As strategist and tactician for the Justice League, about a third of the expertise Batman drew on was from the great generals of history. One third distilled from the study, absorption and mastery of the military and political science of many cultures over many eras. The remaining third came from people: understanding what they’ll do, what they want, how they’ll react and what they respond to. It was a sense as common as salesmen, yet it eluded otherwise gifted generals from Douglas MacArthur to Parthenie of Themyscira. And it was more important than high ground. It could overturn treaties, unseat tyrants, crash stock markets. It once enabled a simple con man to talk his way onto the Wayne R&D campus without a scrap of identification or technical knowledge, just by talking to a security guard in the right way… And now it was tapping Bruce insistently on the shoulder as he watched the briefing wind down.
Clark was as happy as Bruce had ever seen him, and while Batman would never permit himself to feel relaxed working on a case, the tension that was normally coiled between his shoulder blades after these meetings was pleasantly absent. They had agreed that the World’s Finest would not become a quartet, but they were four very sharp minds with very strong bonds in a room together, and there was an energy in the case that hadn’t been there before.
“Lois, have you ever in your life taken a personal day,” he asked, omitting the question mark. Then with an irresistible grin and a gesture to the terrace he added. “And don’t you think that beach outside the window is a conspicuous hint from the Universe that it’s time you did?”
“Don’t let him fool you into thinking there’s a choice,” Selina said wryly. “When he breaks out the charm that way, he’s not going to take no for an answer.” She approached Bruce with the old rooftop hip sway, though her tone remained casually domestic. “Me too?”
“You too,” he graveled. “Clark will run you home to pack. (Lois, she can pack for you too, can’t she?) And then I want you two to work the camera angle while Lois works with me in the favelas.”
“Hey, I haven’t agreed to a thing,” Lois exclaimed and Selina murmured “Hold out for shoes.”
“You and Selina will go shoe shopping when it’s over,” Bruce added with an enthusiastic nod.
“Ah, I have no closet space since the last time,” Clark complained, though everyone ignored him.
“Louboutin, Delman, Ferragamo, plus fifteen minutes on the record,” Lois said.
“Five,” Bruce countered.
“Ten: half Wayne Tech, half global economy.”
“Three minutes Wayne Tech, one on the economy, and one on the wedding plans.”
“Exclusive on the wedding?”
They shook hands; Clark and Selina looked at each other and shook their heads.
Raoul, the boy Bruce had spoken to the night before, was from Rocinha, the largest of Rio’s shanty towns and (the kind of background Selina dismissed as ‘crimefighter trivia’) the one that had produced Rio’s Public Enemy No 1 before pacification: the undisputed boss of a drug trade that ran 60% of the cocaine consumed in the city. Bruce figured a morning tour would make a superb introduction to the favelas as a whole: their topography, social climate and lifestyle. The rest of the day they could hit two or three other favelas in person or meet with his Baker Street kids from five or six in total… Lois was shaking her head before he finished laying out his plan.
“Clark said he has a queue of profiles on the residents from one of these favelas,” she said with the borderline impatient tone she used with Perry when he tried to tell her what to do. “I know what he’s like with the human interest detail. Give me half an hour to read over his notes from the interviews, it’s all the introduction I’ll need.”
Like any reporter on her level, Lois kept a go-bag so she could zip off to anywhere from Belgrade to Padang on a moment’s notice with all the essentials for the day or two it would take to cover the story. The existence of this bag and the carefree readiness it implied in no way carried over to her non-professional life and travel lasting for more than five days. When Lois packed, it was a serious undertaking that rarely took less than two hours or produced fewer than four suitcases. For some reason, Clark assumed Selina would be different. Like Bruce, she always had her costume handy, and he imagined a criminal must be even more flexible than a reporter when it came to travel at a moment’s notice. It never occurred to him that Catwoman’s travel-readiness might be like Lois’s go-bag and Selina’s approach to an indefinite stay would be as insanely complicated as his wife’s.
“Does she have any navy flats?”
“I… don’t…” Clark said helplessly, shaking his head. Then a few minutes later there was something about a blue and white top that might have been half of a pants suit or worn with a skirt. Clark decided on a quick buzz around Metropolis—and Prankster (of all people) came through with a 13-foot gel-robotic-thing leaking glowing gelatinous ooze into the river. By the time that was dispensed with, Selina had two of Lois’s suitcases, a garment bag and make-up case packed and was ready for Gotham.
Bruce never welcomed someone modifying his plan, but in this case, Lois was saving them time by eliminating unnecessary steps. He could hardly complain about that. So he grunted, and she sat down in front of his laptop. She took a keychain out of her purse and inserted what appeared to be a crystal fob into the USB port. The screen lit up into a Fortress of Solitude interface. She pulled up the queued articles and the archived notes and started to read.
Psychobat watched through Bruce’s eyes, fascinated by her casual ease with a system the most arrogant members of the Justice League still approached with reverence. Of course Selina was just as at home in the Batcave he told himself. Did that mean there were even greater levels of proprietary familiarity ahead after she became his wife? Probably not, his more sensible half decided. Selina was a cat and instinctively settled in where she was welcome. The wedding was a formality, catching up on paper with a situation that already existed for years.
Wayne Manor was both better and worse than Metropolis. Selina knew her own closet, obviously, and she cared less about having an outfit for every conceivable event as she did having the gear for every conceivable break-in. Whatever she might want to get into—or more particularly whatever Batman might want her to get into—could require some piece of specialized equipment, and a leather backpack was filling up with a bewildering array of black boxes, atomizers, rolls of reflective tape, rolls of reflective foil, lenses, gels, wave cancellation discs and thermal neutralizer pads. In the hopes of moving things along, Clark made the unpardonable observation that, since he was involved in the case, he could probably help out on one of these theoretical future break-ins. You know, providing heat or cold as needed, zapping a camera without a special gizmo, or just looking through a wall to determine if… He never finished the sentence.
And he tried to remember if Catwoman had looked so blatantly capable of murder when he’d seen her in the field.
“Alfred!” she called out in a politer tone but with the same glint in her eye as when Luthor called for Mercy, “Why don’t you take Clark downstairs and give him some lunch. I’ll bring the bags down myself as soon as I’m ready.”
With nothing else to do while Lois read, Bruce asked to see the crystalline key that opened the FoS interface. Lois removed it from the laptop and handed it over without taking her eyes from the screen, and Bruce retreated to the terrace, recognizing the level of concentration. He considered the device in his hand: the end that fit into the laptop resembled an ordinary metal plugin for a USB port, until you turned it. There was a tiny circular hole in one side and a miniature female outlet on the other. And the metal extended up into the clear crystal, narrowing as it went, both it and the crystal veined in a pattern of angular lines and circles that resembled a circuit board.
