It was bound to happen eventually, I thought to myself as I mulled over the news that Miranda so easily delivered as she stood across from me. She didn't really think anything of it. It didn't really mean anything to her. So little that she nearly moved onto the next item on the list before I interrupted.

"Who?" I asked the question, a deadly edge to my tone. Miranda paused mid-word, her lips parted for a second before she closed them, her eyes darting back to her notebook to search for the answer.

"A street gang called Easy-Niners, or E9 for short. They're new in East End, some posturing with our proxy, but nothing serious as of yet. This was the first direct attack on Lowtown, however," Miranda answered as I leaned back into my chair. "We have a dozen confirmed members, but there are likely to be more."

My fingers drummed on my desk before I stood up, "They kidnapped a member of Lowtown," I voiced. Miranda looked like she disagreed, but she didn't voice her opinion. It was a matter of perspective. The person that they kidnapped was Mary Sandasuave, a woman in her mid-twenties. She arrived in Lowtown a day ago, one of the more recent refugees that had made their way to Lowtown.

Time didn't matter here. She became a member of Lowtown the moment that she came to me and sought salvation.

"Where are they?" I asked, shrugging off my coat and hanging it off my chair. I tossed my vest onto the chair too - I was shedding layers of protection, but it was a bad look to roll up in a full three piece suit when the city was a disaster zone. That just left me in my black slacks, wine red shirt that was tucked into them, and my black leather gloves. My cards were split into four smaller decks, one in each pocket I had. I left my tie on, though. The tie clip was a force field generator, so I needed it.

"Ninth street in East End. They claimed a nightclub as their home base. It was registered as a low priority, which is why neither we or the Low Guard bothered with it," Miranda said as I rolled up my sleeves. Rolling my shoulders, Miranda pinned me with a look. "Should I arrange you to be accompanied by anyone?"

I pursed my lips in thought, mulling it over. "Send 2B with a squad of androids to come with me. Also, reach out to Commissioner Gordon and tell him to meet me at the club," I decided. I might as well take out a few birds with one stone. My contacts alerted me that the Joker was on the move again, but he was sticking to the sewers. I had teams venture in - they tagged the locations that the Joker hung out in for any period of time, but found nothing.

My current theory was that he had spent a lot more juice on this than he was letting on. He had wrecked three major cities, two of them half a world away. I wasn't willing to bet it all on it, but my guess was that that wasn't something he could spam endlessly. So, for now, he was hiding to gather his strength while pretending that he was dragging this out for shits and giggles.

"Of course," Miranda said before I headed for the door. "Do you have to deal with this personally? 2B would be more than enough on her own."

I didn't miss a step as I answered, "Some messages get across better with a personal touch," I answered before I left my office. Miranda could pull up my slack for a few hours. She really was an incredible woman. I left my building and pushed through the crowd of people that still hovered around the entrance. There was nothing I could really do about that.

But, things were changing in Lowtown once again. After this, Lowtown would never be the same. There would be just as many people living in Lowtown as there would be in Gotham. Adjustments had to be made to my plans.

Construction had yet to begin, but Lowtown would be gaining a second layer of housing directly underneath the first layer. So, instead of three-story tall buildings, they would be six stories. If the development continued as I intend, some buildings would connect with the ones above directly. Money had a diminished value in Gotham, but outside of it, it was still worth something. I was buying property for pocket lint.

And I wasn't the only one. Bruce Wayne was buying entire blocks to match me, forcing me to buy up more faster than I would otherwise like to make sure my plans weren't impeded by Bruce Wayne owning a building I needed. Already, we had become the two biggest landowners in Gotham and that margin would only increase as holdouts realized that their building was an anchor. Not only would they have to pay to rebuild, but they would have to wait weeks or months to even start.

Some tried to contact me for reconstruction, proving just how ignorant people were of the situation. I refused the offers, though it was mostly because I wanted to sweat them into letting me buy their property.

