Special Agent King Faraday gulped down another mouthful of lukewarm coffee, grimacing at the taste as it sluiced over his tongue. He really should've made another pot before sitting down with these reports, but with the hell that broke loose in Gotham, that really wasn't an option. Papers were strewn over his office desk, lit by the cheaply-made tin lamp that hung, slouched, over the haphazard pile. He'd already been debriefed by the President – the League said the Leopard Fever was being purposely disseminated, but had no leads on how they were transporting it, or where they would strike next. That's where he came in. He sat back in his chair, rubbing his hands down his face wearily while sighing. Instead of remaining at bureau headquarters, which was currently rife with all kinds of jurisdictional toe-stepping, he'd gone back to his place in D.C. to do more research, free of military interference...for all the good it was doing him. It was past 4 AM, he wasn't a single step closer to finding a pattern in any of the outbreak locations, and he was quickly running out of time; he'd seen Waller's request for nuclear ordinance when it came down the horn. The woman was out of her gourd if she thought that he'd ever let anyone detonate a nuke on American soil – A nearby door clicked shut. He didn't invite anyone else over. King unholsted his government-issue Colt .45, finger on the trigger. He slipped around his desk, silent, as he easily guided himself through his darkened home. He'd lived in this place for going on sixteen years; he knew every square inch of this place like the back of his hand. No one was going to sneak up on him on his own turf. He halted at his study door, inspecting the light that poured through the cracks with a frown. The townhouse was technically three bedrooms, but he'd converted one into his office, and the other into what amounted to a mini-library, stacked with filing cabinets full of information and reports. He made a point of adding a deadbolt to the door on the off chance that someone was stupid enough to break into the home of a federal agent. He was going to have a talk with the locksmith who installed it tomorrow morning. He inhaled quietly, steadied his gun hand, and kicked the door open. “Freeze – !” He stopped mid-exclamation, mouth open, once he realized who he had in his sights. Waller appeared at ease with a semi-automatic pistol being aimed directly at her. “Hello, Agent Faraday. I think it's time we caught up.” 20. Book of Revelations In spite of his long and storied career in espionage, King Faraday was never really one for the cloak and dagger bulls**t. He did it only because it was a good paycheck; that, and he happened to be exceptional at it. But the bloodthirstiness of it all – the constant backstabbing and betrayal – was a bit too much for him to actively enjoy. Amanda Waller, on the other hand, seemed to live off of it. It was part of the reason why they didn't really get along. He dropped his gun to his side with a grunt of annoyance. “That's what phones are for. And doorbells.” He glanced around the room, which, at a cursory glance, seemed completely untouched. “How did you get in here, anyway?” She motioned to the window with her head. “Deadbolts don't do much good if you have a window that's so easily jimmied.” He added, 'Electrify windows,' to his home-improvement list. “So, what brings you around here? I thought you were meeting with the Joint Chiefs.” She scanned the room briefly. “I ran into some...complications. I thought it would be prudent to get a second opinion before coming to any final decisions.” He rose an eyebrow. She wanted his help? “This 'complication' – it was so important that you had to break into my house?” “I didn't want to risk being followed.” He shifted his weight to one leg. “You think you wouldn't be followed here?” “You're not the only one who can get out of tight situations.” She reached behind her, under her blue overcoat, and slipped out a fairly large manilla folder. “As for what's so important...” She held it out for him. “See for yourself.” The special agent began to inspect the folder, whistling quietly at the amount of information contained within it. “Where did you get all this?” “That's one the complications,” she replied ambiguously. “I received this from General Eiling.” His head snapped up. “Eiling? I thought he was still considered AWOL.” “I thought so, too, and that's why I'm here.” She tapped a finger against the dull black metal that comprised one of his filing cabinets. “He was able to trace my cell phone and contact me using General Flagg's number as a cover. He says that the Joint Chiefs have brought him back into the fold.” “Then the Joint Chiefs