“Thing of beauty, isn’t it?” Lois said when he gave it back. She knew the look of someone with a dozen questions to ask, so she answered the one she would have started with in a way that preempted the rest. “I couldn’t tell you what it is or how it’s programmed. The first time he took me to the Fortress after we got married, the main console just spat it out. Clark was as surprised as I was. He says it ‘grew it’ for me.”
A half hour later Superman entered Brazilian airspace burdened with seven pieces of luggage in total, and the woman who packed them. Rather than return straight to Rio, he turned to the east and slowed hundreds of miles ahead of schedule, descending in an idyllic spot before a glimmering pool.
“Our waterfall,” Selina observed, noting the spot where he’d brought her to clear the air when the truth came out about the mindwipe. “You came in so fast that time, I had no idea where it was.”
“That’s Chapada Diamantina,” Superman said, pointing to a dot in the distance. “The famous waterfalls and bathing pools are there, but there’s a couple hundred throughout this whole area that nobody ever sees.”
“Then thank you for sharing this one,” Selina said. “I should have said that before.”
“I wasn’t your favorite person that day,” Clark said frankly, and Selina didn’t contradict him.
“So what are we here to talk about this time?” she asked finally.
Clark looked at the waterfall as if for inspiration.
“Thank you, first of all. Tae-Vrroshokh, all you did to make that happen. How it ended doesn’t change what it meant to me. And please don’t sidestep and point to Bruce. His gesture means more than I can say and I’ve told him, but yours—Catwoman’s as much as ‘Bruce’s wife’—means something else entirely.”
“You’re welcome,” she said simply.
The silence that followed was pleasant for about a minute, they watched the waterfall, the rhythmic lilt of water lapping over rock becoming gradually less relaxing until…
“Thank you first of all,” Selina quoted. “That does mean there’s more coming. What else is on your mind, Clark?”
“I want to ask you something intrusive and inappropriate,” he announced.
“Okay,” she nodded like a woman who had experienced super-complications before, but not so often that she didn’t have to brace for it. “That sounds like fun.”
“Alfred thought it would be okay,” he added quickly. “He agreed it’s very personal but he said that, as a thief, you never made any bones about who you were and what you did. You were Catwoman, and if other people were confused about who that was and what it meant, it was because they were being willfully blind and choosing to replace what was right in front of them with something from their own heads. Nothing you did sent mixed messages. So he thinks you’ll either not mind a personal question and will answer it straight away, or you’ll be equally candid refusing and tell me to fly into the sun.”
Selina laughed, which made Clark join in.
“Considering my powers come from the sun, it’s like my telling Lois to go home and have a hot bath,” he added. “But I guess that’s as much of a putdown as he could muster.”
Selina nodded, and the smiles faded.
“What’s your question, Clark?”
Eyes of vivid blue that were windows into a complex and unnervingly innocent soul looked into hers.
“I wondered if you would tell me what Scarecrow’s fear toxin made you see.”
On the way to the South Zone, Batman silently revised his schedule for the day—which Lois again overturned as soon as they reached the favela, though this time unconsciously. As soon as she began talking to Raoul, he was reminded of Selina with the boys she’d befriended when she first found the Demon cell. Teenage boys in a pack interacting with an attractive woman. He couldn’t deny the words in her belated log entry: she had an advantage that “even the mighty Batman can’t match.” It was how she uncovered the cell in the first place: the boys were eager to show her things and one in particular was an artist who’d done a number of charcoal sketches... With Raoul, it was his older brother’s band.
First he took them to one of the newly paved streets to see a poster still hanging from their last performance. Then he led them down a much narrower street, still paved and lined with potted plants. Two people could walk comfortably down the center, but with patches of broken glass laid out in circles that said motor bikes were unwelcome. The path narrowed to a very thin one they had to squeeze through single file… which opened up to a courtyard with a garage where the frisson band practiced and where the drums and percussion instruments were kept. Raoul himself was learning to play – and soon to drive the motor bike also kept there. It was for a taxi service his brother drove for, and Lois wanted to know all about that. It certainly made sense with the steep slopes and narrow alleyways all over the place. Ideally, she wanted to meet his brother… and the barber Raoul had mentioned who was the unofficial postman, and the daycare helper and the domestic maid, the police commander… Bruce couldn’t exactly overrule her approach, since they weren’t sure what they were looking for. But it seemed a random way to begin an investigation, time-consuming and inefficient. Still, what Lois did worked for her. She had a phenomenal track record as an investigative reporter, and Bruce valued results. He’d already decided to treat this like a League team-up with a new member whose strengths he was still assessing, when the Lois factor paid its first dividend.
Selina’s fluent Italian had enabled her to speak easily with the Brazilians, but Lois’s fluent Spanish wasn’t an easy substitute for Portuguese. Bruce had to translate, and that changed the dynamic entirely. Like any responsible translator, he was doing all he could to convey the tone and intent as much as the literal words, including what he perceived about the boy’s desire to impress. Now Raoul was studying him. In five sentences he had gone from an intimidating stranger who traded food for information to a man of the world who knew how to talk to women. Once Lois was occupied with his brother Felipe, learning all there was to know about that moto-taxi, Raoul started confiding in Bruce as none of the Baker Street boys had before: Wheels, like his brother’s motor bike, were the key to everything in the favela. All the girls chased the guys with nice motorcycles. Maria Gasolina they were called. That’s why he’d wanted to get in the drug gangs before the government cleaned out the favela: ‘to get a motorcycle and get some girls.’
It wasn’t exactly progress on the Demon case, but the insights might be worth the additional time. Bruce always thought he knew what it meant when he saw the statistics: a member of the drug gangs made the equivalent of around $650 U.S. in a week while an average non-criminal in this same favela made about $250 a month. Yet despite the low wages, few areas still felt like a slum. Most homes were brick and concrete, structurally sound, with running water and electricity; no more kerosene lamps and the constant threat of fire, and an astonishing number now had Internet, cable TV and full bathrooms. So what did that extra money buy that was worth near-certain death before your 25th birthday? Respect. The girls noticed you; they paid attention to you. The boys admired your gun and envied your wheels...
Bruce sensed that Raoul’s brother had ties to the gangs that once ruled Rocinha. He didn’t like assuming that motor bike must have been bought with drug money, but there was a vibe when Felipe had entered the garage and again when Bruce shook his hand. It wasn’t a Gotham-thug vibe, but it was a vibe. He knew where the door was in relation to himself, Bruce and his brother, and he’d sized up Bruce—height, weight, gun?—as an unconscious blink within seconds of his walking in the door.