As for Lowtown, the rubble would be used to expand it after I increased its rank to a suitable level. However, what I needed was Poison Ivy. With her, the construction process was a whole lot faster and I didn't have to dedicate time to making something that could mimic her speed. I had Waylon reaching out to see if she even was in Gotham, but that would take some time.

Regardless, Lowtown would be seeing some changes. Like using this opportunity to build a secret production facility underneath Lowtown as a third level. With each level getting progressively larger as I dug deeper into the Earth's crust. I needed that production area up and running. The sooner the better. I was scavenging materials like there was no tomorrow, but with imports cut off, materials for my cards would be drastically reduced. Meaning I had a very finite amount of resources to work with.

2B met me with the squad of Androids at the ruins of Stairway. 2B had elected to dress in more plain clothing to blend in - a white blouse with black and white roses imprinted on the surface of the same type that she used to wear, with a cut-off biker leather jacket. She was wearing blue jeans that were ripped up, showing off some of her snow-white synthetic skin, which left her hips exposed, with high-top boots with a stiletto heel. She was experimenting with her look at Cass's urging. Her sense of style was developing, and 2B… well, unless she decided to try rocking a burlap sack, there weren't really any outfits that she couldn't pull off.

But, my attention went to the Androids behind her. They appeared… normal. Without my contacts to register them as androids, I wouldn't be able to tell. They were dressed in various clothes, all of them visibly armed with weapons. Gun stores had been looted first, giving them a few rifles between them. Sadly, we didn't have any easier guns beyond what I could make for Revy.

They stood at attention - two men and three women. They had only recently been activated, so they were still developing a personality, but given that I had the highest Authority over them, they defaulted to mimicking 2B.

"Ready?" I asked 2B as I walked by, and she responded by falling in step behind me. "Good. How are things, 2B?" I asked her, deliberately slowing down so she could walk beside me. She seemed a bit uncertain at first - I hadn't realized just how much her blindfold had hidden her expressions until she stopped wearing it. Eyes really were the windows to the soul.

"Cass and I have been patrolling Gotham. It has been… sad," 2B settled on as we walked into a cleared street. Clearing efforts had been centered around Lowtown's entrances and spreading outward. The street was fucked from having buildings dropped on it, but the actual rubble was cleared. All of it was sorted out to be recycled. It was still too early to actually start rebuilding, but I had my construction crew checking foundations to see how bad things were. Worst-case scenario, I had to tear down and uproot entire blocks and rebuild from scratch.

It was possible I might do exactly that anyway. I had ideas circling around in my mind on how to improve things above Lowtown. A clean slate might be best for them.

"Yeah, that does sum things up rather well," I agreed.

"Humans are taking advantage of the chaos to steal and harm one another. They should be banding together," 2B voiced her opinion with some hesitation, but behind that was a hint of steel. They were baby steps, but she was really starting to open up. Cass was a godsend. Who knows how long it would have taken otherwise?

"They really should, but… the worst things get for humanity, the smaller the circle that they care about becomes. People can care about an attack on a nation so long as they have three meals a day and a soft bed at night. But, when those are threatened… their concern for others shrinks. From a nation, to only themselves and their families. Everyone else can suffer so long as they're cared for," I spoke, being brutally honest with my view of humanity. It was natural. Hell, it was even reasonable.

But, that didn't mean it was good.

"You do not," 2B voiced, looking at me. "You still care."

"I'm still cared for," I pointed out.

"Hm. You did not eat three meals a day nor sleep on a soft bed to begin with. Perhaps you have a larger tolerance than most humans," 2B remarked, and a slow grin spread across my face.

Was that a joke? "Funny," I remarked with a chuckle, making 2B smile lightly. She had a look on her face that was a mixture of relief and pride. As if she had taken an incredible risk and it had paid off. "Since when did you make jokes?" I asked her, a little playfully.