are keeping me and everyone else in the dark, because I've never heard anything about it.” Faraday's frown darkened, reading the documents cross-referencing Batman and Society movement. “Who authorized these reports?” “That's another complication.” Her dark face was unreadable, but he detected an undercurrent of anger. He'd worked with Waller some during the Cadmus years; if he knew nothing else of her, it was that she hated being played. Sometimes, it was just the nature of the job, and he took it in stride – do your duty, no questions asked, no holds barred – but Waller? She always took it personally when someone used her without her realizing it. He guessed it was a pride issue; the woman certainly wasn't short on it. She grabbed the portfolio, pointing to a few of the dates. “Some of this League intel is over ten years old, and if we'd had it then, there wouldn't be a League right now.” He followed her finger, confirming her words for himself. “So, either someone high up in the government didn't want us with this – “ “Or Eiling got this information from an outside source,” Waller finished grimly, smartly closing the folder. If his hair weren't already white, he would have sworn he felt it going gray on him. This was why he hated the cloak and dagger bulls**t, right here. “If he didn't get it from us, where did he get it from?” Waller smiled thinly, pressing the documents against his chest. “That's where you come in.” He swallowed a sigh. That phrase never meant good things. --- Nyssa was a troubled young woman. Jonn's connection with her was strong and secure; it was just the kind of tether a desperate young telepath would likely require to retain whatever sanity she had left. Unfortunately, it was strong enough that he had nearly full access to her psyche, and what he saw there was the mental equivalent of abattoir. Whatever innocence that was housed within her diminutive form had been all but obliterated by the thousands of minds that she spent her entire life being forced to endure – many of them being murderers and psychopaths employed by her grandfather. But hope wasn't entirely lost; he sensed a small bastion of humanity, a shred of herself that longed for normalcy and struggled to stay alive in the midst of the insanity that threatened to overwhelm her. Batman called her dangerous. If he only knew just how responsible he was for her survival. J'onn landed among a small thicket of trees within sight distance of the Juragua complex. Peering around the trunk, he watched the uniformed guards standing at attention along the gates, armed with automatic weapons. They appeared to be the Cuban military, but he of all people knew that looks could be deceiving. He scanned the two men guarding the gate, learning quickly that they were being paid handsomely by the 'workforce' to ask no questions and falsify whatever documents were required of them. They had no knowledge of what was going on beneath the grounds of their new reactor, and didn't care to know, so long as the money kept flowing. Having seen enough, he withdrew from their small minds, shifting into a contractor that they saw often and knew not to bother. His now burly form marched up the dirt path as though he owned it, stopping at the ten-foot tall electrified fence that ran around the reactor grounds. As he suspected, the two men made no attempt to verify his identity, and motioned with their arm to the nearby tower to let him through. Once the gates creaked back on mechanized hinges, the two guards saluted. “Welcome back, Supervisor Ubu.” He grunted in reply, continuing along the trail to the complex proper, massive steel tubes and a myriad of coolant pipes climbing up into the rafters like a man-made network of vines. He noted rust patterns hidden under a fresh coat of paint among much of the machinery, along with water stains on the cement walls; it was clear that Ra's Al Ghul did not consider the reactor's longevity a priority, only its short-term functionality. On top of what else he was planning, using a facility of such poor condition led to another problem – even without live uranium in its stores, a meltdown could pose a grave threat to all of Cuba. The League would have to ensure that they had teams on standby to evacuate as much of the island as they could, should that come to pass. A man garbed in black was posted at the end of the hallway. The officer stepped aside, saluting as the elevator doors opened. “The Master is expecting you.” 