Rather than approach him directly, Bruce sent Raoul to join his conversation with Lois while Bruce went across the courtyard where a woman had been watching the garage through her window since they arrived. It didn’t take a massive feat of deduction to guess she was Raoul and Felipe’s mother. Bruce introduced himself, and she told him frankly that she hadn’t liked the look of it when Raoul started coming home with a bag of food every day, but now that their benefactor showed up in person “and with a woman like that no less,” she figured he wasn’t “after anything nasty” from her boy.
Nothing tore into Bruce like a mother’s love intruding on criminal matters, and Batman channeled it into a resolve to do something broad through the Foundation later rather than get caught up in the individual drama of one particular family. Telling himself he was only feigning concern and manipulating this woman like the cold-hearted bastard he was said to be, Bruce asked about the older brother.
“Oh yes, it was always my worry when Felipe was growing up, and he knew it. He had his friends in the gangs. He didn’t talk about it, but I know he did things for them,” she confirmed. “Seventeen friends in a crew. Eight are dead now, five in jail. One, he can’t walk. He lost some money and they threw him off a roof…”
Psychobat reiterated that none of this had anything to do with Demon or Luthor, that there are always moving stories, but it was far better for everyone if the Foundation helped in larger ways that might not be personally gratifying but helped many more people in less conspicuous ways.
“But then he became a father. He quit school, started working. I can be proud of him now.”
It turned out Felipe had two children of his own now. Together with a younger brother looking up to him and eight dead friends, Bruce felt he had enough to work with.
He embarked on an onerous climb on the narrowest path yet, up a flight of stairs of the kind that led from the rankest of Ra’s al Ghul’s dungeons to the crumbling parapets of the most ancient castles. Finally he reached the roof, where a bunch of Raoul’s friends had joined Lois and the brothers. The boys were showing her the finer points of kite fighting. Felipe was sitting apart, watching, and Bruce joined him. They watched the kites for a minute, and Bruce asked if there was a bar nearby. Felipe knew one down the road, and Bruce suggested they go for a beer.
The whispering trickle of the waterfall underscored the silence. Selina arranged her words while Superman, feeling it was really crossing a line to notice her heartbeat, focused his attention on that of a small bird. A bird that turned out to be hyperactive and made him regret the choice, its rapid-fire thumping providing a panicky soundtrack to the whole affair.
“Clark,” Selina said finally, “the only reason I can think of why you would ask me that is because you think you know and you want me to confirm it. And the only reason I can imagine for that is you’re a masochist—which I know you’re not—or maybe you did something very bad that you want to be punished for—and that really doesn’t fit either, but it does sort of fit with bringing me back here of all places.”
“I don’t believe I’m a masochist,” Superman said. “I don’t think I want to punish myself. But you’re right, I do have an idea what you saw. Given the theme of the day and that graffiti we passed on the ride to the museum, the photo that Scarecrow primed you with, I think… I think you saw me kill Bruce. And I don’t believe knowing it for sure will be better than the uncertainty, but maybe… if I was human, I’d say maybe I’m holding my hand over a candle.
“The things you said to me that day about the mindwipe, later you told me it never occurred to you for a second that I might ‘fry you into a little pile of ash’. Selina, I hate the idea that maybe it’s not true anymore. What you couldn’t imagine before you can imagine now because you’ve seen it.”
“And so has Lois and so has Bruce,” Selina said instantly, understanding. “And I’m the last one to the party, so I’m the easiest ‘candle’, right?”
Clark thought about it, then shook his head. “I don’t think it’s that; I think it’s the Catwoman history. You came into Metropolis to commit a crime, Selina. That time at LexCorp, you had a workaround for my speed and flight. You weren’t scared of the big bad alien, even while you were planning to get around all the things that I can do and you can’t. That Batman can’t, that no human you ever faced can. You were planning for it, and with all those abilities in your head, you weren’t afraid to take me on.”
“Clark, in my line of work, you have to be a pretty good judge of people. Somebody hires a thief, do they really want the thing or do they want to see if you can beat a Phoenix 6000 before they reveal what they’re really after. They might want a place burgled to draw attention from a different crime. They might be planning to kill you rather than pay when the job is done. Or, in Luthor’s case, refuse to pay as a simple exercise of power. Killing me would have defeated the purpose, he tried to get out of paying to show me he could.”
“What’s your point, Selina?”
“That I transferred my money out of Lex’s account at the same time I got the plans because I knew what I was dealing with. And I knew it was safe to mess with you over that river for the same reason. You weren’t going to be careless with a living person forty feet above street level any more than I’d juggle kittens up there. You just wouldn’t do it. I knew it then and I know it now. Post-toxin, I promise you, I would still come to Metropolis to commit a crime. I’d still grab Lois and set you up to block Batman’s pursuit with a falling elevator because you are just that easy. I’d still outsmart you with something as staggeringly obvious as a jetpack and a mirror because you are used to nitwits who are overly dependent on giant robots and space rocks.”
Clark bit his lip rather than rely on Kryptonian muscle control to suppress a chuckle.
“Should that fail, I would once again fluster you with a level of lip contact and badinage that wouldn’t break a G-rating with our Hollywood pals, and make my getaway thinking you were, when all is said and done, a bit of a dork.”
“Are you quite finished?” he asked and she took a deep breath before she answered.
“My point is, I can still speak truth to Krypton. The toxin had its moment and it changed nothing. Look Clark, I’m not going to say there aren’t images in my head that I would be happier if they weren’t there. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t make a vague, undefined idea worse to have a very clear, detailed picture complete with the memory of your own scream and disbelief and pain all fighting to get to the top of the pile as it plays out… And I’m sorry, one of those pictures is exactly what you think: you killed Bruce. It was my fault; I set the whole thing in motion… It’s not the first nightmare that stuff put in my head. You always hope it will be the last, but it never seems to turn out that way.”
“Selina, if your next words aren’t ‘But, Clark’ I don’t think I can stand it.”
“But, Clark, nightmares can be a good thing, can’t they? They don’t all come from malevolent outsiders like Crane, we have them naturally because they’re good for us. We learn to cope.”
“You’re saying that you’re better off having seen an alien thing kill the man you love? After all you went through to finally make it together, this alien that has powers he shouldn’t because he does not belong here that makes it so easy for him to just… hurt anyone or kill anything that’s here naturally, he comes along and destroys your chance for happiness—and this thing looks like your husband’s best friend. You’re better off for having seen that?! It’s not going to haunt you any time Bruce and I am on a mission?”
“Clark, stop. You’ve held your hand over the flame, okay? Now stop. You’ve said the worst you can think of in the ugliest way you’re capable of…” She paused, and he stared.
