Chapter 4: Black Gold
It was probably beautiful. The sun glistening off a blue crystal lake. A thick tapestry of trees rising on the far side, bluer here, greener there, and paler as the mountain fell towards the horizon where the lake turned, framed by another blue-green mountain of foliage on the other side. Somewhere, about a mile beyond human sight but just within Clark’s, a splendid waterfall had cut its way into the rock, nestled in a perfect little niche and producing a thousand miniature prisms. It was undoubtedly beautiful, but Clark couldn’t see it. Sitting alone, feet up, arms crossed, looking out on the breathtaking splendor his adopted planet offered in its natural state, no amount of color or beauty could penetrate the dull gloom. The springtime sweetness of the air, the warmth of the sun and the crispness of the breeze was all lifeless gray data that registered without registering. Richard Flay would have likened the scene to an Edward Hopper painting: an isolated figure, a portrait of loneliness. Pa would have said to go have your sulk but don’t take too long with it and leave it out there when you’re done.
There was an odd birdcall, something between an owl and a whippoorwill, and Clark focused on it briefly. It alone in the sensory feast around him seemed to reflect his mood. Not as harsh or dramatically ominous as a hawk cawing in a movie, but a mere whisper on the wind, subtle and just vaguely… bad.
It wasn’t fear toxin, that image he saw. The Scarecrow’s chemical assaults didn’t affect him. It had really happened. That image – soldiers kneeling to Superman – he had really seen it. They all saw it. Bruce saw it.
The whole world seeing that as Superman. The picture was plastered on every news story covering the attack in Gotham. Every cable station ran it in a box in the bottom right corner—and put it full screen when they thought the talking heads were becoming dry and they wanted to keep the viewers’ attention. Sometimes full screen and sometimes half, juxtaposed with the video of his taking out a drone with his heat vision. The drone conveniently out of frame to give the impression he was shooting at the picture. It was beyond anything that fear toxin could do to him.
CNN had an exclusive second angle on the clip. Two seconds of his turning to fry the drone. They showed it in slow motion, then from their exclusive second angle, then at regular speed and from the original angle again. Like an instant replay of Darnley scoring the winning touchdown against Keystone. Driving it in, twisting it deeper, rubbing salt in the wound. Again. And again. And again.
How many would accept it? How many would always accept it now, no matter what he said or did. That image was out there now with the full impact of a professionally crafted Hollywood juggernaut, and some people would just always believe it.
The footsteps he’d decided not to hear came closer, too close for him to go on ignoring without seeming rude.
“Nice view,” came the minimalist gravel that made the words seem like a dark judgment.
“Lois promised she would never tell anyone about this spot,” Superman said dully.
“She didn’t,” Batman replied, coming closer to take a seat beside him. “When Oracle locked me out of your Justice League channel, it opened certain vulnerabilities in the commlink, allowing me to track you. When you get back to the Fortress, reboot your connection to the Watchtower and satellite and everything will be fine.”
Clark let out a breath that, in another man, might have been a huff. Of course Bruce had something in place so anyone blocking him opened other ‘vulnerabilities.’ Of course he did; it was a given. As was the unstated assurance that Clark’s hideaway would remain a secret and the expectation that his anti-lock out measures would also. Clark glanced at his friend without turning his head and performed a quick scan.
“You should have those ribs looked at,” he said, noting fresh bruises from the incident overlapping older but still recent injuries.
“It can wait. Scarecrow couldn’t.”
“Figures,” Clark said under his breath. “I’m sure it’s for the best, but I would have liked to be a part of that.”
Batman said nothing. There was no need, really. Scarecrow checked into Arkham with God knows what kind of injuries, Superman couldn’t be anywhere near it. Today of all days. The Alien demigod confirming everyone’s worst fear acting as king and executioner. Still, it would have been… satisfying.
“Clark, I’m sorry. It’s my fault Scarecrow caught the scent of this thing. I had articles in place to check Luthor if he tried to capitalize on the press the Man’s Reach exhibit was getting. ‘Luthor’s Alien Menace is a creation of Luthor’s own fear.’ Make people understand that, it doesn’t matter what tact he takes or what specific argument he tries. Once people realize it’s a mirror, all his twisted views are seen for what they are. You can’t miss it. How else is it possible to look at you and all the good you’ve done and see anything like what Luthor describes?”
“The mirror again,” Clark said, touching the spot on his throat where a welt still burned from the hit of that kryptonite ring.
