The Watchtower Monitor Womb was not a typical command center with a myriad of screens linked to multiple sources. It was a station designed for individuals of ordinary and enhanced human senses as well as Martian, Thanagarian, Kryptonian and “Other.” Wally West opted for the Wide Area Report configuration, aptly known as the War Screens, which he scanned with watchful detachment. The extra-large monitors gave orbital views of the seven continents, the diaforo-pelagic regions of Atlantis, and the major groupings internal to each, and all were deceptively placid. There were hot spots, of course, but the WAR screens were intended first and foremost to give early warnings of extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional intrusions, and secondarily of natural disasters such as earthquakes and major storm systems. Actual wars, always going on somewhere, weren’t something dealt with at this level. The League’s charter prevented it except in specific instances when Amnesty International, the Red Cross or the United Nations had weighed in. Still they watched, particularly for mass movements towards borders or (as Wally privately prayed would never occur) mass launches departing airspaces. Tonight at least nothing new was showing.
The next tier of screens, the Regional Integrated Scan and Review, or RISaRs, generally rolled through multiple views of each regional area, and it was one of these Flash was reviewing when the initial alarm came in from Gotham: The electrical grid was in a state of flux. Even as he watched, substations began to flare with electrical coronas. In an alley near the railroad tracks, a transformer on the side of a wooden pole simply exploded, severing the lines and setting the pole on fire. Before anyone could call it in, it collapsed into the abandoned building only eight feet away, and the fire spread greedily. Another blew similarly, only blocks away, setting a car on fire. And another. Another near the overpass. Then behind a convenience store, threatening the store and the gas pumps. Unseen by the expansive satellite feed, a minimum wage employee fled, leaving the pumps active. Collapses began to cascade as the system tried to reroute power around a grid that was aging and in remote areas dilapidated from vandalism, pilferage, and poor maintenance. Before Wally’s eyes, the area went dark. Apart from the fires, the lights simply blinked out.
Over the next thirty minutes, he monitored the situation: the blackout areas expanded, and with them reports of looting and gang activity. The GCPD called in the next shift four hours early in order to increase manpower on the streets, committing almost every available vehicle as the outage spread. It didn’t make any sense. Transformers and a few fires in a confined area, why was it growing? How was it blacking out so much of the city? Wally didn't try to monitor raw transmissions, not with literally hundreds of police units on the streets. Instead he monitored positions and the types of reports they were responding to—and those they were making once they reached the scene. The early electrical fires were joined by more than a dozen multiple alarm arson-style conflagrations, the gangs setting cars ablaze, and later, a few abandoned buildings. The gas station was the worst, with multiple fire companies mostly focused on soaking down everything in the vicinity and allowing the underground fuel tanks to vent, rather than attempting to cap them and risking explosions. Every television station in the state, it seemed, was suddenly in the air and reporting. Leaguers along the eastern seaboard checked in, first making their availability known in the event Batman called for aid and then abruptly falling silent as their own cities reacted.
The Gotham airports were still operating, but flight cancellations and inflight reroutes were increasing exponentially and flying heroes especially were now focused on the clusters of overworked airports in surrounding states. It looked like Gotham would be on its own for the time being, just as the general electrical grid for the five boroughs went down completely. All street lights were out, and almost every high rise in the city was running its generators, creating citadels of presumed resources in a sea of ominous black.
A quick look confirmed an even grimmer fact: the rail transit system had lost power on the West Side, meaning almost a fifth of the subways were offline and not being ventilated. Trains that had been underground were stuck in the tunnels, in the dark, with the air going bad—and an unconfirmed report of a fire in a West Side tunnel.
Unbelievably the news got even worse when one of the news helicopters caught seventeen seconds of Firefly in the Heights moving south towards Harlem. Wally hit the comms, trying not for Batman but for Oracle. It took almost three minutes before she responded, and Wally wasted no time.