“Oh.” He looked at the waterfall. “Oh, of course.”
“Of course what?” Selina asked miserably.
“The toxin didn’t affect me,” Clark said miserably. “Everybody else that was there had a hard smack of the worst thing they could imagine shoved in front of their eyes where they couldn’t look away. But it didn’t happen to me. So I forced you to help me conjure it for myself. You weren’t far off about punishing myself. It’s not that I felt guilty for anything I’d done. I felt guilty for… Lois and you and Bruce all had that horrible experience. I was the only one that didn’t.”
“Ah. Well, now that you’re caught up, what do you want to do about it?”
“In no particular order,” Clark said, “Stop an avalanche. Save a village. Do something special for Lois. And do something for you and Bruce.”
“Capes,” Selina said, shaking her head. “Not even an effigy of Ichabod Crane makes the list. C’mon, Spitcurl, let’s get back to Rio. We’ll start with dropping off the Justice League SOP along with the bags and kicking off the case with something called a caipirinha.”
The bar was off of a wide paved plaza, too wide, as it turned out, for a neighborhood of narrow and tortuous alleys where most people walked and the fortunate had motor bikes. Fresh paint, colorful but not garish, was everywhere. There were some murals and graffiti, though it was clear that music was the preferred mode of artistic expression. Market stalls, folding tables and sidewalk displays from the shops had quickly filled the unnecessary lanes made for non-existent cars, and were interspersed with street musicians and dancers, and rows of parked motor bikes that bespoke a new prosperity. Pedestrians and bikes zig-zagged around and through in improvised lanes like before.
Felipe led Bruce down one such path that had stubbornly resisted the plaza and remade itself into a narrow alley. Past the heavy metal door to a storage facility, past the stall selling pots and kettles, past a terrifying stand pushing ginseng and catuaba smoothies as ‘natural viagra’, and past a van that had somehow driven in at some earlier date and was clearly parked in for life, they came to a slim opening that could only be called a hole in the wall. Inside was another fresh paint job, shelves of bottled liquor, a counter, a few folding tables and chairs, and a black and white television.
“This,” Felipe announced with enthusiasm, “is a very good bar.”
Beers were ordered, and while they waited Bruce studied the man before him. He couldn’t be older than twenty-five or twenty-six. Strange eyes. Shrewd enough to still be alive at twenty-five or twenty-six, but without the defensive quality that he usually saw in shrewd criminals. This man had seen things, but that was a given in the favela, it wouldn’t account for the vibe. And there was a readiness to smile that seemed sincere. A hardworking man, good natured and with a great attitude—when there was absolutely nothing in the picture to explain it.
“You got out before pacification,” Bruce began with the willful directness of a Bat-interrogation. It lacked the bone-chilling malice that broke the Gotham scum, but it was just as effective in the ears of a guy who had no idea he’d sat down with Batman.
“Yeah,” he said.
There was no doubt they were talking about the drug trade, that Felipe’s involvement was known and to deny it was a waste of time that would not be tolerated…
“I buried weapons for them.”
That no matter what economic hardships led to the decision, there could be no excuse for contributing to something that did so much harm to so many lives…
And that telling this forceful stranger whatever he wanted to know was the price that must now be paid on that debt…
“Did little favors here and there.”
It wasn’t a pretty story. One of his friends that was dead, they’d skinned him while he was still alive. “There was never remorse when the gangs ruled. Only killing and payback with more killing. There was serious suffering and serious rage and that was the world. Then little Lucas was born. And I thought: this world is a terrible place to leave this little man without a father.
“I was never afraid to die. I was nine or ten years old when I saw the dealers catch a guy who didn’t pay for his drugs. They beat the hell out of him, and then they shot him over and over. And finally they blew his brains out the back of his head. I saw that and thought ‘I’m not afraid to die.’ Until I held my son, all shriveled and wet, and all that changed. I thought ‘Now I’m afraid to die.’”
It was silent, apart from the low drone of the television. Not trusting his voice, Bruce just raised a finger to the women at the bar and signaled for another round. After the beers came, he wanted to steer the conversation towards pacification but Felipe was still thinking about his sons—and, oddly, about Lois.
“The Daily Planet,” he said, pronouncing the name carefully in English. “That’s the newspaper that writes about Superman. She is the Lois Lane that writes about Superman.” He smiled, that oddly easy smile that seemed like it belonged to a man with an easier life. “We saw him on the news not long ago, Superman.”
“Ah, yes, the forest fire,” Bruce prompted quickly.
“Television, Internet,” he nodded with a deeper smile. “My sons know who Superman is. When my brother and I were little, we thought he was a drug baron. We used to lay in bed and dream of being revolutionary drug lords, like Superman, who would lead the favela to a better life. What do you think he would say to that?”
Bruce was rarely inclined to answer when someone Batman was interrogating shot a question back at him this way, but in this case, he considered it.
“I think he would look around here and realize there was so much that had to change that even a child could see it would take great power to pull it off. I think he would see past the label and realize ‘drug lord’ is the only figure with power you’d ever seen, and if Superman was the only powerful figure you’d ever heard of… it makes sense that you’d put them together. And, I’ve obviously never talked to the man but judging by everything Superman has ever done, I’d hope he could see that whatever words you used, this was a pair of kids who wanted to make the world better and improve the lives of the people around them. I’d really hope he’d see the compliment in linking that desire with his name.”
Hope wasn’t a word Bruce used lightly. A few years ago, he could have said with absolute certainty that Clark would have seen it that way. Now, he hoped he would. Humanity had done that, and the part of Bruce that cared about Justice was angry at that. Clark deserved better.
It took a bit of effort, but Bruce managed to work the conversation back to Felipe’s decision to quit the gangs.
“It worked,” he said. “The decision almost certainly saved your life. You’re still here, and the gangs are gone. Health care centers now, day care and schools set up in their old hangouts.”
Felipe laughed. Yes, the gangs had no more power. But the symbolic placement of those admittedly welcome social services wasn’t quite as meaningful as the police imagined.
“When BOPE first came in, they went after the heavy weaponry. They didn’t care about stopping the drug trade; that would come later. So the gangs send the drugs away. They thought they could wait it out, you see. They figured: we lose a house or a store, we’ll lose some guns with it. As long as we still have weed and powder to sell, we’ll make more money and buy new guns.
“But the police, they’d find this building with a stash and say ‘Aha, this is where they cut up and package their drugs. This is their center of operation.’ Most times, it was just some spot the gang was only in for a week.”
Behind dark glasses, Bruce’s eyes blazed with the possibilities.
