I continued, pointing at Cheshire, "Villain," I said, leveling my bat at Sportsmaster. "By their toe," I continued, turning to Spider-Guy. The tension in the room skyrocketed despite the three's attempt to look at ease. The clock was ticking on their escape plan, and I knew exactly what it would be.
I had watched them formulate it, after all.
"My mother told me. To pick. The. Very. Worst. One. And you. Are. It," I finished the rhyme, pointing my bat at Spider-Guy. Revy stepped forward and ripped his mask from his face, revealing a tired looking man in his early twenties. Huh. He even looked like a knock off of Peter Parker. That made things a little upsetting. Spider-Man was one of my favorite characters.
Spider-Guy looked pale and alarmed. I watched him swallow thickly, but he offered an easy smile to cover his nervousness. "I'm not talking," he said, resolved.
"Okay," I said, before bringing Murder Weapon down on his head with all of my strength. The room was filled with a terrible thunk, then a thump as Spider-Guy fell forward. His skull bled profusely, broken where Murder awesome struck. The blood sank into the bat, and it felt like I was holding a coiled snake in my hand. I wasn't entirely sure what Murder Weapon was, but murdering people with it made it stronger.
I heard Tifa shift behind me, while Revy openly looked impressed as she gave Spider-Guy a kick to the balls to make sure he was really dead.
"Killing prisoners isn't how you get information," Sportsmaster spoke up, his tone carefully even as he eyed me. Revy ripped his mask from his face, revealing a surprisingly handsome man. A square jaw, high cheekbones, baby blue eyes and short blonde hair. He looked unafraid as our gazes met.
"Am I going to get information from you though?" I asked, making the certainty sound like a question. "You three- sorry, the two of you are trained professionals. I doubt I could get anything out of you even if I did torture you. So, if you aren't going to talk, then why bother keeping you around?" I asked, my voice low and quiet as I pointedly dropped to a knee in front of Sportsmaster to bring myself to eye level. "Whoever you work for… well, sending them back their agents just gives them powerful tools to use against me. How is it in my best interest to let you go?"
I laid out their only path to leaving the room alive. They had to give me something. They had to make it worth my while to let them live. And I had just showed that I had absolutely no problem with killing them and being done with it.
Sportsmaster met my gaze with a calculating look. I could see the cogs turning in his head. His gaze flickered to Tifa, then he peeked at Revy. Then his gaze settled back on me. "You can have her," he said, and Cheshire didn't react in the slightest.
"That's fucked up," I said, standing back up. "I'm actually very upset that you would offer up your own daughter to escape this situation," I said, and as soon as I said daughter, both of them tensed. With that passive mention, I made it clear that I knew more than I let on. So, now it became a question of how much I knew.
Lying to me and giving me false intel just became a lot more dangerous.
Revy chuckled, "Dumb move. I'm not fucking him either," Revy said, pressing the barrel of a gun to the back of his head. Daring him to try to lash out and escape.
"You shouldn't always believe rumors, Sportsmaster. That's a dangerous thing," I told him, my tone light and conversational. "What? You thought I was a sixteen-year-old kid living out a masturbatory harem fantasy, and I'd forget all about you three breaking into Lowtown during a disaster for some T and A? Really?" I looked at Cheshire, "Did he even talk to you about that?"
Cheshire looked up at me for a moment but said nothing, before she lowered her head back to looking straight ahead.
"I'm going to take that silence as a no," I decided, though I knew it was probably a yes. Sportsmaster opened his mouth, but I swung my bat before he could get a word in. The tip of Murder Weapon slammed into his groin, and a ragged gasp escaped the man before he hunched over and puked. I'm pretty sure I just killed any chance of him having kids. Any more kids, at least. "Children are precious. They aren't tools for you to maneuver or use. Just because you're her father doesn't mean you can consent for her. That's fucked up. It wasn't okay in the medieval ages and it's not okay now. Honestly, what in the hell were you thinking?"
Sportsmaster groaned, and Revy ripped off Cheshire's face mask, revealing Jade Nguyen to the world. Naturally tanned skin, dark eyes, and equally dark hair. She was beautiful from an objective standpoint. No denying that. But, really, did the Light think I was so driven by my dick that I would just fall cock first into a honeypot? Seriously? Being underestimated was useful, but there did come a point where it was just insulting. Jade met my gaze unflinchingly as I crouched down in front of her.