'Is he now?' He nodded curtly, stepping inside. --- Private Rodrigo Famosa broke attention to glance over his shoulder at the path the supervisor walked down moments before. “I wonder what they're doing in there?” “Who cares?” Sergeant Diego Sanchez replied. “They do their thing, we go home with heavy pockets. Everybody wins.” “Yes, but what if they're spies?” “What if we ignore it, like we're supposed to?” Sanchez snapped. Famosa dropped his rifle to his waist, looking at his superior full on. “I'm not so sure about this, Sergeant – have you noticed that people in the nearby villages are starting to fall ill? What if us turning a blind eye is causing that?” Sanchez muttered an exasperated, “Jesucristo,” then added, “just leave it be; we're not supposed to ask questions, remember? It's not any of our business who goes in or...” The soldier trailed off as his eyes locked onto a familiar figure stalking across the well-beaten path toward them. The very same figure they'd already let into the complex. Famosa tossed a look in his direction, tanned features going pale. “Is it any of our business now?” “Shut up, Famosa.” He stepped forward, stopping the well-muscled man in his tracks. “My apologies, Supervisor Ubu, but – “ Ubu glared at the man as though he were a leper. “What is the meaning of this, dog? May I remind you, you are being paid handsomely for your cooperation!” “I know, sir, but...well, you just came through here – “ The soldier was lifted up by his uniform collar with a strangled 'hkk'. “What?” Ubu barked in his face. “You let an imposter into the compound?” Sanchez's rifle clattered to the ground as he grabbed the supervisor's hand. “He...looked exactly like you – “ Disgusted, Ubu threw the smaller man to the dirt. “Imbecile!” He whirled upon Famosa, dark eyes ablaze. “Alert reactor security!” --- The elevator stuttered violently to a halt, its light flickering from the change in velocity. J'onn, in the guise of Ubu, stumbled forward, catching himself against the wall. He barely had time to look upward before the cage rattled a second time, once again descending toward the bowels of the hidden facility. That was distressing. Straightening, his disguise vanishing, he calmly stood while the elevator arrived at its destination with a prolonged creaking of hinges and metal grinding against metal. The half dozen armed guards awaiting at the entrance, alerted by one very irate Master Ubu of an intruder entering their sanctum, were greeted by an empty carriage. Cautiously, the center soldier crept forward, the other five following suit in a V-formation behind him; muscles whip-tight and eagerly anticipating a conflict. Their examination of the elevator confirmed that there was no one inside, no one waiting above, nor was there any trap waiting for them. The leader, relaxing slightly, turned to his five compatriots who waited just outside the elevator entrance. “It appears to have been a ruse – “ Green hands shot out from the wall behind him. By the time the remaining soldiers took stock that their leader was now an unmoving heap on the floor, his head having left a dent in the steel he'd been slammed against, the mysterious hands had already melted back into the surroundings. Their testing to be counted among the ranks of the Society was brutal, and their trials were numerous – but they'd never been faced with something that could emerge and disappear like a spectre. This was something beyond them. But they would not falter, forming a tense outward circuit, weapons primed to unleash carnage upon whoever was foolish enough to defy the Master and strike against one of their own. Their collective breathing was shallow enough that they could have heard a pin drop from a hundred yards away. Their hearing was acute enough to catch the heartbeats of rodents crawling inside the elevator shaft for several floors. None of them heard the Martian Manhunter rise from the ground beneath them into the middle of their protective circle. Four of them would have no memory of what happened; the fifth would only see a blur of green flying toward his face before he was enveloped by darkness. Frowning, J'onn looked down at the pile of unconscious soldiers that were littered around his feet. So much for getting in and out undetected. He moved to step forward when the crackling reverberation of a psychic attack on Nyssa traveled the length of their connection. Blindly, he grasped for a nearby wall, his other hand pressed against his head, as he struggled to see through the curtain of stars and make his way to a safer place. There were more coming, he couldn't afford to – Ordinarily, it would take voltage several times the lethal capacity for a human to faze him, let alone incapacitate him. This time, it took only one well placed shot with a high-powered taser-rifle to force him to the ground. He peered up blearily to spot Ubu towering over him, smug. “The Master wishes to speak with you, infidel.” Well. Far