Clark thought Selina was joking about the caipirinhas, but as soon as they were back at the apartment, Selina told him to change into just-wandered-off-the-beach-wear, and ten minutes after that, they were entering an unassuming little bar in Leblon. Nothing about the place was shabby, except in contrast to the other bars in the ultra-trendy neighborhood. There were a few tourists here and there, but most of the light afternoon crowd were locals. Selina went straight to the bar. She’d evidently learned about the place on the beach on a previous visit and the bartender obviously remembered her. She introduced Clark as ‘a virgin from the States who’s seriously into the juice bars…’
Superficially, it was the usual Selina, the heedless bad girl teasing the cape, but nothing beneath the surface fit. It was familiar though… With a start, Clark realized it was Bruce’s fop. The party girl was camouflage for the same type of laser focus pointed at the case and dialed up to full intensity—without bothering to tell him a thing before they started. From habit, Clark smiled to himself at another example of two people so perfectly matched, and from habit, he ground his teeth at the doubling of Bruce’s most infuriating qualities.
A menu was produced, and his virginity in relation to the caipirinha was explained. Pretty much the national cocktail of Brazil, the drink was traditionally made with freshly muddled limes and distilled sugarcane liquor. You could get that traditional caipirinha here, but they also had one made with passion fruit, with young bitter oranges, with pineapple, with strawberries, and a number of specials made with whatever fruits were in season. Essentially, all your favorites from the juice bar were served here in caipirinha form. Clark was going to try the passion fruit, but Selina got them each ‘a trio’ to sample a variety of different juices.
“I take it we’re going to be here a while,” he said when they moved to a table.
“We are, but be discreet. They speak pretty good English here,” she said softly. Then came the naughty grin…
“So the buildings that were the actual centers of the drug cartel’s operations haven’t been found?” Lois said, trying to keep up as Bruce hurried down a busy thoroughfare.
“In Rocinha, that’s a confirmed certainty,” he said. “In the other pacified favelas, it’s highly probable. The gangs moved around a lot at the end, and the police grabbed the site of their last stands, thinking them symbolic. In most cases, they claimed spots a gang was only in for a week or two.”
He didn’t want to debrief until they’d returned to the city proper, but as soon as they hit the anonymity of the bustling sidewalk in Leblon, he started making up for lost time. They were comparing notes while he led her on a forced march to who-knows-where.
“And you think—Could we slow down, please?—And you think Demon took over the real long-term HQs?”
Bruce shook his head, and slowed his pace slightly as he pulled out his phone just long enough to check an address. Then the aggressive walk-and-talk resumed.
“It’s possible, but that’s not the most pressing reason to make this the priority lead. All I know of Ra’s and the Gang of Six, they would certainly have infiltrated multiple gangs. That means there could be anything left behind in an abandoned hideout. We’ve assumed those locations had all been searched by the Rio police. They wouldn’t have recognized anything significant pertaining to Demon, but the scene would be compromised, evidence lost. Now it turns out that’s not the case, the sites haven’t been disturbed. If there are leads, they’re still sitting there.”
He stopped in front of a toy store and opened the door for her politely.
“Where are you bringing me?” Lois said, looking up at the sign.
“To buy a miniature kite.”
In each bar Clark and Selina visited, it began with a naughty grin. “Let’s get to know some people” she’d say and then, just loud enough to be heard if someone was inclined “That’s what I love about this place, it’s not pretentious and cliquey like the ones on Dias Ferrera.” Switching to her pseudo-Portuguese Italian, she would single out a man at the bar or a group that looked like regulars and call out “You there, my friend is a reporter in town for the games. He needs to learn how to meet cariocas. Come and tell us where you stay on the beach.”
They came instantly, time after time, and introduced themselves: Eight… Nine… Nine and a half… indicating the numbered beach post that acted as landmarks for their favored area. They were all happy to become Clark’s guide to the tapestry of niches and nuance represented by where people stayed on the beach. And in the course of explaining, they introduced half the bar. He soon had detailed knowledge of the beach habits of Rio’s beautiful people, communists, gays, pot smokers, sports fans, new mothers, intellectuals, artists and actors—but more importantly, he’d met key people connected to the World Cup, the Olympic planning committee, the Military Police and the Metropolitan Command and Control Centre.
Meanwhile, Bruce brought Lois to meet another of his Baker Street boys and secured an invitation to the favela to meet their friends. She had no trouble getting them to show off their kites and kite fighting, and even the secrets of the communication network it concealed. Quite often, her questions prompted them to volunteer the very information Bruce was after about the drug gangs movements in the various stages of pacification. Sometimes she got them to demonstrate asking a question, which would bring a green and orange kite flying together across the favela, until the orange cut the green’s string and it fell like a rock. Lois would find it very exciting and ask what the answer meant, and the boys would be happy to translate. When both approaches failed to get the specific information Bruce was after, she would have still uncovered enough of a particular favela’s signals that he could fly his own kite later and ask whatever he wanted. Afterwards, he would take Lois home and return after dark to search the abandoned strongholds of drug gangs that might or might not have ties to Demon.
The apartment’s homey briefing room began to fill up with evidence bags from one half of the investigation, business cards and cocktail napkin notepads from the other. The television nearly always flickered with whatever Batcave or FoS system was being accessed on Bruce’s laptop. And the day after Selina asked if the Watchtower had a 3D printer (producing an incredulous ‘We have a Green Lantern’ from Clark and a calm assurance from Bruce that they had almost everything she was accustomed to from the Batcaves), a detailed model appeared on the coffee table of the Metro C&C that was the hub of all security and surveillance operations in the city. Bruce’s phone scrolled with data swiped from an Ipanema lawyer’s phone while Selina’s blinked through grainy night vision footage of the checkpoint entrance to an unpacified favela and teenagers with assault rifles on their backs cutting up kilos of cocaine… They each frowned down at their respective screens, then at each other, then silently swapped back their phones.
Breakfast no longer meant the meal but the hour each morning in which they fit bits of their investigations together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:
A mystery item Bruce found at one of the probable Demon hideouts looked like a cheap plastic orange peeler with a syringe tip attached. It might be used to inject poison into fruit and it could be connected to the work badges he found for the food market. But then Clark and Selina became excited and started hurling names at each other about that cultural minister they’d met and the theatrical director working on the Opening Ceremonies. Clark dug out his notes while Selina filled in the blanks: there was to be a huge display of Brazil’s agricultural riches—baskets and bushels and wagons full of produce coming in with the dancers for one particular sequence… by which point Clark found what he was looking for. All the fruit for that sequence would be coming from two suppliers for which Bruce found work badges.
“You wouldn’t poison food that’s just going to sit there during a dance routine,” Lois noted, while Bruce placed the work badge and the orange peeler-syringe next to the business cards.
“Put a pin in it,” he said.