“Oracle, I’m looking at maybe twelve structure fires burning in the city, fourteen—no make that fifteen multiple alarms. The Deagal Building isn't gonna be the only Towering Inferno wannabe if this keeps up. I don’t know if you’ve seen but Firefly is out there too. Look, I had B and C lists calling in—at least they were before the Bludhaven and Philadelphia airports got hammered. I can get them back. Tell me where to put them, and let us take some pressure off you guys.”
..:: Ah. The fires. Yeah, if you can help with that, sure.::..
Hardly the response he was expecting.
“And where should I send them?” Wally asked.
There was a pause.
..:: Point them at the big ones, I guess. Use your best judgment, Wally; we’ve got other priorities right now. Oracle out.::..
Three months ago…
The man in a Gotham Knights ball cap adjusted his sunglasses, squinting against the dazzling tropical sun before joining his partner on the rustic dock. No movie could have captured the surreal beauty of the scene: the moorings below a trio of resort condos, sun reflected off the glistening water, a breathtaking woman in an uber-chic Balmain swim suit waiting for a water taxi, the perfumed breeze breaking the burning heat—and the pace, so relaxingly foreign to those accustomed to Gotham. The water taxi ran on island time, meaning the wait could be anything from a few minutes to an hour. It was understood that if you cared that much about time, you weren’t suited to the resort beyond, accessible only by boat or helicopter.
“Wayne One is in the air,” he announced with a final pat to the device Clark called ‘a miniaturized Pentagon Command Center capable of taking out NORAD’ and Bruce called his phone. “Target cruising altitude of 37,000 feet will be reached in about five minutes.”
“Nerd,” Selina said dryly.
“Current projection has her landing at Heathrow 6:59 PM BST to refuel, 46 minutes ahead of schedule,” Bruce continued.
“Airplane nerd,” she reiterated.
“Then on to Edinburgh to pick us up,” he concluded.
“Where it’s overcast,” Selina smiled, adjusting in her seat, inhaling deeply and arching her back. Then she laughed. “Hence the super sunblock. God, this is one of your craziest head-fakes ever.”
“It’s necessary,” he said grimly. “That stunt with the Times saying the wedding didn’t happen wasn’t the usual Post outrage, it was an unprecedented escalation, and we still don’t know what triggered it or how it happened or what it was meant to accomplish. I’m not leaving anything to chance. ‘The Waynes Return to Gotham’ is the last news story related to the wedding. We get through this, it’s done and we pulled it off without any threats to my identity. We can take a deep breath and get on with our lives.”
“I’m not complaining,” Selina cooed, inhaling again and letting her fingers slip under his shirt. “Mm, it’s just… smell that air… All this sun and white beaches with palm trees and perfect skies...”
“Reminds you of Xanadu,” Bruce said, sharing the thought. “I know. It’s a shame we couldn’t do something like this for our real honeymoon…” He kissed her temple, then became business-like. “But as you said, we have the rest of our lives for that kind of getaway.”
“What?” he graveled.
“Matches en vacances. It never occurred to me how much an unscruffy, tropics-ready Matches would look like Thomas Magnum.”
“It never occurred to me how much Gina in designer shades looks like Anna Wintour,” he replied.
“Seriously?” Selina started, hand moving reflexively to the edge of her wig. “You don’t think we’re too conspicuous do you? I mean the whole plan depends on nobody noticing us checking in to all these places as Matches and Gina. Bruce and Selina just appear from nowhere with no prior sightings, no paper trail, nothing to confirm or verify. Just some blurry photos and poof, we disappear again without a trace. But if anybody spots Magnum P.I. and Vogue both in the vicinity at the same time…”
“Absolutely no one will notice,” Bruce assured her. “A Hawaiian shirt and a model’s legs in a designer swimsuit and cover up… There’s nothing to notice. Places like this, it’s like noticing sand.”
“We could still hedge our bets. Switch to Tommy and Colette for the next one, go A-B A-B.”