“I buried it in blogs and websites nobody ever reads, but I should have anticipated... Crane is so obsessed with fear, there’s no telling what he could have set up in the university computers. Harvesting keywords and sifting through massive—”
“True Mirror,” Clark said absently. “Did you know the word reflection has the same root as god? It occurred to me after our talk about the translation. In Greek, the word is simply eidolon: reflection. But in Latin it becomes idolum: idol. The image reflected in the mirror becomes the image standing in for a god. Not even the god himself but his stand in. The thing that you put on the altar and worship because the insignificant human can’t even look on the god,” he said bitterly. “Can’t wrap their puny minds around the grandeur of him… and that’s what they have wearing my colors, calling itself Superman. That thing. They’d have it kiss my wife and call my father ‘Dad.’ That thing that’s an insult not just to me but to Pa and everything he taught me, to Lois who would never love that monstrosity. It’s an insult to all that’s shaped me and all I am, all I’ve ever tried to do…”
He closed his eyes, the passion spent, and shook his head.
“It was bad luck, Bruce; it’s nobody’s fault. What you did, the thought behind it, I can never tell you what that meant.”
Bruce rummaged in his utility belt and extracted a small gift box. He held it in his palm and continued as if he were talking to it rather than to Clark. “Our first Christmas together,” he began, then shook his head, deciding he had to go back further to explain it properly. “Clark, your birth parents are gone, but you’re not an orphan in the same way as Selina and I. You didn’t go through that first Christmas as a child without the family that raised you, it’s indescribable. The little things, you don’t realize. Nobody realizes the power of those little things. Especially the kind that only comes out once a year. The smell of a bayberry candle when it’s just been blown out, a certain shade and thickness of yellow ribbon cut on an angle, a dish of butter mints… Even a pair of socks can pull you back. You’re just… sitting there and suddenly… it’s the year before. When they were there, when you were all together and… happy. And then you snap back to the present and your stomach drops, you’ve lost them all over again. As you grow up, it’s like a rubber band connecting you to the past, pulling a little tighter each year. And the tighter it’s stretched, the more violent the snap back.
“Selina is like me, she… knows that. And she gave me this our first year together as a way of… It’s an empty box. She understands the landmines, you see. That sometimes the simplest things backfire. The kindest gesture winds up doing more harm than good.
“I gave it back a few years later after I’d facilitated the sale of the Gotham Post thinking it would ease the situation and all it did was rile them up to make an example of Catwoman. Since then, we’ve passed it back and forth a couple of times. After today we both feel…”
He handed it over without another word, and Clark once again marveled at his friend’s sensibility.
“We’re both very sorry, Clark. This outcome is obviously not what we wanted, but absence of malice only goes so far. We made it happen and we’ll find some way to fix it.”
“Please don’t,” Clark said, holding up the box as a warning sign though the wry smile said he was joking. “I will accept your unnecessary apology on two conditions. First, just, leave me alone for a bit. Let me lick my wounds in my own way.”
“That’s one. Your second condition?”
“Both of you, stop helping.”
Bruce’s lip twitched, but then his shadow smile faded into the usual scowl.
“Agreed, but no jokes like that when you see Selina. She says she’s done more harm ‘helping’ than she ever did as a bad girl, and I don’t think her confidence can take another hit.”
Clark’s head bobbed back and his brow winkled as if trying to adjust his focus on something.
“That doesn’t sound like her.”
“It’s 80% the fear toxin hangover. The rest is, unfortunately, accurate. The worst Catwoman did as a thief in terms of actually hurting people was on par with what you saw at LexCorp that time she went after the X27: Luthor’s elite security banged up in body and reputation, Brockman humiliated and his career in corporate security set back a good three years. Given the line of work they were in, nobody got worse than they bargained for and nobody got worse than they deserved. In contrast, Selina the upstanding citizen has been party to a magic misfire that altered Poison Ivy, nearly killing her and releasing Etrigan, resulting in three deaths, possibly four including Matt Hagen, over forty-five injuries and the disappearance of Two-Face. A crime boss called Finn suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of an undercover operation she was a part of. And today’s event got the whole of Gotham society gassed and terrorized, trapped in the crossfire from high-powered members of the Justice League. Add another twenty to the injuries toll, at least.”
“That’s a little harsh, Bruce.”
“And that’s all since you saw her at the polo match,” he added.
“Bruce, that’s completely unfair.”
“Of course it is. Looking strictly and objectively at the facts, absolutely none of it is her fault. But that’s how she feels. Feelings aren’t objective, and they don’t limit themselves to facts. So let her be. Let her lick her wounds her own way, right?”
“Ah, this is a parable. Look, Bruce, I’m sorry if Selina really is feeling that way, and if she is, you should go and spend some time with her. Go up to that preserve of hers, spend some quality time with the tigers. I don’t want either of you feeling bad about what happened today. But please understand it’s nothing like where I am. I… can’t shrug off what they think the way you can. I know you think I should. Lois feels the same. I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you. My feelings are what they are. This… stings.”