"I have to say, you two are a cold bunch. Finishing a mission when your crippled mother was alone during one of the worst earthquakes in history? That's ice-cold," I told her, and there it was. A flinch. My words had gotten under her skin, even as she tried to hide that fact from me. "I don't like that. I mean, I hated my family, but I wouldn't just leave them for dead, you know?"
Jade looked at her gasping father who was still struggling with the pain of having his balls crushed. Slowly, she looked at me, "We work for a private company. We were hired-"
"Nope," I cut her off before I stood up and kicked Sportsmaster in the side of the head. Then I paused for a moment before slamming the flat tip of the bat into her nose. I didn't want to be called sexist for not hitting a woman. I just prefer to hit Sportsmaster. Not because he was a guy, but because he was a piece of shit. Jade's head snapped back, her nose splitting as blood gushed down her face. "None of that. How are you expecting me to trust you when the first words out of your mouth are a lie?"
Jade was silent for a moment, but she straightened herself up without complaining, appearing unbothered by the broken nose. She searched my face for a very long moment and I could see the uncertainty in her growing. "If you know who I work for, then you have to know that I won't give you any answers."
Had I been too vague? I honestly thought that they would get it instantly.
"What else can you give me then? And, please, don't make the same offer your father made. My girlfriend is in the room. Have some class," I said, lowering back down to eye level. Jade gave me a blank look and… double-speak really didn't work when the other person didn't know how much you knew. "Right. Would you be so kind as to pass a message to Ra's al Ghul for me?" I asked and that's when it clicked into place.
I could see it in her eyes that she thought she had played me. She forced me to reveal my hand, to give her a tip-off of exactly how much I knew. But, that wasn't the case. She was trying to use the same trick that I used - offer up a secret so I wouldn't look beyond to see how deep the rabbit hole went. Too bad that I knew exactly how deep it went before walking into this room.
"Would you tell him that if he wanted my technology, then he could have asked. I'm a reasonable man. Most of the time. I'm sure that we could come to a business arrangement," I said, giving her a pleasant smile before I took a business card from my pocket. "You… have a suspicious lack of pockets… right, here you go," I said, tentatively tucking the card in the fold of her yukata near her cleavage. It wasn't my first choice, but she really had no pockets. "That's my card with my private number on it. If he wants to talk shop, then he just has to give me a ring. Or send a messenger bird or something. I don't know what you ninjas do to communicate."
Jade remained silent, but it was clear that she was becoming increasingly unnerved by me. Which was the point. I was acting… off. Playing up the witty sarcasm I displayed in interviews. It was to put her off guard - she didn't know what I would do, or what I would say, but she did see me enact violence with little care. At this moment, all she knew about me was that I was dangerous.
"Good? Good. Your mom is fine, by the way. In case you were worried," I told her, standing up before I summoned my gun to my hand. "She's in Lowtown at the moment. You can visit her if you like."
Jade's eyes narrowed into slits, trying to see if I had just threatened her mom or not. She was good, but family was a soft spot. I didn't blame her for that. When you cared about people… you cared. And in this world, that was a weakness. But, it wasn't one I begrudged anyone for having. Not when I had so many weaknesses of my own.
"I'll deliver your message. You'll let us both go, then?" Jade questioned, a dangerous edge in her voice.
"I only need one messenger," I told her before I took aim at Sportsmaster's head and fired twice, shooting him in the back of the head both times and killing him. Jade didn't really react to her father's death. I didn't really expect screaming or crying, but I did expect a bit more than a dispassionate glance at him before she looked back up at me.
Slowly, she rose to her feet, Revy's gun following her up, constantly pointed at the side of her head. Jade held out her hands and as my gun disappeared, it was replaced with a key. I fed it into the cuffs that she wore that not only kept her wrists bound, but her hands and fingers pressed together. She flexed them, getting feeling back into them, but her gaze never left mine.