Another day, Bruce returned from one of the abandoned hideouts with a list of traffic cameras from the other half of the city. The list had strange notations that seemed more like a high-level Demon operative than a barely literate gang member. He was marking their locations on a map when Selina noticed that each camera was near an upscale hotel. She made a new list with the camera numbers and the hotel names, planning to hack in and see if the entrances were visible on the individual camera feeds—when Clark looked over her shoulder and said her list was almost identical to the recommended accommodations for A-Level press.
“Selina, don’t you remember the guy from Venga who was trying to impress you because he orchestrated how all the world’s press would be dispersed through the city. He went on and on about how they break us down into tiers based on the size and quality of the audience, and then nearly had a seizure when he realized I was from one of the lowly print outfits?”
Lois didn’t appear to be listening. It seemed like she was studying another of Bruce’s finds, but then without looking up she said “Let me guess, we were the C-list? Hotels like Porto Bay Rio, Copacabana Mar…?”
“I’m afraid so,” Clark said, and Lois held up Bruce’s paper.
“Then I found the C-list,” she announced. “Look at this, Steve sent Gleason and Madley to cover the World Cup, right? And shared Madley’s photos with the Trib and a couple of other papers in San Francisco and Dallas?”
“I’ve no idea,” Clark said. “I don’t pay much attention when Lombard comes over to chat with you.”
“Oh get over it, I married you,” Lois said. “Just look at these notations. ‘Two from Met, staying at the Atlantico Copacabana’—that’s where Gleason said they stayed. Then a dotted line connects here, that’s the Tribune, they only sent one guy, stayed at the Mar. SF, one, also at the Mar and the D with a star beside it is Dallas at the Porto.”
“It’s possible, far from conclusive,” Clark said, used to her hunches.
“Bruce, I cracked their code,” Lois announced anyway, taking out her phone. Then, after dialing: “Sarah, hope I didn’t get you up. World Cup in Rio, where did you stay? … Uh huh. Any good? Staying there again for the Olympics? Yeah, I am. We’ll get together.”
She hung up and stuck out her tongue at Clark and dialed again.
“Hi Pete, did I mess up the time difference, so sorry. Look, I remember when you went down to Brazil for the World Cup you came back talking about this amazing chicken you had. What was that called again? … Galeto. … Specialty just found in the city, nowhere else. Well that’s interesting. Thanks. Hm? … Oh yeah, we’re both fine. Gotham press blew it completely out of proportion. … No, he didn’t set Batman on fire… No, Green Lantern was there but he didn’t… Nobody was set on fire, Pete. Look, we’ll talk soon—Oh wait, Peter, where did you actually stay in Rio? … The Hyatt.” She stabbed the page triumphantly and after a final Thank you/Goodbye/hang up, there was a full air spike.
“These are notes on the American press covering the World Cup,” she said. “Just look at this line here,” she showed Bruce. “Pete’s from WGKY Keystone, he stayed at the Hyatt, he ate at a place called Galeto de Sats almost every night. A bunch of the TV crews found it, it was very popular.”
Bruce took a closer look and grunted. Meanwhile, Selina was calling her contact and got him to fax over the complete list of recommendations for A, B, C and D list press. The women spent the morning cross-checking it against the Demon lists, with Clark and Lois frequently making friendly calls to their colleagues and acquaintances who covered the World Cup and nailing down where they had stayed and eaten.
When it was over, a disturbing picture emerged: “The hotel lists are close but not absolutely identical,” Clark summarized, “because the press office has what they recommended, and Demon lists only the places people actually stayed.”
“And ate and shopped and some other notes we’re not sure about,” Lois added. “They were watching very closely. It’s thorough.”
“Demon is that,” Bruce graveled. “Low tech, just men in the field taking notes by hand, but impressively thorough.” He turned to Selina. “You’ve been quiet,” he noted.
She had taken one of the sheets on the press of Australia and New Zealand. “I think it’s messy,” she said quietly. “I’ve been sitting here wondering when you were going to start a spreadsheet to get some of this mess organized, because it’s just too much. I don’t go into this kind of detail casing a bank with a Lossing Mark II, pressure tiles and magnetic sensors.”
“Your point?” came the irate crimefighter challenge.
“I don’t think they knew what they were after. I think this big thing was happening, so they watched without knowing what they were looking for. That’s why they took down everything.”
“And hoped they would come up with something once they had all the data,” Clark said shrewdly. “Not a bad plan.”
Bruce turned, eyes cold with a slow-burning outrage.
“If you don’t understand something from the beginning, gather as much intel as you can and figure it out later,” Clark elaborated, and Bruce’s glare downshifted though it hardly grew friendlier.
“Yeah, it’s not as efficient,” Clark concluded, “But half a plan yielding something is better than the best of plans yielding nothing.”
“They didn’t have to use it immediately,” Lois said, ignoring the testosterone. “They would have years to study it before something very similar would be happening again.”
“Just like what Ikaro told us in Ouro Preto,” Bruce graveled. “Using the World Cup as a template to know what to expect for the Olympics.”
“C’mon, Clark,” Selina said enthusiastically, though she was still looking at Bruce. “Experience says he’s about to start channeling Ra’s, and I don’t need to see that on a full stomach. We can arrive early for our tour.”
Bar hopping in the neighborhoods where the rich and influential drank and dined had produced several leads, but none quite so promising as Gustavo Câmara, the deputy press liaison for prestige events who arranged a VIP tour of the Command and Control Center. The facility was the hub for all security and intelligence operations; for the 2,000 cameras monitoring the city; for the military, civil and federal police, and all operations related to public order. As such, the debriefing that night when Clark and Selina got back was the most structured and formal to date, more like a full League post-action report, and Bruce wasn’t certain how either of the women would take it. Happily, a cat-burglar’s approach to a physical facility meshed perfectly with the meta-enhanced overview that was the League starting point for tactical assaults. Selina and Clark fielded questions together, handing off to the other to fill in a detail, as if they’d scoped a hundred targets together…
“Gustavo met us in the parking lot as soon as we came through the gate, walked us in the door and handed us over to a colonel from the military police—Selina, you’ve got his bio, right?”
A picture and biographical sketch appeared on the television screen, and Selina took over…
“Colonel Miguel Ferraz, not their best English speaker but he’s got the rank to decide he’s going to conduct the tour because he’s—”
“Supposition,” Clark said.
“In my opinion, because he’s a huge Superman fan. We’re not in agreement on this because Spitcurl is a hopeless cape who can see through the walls to the server room but can’t see what’s standing right in front of him.”
“Ferraz had a copy of my book, which has not been translated into Portuguese, and asked me to sign it. His spoken English really isn’t good enough to imagine he could have read it. I think it was a polite gesture, Selina thinks he wanted to ingratiate himself because I cover Superman.”