Bruce said nothing. The silence became awkward and to break it, Clark massaged his neck between his chin and Adam’s apple, right above the spot where the kryptonite ring had struck.
“You’re getting better with that thing,” he said lightly.
Bruce grunted… and left.
Not an hour had passed before Clark heard footsteps again. Bat-boots crunching leaves, starting at the mobile teleport tube and coming his way. Clark continued to look out at the lake as he marveled at the man’s stubbornness, as forceful and concentrated as his mastery of martial arts. As one who never had to undergo the rigors of a dojo, he wondered if there was a connection. Maybe the discipline to achieve that level of physical excellence required being a stubborn ass.
“I asked one thing,” he said when Batman was near enough to hear. “I said ‘leave me alone for a bit.’ It’s a reasonable request.”
“You also said you would have liked to be a part of the Scarecrow takedown,” came the emotionless gravel.
Clark turned at that, concerned.
“Did he escape?”
“No. But there’s another matter. Selina’s case in Rio. There’s a development, and as I said, she needs a break. I could use a partner.”
From the musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Fire Rat, First Moon…
It seems to me that there is a Cult of Fear among those who would rule, and that it is a very dangerous business. Like our doctors with their lancelets and bleeding bowls prescribing bloodletting for all ills. Sometimes it works, it is true, but when it fails they know not why. So it is with Fear. It may create a paralytic that subdues a population. It may raise a mob that can be directed and manipulated to destroy from within what the army beyond the city walls cannot. Or it may wake a dragon that cannot be controlled, and will incinerate the city and siege force as one.
It seems to me that one who would hold sway over the minds of men should master a more reliable weapon. The Hope at the far end of the spectrum breeds men, both individual and en masse, who are not bowed by fear. Time and again they endure that which should not be endurable, all because of that insidious belief in a tomorrow that might be better than today. They achieve that which should not be achievable, because they believe that tomorrow may not only be better but that they themselves might make it so. They conquer that which should not be conquerable, because they think they can. Such men will never be biddable so that one may have lasting confidence in their fealty.
It is meet, therefore, to seek for minions in those places where hope is bred out of the people. Find the enclaves where boys grow to manhood anticipating no future. Where the only road to comfort, respect, and the companionship of women is through the criminal business of the place, whatever that may be, and in which they are like to die between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five…
There’s a reason it was Wayne Tech and Star Labs racing to develop their Smart Chip and Synap5e, respectively, when no other tech company conceived of the idea. Bruce and Emil Hamilton had the same experience trying to connect their Terran-made laptops to something Kryptonian and found making the two systems work together was harder than it needed to be. That was the impetus for creating an item that was technically hardware but placed at the precise point where the physical device met digital code, which could recognize what it connected to and adapt as programmed without putting additional strain on either side’s memory, processors or software.
There were a thousand applications, but the one that started it all was what Bruce did now: docking his personal laptop into a hexicrystal console so he could brief Clark at the Fortress of Solitude as easily as he might on Wayne One.
“The Gang of Six had a problem,” he began in Batman’s crisp mission overview delivery while the screen displayed a red-headed, egg-shaped man with a goatee photographed at a Wayne Foundation gala. “Gregorian Falstaff was one of those losses with a half-life. It was an enormously expensive undertaking setting him up in Gotham, and Selina has kept the pressure on ever since, taking over assets they gutted or sold to fund it. She likes cat hunting metaphors, but it’s straight out of Sun Tsu: one barrel of supplies taken from the enemy is equal to ten of your own.”
“Because you can feed your troops, while at the same time, they’re unable to feed theirs,” Clark nodded. “You’re saying that everything Selina took from Demon made it harder for them to recover and gave her more resources to go after bigger targets.”
“Correct, until approximately four months ago when the bleeding stopped.”
With a tap on the touchpad, the slide had advanced to a list of holdings and bank accounts scrolling on the left side of the screen. Clark couldn’t understand a word of it, but periodically, as the scroller highlighted a line item, a satellite photo appeared on the right, dotted with one or more properties.
“They started getting injections of cash, and I wanted to know the source,” Batman said, selecting a particular line which caused the corresponding satellite image to tilt and shift to the southern coast of Brazil. “I laid a trap, and knowing the Six themselves were in Rio, I laid it close to home.”
He touched a key to zoom in on one particular area.
“This is a ‘subsistence farm’ in the hills near Ouro Preto. It produces considerably more beef, cheese, eggs and coffee than one family would need, but there’s no record of them ever selling the surplus. Judging by the number of chickens visible in the keyhole photos, I estimate they’re supplying a base of sixty men, maybe more. So I made a move against it, just like Selina had been doing to other support operations they’d leveraged. Instead of foreclosure,” he snapped his fingers. “They paid the note like that. No more debt. I traced the funds to here.”