I smiled at her, "I'd advise against making things personal. I won't lay a finger on your mother, no matter what you do. Or sister. One is a cripple and the other is a civilian. I promise you that," I offered, planting a seed of doubt about whether I knew that Artemis was the hero Artemis. And letting her know the stakes. I wouldn't go after her family. "Just as I promise you that if you try to make this personal, I'll murder you without a second thought."
"Who knows? Maybe if you ask Ras really nicely, he'll bring daddy dearest back from the dead," I remarked lightly.
"Some Saint you are," Jade said, forcing her tone to be light, but it was obviously strained.
"That's what everyone says. Again, never said I was a saint. I'm just a man that's been given the seal of approval by the President to bring Gotham to heel," I said, my smile growing as Jade visibly fought off a frown. My image was taking shape and that image she had of me would be my introduction to Ra's Al Ghul.
A man that caught three of his agents, killed two of them, possibly temporarily. Who had information that he shouldn't, who had connections they didn't expect… who was requesting a civil conversation.
It was hardly a winning stroke, but it would be a good step forward. Because I expected that he would reach out.
I had two points of contact with the Light without them being aware of the fact that I knew they were the Light. I could use that relationship. Make them play off of each other. I could use the fact that Luthor and I had a business relationship while Ra's and I had a shady one. I could use the fact that Ra's would be relaying information to Luthor, and vice versa, to my benefit.
That was the plan, at least. How well it would work in reality remained to be seen, but I was certain I could get some use out of it. Simply because I had to. Like it or not, I had the Light's attention now. It was just a question of what that attention meant for me.
"You can go now," I told her, and Jade lingered for a moment longer. So very tempted to just kill me. I had made an enemy of her, but I intended for that to happen. I didn't have anything that I was willing to do that would make her a friend. Making her an enemy let me know her next moves even before she made them. That let me prepare for what came next.
Eventually, she brushed past me without a word. Tifa got out of her way, letting her leave the room. She didn't so much as look back as she left, not even giving a confirmation. She didn't want to even give me that.
"Heh, that was entertaining," Revy said, spinning her guns before she holstered them. She earned a sharp look from Tifa, but Revy just shrugged unrepentantly. She wasn't one to be caught up on the sanctity of a human life. I knew that. In this situation, that was probably the single most valuable trait that a person could have.
I looked down at my hands to see that they were steady. As steady as a surgeon's. The two murders had been necessary. It would show Ras that I wasn't to be fucked with, it made Jade an enemy that would, inevitably, come after me and I could use that. It painted my image how I wanted it painted, and it robbed the enemy of two useful tools, and it gave me two bargaining chips. Right and wrong, morality… it just didn't factor into the equation.
After all, I was long since past the point where I had the right to feel guilty for murders. I couldn't even count all the people I've killed on both hands anymore. It felt like a silly thing to get hung up over now. Especially when I knew that one day that this would happen again - not the circumstances or who, but more blood getting on my hands was an inevitability. And by the time all was said and done, I would be killing a lot more people.
"It's done," I said, micro cameras being sprayed onto Jade as she left the building, choosing to not visit her Mom. She probably thought she was helping by convincing me that she didn't care, but I already knew that she did, so she was just hurting herself. I dropped two cards onto the bodies, then merged them to save space. My cards were full more often than not now, so I needed as many open as I could afford. "Onto other matters - Revy, I want you to gear up and start hitting targets."
Revy perked up, catching a card that I flicked to her. A skintight bodysuit revealed itself after being unsealed. Revy held it up, giving it a look over before she looked to me questionably, "Experimental battle suit. Insulated, it has a barrier that'll stop bullets. If it doesn't for some reason, the suit itself is bulletproof. And it's an invisibility suit," I added - the sheer number of invisible ink markers that went into that suit…
"Who am I taking out?" She asked before she started stripping down without a care. I turned around to avoid getting an eyeful before I answered.
"Whatever gang looks like they're getting organized," I answered, my tone cold. It was in its infancy since the population was still reeling, but I knew what the end state looked like. Gotham would be carved up into fiefs with mob bosses and villains acting as lords and ladies. It made sense. After people started to realize that help was not on the way, they would look to those that had the power to protect them. "Except for the whitelist."