be it for him to disappoint the Master. --- Jim Gordon stood under the dim yellow haze of a streetlamp, taking in the sights while he waited in the brisk October evening. Gotham Park was still dangerous at this time of night, especially alone, but this particular section was considered off limits by most gangs and organized crime – it was one of the Bat's favorite hunting grounds. He supposed that was why Batman chose this place for a meeting. His breath came out in tiny white puffs, making him yearn for a cigarette. He'd been smoking since he was seventeen, why did Sarah think that quitting now would suddenly make him any healthier? Given the type of whackjobs and sickos he went up against every single day, cancer wasn't really on his list of priorities. But, if it made her happy...he coughed into his fist, lungs agitated by the cold air. He pushed the sleeve of his brown leather trench back, reading his watch. 3:17. He was late. That wasn't like him. “Jim.” As always, he jumped, fighting back the scowl of irritation at continually being sneaked up on. He turned, half smile on his lips. “Nice night for a stroll in the park?” His mood darkened when his eyes fell upon the haggard figure that slunk from the shadows, still commanding, still fearsome, but clearly battered. “I need your help.” He shoved his hands into his coat pockets for lack of anything else to do with them, unsurprised by the request. It had been nearly a month since they'd last met, so obviously whatever got his attention was a doozy. “With what?” Batman was ramrod straight, stiff, even for him. “I've come to turn myself in.” If he had been drinking coffee, he would have spat it out in a rush. As it was, he yanked his hands back out in disbelief. “What? Why?” Batman began to slowly walk forward; Jim noticed the limp he was trying to hide. He stopped just outside the yellowed ring of light, voice like flint. “Because I killed the Joker.” His eyes went wide, jaw slack. His mind refused to comprehend the words, the idea that he could – he just wouldn't. “What happened?” Jim found himself asking. “He kidnapped Robin,” he explained, gaze averted to the treeline. Batman didn't purposely avoid eye contact. “When I saw what the Joker had done, I...” He inhaled, squaring his shoulders without an ounce of pride to be seen. “It's over, Jim. You have to take me in.” He reached for his mask. Gordon didn't believe it. Not for one second. He stepped closer, noting how the shadow seemed to be fighting the urge to back away. Batman never got spooked, and Batman never killed. Never. He stopped his friend's hand. “Don't.” Batman appeared puzzled, fingers still curled under the edges of his cowl. “You need to do Miranda. You need my name.” “Miranda's only for people getting arrested,” he answered, grip still firm on Batman's forearm, “and I already have your name.” Batman gaped at him in open shock. The look – comical on anyone, but especially on the Dark Knight – was enough to make him crack a small, fleeting grin, hidden beneath his mustache. “What, you think you're the only detective in Gotham?” Batman blinked, hand slowly falling back beneath the safety of his cape. “Why didn't you...?” “Because I knew you were here to help.” He regarded the man evenly, eyes boring into his with the strength of a thirty year police veteran. “Now, do you wanna tell me what really happened?” “I just did.” If he knew the situation weren't so dire, Jim would've felt insulted. As it was, he was annoyed; covering up a crime for someone else never did anyone any good. He pretended not to notice the hypocrisy. “Well, I don't buy it – I know you better than that.” Batman's eyes narrowed briefly. “You think I'm lying?” “I think you know who really killed him, and you're trying to fall on the sword to protect them.” Batman made no attempt to respond, expression as stony as he had ever seen it – which, to Gordon, meant he'd hit the bullseye. That complicated things. Batman could hold out forever, take any punishment given, if he thought it meant someone else was being kept safe. Jim's only chance was to appeal to that directly. “I promise, I'll do everything I can to help you, but you've gotta help me first. I need to know what happened.” He motioned with his free hand toward the nearby park bench behind them. “All of it.” He honestly didn't expect him to listen. But to his amazement, Batman complied, silently trudging to the bench and sitting; shoulders slumped and head bowed. By the time he was finished recounting the events of the past three weeks, he wasn't the Dark Knight Detective, anymore; just a man who had found their child tortured and subjected to horrors beyond their comprehension or ability to