A new slide showed an unassuming second story window on a narrow cobblestone shopping street.
“The office of Ouro do Cimalha in the town of Ouro Preto, region of Minas Gerais; about 400 kilometers from Rio. The note on the farm was held by an Ouro Preto bank, that’s who I bought it from. And when I called in the debt, the check was drawn off this business’s account in that same bank. They’ve been there since 1825.”
“The bank has, or Demon?” Clark asked.
“Ra’s,” Bruce declared in a hateful gravel, then he said no more. He just stared at the picture on the screen, the quaint white window trimmed in blue, like he wanted to hit it.
“The economic power of sugar was declining, and the balance of power shifted,” he said brusquely. “From plantations in the north to the gold mines here in the south. And Ra’s al Ghul was there.”
He gestured to the screen.
“That mine was held by the British from 1827 to 1927, and the gold went straight to England. In theory. It’s an English mine, the gold went to England. Except the documentation is all but non-existent. Exactly how often gold shipped, how much in a shipment, the records are laughably vague. And records about gold are never vague.”
“Unless there’s another set of records,” Clark observed, and Bruce gave a half-nod.
“I’m sure do Cimalha was diverting some to Demon’s coffers, but there’s no telling how much. Even in today’s digital world, Demon doesn’t leave much of a footprint. Piecing together what they did a hundred years ago is a futile exercise.”
“And doesn’t relate to today’s case,” Clark guessed.
“Not directly,” Batman agreed. “But with Demon, it’s vital to look at the past. Ra’s rarely has new ideas; he redresses old ones. That makes it difficult for a modern mind to anticipate him, unless you know his playbook. Once you’ve seen enough to catch on to the old world thinking, it becomes almost childishly simple.”
The next slides showed a string of man-made craters scoured out of a majestic plateau, video of an enormous truck carrying an appalling load of unknown tonnage up to the surface, and finally, a huge bulkship in port being loaded with open beds of the excavated rock. If it was a League briefing at the Watchtower, Clark could imagine Eel or Wally saying it looked like an ad for an exceedingly manly beer. Since Batman would then silence them with an impatient scowl, Clark kept the joke to himself.
“Iron ore is the new gold,” Batman said. “At first I thought Ra’s kept this office from simple inertia, or possibly because he liked it. Ouro Preto is the only part of Brazil that takes more pride in its past than its present. Streets are practically unchanged since the 18th century. But this is the real reason he stayed: the iron. Up to twelve million tons of ore a year coming from the region. Different mineral. Same Ra’s al Ghul.”
The Dark Knight’s eyes met the Man of Steel’s and the near telepathic understanding between partners made the spoken question unnecessary: Diverting shipments from the mine like they did before? You think that’s where these infusions of cash are coming from?
And the answer: I certainly want to find out.
From the Musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Metal Rabbit, Tenth Moon…
It is six weeks since the brain fever which took me on emerging from the Lazarus, and I am more than emboldened by the appetites and vigor of a young man. I am alarmed, however, perusing my notes on the use of messengers and newsreaders made no more than a week hence. In the past, once the fever broke, it was over. Yet the raving madness and the fire that seems to boil my blood had been cooled for a fortnight when these pages were writ. They are nonsense. They are patently insane. If I am to benefit from the extended life bestowed by the Lazarus Pit, I must carry the wisdom gained from lifetime to lifetime.
I have burned the parchment that witnessed the Demon Head’s folly and state here in the simplest terms that which is so obvious that it should not require stating: There are two types of communication traveling to and from the governing seat, be it the throne of the king, mayor of a city, general of an army or the Demon’s Head himself. There are the confidential reports for his eyes alone, on which he will base his decisions and which must, for that reason, be scrupulously accurate and correct. Akin to these are the orders he gives his troops and embassy sent to his allies which must be conveyed with perfect accuracy. A different beast entirely is the news given to the public, whether to inform or entertain. Whether this be propaganda entirely or accurate in its essence, it will always convey the ruler’s message in the best possible light.
Though these two forms of communication are entirely different, they are conducted by the same basic means, be it sealed parchment, wax tablet or the speech of a chosen messenger. In that sense, though they be different, they can be affected, attacked and altered by similar means. Just as the camel and horse be different beasts, to slash the throat of either will have the same effect.
“They say the region has a breast of iron around a heart of gold,” the young man assigned by the mayor said in excellent English. He paused expectantly, and Clark made an obliging scribble in the sixty-cent notepad he’d grabbed at the hotel. The people of Ouro Preto might have all the modern conveniences, but for some reason the ones like this Ikaro expected ‘the American reporter’ to take notes with a thin pencil on a paper pad like it was 1940. At least he didn’t have to wear a suit.