I couldn't stop it from happening, but I could do something - make Lowtown the obvious choice, and failing that, have those that I control become the ones empowered. There was a small window to act - Winter was nearing its end, but the cold still had a firm grasp on Gotham. The highs were in the high thirties and the lows dipped into the negatives. Without power, people were going to die. Burning stuff was always an option, but if people saw electricity as an option…
Right now, I had a good hand of cards to deal with this mess. I had power and security, two things that would be in short supply. In a way, it would be best if I remained the only one that had it for the duration of the catastrophe, but that wouldn't happen. So, I had to be generous.
"No Low Guard, don't touch what's left of the Two-Face Mob, whoever the fuck in the Narrows… and nobody in the Penguin Mob," Revy rattled off the shortlist of people I would like to be in control over sections of Gotham. Because I would control those sections through them. "No cops either."
I nodded, "No police." Batman wouldn't have it. I might have gotten away with picking off one or two, but Batman had destroyed any window I had into the batcomputer. It was impossible for me to track his movements. The only ones I had were in the manor itself, and that didn't do me any good at the moment. I didn't know where Dick, Jason, or Barbara were.
Turning around, I saw Revy fully suited up. There was nothing that gave her away - her hair was hidden inside a helmet, a featureless blank glass void marked her face. Her curves gave away the fact that she was a woman, though. In her hands was an assault rifle, silenced. She flipped me the bird, her version of a salute. "Can't wait to test my new toys," Revy remarked before she winked out of existence, vanishing from sight.
It was tempting to give myself a way to see it, but that meant giving the suit a weakness that others could use against it. And that was like giving the suit a self-destruct button - no matter what precautions I put in place to safeguard it, sooner or later, when it's most inconvenient, someone would press that button. The same thing applied here.
The door opened and closed, and I took that as Revy having left, leaving Tifa alone with me. I looked at her, half expecting… something. I knew giving a blessing to do something, then actually witnessing that something happen were two different things. Tifa had seen me at my worst before, but that had been half a year ago. And back then, I was far less used to violence.
So, I was expecting something. Maybe not much, and nothing as strong as outright disgust, but more… something that hinted that she had realized for the first time exactly who I was.
But, as our gazes met, I saw sadness there, but no judgment. She seemed sad for me rather than anything else.
"How's Cass doing?" I questioned, choosing to move on from what she just witnessed. For both of our sakes.
Tifa seemed grateful as she followed me out of the room, revealing that the hallway was now half open to the elements with the front of the building collapsed. Snow gently fell from the sky, but I still saw some people milling about as they continued to dig through the rubble. On my orders.
Jack hadn't been found yet. Which I'm hoping was a good thing because we hadn't found his body either, so he could still be alive.
"Cass is doing good. She's patrolling nearby with 2B," Tifa said. I knew as much, but I was hoping to take Tifa's mind off of the two executions. "There are rumors floating around, but everyone thinks that it's Batman that's keeping the peace."
"Good," I muttered as we headed down, forced to use the stairs. Overall, things were going… okay. Not great, but okay.
In the past few days, my forces had mobilized. I gave the Court of Owls a ring to mobilize the Talons. They all had their specific task to help the situation take shape in my favor. Samantha was unhappy about it, to say the least. She withdrew to her mansion in Crest Hill, making the surprising choice to stay in Gotham rather than taking the small window of time available to evacuate like most of the Court had.
She wanted the Talons as bodyguards to protect her, but I needed them out in the field.
My other proxies were consolidating their territory and expanding. In short order, East End, the Narrows, Cauldron, and the Docks would be in my control. At the moment, I was the only high-ranking official of the Penguin Mob left, but being in direct control of the mob was too close for comfort. I intended to pick a proxy among the mob and make him the new boss since Penguin was still missing. All the while, I would quietly leave the mob all together.
It was a little early to call them mine, but they were in position to capitalize on taking control. It would be messy, but it was doable.
My only real concern was the villains. Most of them had never been found after the breakout at Arkham, and now they were given free rein of the place by the Joker. It was possible they were keeping their heads down to let the Joker and Batman fight it out… but I couldn't assume that was the case.
"Miranda wanted to speak to you," Tifa informed me, and that was hardly a shock. I nodded, holding the door open for Tifa before we both descended into Lowtown. We didn't speak because the noise pollution made it so that we would have to scream to be heard - tens of thousands of people crowded around in Lowtown, hovering near the entrance in case a second quake happened.