Bruce shook his head.
“We could, but I don’t want to. Pearl is ours, yours and mine, my gift to you. And with Clark providing transportation… That’s really why I’m having him meet us here rather than picking us up yesterday at the apartment. If I knew when I started what Thomas Pearl would become, I don’t know if I’d have given the disguise its trial run in Metropolis. It’s hard to explain, but Pearl is… private. He’s like me but… if I hadn’t seen it. If I never became… It’s hard to even say the words: ‘Me if I wasn’t Batman.’ It’s such a preposterous idea, but Pearl being so much like me in other ways—your insisting on that—it’s given me a way to explore the idea. And it’s been surprising. I’m still me. And I’m not sure how that can be, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. But I know I don't want Tommy to become just another Matches. And I’m very sure I don’t want Clark knowing enough to ask questions that I can’t answer.”
Selina caressed his cheek, then touched the moustache with an odd I’ll-kiss-you-later laugh. Bruce might have replied but for the rumble of the approaching water taxi.
“Here we go,” Selina winked.
Deputy District Attorney Erin Cassidy will now conduct the press conference rescheduled for one-thirty today after ADA Mackey was suspended after controversial remarks in the wake of the Payne manhunt…
Clark switched off the Gotham News Minute, stepped into the kitchen, and hid his smile as he watched his wife, one of the most brilliant minds in journalism after her morning coffee, stymied by the means to make that coffee. She opened the canister for the third time, retrieving the scoop she’d just put away before she was done with it, and turned around trying to find the lid to the grinder which she still held in her left hand. With her right, she set an empty cream pitcher on the table and pointed to the milk carton as if unsure why it was there.
“I could do that,” Clark offered, but she yawned, shaking her head. The only reason she was up at this hour was to see him off with a cup of coffee in a travel mug.
It was odd. Lois’s romantic streak leaned towards two people with a passion for truth teaming up to expose corruption against all odds. “The next day Woodward asked if Bernstein's name could appear with his on the follow-up story” not “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”. She’d enjoyed the wedding, but as Bruce and Selina’s friend. It didn’t spark in her soul the way the prospect of their returning from their honeymoon did. For some reason, their coming home to begin life as Mr. and Mrs. Wayne struck a chord and she was proud that Clark was involved.
For his part, the odd angles Lois found to see things was part of what he loved—and it had brought her two more Pulitzers than he had, so who was he to question? This morning it manifested in a desire to see him off before he flew to Gotham. While the coffee dripped, the aroma seemed to revive her and she asked again about the role he was to play:
“I get how wrecking the satellites created a news story nobody could question that justified their coming home early, but I’m still not clear what you’re doing today.”
“Bruce understands the psychology of news cycles,” Clark said. “Sometimes I think more than Perry. The twists and turns people expect: the longshot comes in, the underdog triumphs, then after too many wins the smug hotshot fails, or has feet of clay, or whatever—the twist. If it doesn’t come on cue, they’ll be looking for it.”
“You mean ‘we’ll be looking,’ don’t you? He’s talking about reporters. He’s bashing us for not obediently following the trail of breadcrumbs he sets out for us to follow.”
“Not you and me,” Clark said apologetically. “You know the media he’s talking about, the clickarazzi that play to readers’ basest expectations, no matter how biased and uninformed. Not caring what’s true, just giving them whatever gets the click. Any narrative, any innuendo... Bruce is a master of leveraging those outlets, and the public’s appetites that shape them, to protect his identity. I can’t judge him for that.”
“Well, you could; you do it with a pair of eyeglasses,” Lois pointed out. “But I guess I can’t. Not after that gutter move the Times pulled with the wedding. Did we ever find out what happened there?”
“Not yet, but you know Bruce. He won’t stop until he has answers.”
They were silent for a minute, considering the magnitude of it: messing with Batman’s wedding, the pain and payback whoever was behind it had brought themselves.
“I still don’t get how that leads to today,” Lois said finally.