“It was gold that built these beautiful buildings,” the young man went on. “The riches from all the precious metals of the region…”
He was in comfortable shirt sleeves, while his colleague ‘Mr. Stevens’ wore a polo with the Wayne Enterprises name embroidered conspicuously on the breast pocket. Only poor Ikaro from the mayor’s office was trapped in that uncomfortable looking suit.
They’d begun in the historic city center the day before, checking into a hotel a few blocks from the suspected Demon office: Clark Kent the American journalist and his ‘colleague’ whose function wasn’t quite clear. Though Ouro Preto began as a mining town, it was now a World Heritage Site whose principle business was tourism. There was nothing suspect in a reporter arriving to profile the place, particularly with the Rio Olympics looming, but Bruce meant for the plausible cover story to be seen as just that.
“Of course the World Cup was just in Rio de Janeiro year before last,” Ikaro explained in almost the same words his boss had used. “So we are able to use that as a template, to know what to expect for the Olympics. How many of the athletes and spectators will come early or stay after in order to see more of the country. What numbers to expect, the timing of when they come in relation to the Rio event, how many will come as a day trip and how many might stay overnight or longer. It is a great advantage we have, knowing what we know from the earlier event, we are able to prepare.”
Clark made a note of it, just as he had when the Mayor said it. The Mayor who had met them that first evening for a walking tour, which he conducted in very passable English, but decided after the fact that his accent was an impediment and sent the far more fluent Ikaro to give them this second tour.
“It was the height of the gold rush, late 17th Century,” he continued, leading them in a leisurely stroll down the picturesque cobblestone street. “So we have predominantly the Baroque architecture prevalent at the time. Yet it was, when you come to think of it, a terrible location to build a city. Tropical forest and mountains all around us, natives, rivers, tropical storms. But it was the richest area in ‘black gold.’ That is what our name means. Not like your Texans say to mean oil but in reference to the rich iron deposits surrounding the gold. Our ancestors took up the challenge. They would build nowhere but here.”
It was telling.
“Of course the gold rush was long ago, and all those difficulties are gone. Now we have, what is the American word, re-branded ourselves as a cultural and academic center.”
His accent dropped to nothing on some phrases, the ones he thought a visitor like Clark would be quoting and certain others.
“Most of the churches are baroque, as you see. On the highest bluffs. Raised in gratitude for God’s bounty because our region is blessed with so many natural resources. The most famous church, St. Francis of Assisi, is one of many buildings sculpted by local artisan…”
The tour finally concluded and Ikaro left them to ‘explore as you please and have a nice lunch.’ As soon as he had gone, Bruce’s lip twitched.
“That was telling,” Clark said, repeating his thought from earlier.
“The way he’s labored over the pronunciation of anything connected to the iron ore? It’s to be expected. I imagine he’s just as polished giving those talking points in Russian and Chinese, or someone in the office is. Possibly Hindi and Dutch too unless they know Indian and South African businessmen speak English.”
“If that’s a reference to BRICS, there’s a very nice woman from the Finance section who’s tried more than once to explain it to me, and to Lois and to Perry. She’s failed every time, so if I need to understand—”
“You don’t. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to, going through the motions for an article you’ve no plans to write. They figured that out and concluded that your cover story is camouflage for me.”
“And that you’re here to see the iron mines,” Clark said, and then he spoke a bit louder and pointed toward the window of the suspected Demon front as he added “I think there’s a restaurant down that way.”
“Occupied?” Bruce asked softly.
Clark looked through the wall and scanned on different spectra.
“Empty, dry and cold,” he reported. “Nobody’s been there for weeks.”
“As I hoped. A paper operation, not something to staff on a daily basis. That means we only need to worry about the locals. You should be able to go in at any time. Eyes will be on me, but be as quick as you can.”
“As quick as I can?” Clark said, looking skeptically over his glasses.
“Figure of speech. Be thorough,” he graveled, then in a slightly louder voice. “I’m going to shop a bit. Meet back at the hotel?”
Clark looked thoughtful, then shook his head in a single, abbreviated move Bruce recognized.
“What is it?” he asked sharply.
“Animals. Maybe a forest fire,” he murmured, meaning ‘Nothing I can’t do alone’ which he then confirmed with a cheery “Sure, back at the hotel!”