2B looked away, hiding her embarrassment by scanning the increasingly ruined buildings as we got further from Lowtown. There were salvage teams working at pushing the rubble back, and beyond them were our search and rescue teams. After a few days, people were a lot less hopeful about finding survivors, but they moved with the urgency that there might be a person underneath every brick.

"Cassandra says jokes make people happy. I prefer it when humans are happy," 2B decided. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the androids nod in agreement. They didn't get the same parameters that 2B did. Or the brainwashing to worship humanity, would be a more accurate way to say it. I did take some safety precautions with them, especially this first batch. Planning to destroy humanity was one of the few reasons I thought was sufficient to shut them down given they would be seeing the ugly side of people first before they ever saw any of the good.

"Yeah, me too," I agreed, climbing over a pile of bricks before I spotted our destination a few blocks down. It was one of the few buildings that remained fully intact. Well, structurally that is. The windows had shattered and were boarded up, and already tagged to hell and back. More importantly, I saw that the neon sign that spelled out Swingers at the front of the club house was on. Meaning that it had power. A generator, probably, and odds are that they had looted tons of gas from a gas station nearby. "Thoughts?"

2B looked out, and she instantly began tagging important info that was then transferred over to my contacts - At the entrance, a group of thugs was sitting in front of the door, the alternate entrances, and how to get to them, along with highlighting potential ambush locations. It took barely a second before I had a plan of attack. "Alright, use the alternate entrances," I said, looking to the androids. "Secure any hostages you find and subdue anyone that registers as a threat."

The Androids broke off while 2B looked at me, "We'll be heading through the front entrance," I informed her with a smile.

It was returned with a frown, "That is not tactically advisable." She argued, but she didn't stop me when I started walking. Even better, she followed along to make sure that I didn't get myself killed. Always appreciate that.

"Humans are pretty stupid creatures. We have five senses at our disposal, but we only really use two to keep watch of our surroundings. The music is going to hamper their hearing, which just leaves sight. So, we give them something to look at and they won't be any the wiser to what goes on behind their backs," I explained, more or less summing up my strategy in general. Misdirection wasn't foolproof as a method, but it had worked pretty well for me so far.

2B seemed to make a note of that, nodding in agreement as we approached. I didn't like the look of the place, I decided, looking at the ruined and deserted streets. It looked like a warzone, and worse, I could only see what was directly in front of me. I had gotten a little too comfortable with absolute surveillance of my surroundings, well beyond what I could physically see. I was too comfortable not having blindspots, so now they were all around me, I was keenly aware of them all.

But it kept me on my toes as I approached. In the distance, I heard the sounds of gunfire. The city was so much quieter now that the sound echoed through the empty streets. Revy's efforts helped a great deal in preventing some gangs from becoming organized, but it was still happening. It was a natural instinct humanity to find safety in numbers. Protection gangs were forming, fighting against others, and absorbing the losers. Alliances were being made.

I had Cass and Revy on it. My cameras were now a limited resource, so I targeted the bases of the gangs that formed too quickly for me to knockdown. Which, for the most part, were the already established gangs and mobs. Though, already, I heard murmurings of villain gangs forming. Nothing concrete to act on, but it was happening.

Which is why it was a disappointment that as I approached the building, Gordon was nowhere in sight. I wanted an alliance with the police, but Gordon was dragging his heels on making promises. He was still treating this as a problem of the week, instead of something that was going to last for months. It was natural, and it didn't stop him from acting under the assumption of the worst-case scenario, but he didn't hide the fact that he didn't like how I was acting like a warlord.

The various gangsters milling around the front entrance took notice of me. To my surprise, rather than puffing out their chests, most of them looked uncertain. So, I greeted them with a winning smile. "Afternoon, gentlemen. I was hoping to speak to your boss about something." I said, walking up with confidence.

A few guys glanced at each other, their attention drifting to 2B as they checked her out.