“She’s right,” Bruce graveled, indicating the screen. “Though possibly his interest is more professional than that of an admiring fan. That last paragraph lists the title of his dissertation and two lectures he’s given at their military academy. Powered heroes are mentioned in all three.”
The briefing moved on:
“These are cube farms,” Clark said, pointing to a segment of the building on the 3D model. “Server room is here…”
“The south wall is cords and cables,” Selina took over. “Coming down in these long metal channels, floor to ceiling, bundled in clusters of six. A channel holds maybe a hundred. Coolants here, here and here. Then it’s just servers and switchers, aisles of them floor to ceiling, like a supermarket.”
“Storage?” Bruce asked.
“Ferraz says 98 terabytes, but it’s more like 250,” Selina smiled, and Bruce’s lip twitched.
“Let me guess, Clark went on with the show tour, provided a diversion with that subsonic vibration trick, and you gave yourself a self-guided tour to check out the areas Ferraz wasn’t showing you but you both knew were there because you’d studied the blueprints and Clark looked through the wall.”
Clark clearing his throat was the only confirmation Bruce needed, but Selina mouthed a taunting kiss anyway.
“The showpiece of the tour is here,” Clark said, moving-on. “Operations Room on the second floor, Situation Room on the third…”
“More like Big Data meets Mission Control meets Bond Villain wet dream,” Selina put in.
“The Operations Room has a video wall here—Selina’s got the slides and specs. Three rows of workstations in front of it, technicians in jumpsuits… It’s 20 x 4 that can either be used as individual screens, made into blocks of four 2x2 grids, 4 x 4s, pretty much any configuration from the 2,000-plus cameras throughout the city.”
“And three mobile units with cameras on telescoping arms, and in helicopters, and two Israeli-made Heron drones they don’t like to talk about because they can’t legally be used in urban areas. But the capability is there if you don’t care so much about bending some laws, which I’m just sayin’, not everybody does.” She waved her hand impishly, then, with feline dignity, took a sip of water.
“I believe that flexibility produced more detailed technical specs of all of this,” Clark said as though he’d tried to stop her but wasn’t devastated by his failure.
She handed Bruce a slip of paper which he scanned, lips moving to occasionally murmur “Multi-view s7 modules with fanless fresh air duct cooling and front serviceability… 8X 1080i video signals… 3X HDMI video signals… Catalyst 3-gig switchers… 42 megapixel… Screen capture over TCP/IP…LCD modules or rear-projection cubes…” He looked up at Clark. “This is not dissimilar to the League satellite.”
They both looked at Selina, and Bruce added “When Luthor had you break into Holce Concepts, Allman-Freely, and WraitheMatCo that time, the satellite is the actual project they worked on whose plans I swapped for the rigged transporter.”
“So he got his hands on the real plans eventually,” Selina said and Lois added “That’s an arms race for you. You can buy time, but you’ve never beaten them for good. We’re sure this is a LexCorp system?”
As one, Selina said “Yes,” Bruce said “No,” and Clark said “Absolutely.” Selina and Clark then started to speak at once, and Clark took a step back with an ‘after you’ gesture.
“I found the consultants they brought in before any of this was a glimmer in Daddy’s eye. Before they’d bought a paper clip, they brought in advisers from the FBI, LAPD and Metropolis Police. Almost every name pinged.”
“Bruce has a database that rivals the NSA for flagging private individuals with connections,” Clark told Lois with just a hint of disapproval in his tone.
“Public, openly documented connections,” Bruce cut in. “To known criminal enterprises that represent a significant threat.”
“In this case,” Selina said, “two of the four FBI advisors joined and were rapidly promoted during the Luthor administration; the officer from the Metropolis PD dated to his time as Mayor, and the LAPD guy is our old pal Brockman.”
“Luthor’s head of security before Mercy?” Lois blurted. “I wondered what happened to him. So basically, the fix was in from the get-go. They would point to LexCorp or LCII products whenever they were available… Though Bruce is probably right. This is LexCorp culture. They push their way in as routinely as you and I brush our teeth. It’s not part of a plan, just background activity they do all the time that might be useful later.”
“At the very least, it’s a stunning contrast,” Bruce noted. “Demon’s intelligence is men on the ground, taking notes on paper…”
“And on Luthor’s end we’ve got a high tech, real time, integrated meta streaming Complexo da Buzzword Salad like I made up for Kyray’s press kit,” Selina concluded.
Bruce caught it. There was something in her tone, and it wasn’t the allusion to Tae-Vrroshokh. He studied her as she and Clark covered the final phase of the tour: the situation room.
“Wooden circular table surrounding an island table-top monitor that’s an interactive, touchscreen map of the city. The colonel demonstrated highlighting a section of the city with a virtual marker, it zoomed in on an area of about 7,000 square meters, displayed all the sensors and activity,” Clark said.
“That particular area had eighty sensors that would detect the location of any gunshots fired, including the caliber of weapon,” Selina said.
“Going by my own experience hearing long distance gunfire, I believe that last part is an exaggeration,” Clark added.
The meeting broke up and Bruce asked if Selina wanted to come along on tonight’s search for the abandoned gang/Demon location. She did, but when they reached the favela, rather than enter the oddly graffiti’d building with bullet holes still in the outer wall, Bruce led her down one of the steep, erratically angled stairways until they reached a picturesque spot overlooking Ipanema beach, what would be considered a prized view in any other part of the world… He held up an oval of blue metal the size of his thumbnail and pressed it.
“Sonic mesh engaged, there’s no chance of Clark hearing,” he announced. “What’s on your mind?”
Selina winced. “Wow, gotten rusty. Here I thought I’d—”
“You covered very well. Your control over your breathing is superb, and without the slightest change in your manner. You were as sassy as ever at the briefing, got all the information across that you needed to. You could have fooled anyone, even your lover if it wasn’t me. But I know your tricks, Catwoman. You couldn’t sit there for over an hour focused on fooling Superman without my noticing. What’s wrong? What happened today that you don’t want him to know?”
She sighed, relief blending with the old frustration that there was just no beating the Dark Knight.
“Someone else was in the server room,” she said with slightly more grace than when he forced the truth from her in the old days. “It was a simple keypad to get in, but that doesn’t mean a simple hack. Took me twelve seconds with my watchpoint, and, well, you can just tell if somebody else has been there. It’s hard to explain exactly—”
Bruce grunted to show he understood. It was the nature of expertise, perceiving details unconsciously that only registered as a sense or a hunch seemingly based on nothing.