withstand. If their positions had been reversed, and the Joker had taken Barbara instead... Jim gained a newfound respect for him. “How's he doing now?” “Sedated,” he answered, voice flat and becoming hoarse. “Leslie is going to try and ascertain the extent of the trauma, and figure out what we need to do from there.” He glanced up at that, lenses blazing in a sudden intensity that was usually reserved for the worst criminals on the market. “He is not going to Arkham.” He placed his right hand on Batman's shoulder. It was trembling. “He won't. I'll make sure of it.” He straightened his own shoulders, trying to infuse as much assurance into his words as he could muster at 3:30 in the morning. “I'll take care of things on my end. You worry about taking care of the kid.” Batman's burst of anger dissipated quickly, craning his neck up to stare fully at him; he looked for all the world like a kicked puppy as he asked, “You mean, you're not going to arrest me?” Jim's heart twisted in his chest. “It sounds to me like the Joker was killed in self defense. It's not against the law to stay alive.” He could tell Batman wanted to argue the point, because even as his life fell apart around him, he was still concerned with compromising Jim's work ethic as little as possible. Jim shifted gears, studying him for another heartbeat. Two grown men were not naturally disposed to talking about feelings; definitely not a hardened cop and an even more hardened vigilante. But he heard the defeat, so unnatural coming from a man like him, in his voice. Now was not the time for stubbornness and pride. “And how are you doing?” The light in his eyes went out abruptly, and for a moment, Gordon wondered if the man was going to cry. He hoped the flash of horror he felt at the thought of it didn't show on his face; after the hell Batman had been put through, he of all people had earned the right to break down. He almost wished the Joker wasn't dead, just so he could kill that diseased maniac himself. Almost. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts of retribution that he nearly missed Batman's quiet confession. “...It was my fault.” Oh no. Not this. He knelt in front of the figure who sat hunched like an old man, his joints aching in protest – 'You're too old for this, Gordon' – as he tried to offer comfort. “No, it was not.” “He targeted Tim to get to me,” Bruce lamented, baritone hollow and tortured. “If I hadn't – “ “Then he would've gone after someone else, and no one would've been able to stop him,” he retorted, tone brooking no argument. “Listen, son, I don't know what you've told yourself, or why you believed it, but as far as I'm concerned, you saved that boy's life tonight.” He gave the man one of his toughest glares, hoping it would give him an anchor point to steady himself on. “Now you're gonna go back home, you're gonna get him back on his feet, and you're gonna make sure he's taken care of, because he's a good kid, and you're a good man. And neither of you deserved this. Don't you dare let that bastard win, do you understand me?” He squeezed his friend's shoulders tightly. “Don't let him win.” Batman stared at him blankly, eyes dull even through the lenses, before nodding once mutely. He nodded in return, hands relaxing. “Good.” Forcing back the grunt of pain, he pushed himself to his feet, wiping at his knees absently. “Now, come on, there's work to do.” He didn't wait to see if Batman picked himself back up, because he knew he would. He didn't notice his hands were shaking until he tucked them safely back into his coat pockets, fingers instinctively reaching for the cigarette pack that wasn't there. “I'll get to work on the report, let me know if you...” He turned, and saw he was alone. 'Well, isn't that something?' he thought bitterly. At least that much hadn't been affected by tragedy. “Need anything else.” Shaking his head, he sucked in a breath, the chilly air tickling at his lungs, and slowly let it out. He supposed he should head back to the office, again. He made it halfway to his car before he was interrupted by the jingling of his cell phone. Great, now what? “Gordon here.” “Thank you, Jim. For everything.” The phone line went dead as abruptly as it lit up. Jim stared at the device in his hand as he gently flipped it closed, the slightest measure of a grin touching his thin lips. 'Well, isn't that something?' A phone rang again. Curiously, he looked down at the inert cell in his hand, trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from. “Where in the world...?” Jim Gordon opened his eyes, blearily focusing on the blue-hued stalactites that hung imposingly from the ceiling over a hundred feet above. It took three seconds and a casual rub of his palm down his face before he remembered exactly where he was and why. Then the 'phone' rang again, coming from the massive supercomputer that was built into the cavern wall in the other room. 