The biggest guy shrugged - he was built how a bouncer should be. Mean mug, broad shoulders, and arms so thick he couldn't scratch the center of his back. He wore a tank top, revealing sleeves of tattoos that were all gang-related. He looked down at me with dark eyes, considering the situation. "What business you want to talk about?"

"It's been brought to my attention that the Easy-Niners might have kidnapped someone from Lowtown," I said, still smiling even as the half dozen thugs began to shift where they stood. "I'm here to see how true that is."

"What's it matter to you?" He questioned, taking a threatening step forward. However, as he stepped forward, I did the same so we ended up about an inch from each other, me in his face just as much as he was in mine. I smelled sweat and cheap cologne coming off of him.

"Because she's a member of Lowtown. Because this shit won't happen in my backyard. Pick your reason," I told him, still smiling. He didn't back down, and neither did I.

Another one spoke up, "Aren't you fucking with the Joker? Deal with that clown before you start stepping up to us," he said, getting a chorus of agreements. The guy mean mugging me just glowered at me, trying to get me to back off.

"I can multitask," I answered simply. "Are you going to take me to him or am I going to have to find him myself?"

In response to that, there was a long beat of silence as the thug glaring at me tried to get me to back down with just a mean look and a lot of moxy. I didn't blink. I didn't talk smack. I didn't even raise my voice or make a threat. I never really got that kind of stuff. To me, it always made you look stupid rather than tough or intimidating.

The guy backed down, stepping back a half step, "Alright. Follow me. Keep your girl close," he advised before he turned and walked inside of the club. I followed him in, the other gangsters following us. But I paused to look at one of them that mimed that he was about to smack 2B on the ass. His smile promptly fell and his friends immediately started giving him shit as we entered.

The club was filled with people - the dance floor was full, but it was with people who talking rather than dancing. I saw people glance our way, and word seemed to spread pretty quick. 2B flagged targets, identifying who had weapons and who didn't. Through the ceiling, I saw outlines that marked androids and disabled enemies. So far, things were progressing as well as they could.

The music pounded through the building, flashing lights making it difficult to see. The crowd parted for the bouncer, letting me follow in his wake, and he took us to a man sitting on a couch on the far side of the building. His arms were outstretched, heavy gold chains hanging from his neck as he looked at me. A few girls were cuddled up to him, looking at me with expressions of surprise and uncertainty.

"Vergil St. Jude," he began, and a text box appeared in the corner of my eye. Information that was gleaned from an interrogation. The guy was called Big E. Likely on account that he was closer to four hundred pounds than three hundred. He filled up most of the couch by himself. "What brings the Saint of Gotham to my humble abode?"

My grin didn't slip, "You set up shop in my backyard. Felt like I should meet the neighbors. Would have brought a casserole, but you know how things are," I returned, the music quieting down so we could speak. Despite there being at least a hundred people in the club, it was almost dead silent as everyone watched the exchange.

"Your backyard?" He questioned, his eyes going flat. "We've been here since the start. Right now, you are in our yard. With nothing but a fine piece of ass. You don't have a casserole, but she'll do," he said, looking at 2B as he took a long drag of a joint.

My smile grew as I met his gaze, coming to a conclusion. I knew the streets. Image was everything. Looking tough was every bit as important as being tough. And we had an audience so he needed to look tough.

So, I took a step forward. The gangster that led the way pulled out a gun and leveled it at me. Some others did the same as 2B tensed. The tension in the air became so thick that it was almost difficult to breathe. But, in response, I took another step forward, my smile never so much as flinching. The gangster aimed the gun at my head, and I very pointedly took a third step until the barrel was pressed against my forehead.

Or, rather, the barrier that was projected by my tie pin and buttons.

"Lower," I said, my voice deadly calm. I saw a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes as Big E shifted where he sat behind the gangster, who I now learned was called Jay. Slowly, I reached up with a finger and lowered the barrel of the gun so that it was settled between my eyes. "The forehead is the thickest part of the skull, you know. It's not like how action movies portray it - a shot dead center could just bounce off. But, between the eyes is thinner and it's a straight shot to the brain stem. About as close to a certain kill as there can be."