“So I went inside and started snooping and taking those pictures as if I thought I was alone. There were a few monster movie pokes around corners, slow heel-to-toe walking in those aisles between the servers to minimize footsteps—and then I heard a sound. I chased it, but it was a feint. They were running the other way towards the door and by the time I got there, they’d gone. I went out into the hall and… and I could feel him watching. Now, there’s only one reason to do that. The guy was busted but he’d got away. The only smart move is to go home and try again later. The only reason to stick around that way is if he’d left something inside—”
“That’s the second time you said ‘he.’ Is that based on anything or?”
“Might have been the footsteps, sound of shoes, something says male, but I’m not sure,” Selina said. “Just a guess.”
Again he grunted.
“The only reason to stick around that way is if he’d left something,” he prompted.
“Right. If not something personally incriminating, then something that exposed the break-in when it’s supposed to be a zero residual presence thing. So I went back inside to find what he’d left, and sure enough, slid in between two of the servers not far from where that first noise came from, there was a spanking new LexCorp tablet.”
“Now, I thought about taking it, but Luthor or Demon it’s just dumb to let them know how much we know. If I left something behind and I knew you’d found it, and it wasn’t meant to be a trap, then I’d probably scuttle the plan and regroup. If I went back and it was still there, well that makes it interesting.” She unconsciously shifted her hip and gave a little wiggle in the way she used to when she teased him. “Did I luck out? Did he not find it? Or is there a tracker installed? Is it safe to even touch? … I won’t quit precisely because it’s now interesting. There are a dozen unanswered questions and I’ll never find out if I just walk away.
“So the tablet had to stay. I could’ve used my catspaw to flash the drive like I did Raptor’s laptop at Vault, but then I figured it was a chance to try it your way.”
“Selina, this is more detail than any op rep needs. Could we stick to the relevant—”
“This is the relevant part, actually. Since you showed me the ins and outs of the Bat-partition on the Wayne satellite, I’ve been dying to try it out. So I used your gadget instead of mine and uploaded the contents of the tablet rather than copying it to my little catspaw, and then I wanted to make sure I did it right before I put the tablet back where I found it…”
“It wouldn’t let me see it. The files were there on the partition, I could see the directory it just created, but it wouldn’t let me see inside. It had that straight-wing bat symbol you only put on keyword clearance files, and a slash-No Justice League circle and a slash-No Superman circle.”
“And that’s why you didn’t tell Clark any of this,” Bruce nodded.
“There are locks and ‘Don’t enter’ signs even I pay attention to.”
“Alright… Well… I’ll have to see what these files are that would trip that type of lockout,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Directory?”
“CatRio01… You mean you don’t know what could have triggered this?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well that’s fairly terrifying.”
He punched in his personal code, started to read and said “Relax, it’s probably…”
“Getting more so by the minute,” she said.
Bruce kept reading.
“Paging Doctor Crane,” she muttered.
“You started to say it was probably nothing, then you stopped.”
“It’s nothing,” he said dismissively. “It’s just…”
“At the risk of sounding like you, ‘it’s nothing’ and ‘it’s just’ are two entirely different things. Although ‘it’s just’ and trailing off is quite similar to ‘it’s probably’ and trailing off.”
“Selina, it’s night, this is a small screen and I’m reading fairly complex… code…” Again he trailed off. And after the longest pause yet, he grunted. “It’s fine,” he announced. “Fairly troubling, but nothing to worry about as far as—”
“Are you channeling Eddie now? Bruce, straight answer: What is it?”
“The lockout occurred because multiple apps on that tablet contained the coding signatures of former LexCorp employees from the tech divisions I acquired when the company collapsed. They’re tagged because they were involved in the kind of programming that amounts to corporate espionage, viral infiltration and cybercrime. Some we never hired, but some were briefly absorbed into Wayne Tech before we realized who they were and got rid of them.”
“So it was just LexCorp programs on this guy’s tablet?”
“Programs by coders with specialized skills. Lex didn’t hire you to decorate his office, he hired you to steal the X27. None of this group is in your league but—”
“But they have specific skills. If they’re back at the new LexCorp, it’s for a reason.”
“Okay, but whatever the nasty apps are for, they’re just LexCorp programs on a tablet. How does that lead to the no-Superman symbol?”
“Because acquiring those tech divisions was part of the LexCorp collapse which was tied to Luthor’s resignation. Clark was very upset with me at the time, and he wouldn’t have appreciated my… taking precautions. Especially related to Luthor, and especially anything that involved people who hadn’t done anything wrong yet.
“It was never a malicious effort to lock Clark out. I just didn’t want him stumbling on it by accident. If something came up on a case back then, something connected to the Luthor’s resignation, it would save a lot of needless complications if I found out first and could tell him the proper way. You’re smiling.”
“I like how it’s ‘avoiding needless complications’ when you do it and the end of Gotterdammerung when any of us try to keep you out of the loop… But mostly I’m just happy we don’t have a Clark problem.”
They didn’t exactly rush searching the drug house but they didn’t linger afterwards. Bruce knew how exhausting it was maintaining that kind marathon control over metabolic cues while behaving naturally. He knew Selina would want to crash, he knew she’d sleep hard and in the morning, he let her sleep in while he brought Clark up to speed.
He was circumspect but scrupulously accurate: Selina saw something in Batman’s system that she felt she should bring to him before anyone else. Clark accepted it, knew there were details Bruce was holding back and hoped it was because they were private, not because Selina was afraid of him. He didn’t want to discuss their talks at the waterfall with a third party, either Bruce or Lois. He decided to fly to New Zealand, where it was a longshot he would find a bank robbery in progress but where he did stop several other crimes... Then to Metropolis where there was more crime and an attempted suicide on the train tracks to prevent before he had time to himself over the river—where Catwoman’s luck had apparently run out, where that human woman without a power of any kind simply launched herself at his lips and startled him into dropping her… the raw daring in her eyes as she did it. And the raw honesty when she swore that, post-toxin, she’d do it again. He hovered nearer to the old LexCorp tower where, in between those two episodes, he’d thrown a helicopter at the man she…
The thought disintegrated into icy pinpoints in his brain as Superman realized he was facing a pair of hostile eyes glaring from behind a penthouse window—glaring as if they could give their hate form and project it like his heat vision to burn away whatever offended them. Matching the hostility if not the hate, Superman flew closer and hovered outside Luthor’s window.
I know what you’re doing, his pose seemed to say. A lie if posture was meant to be taken literally, but the challenge it implied was true enough. You won’t succeed. I will not let you hurt these people.
And the reply that was equally silent and equally clear: You don’t belong here. Your existence is an abomination. You will be made irrelevant. And then you will watch as I achieve all I was meant to achieve as if you had never come.
To be continued...