'Doesn't having a phone defeat the purpose of solitude?' Jim wondered while he tossed his legs over the side of the couch and plodded through the narrow, winding hallway to the main hall. The sophisticated computer array was lit up, painfully bright compared to the darkness he'd come from moments before; one key in particular flashing in a simple but never the less aggravating pattern. Running his hand across his face – he hoped there was a razor in this place – he debated whether or not to let the message go; after all, Batman wanted him to keep his head down in case of another attempt on his life. Then he remembered he was in the Fortress of Solitude. He pressed the button. The screen remained dark, but the voice was anything but. “Hi, Dad.” He blinked. “Barbara? I didn't know you had Superman's private line.” “I don't,” she replied, almost apologetic, “well, I didn't until just now.” “Did Batman tell you I was here?” “No, but he told me that he had you in a safe place, and I didn't find you anywhere on the Watchtower...” Silence for a beat. “I know you don't wanting me asking you this, but I need you to talk to Bruce.” She was right, he didn't want her asking that. Barbara seemed to think that just because he didn't immediately and emphatically side with her after Bruce ended his relationship with her, Jim was on excellent terms with him, when he could have killed the man for breaking his daughter's heart so thoroughly. The reason he didn't immediately and emphatically side with her was because he knew that it took two to tango, and with all the time she spent around Batman, she had to have known what she was getting into – or, at least, she should have. The truth of the matter was, their entire situation was a train wreck waiting to happen from the moment he caught wind of it – they were both stubborn, intelligent, determined, and entirely too used to getting what they wanted through sheer force of will. They just weren't compatible. It was no more his fault for being who he was than it was hers for being who she was; in his eyes, they shared the blame for the pain they caused each other equally. That's where Barbara seemed to falter in her understanding – she would always be his little girl, but it wasn't his place to shield her from her own mistakes, anymore. She would have to live with her regrets, just like everyone else in the world did. “About what?” “About what's going on. He's taking on too much.” He arched an eyebrow. “And you think I can convince him to slow down?” “Maybe. He actually listens to you,” she stated with only a hint of bitterness tinging her voice. Jim shook his head slowly. She had no idea just how much Batman listened to everyone – especially her. He wasn't about to argue it with her; he knew she wouldn't hear any of it. “Barbara...Batman knows his limitations better than I do. I'm not going to ask him to cut back, especially when millions of lives are at stake.” “No, he doesn't know his limitations, Dad,” she retorted strongly. “You've seen him – you know how he gets. If Gotham's in trouble, he won't stop until someone or something makes him stop, and right now, Dad, he...” Barbara exhaled in resignation. “Dick's been infected with Leopard Fever.” He straightened at that. “Tim went undercover without Bruce's permission, Alfred's sick, Leslie's gone, and he won't listen to me, and...he has nobody left, Dad,” she pleaded. His heart twinged painfully in his chest. “I'm...I'm really worried about him.” He was slightly surprised that she felt any concern at all for Batman after their break-up; Hell hath no fury like a Gordon woman scorned. Still, this was Barbara, soft-hearted and caring, just like her mother. His heart tweaked again. God, he missed Sarah. “I'm in the middle of the Arctic, what do you think I can do from here?” “I don't know,” she admitted after a moment's pause. “I just...wanted to keep you in the loop, since I knew Bruce wouldn't.” That was her way of saying that she was afraid. For the sake of her pride, he let the undercurrent slip through unchecked. “How are you doing?” “A little cold, but still breathing,” he answered, adding, “and there's some great coffee here.” There was a quiet huff of laughter. It felt good to hear that from her again. “You and your coffee.” He commented with a smirk, “Well, a guy's got to have his priorities in order.” He cleared his throat, relinquishing himself to the task required of him. It wouldn't be the first time that he'd have to drag Batman away from the brink for