“He outplayed them with the satellite story,” Clark said. “The scale of it. Not just the money involved, but national and planetary security. The people involved in this do not return calls from TMZ. That frustrated energy has to go somewhere, and left to their own devices they might even try to debunk the satellite story.”
“So Bruce is going to direct where the energy goes and how they burn it off,” Lois nodded, “not risk another ‘Sorry it wasn’t meant to be’ headline.”
“By you flying them around the world in disguise to pop up as Bruce and Selina just long enough to get photographed—there they are whale watching in Hawaii—disappear and go on to the next place?”
“That’s right,” Clark repeated.
“I don’t get it.”
“All the sightings can’t be real. They can’t be whale watching off the Big Island and golfing in the Bahamas and dancing on a terrace in Lake Como. The Wayne watchers will be consumed arguing over which account is real, and then Wayne One picks them up in Scotland exactly where they’re supposed to be. Anyone tracking the flight can follow it coming in, it lands in Gotham and the whole mystery comes to nothing.”
“An anti-climax,” Lois said with a reluctant sigh. As much as she wanted to believe she’d see through such a ruse, she had to admit she would be drawn into the staged mystery, suffer the letdown as planned, and never think to question the satellite story. “And modestly, if I’d fall for it, they don’t need to sweat Perez Hi—”
She stopped. Clark had that look, looking past her left shoulder, listening. She said nothing as he disappeared but calmly opened a cabinet and took down a travel mug. She filled it with coffee, added milk and sugar, set it on the counter and stepped back. A blur of blue and red streaked past and the mug was gone. It streaked again and she felt the squelch of a kiss on her cheek. She laughed and shook her head.
“I’ll tell Perry you might be late,” she called to the ceiling.
Long before she became Game Theory, Doris had a talent for absorbing large amounts of information and finding the linking details that made them easy to remember. It was her quirky, encyclopedic knowledge that first caught Edward Nigma’s attention. She put the ability to good use mastering the thieving techniques Selina had taught her, the nuances of Rogue society, and the broad, survey course understanding of art history and gemology needed to navigate specialty libraries for serious research.
She was starting from scratch with the world of privilege Selina was born to, however, and there were no guides to the thousands of invisible filaments connecting one elite niche to the next. So she’d stopped at a plaque in the Hudson University Museum near the entrance to The Flay Gallery, nailing down it was the same Flay—Richard Flay—from Selina’s wedding who knew so much about the salt cellars at A La Vielle Russie. Richard Flay who wasn’t at all averse to her stealing the Vinogradov piece for him when she picked up the amber one, so they could both give Selina something from a cat burglar’s loot sack. Indeed, he seemed quite at ease with the process, like one who had bought from high end thieves before. Sensing a future customer and knowing he was a fixture at Struann’s, she made a note to find out exactly what auctions he attended.
Mental links in place, she glanced at another plaque listing regular donors, hoping for connections to other wedding guests. Finding there wasn’t enough information for an outsider in the simple list of names, she gave up and joined her host at the admissions desk.
“I do appreciate your coming with me,” Ash said, handing her a visitor’s pin. “Ford hates this kind of thing, and it’s dreary coming alone all the time. He’ll do the big museums, loves an opening night reception—especially at the GMA, would have loved their party for ‘Gold of the Ancient Kingdom’ last year if he’d been in town. Would have asked me for a crash course in Pre-Columbian art the night before so he could act like he knew something. But a little museum like this on an ordinary Wednesday morning? Never. Even though it’s a much better presentation of the same type of art.”
They entered the gallery under a banner proclaiming the final days of the Larco Herrera Exhibit, and Ash sighed saying how he’d miss it. He’d visited twice a week since it opened, sometimes as many as three times, and he compared it favorably to the “glam hodgepodge” at the GMA’s Gold of the Ancient Kingdom. “‘Three hundred works from fifty lenders in twelve countries,’ they boasted. That means the common element was ‘ooh shiny.’ The curatorial directive of a theme park. Here we have scholarship, focus.”