From the musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Earth Sheep, Eighth Moon…
Those born into despair continue to make the most desirable minions and I congratulate myself on recognizing this early. Today I have cause to refine that early wisdom. The peasants who toil on a hillside in Mongolia may at a glance seem comparable to the Forgotten of the Klong Toey slums or the lower castes of Lhasa and Delhi. Indeed they are comparable so far as recruitment, but for bases where the Demon shall be active, it is best to concentrate on those places where the despairing hoards are clustered in or near great cities. While the most unfortunate of the world’s poor are born in accursed spots lacking the ports, fertile soil and rich ores that birth great civilizations, it is only in those more favored locations that events will occur that the Demon may make use of.
It is meet, then, to establish bases amidst the poor and destitute clustered in or near the great cities and centers of commerce. Twenty good men in the heart of Istanbul are worth a hundred and twenty on a dunghill in Kurdistan.
Bruce found a casual café-bar and was taking a friendly interest in a football game playing on a TV in the back corner. The café had no outdoor tables, but it did open completely onto the street and he’d taken the first table when you stepped in from the sidewalk. It didn’t give him an ideal view of the TV, but he himself was easily seen by anyone passing by—which made it not that surprising when Ikaro spotted him as he passed. It turned out this was his regular place, just to come in the evening, have a beer and watch the game.
Bruce gave a convincing show of surprise at the coincidence but with a shrewd glint in his eye to tell Ikaro he knew the game they were playing. A casual remark about the football game naturally brought up the World Cup, and Rio, and all the building that had been done to prepare: a cable car system for quick and economical commuting from one of the largest favelas, a high tech command and control center, and so on. Building that was a reflection of its time, so unlike the Baroque beauty of Ouro Preto. If the town were built today on 21st Century iron stead of 18th Century gold, for instance… Ikaro had his cover to brief Mr. Stevens on all he might want to know as a potential investor in the young Brazilian steel industry—or alternately as a buyer of raw ore, though China was the region’s principle customer and given the relative strength of the Yuan against the Dollar, he might find that an unattractive prospect.
They returned their attention to the game, where a German player offered a somewhat clumsy lead in for the ore that remained in Brazil. Ikaro claimed a cousin who had just returned from living in Duisberg for six months. It was a somewhat confusing story about doing the food shopping in a Turkish grocery, a very pretty cashier in a headscarf, and ‘vegetable oil’ not being in his phrasebook—but it got the message through. His cousin, an engineer for German steel giant Thyssen-Krupp, was one of two hundred Brazilians sent to Germany to learn how things were done in a steel plant there before taking on positions of responsibility for the new plant in Rio.
“A time consuming and laborious process, but you can see why they thought it worthwhile. The plant in Rio is the biggest investment the company has made in its history.”
Again, attention returned to the game. Another round of beer was bought. Ikaro asked if Mr. Stevens had visited the Interconfidencia Museum that had such fascinating exhibits on the “Gold Cycle,” or the Gold Foundry where taxes due to the Portuguese crown were paid. Bruce said he wasn’t a fan of museums generally, but that he wouldn’t mind a tour of an actual mine if that were possible. Ikaro thought something could be arranged – and if Mr. Stevens really wanted more time out of the city, there were some ‘eco-tours’ that wouldn’t confine them to the gold mines alone.
Bruce was about to accept, when Ikaro looked past him at the TV.
“Well look at that,” he blurted in his native Portuguese.
Bruce shifted in his chair and adjusted his view—to see that the football game had been interrupted for a special report. Superman had been sighted over Serra do Cipo National Park. Speculation was that he was putting out a fire, as there had been a drought for nearly two months... Lacking any visuals besides a few seconds of grainy, distant cell footage, the news station augmented that video with the much more vivid, close-up footage of his last appearance in America. Bruce felt his stomach drop at that too-familiar sight of the red, glowing eyes turning swiftly to the side and firing at the off-screen threat. Now accompanied by a news crawl in a foreign language talking about a fire. He imagined the stations back home that would, within the next few hours, be running a story that implied Superman started the fire.
From the musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Earth Dog, Fifth Moon…
I weary of this insidious technology overturning principles that were once certain. The march of the West and its progress, its science, its presumptive arrogance called optimism, ever believing it can find a better way. It makes operations in the cities an increasingly fretful business.
There was a time when a man honored his ancestors and made the blanket, the wine cup and the sword as it had always been made. This incessant drive to improve, to find a newer and better way, it infests everything with that wretched hope. If things may change – and change now comes with such appalling speed – how can the peasant’s despair be counted sure as gold?
If any neighbor may simply have an idea at any time, then even though our wretched peasant sees no way to improve things himself, he may yet entertain hope. No matter how dire and hopeless the situation seem, he may yet hope a better day will come.