The tension swelled, but it was different. It was tinged with unease and uncertainty. I had a gun pressed to my head, and I was giving out advice on how to make sure the bullet took me out.

Little did everyone know, that that was where the shield was the thickest. My barrier was strongest at the head, for obvious reasons, but the eyes needed special protection. Not just because what I had said was true, but because I relied heavily on my contacts for so much of what I did.

Then I took another step forward. And Jay took a step back, making him fall back onto the couch that Big E sat on. "You have the gun. There's no need to be afraid. What am I going to do? All you have to do is pull that trigger. That's it." I said, my voice ringing out in the silent room. No one so much as took a breath. And because of all their attention being on me, they missed the Androids slipping into the back and heading towards the basement. "You nervous? Have you ever killed anyone before?"

I didn't get a response, but his face said it all. There was a hint of fear in his eyes and it was growing by the second. "I didn't think so. A guy like you… well, you look scary enough that you don't have to kill anyone. So, how about I help you out? I'm going to count for you, alright?"

I heard a muttered 'what the fuck' but I ignored it. All the while, I took in a message I had received from the Androids - the basement was a brothel. Curtain sheets hung up for privacy. Drugs were found - heroin… and so were girls. Mary was found in a fucking dog cage with track marks on her arm.

The visual didn't make me angry. It didn't make me sad. It just helped me make a decision.

"Three… two… one… BANG!" I shouted as I clapped my hands. But, even then, Jay didn't pull the trigger. The entire room flinched at the sound, none more so than Jay. He stumbled a step back, and the back of his legs caught the couch. He fell down, landing in a sitting position, forcing him to look up at my still grinning face. I could see it in his eyes and expression.

To be completely honest, I doubted that they were so shocked an awed by the display. I'm betting it wasn't the first time they encountered someone with such a unique reaction to what they saw as imminent death. However, I had something working in my favor.

After The Joker came back from the dead and broke Gotham over his knee, my reaction was to tell him I was going to beat him to death in front of the entire world.

That look in their eyes told me that, in this moment, I was the craziest motherfucker in the city.

If only they knew the truth.

"No? Fine," I dismissed him, looking at Big E, who now realized that he wasn't dealing with someone who he could intimidate. "Now, I have something to say and I'd appreciate it if you all listened to me until I was done," I said as the hostages were secured and the team of Androids made their way back up. They were heading to targets that 2B had marked, silently moving through the crowd. I wasn't worried about them being noticed. I had everyone's undivided attention.

"Loyalty is an important thing to me. It's the single most valuable trait a person can have. Especially in times like these," I stressed. "But, to me, loyalty has always been a two-way street. You give it to me, and I will give it to you. That's how I do things. Always has been."

"Now, a woman gave me her loyalty yesterday. She came to me seeking aid. She never met me. We never spoke. But, by coming to Lowtown and asking for salvation, I've given her my loyalty. My promise to give her what she needs," I continued, and ever so slightly, the smile began to fall from my face as I looked into Big E's eyes. "I failed that woman today. She was taken by some thugs as she ventured out into Gotham to help search for those that could still be buried under the rubble. She was taken here. Shoved in a cage, pumped full of drugs, and possibly raped."

I took another step forward so I towered over Big E, "That's my fault. I broke my promise to her and there's really nothing I can do to make it right. Two wrongs might not make a right… but they sure do make things even." On that signal, the Androids sprung into action. It was almost humbling to see, how humans just weren't a match. Almost instantly, the humans folded to their far superior strength, brought to their knees.

Big E started to get up, but Murder Weapon appeared in my hand and I brought it down on his knee. He screamed, just like the girls that had been hanging off of him did. I ignored them, "No one move!" I shouted, and no one did. Big E fell to the ground, clutching his knee as he tried to swallow the pain with some degree of success.