his own good. “I'll see what I can do.” “Thank you, Dad,” she said with a quiet sigh of something like relief. “I'm sending you the information you need to contact me.” The screen lit up suddenly, causing him to squint and turn his head away. It hadn't occurred to him just how used to the cave's ambient lighting he'd grown in the few hours he'd been here. “Feel free to use it, if you need to.” He read over the string of code with the eye of a complete outsider. He understood the very basics of computers, but he was hardly the whizkid that Barbara was at it. “Thanks, I will.” The soft thrum of static carried over the line for another long, drawn out moment. “I love you, Daddy.” He smiled at the monitor, hoping she could sense it and bring her comfort. “I love you, too, sweetie.” The blinking light went dark. Frowning, he grabbed the arm of the nearby high-backed chair and rolled it over to him. Sitting down wearily, Jim rubbed at his temples as he stared sightlessly in front of him. What did she expect him to do? Put on some thermals and trudge his way back to the States? But she was right – Batman was taking one hell of a beating, and a lot of the shots were below the belt. He glanced back down at the sheet of paper he wrote Barbara's contact information on, and then looked at the cool metal keys that rested under his fingers. The wheels in his mind, having grown rusty from years of retirement, groaned as they began turning. Batman wasn't the only detective around. --- J'onn came to slowly, his senses returning to him one by one. Usually, the first that came to him was his telepathy as he instinctively searched for nearby souls in his vulnerable state. In this instance, much like his time in Copán, he found himself completely alone. He opened his dull red eyes, discerning that his arms and legs were locked against a cold metal wall by some large, cylindrical clasps that engulfed his hands and feet. They were reminiscent of the bonds the Justice Lord Batman used against them years ago, but these were, perhaps, not as advanced. He tested his bonds, tugging his limbs, and then trying to manipulate his way out of them. They proved too strong to break though, and seemed to be made of an alloy that nullified both his shapeshifting and phasing. Not many in the world had the capabilities of creating machinery to contain him, and unless Ra's Al Ghul had been planning to capture League members concurrently with the United Stated government, that meant he had procured that information from an outside source. That concerned him greatly. It appeared that he would require assistance. Though he was unable to contact any of the League, his connection with Nyssa was still, surprisingly, intact. He reached along the tether and felt an obstruction in her mind, something weighing her down and blocking further access – likely due to whatever attack she suffered that caused him to lose focus and get captured. He might be able to remove it, but it would require – a door clattered open with a harsh whine of metal. He closed his eyes quickly, listening to the sharp footfalls against the the stone floor. The slap that followed was enough to make him wince. Ah, there was his sense of feeling. “Wake up, dog! The Master approaches.” The figure strode through the open doorway, impeccable and refined in every sense of the word. A slight smile dangled at his thin lips when his light blue eyes appraised him. “I see that you've met Ubu,” he addressed J'onn, pulling an arm from beneath his ornate green cloak to motion towards his brawny lieutenant. “I apologize for his alacrity in subduing you; it appears he does not appreciate being imitated by outsiders.” Ubu harrumphed in agreement, jaw set. “I trust you know who I am.” J'onn cut to the chase. “Why are you doing this?” Ra's cocked an eyebrow, tilting his head to the side briefly. “If your intent is to relay this information to your allies via telepathy, you will be sorely disappointed.” He pointed to the wall he was currently attached to. “The chamber you have found yourself in has been specifically tailored to prevent such communication, along with your...other attributes. As I'm sure you've already noticed.” “You didn't answer my question,” J'onn said, steadily picking at Nyssa's locked away mind. “Why are you doing this?” “I had thought, with the Detective at your side and my daughter under his sway, that you would have learned all of that by now,” Ra's answered, raising his hand to his chest in deference. “But, since you have traveled all this way to have an audience with me, I will tell you all you wish to know.” “Because it won't make a difference?” J'onn asked coolly. Ra's eyes twinkled dangerously. “As you'll soon