It might have been true, but it was an odd observation from the host of the shlock on Ash Torrick’s Decryption. He went on to compare the traveling exhibit they were viewing with the full collection at the Largo Herrera Museum in Peru.
“You should see it,” he said, eyes gleaming like a man in love. “Here we have, what, six, seven…eight vessels with a stirrup spout, but there, racks full of them, floor to ceiling. A room full of nothing but water vessels with racks and racks of the stirrup spout—twenty with that monkey-frog alone, sixty with jaguars… So you can really compare, really get a sense of these people, what they were like and how they lived.”
“Is that what you’d tell Ford?” Doris asked. “The crash course you’d give him…”
Ash shook his head.
“No. For him, I would focus on these,” Ash said, walking her past a line of black, stone mannequin heads displaying silver necklaces, earrings and nose ornaments until they reached a similar trio displaying elaborate gold headdresses. “There’s your gold of the Ancient Kingdom,” Ash said proudly. “You can see why the Spanish freaked out when they came here. Unbelievable quality—compared to back home, mines that had been tapped for centuries…” He pointed her to a crown he called ‘his buddy’ adorned with a spectacularly ugly animal head. “Do you know how this fellow survived? A shipwreck. You see that mark, that means this headdress was part of the royal gift. Conquistadors were allowed to loot whatever they wanted from the New World as long as they sent a fifth of it home to the crown. My buddy here was on his way to Europe to be melted down into forks for a Spanish aristocrat’s table. I like to think that porcine-nosed bat-ferret-raccoon god, whatever it’s supposed to be, said ‘Fuck that’ and sunk the ship himself. Hung out on the ocean floor for a few centuries ‘til the madness passed, laughing at the bones of the sailors.”
Doris herself was laughing (at the bat-ferret-raccoon description) and Ash took it as agreement.
“You can’t blame him,” he concluded. “What self-respecting war god accustomed to blood sacrifice and conquest wants to be turned into a prim little gold band to hold a gemstone that was the eye of a whiny Chinese fertility goddess? And then wind up on the stubby finger of a fat Portuguese princess as part of a marriage-cum-land deal.”
“You said something like that before,” Doris remembered. “Gold melted down, ancient objects transformed into something else.”
“I suppose I like the meta,” Ash said like a true writer. “Gold wasn’t an especially valuable material, that was jade. And feathers were more valuable still. But gold was a vehicle for transformation, for the worthy. It was a sacred material. So that gold jewelry and masks—when worn by a chosen person—could transform them into a higher being with the power a god.”
Doris raised an eyebrow, but Ash was in full ‘Tonight on Ash Torrick’s Decryption’ mode…
“Silver too: silver associated with women and the moon, gold with men and the sun. As a ruler, you would transform yourself and ally yourself with powerful forces.” He paused, noticing her expression.
“Too out there?” he asked, and she nodded. “Occupational hazard: take the most fantastic angle and run it into supernatural territory, a superpower, or a super-conspiracy.
“How about this instead: I fixate on Europeans taking these objects and melting them down because gold objects are literally parts of places. They’re extracted from caves and riverbeds and the earth itself. And the forms they’re given initially—the gods they’re molded into, the cups, the crowns, the fishing hooks even, are all manifestations of the same place. The society is shaped by the same river, whether it’s plentiful or drying up, whether it brings trade and prosperity, or enemies and ruin. If a mask is the head of a jaguar god, it’s the jaguar of that mountain; if it’s a bat, it’s a bat from that cave. Who can say how much is simply its nature—being made into a the sword of a Maya warlord was a natural fate for the gold of that particular mountain—and if you ship it to the other side of the world to become a rosary for papacy-obsessed Castilians, how much of the warlord genesis is still infused in its molecular make-up?”