I took in a breath before I turned to address the crowd directly, "I've given it some thought. You see, I've given myself a lot of weaknesses. I made the biggest mistake on the streets there is - I care. Every single person that comes through those doors, I care about them. I do. And you can't do that because people will exploit it. They'll use them to break you. To take from you," I said, hefting Murder Weapon in my hand, and… danger radiated off of it. People's eyes were drawn to it, like a naked knife or a loaded gun.

Holding it put my teeth on edge. It felt like I was pointing a gun at myself, only there was no barrier to stop the bullet.

"I thought it over, about how can I stop that - how do I stop people from using the people that I care about against me? How can I make sure that I can keep my promise?" I asked the crowd, before I pressed Murder Weapon against the back of Big E's head. "I came to a conclusion - One of mine for all of yours."

Total war. The absolute destruction of my enemies for the slightest provocation. The nuclear option on a hair-trigger.

It would force people to tiptoe around Lowtown, because if they didn't, I would crush them under my weight.

For so long, the goal had been to be underestimated. To look weak so they would expect weakness and I could surprise them with my strength. But, that wouldn't work anymore. I was too large of a target to look weak. Instead, I had to project strength. Power. Now, I had to project so much of it that fucking with Lowtown was viewed as a form of suicide. And not the nice and elegant kind, like choking down a bottle of sleeping pills, or putting a bullet between your eyes. No, nothing so civilized as that.

"I'm not going to kill any of you," I said as the Androids forced the gangsters towards me. My gaze slid to 2B, and I saw uncertainty. But, when she looked at me, I saw conviction supported with a nod. "But, when all is said and done… I don't have to..."

"You'll do that for me."

It was a messy business. It really was. I didn't enjoy it. Didn't take satisfaction in it either. It was just a thing that I had to do. Almost like taking out the trash or doing the dishes.

Murder Weapon didn't grow stronger by the time I left the building, but I did learn a thing or two about it. Every swing wasn't an instant break of the bone or a killing strike, but each swing was as damaging as it could be. A swing that would normally just be a tap would be a bruise. A bruise that would last a few days would be so deep that it would last weeks. A solid swing wouldn't just break bones, it would shatter them like glass.

It was a weapon that wanted to hurt people. It wanted to cause pain.

And it had. The message would spread across Gotham that I personally walked into a gang's club and crippled them. Each. And. Every. One. It would spread and twist - it would be met with disbelief at first. But, when I did this again and again and again, people would take those stories as a serious warning.

"You okay, 2B?" I asked her as we left the club - the Androids were staying behind to secure it. Not everyone could leave, after all.

She paused for a moment before nodding, "I will be. As of now, I am developing a list of crimes that, if humans should commit, I will no longer consider them human. I believe it will help avoid conflicting feelings." And… that... sounded like a very human approach to the problem.

I would have to check in to see what was going on that list, but for now, my attention was stolen by a woman who approached us from out of an alleyway. A familiar face, but not one I expected to see. Barbara Gordon.

"Vergil," she greeted me, her tone tense as she stood in the ruined street with us. Her gaze flicked to the club, and I wondered if she knew what had happened in there. If she did, then she hadn't stopped it.

"Miss Gordon - good to see you, but I'm a little confused as to why you're here," I said. I had asked for her father to meet me here. And he was a no-show.

Barbara let out a breath before she moved her jacket to reveal a badge at her hip, making my eyebrows rise. A badge? So, she was an honorary cop? Or did she steal it? Why? "I need you to come by the police station to speak to my dad. There's been a situation." She said, and there was an audible grimace in her words.

I felt a sense of unease rise up that I kept off of my face, "What kind of situation?"

Barbara was as blunt as could be, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

"The Blackgate Prison had a breakout. It's empty and every criminal that was inside is now out on the streets of Gotham."

"Oh… shit."

...

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