learn, nothing will make a difference.” --- Nyssa was aware. She was rendered immobile, now currently in what she believed to be an infirmary, but her mind was still functioning as it always was – thanks, in no small part, to the Martian for unintentionally absorbing so much of the blow via their link. Had he not been her anchor, whatever pre-programmed response he'd triggered from her subconscious (no doubt placed there during her stay in the Cadmus labs) would have likely obliterated her cognitive abilities. Oh yes, Ms. Waller was going to be hearing from her very soon. But, for now, she listened. “What has happened to her?” “I don't know,” he admitted. His voice was terse, but somehow, guilty. Unnecessary, given that she offered to help him, and would have gladly paid a higher price if it meant winning his trust. “But her vitals are all normal, which means whatever's affecting her is probably only going after her voluntary motor functions. Locked-In Syndrome.” Well, that certainly sounded unpleasant. Doors hissed open, and then shut. “Do you believe you can help her, beloved?” “We'll do everything we can,” said the Woman. Did Mother ask her? “Have you heard from J'onn?” “No.” This voice was new; it was like steel, wrapped in fleece. She found herself trusting it implicitly. She never did that. Ever. “But then, we told him to maintain radio silence. Are you sure he's in danger?” “Nyssa said his name before she fell unconscious,” the Woman answered. “I think she was trying to warn him.” “Or us.” “We should strike now,” the Woman stated boldly. “We know where Ra's Al Ghul is hiding, and even with your countermeasures in hand, we hold the advantage. He can't stop all of us at once.” “I could, which means he could,” Batman rebuked. “And unlike me, he has thousands of zealots that are willing to die for him on a moment's notice. Charging in won't work here, Princess.” Princess? Was that an honorific or a pet name? If she were capable, her hairs would have stood on end. “We have to do something,” the new voice exclaimed. The silence that followed was deafening. --- J'onn felt the slightest twitch of recognition along the tether, which gave him hope that his surreptitious work wasn't all for naught. He redoubled his efforts as Ra's spoke. “You're the last of your kind. You know what it's like to watch a world which you love more than your own life wither and succumb to the viciousness of those who care nothing for it.” “What happened to my world and what is happening to yours aren't the same,” J'onn replied evenly. “It is the exact same thing,” Ra's insisted, light blue eyes ablaze. “Those in charge of humanity seek only to swell their own pockets, and will destroy anything to do achieve those ends. They are bringing the planet which has given us all life to its knees to slake their own insatiable thirsts for wealth and power!” He held a hand out in J'onn's direction. “Surely you, of all people, have the objectivity to see humanity's destructiveness for what it is.” “Yes, I do see it for what it is,” J'onn agreed, sending this information along while continuing to push against Nyssa's mental barrier. Ra's expression seemed to soften at the admission, having believed to have found common ground with his 'guest'. “And what I see in front if me is no less destructive than the ones you're attempting to stop.” The man's long face became thunderous. “If you wish to delude yourself, so be it. What I have spent years trying to achieve is close at hand, and what I have begun cannot be stopped.” As quickly as the rage surfaced, it submerged beneath the seemingly tranquil waves of aristocratic refinement. “Using a unique mixture derived from the Lazarus Pits, I have devised a way to siphon the very life essence from anyone who ingests it. Those who are infected with Leopard Fever, unfortunate as their fates may be, are serving a much greater purpose than mere death – they are bringing forth the world's rebirth.” J'onn felt the weight petrifying Nyssa's mind begin to buckle from his attacks on it. “How will the deaths of millions recreate the world?” “Because the Lazarus Pits and their rejuvenating qualities are no mere natural phenomena. They're portals to another realm of existence – a portal which I will open to this sickly world.” Ra's voice held an absolute certainty that sent a shiver down the Martian's spine. “And once humanity has been excised like the festering tumor it has become, the Earth will be reborn anew. Untouched. Pristine.” He could almost hear Nyssa's thoughts... “And what realm of existence will you be unleashing?” A smile tilted Ra's Al Ghul's lips. “The Underworld.” To be continued... *** And the WTF Plot twist revealed! Yeah, I suck, I know.