They wanted to be near an exit, regardless of the fact that the exit wasn't large enough. It would be a stampede. And no amount of pointing that fact out could convince them to spread out throughout Lowtown.
Tifa and I pushed past them before I saw Sammy out of the corner of my eye. She waved to get Tifa's attention, the woman looking swamped as she had stepped up to help out with the organization. Tifa offered a thin smile, knowing both of us were just busy, leaving me to head up to my office alone. My office building was filled to the brim and firing on all cylinders - my order was to treat the situation as if we would never receive help.
Over a hundred people hammered out plans to deal with the cold, how to ensure everyone had enough food, potential ideas on how to bring power back, and so on. They were doing good work and they were so focused on it that they didn't notice me walking by.
Upon reaching my office, I saw Miranda seated at my desk. It might have been an odd sight, but Miranda looked stressed out of her mind despite her attempts to maintain her composure. She even did a pretty good job of it, but I knew what to look for. Though, I'm sure that she saw the same in me.
"I have the contract," Miranda said, and my smile grew at the edges, coming up into a point sharp enough to cut. I approached, taking the contract from her, and flipped through it. "Mr. Chandler was eager to sell. Reconstruction costs would bankrupt him. It just needs your signature."
Real estate property values had taken a major hit. I was a multi-billionaire, but buying a building in Downtown was far too expensive for me to even consider. Now, after the quake, landowners were selling for… not even pennies on the dollar. They went for the cash equivalent of pocket lint and a candy wrapper compared to their previous estimations. A handful of days after the quake, I went from having no buildings in Downtown to having five.
"Good… and clean-up crews?" I questioned, signing my name on the dotted line, sealing the deal. I now owned six buildings in Downtown Gotham.
"Teams are sweeping the streets. Materials are being sorted per your orders," Miranda confirmed. That was good. I intended to recycle the broken materials from collapsed buildings and turn them into high-ranked materials for reconstruction. "But, we need more protection. I've taken the liberty of increasing patrols near our clean-up crews. We had a group assault a team for being connected to Lowtown. Superficial injuries, but dangerous with how high the demand for medical attention is."
"I'm going to increase production of Androids. We'll blow through the required materials, but people won't die because of it." I made a note before I grabbed a map of Gotham that was marked off with various points of interest. "Has Gordon responded to us yet?"
Miranda nodded, "To paraphrase - he's not happy, but if you can provide power to the police station, then he's willing to work with you. But, I suspect that he's just putting up a front."
"He cares too much about people to not work with a warlord if it's the best thing for them," I agreed. I didn't quite fit the definition of a warlord, but that didn't stop people from calling me one. "More good news on that front - I sent Revy on a hunting mission. Our enemies should be disorganized for a bit. The police should have a chance to really dig in."
As one would expect from Gotham, with the complete collapse of the Law, having a badge was basically like having a target painted on you. Gangsters took the disaster as the beginning of hunting season on cops, intent on killing them or driving them out of Gotham. The cops had a number of defectors, but a rather surprising number of them stayed with Gordon to uphold law and order.
No Man's Land was taking shape. Alliances were being made, resources were being relocated… before long, things would settle. The window of opportunity for prep was closing, then those with power would consolidate it. Their own responses to the disaster would begin and they would become self-sufficient.
However, I was looking beyond that. I looked at what Gotham would be after No Man's Land.
My contacts gave me an alert. The same alert that I got before the quake happened.
The Joker had moved.
Magic, as it turns out, couldn't do anything about the nanotrackers I flooded the Joker's body with. I suppose it was because he didn't know about them. Regardless, they were still active, and I could see exactly where the Joker was at all times. Currently, he was in the sewers of Amusement Mile.
I was playing a dangerous game. I could admit that. But, the risks were worth the reward. The longer this little game went on in Gotham, the more secure my position became in the aftermath. The more property I could purchase. The more power my proxies consolidated. The more people would look to me and Lowtown for answers rather than the mayor or government officials. The more time I had to shape Gotham's reconstruction to be what I envisioned while it was currently broken, thus easily molded.
It was a dangerous game…
But it was a game I was used to playing, and this time I had all the cards.
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