This cult of innovation must be stopped. There must be some way to poison it at the root. Perhaps… Perhaps if it were possible to instill fear of the idea before it come. Distrust of any neighbor who might see as he do not. Yes, instill fear of what is superior. If nothing good can come from the smarter man, then there can be no solutions if the peasant himself cannot imagine what it might be. And since the peasant is, by his nature, unimaginative and stupid, he shall have no more hope than he did before.
That is the answer to this treachery called Progress, Innovation and Technology. Cultivate fear and contempt for all that is superior. Treat the hope already present as a plague. Create a cordon sanitaire to separate the infected, so the despairing will go not near them. Thus will the Demon continue to thrive as before.
The next morning they met for an early breakfast at a locals’ café where Ikaro had arranged for a special guide to meet them. Bruce didn’t need to ask if Clark had seen the news; the way he chewed the crust of his toast said it all. Bruce wasn’t going to introduce the topic, but Clark was used to his friend’s perpetual deductions which, combined with fluctuations in his heartbeat and blood pressure, meant that Bruce usually didn’t have to say whatever was on his mind.
“I am not going to give them a better visual just so they’ll run a different video,” Clark declared with the aggrieved bitterness of one who has been on both sides of a news rundown. “It’s unethical.”
“Staging the news is unethical,” Bruce conceded. “But providing B-roll is a common public relations tool.”
Clark drank his coffee with a skeptical brow-raise. Bruce routinely planted stories and they both knew it, to bait a trap or divert attention. The only reason Batman had negative press was because he didn’t care. It was a recurring thought since the movies began. Bruce the strategist who had a plan for everything could fix the way the Dark Knight was perceived in a matter of weeks if he felt it was worth his time, he just… didn’t.
And as usual, the dead end with Batman led him to Catwoman. Who did care. Selina cared enough to suspend her felonious activities in order to mount that Cat-Tales show to set the record straight.
“There was a jaguar,” he said casually. “Yesterday, cornered by the fire. He’s fine. Fur’s a little black where it shouldn’t be, but he was running and climbing again as soon as I set him down. Might want to mention it when you call home. Take the sting out of whatever she saw.”
Bruce grunted, but before he could say more about the abrupt change of subject, the guide arrived to take them to the gold mine. They feigned an interest in the mine itself, the British engine installed in 1825 that took them down, the shrine the miners made to the saint that protected them and so on. Of course, Mr. Stevens did ask more questions on the ride to and from the mine than at the site itself. He took more pictures, and even had his binoculars out at several points. Then the guide brought them to the Northwest overlook where Mr. Stevens had arranged for an eco-tour to meet them for a hike, and a few minutes after he left, they were climbing the stairs to the veranda of a sprawling log cabin Clark had spotted from the air the day before.
The woman who lived in the elegantly rustic abode, while not an environmentalist in the political sense, was a passionate nature lover. Their cover stories instantly reversed: the American industrialist in the area to find out about the iron ore now becoming the easily recognized subterfuge for the Metropolis reporter here to investigate the strip mining. They found out about the most active mining sites, the ecological impact, the loss of historical charm and colonial farms, and most significantly to Bruce, the socio-economic impact on the surrounding towns from the thousands of workers flooding into the area to build a tremendous ‘duct’ to the Port of Rio.
Clark made a few high speed passes through the mining sites Bruce had photographed, merely a quick in and out of the mobile administrative shacks, faster than the men at work could see. He came away with nothing but a PDF on Guaiba Island, Sepetiba Bay south of the port of Rio… “Hosting two terminals suitable for loading iron ore and capable of accepting vessels including large capesize ships due to its unrestricted LOA and deep draft,” he read. “I could have Googled that from my desk in Metropolis. It’s a wasted day.”
“Call it a field test using the scanner wand,” Bruce said, making the best of it. He had no doubts the device would perform just as well for Clark at high speed as it had for Matches on the Finn case, but a dry run did no harm. “And the time’s not wasted, we learned a lot,” he concluded.
“We did? I must have missed it,” Clark noted sourly. “What was it exactly?”
“I don’t know yet. That’s what we still have to find out. It’s usually the one piece that doesn’t fit… Besides, the day’s not over yet. Let’s get back to town and search that office.”
From the musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Wood Pig, Ninth Moon…
‘Bread and Circuses’ they say in the West. It is the foolish among us who will not give them their due, they have had their empires of note. The emperors who held so many for so long were not without wisdom. Bread and Circuses, it is a good phrase.
A city must have festivals. It must display its wealth and its leisure. By its nature, a city is an unpleasant place: hot, noisy and garish. Whether it forms originally around fertile fields, rich mines or well situated rivers, it thrives because it is rich. The richer it grows, the more people come and the more crowded it grows. The hotter, the louder, the more garish and uninhabitable. Thus all cities of a certain size will, from time to time, host great events that visitors will come to witness all it offers in recompense for the stench and the noise and the heat. Its fine temples, public baths and grand theatres; its culture and comforts, the abundance and variety of its food and merchandise.
It is at these events where by a city’s own design crowds pour in from all the surrounding parts of the world where the Demon will do its finest work. It is vital then to be an established and familiar part of the cities long before the event is contemplated. Once preparations begin, all who reside there—and most particularly the merchants—will begin to alter what they do in expectation of visitors and profit. It is vital to know the way things were done before if the opportunity is to be exploited…
Ironically, in his years as one of the world’s most notorious playboys, Bruce’s goal was to spend as little time as possible with the women he dated. If he could establish ‘this is what Bruce Wayne is doing tonight’ in two hours instead of six, it was four hours freed for patrol. If he could establish ‘dating Ann Fitzwilliam’ in three dates instead of ten, it freed a week or more in which he didn’t have to make an appearance at all. The practice left him with a finely honed instinct for the relationship between behavior, perception and time. He knew just how conspicuous to be meeting for a quick drink at The Peninsula compared to a formal dinner, a photo op entrance to a nightclub where he could instantly slip out the back, or the hushed bar at Masa where he would get a call after twenty minutes that would be his excuse to cancel the rest of the evening. At the time, he looked on it as maximizing his return on investment: twenty minutes of Batman’s time was paid in, what other than time could he add to get the most payout?
Today, the instinct served him in a different way: doing as much, but no more, to ensure that he and Clark were noticed on their return to Ouro Preto; doing as much, but no more, to ensure that the watching eyes remained on him while Clark searched the Ouro do Cimalha office…
From the musings of Ra’s al Ghul, year of the Fire Rooster, Sixth Moon…
I cannot decide if these men of the West are peculiar or merely perverse. Their tactics are a muddle and their diet appalling. I begin to wonder if there may be a link. They eat little rice, only one type of potato, and brew their spirits from wheat. It cannot be sound. Their passion for tea and spice is well known, but if they are consuming any of it, there is no stimulation of the intellect that I can discern.
If they were truly stupid, I could comprehend. And I would welcome the revelation. Stupidity is to be greatly desired in a foe and makes for solid predictability in an ally. But these Westerners, they are brilliant one day and morons the next! Consider the little Corsican corporal. Absolute genius at the Italian border, heroic brilliance at Lodi, strategy and luck, and knowing how to marshal both. And then? He invades Russia in the winter.
How is such inconsistency to be swallowed?
Should I ever meet a Western man of reliable and constant quality, I swear by the Dragon, I shall have him stuffed as the rarest of specimens.
The office was on the second floor on top of a store, which meant speed running down the street, into the building and up the stairs. The other office on that floor was closed for the day, so Clark had all the time he needed in the hall outside Ouro do Cimalha’s door. It was an old-fashioned lock of the type he learned to open on the farm, putting his palm on the door over the mechanism and sending a vibration through it until the pins dropped. It wasn’t exactly subtle; it would break the lock. When someone returned and tried to open it, they would realize something had happened, but it wasn’t as obvious or quickly discovered as a shattered door. A quick glance through the wall showed that Demon put its faith in a simple floor sensor, which he could beat by simply hovering, and a camera, which he could freeze rather than shooting with heat vision in case they had a fire alarm.
It was a good size office with two desks, a row of thick three-ring binders on a shelf, one tall filing cabinet and one short one. Of those, only the top drawer on the tall cabinet and one of the desks was locked. He started with the filing cabinet. It would have taken an efficient person forty minutes to scan every page in every file in that locked drawer. Superman took eight minutes, but only because he was tied to the speed of the scanner wand which took a fixed amount of time to capture each image and transmit it to the satelite. He considered mentioning it to Bruce, which would produce a faster scanner within six months, but it’s not like he did this sort of thing often enough to make it worthwhile.
The desk was more interesting. There was a hand-written ledger which, like the contents of the filing cabinet, was in code. The scanned pages would all have to be run through Bruce’s decryption programs. But there were several pages that weren’t part of the ledger, loose papers – invoices or purchase orders – casually stuffed inside the back cover until they would be filed.
Clark’s eyes narrowed at a familiar address that seemed to jump from the lines of Portuguese. His fingers moved in a blur as he searched the rest but found nothing. Without taking the time to physically open drawers, he looked through the other desk, then the unlocked drawers of the filing cabinet, file by file and page by page, and finally he pointed his X-ray vision at the three ring binders...
There! And there. And there. Seven, eight, ten... fourteen.
Fourteen pieces of paper confirming the worst, in the top right corner as unique and eye-catching as its maker intended: the LexCorp logo....
To be continued…