“Why the hell did you stop writing books worth reading?” Doris asked—and then blanched. “I’m sorry. Ash, I am so sorry. That was incredibly rude, it slipped out and I— Kill me. Just kill me now, please.”
“It’s okay. Most people I meet have that thought at some point. You happen to say it out loud, it’s not a big deal.”
“Thanks,” Doris said, looking down and then around the display for something to change the subject.
“Meow,” she said, pointing with a flash of inspiration at a nose ornament with two adorable cats in the center, standing ear to ear, their mouths open in such expressive circles you could easily imagine their cries.
“Coming back tomorrow,” Ash noted, making the easy jump from cats in a museum to Selina. “Or is it today? I hope I won’t be losing my new art buddy. I should hate to go back to doing this sort of thing alone.”
“We’ll make it a threesome,” Doris reassured him. “Who knows, with Selina Wayne as bait, you may just get Ford to join us.”
“Oh that reminds me, I have to hurry back for the press conference. Ford will be furious if I miss it. The Charah Killer isn’t his usual thing, but victim five or six, I think it was, was a lawyer for some big record company and there’s a high end escort involved. He may find something he can work with. In any case, it’s going to be the juiciest trial Gotham’s seen in ages, so he naturally wants to follow it from the beginning.”
I’m Deputy District Attorney Erin Cassidy, and what I will outline for you today are my office’s charges against Mr. Gus Robert Payne for a series of fourteen deaths beginning with the murder of Alan Seevers on Express Platform 7 at Gotham Central Terminus. I think the facts speak for themselves: Software used to hack the murder scene cameras was found on Mr. Payne’s home computer…
Alfred turned down the volume on the television and collected the recipes he’d copied from a royal reference: Balmoral scones, shortbread fingers, and kedgeree joined the less pedigreed recipes already arranged in a leather portfolio discreetly monogrammed MW.
With a satisfied smile, he slid this into a brand new Globe-Trotter bag which he placed beside a similar, weathered bag atop a mountain of luggage outside his pantry.
“You’re early,” he noted, sensing Superman’s arrival before seeing it and addressing him before he could knock. Outside the kitchen door, Clark chuckled and let his knuckle touch the doorframe in a token effort before letting himself in.
“Cargo ship heading into Bludhaven had a nasty fire,” he explained. “Figured since I was in the area, I could take the luggage now and set it up in the hangar in Edinburgh. Then I’ll have time to stop by the Fortress and pick up something I want Bruce to see,” he added sternly.
Alfred noted the tone but made no comment, other than offering tea and biscuits to occupy the man of steel “while he waited,” as Alfred had not quite finished with the baggage.
Clark nodded, and then indicated the television. “This the press conference?” he asked unnecessarily, which Alfred took as a cue to unmute it.
…22 caliber bullets in Mr. Payne’s home; equipment used to etch the symbols into the bullets found at the 39th Street storage facility and shavings from one of those bullets found in a sock in Mr. Payne’s bedroom…
“Terrible business,” Clark remarked. “That ADA’s remarks, the one who was suspended, it’s just crazy. Lois and I couldn’t believe it, calling a press conference almost before the guy was in handcuffs, and then that bit about the death penalty.”
“It was not an exemplary model of professional conduct,” Alfred admitted.
…circumstantial. A picture postcard of the Latrun Monastery near Jerusalem found in Mr. Payne’s home matches a mural inside the storage unit. The bible from Mr. Payne’s bedroom is bookmarked at the same verse underlined on numerous pages at the storage unit…
“Has anything like that happened before?” Clark asked.
“Not to my knowledge, sir. Though I am not, on the whole, familiar with the District Attorney’s office personnel. If you will excuse me.”
…Payne will be charged with the premeditated deaths all fourteen victims, and that is exactly what we are prepared to prove…
Clark watched with interest when Cassidy finished her prepared remarks, to see if any of the Gotham press would ask the questions he had.
…Ms. Cassidy, you haven’t mentioned ADA Mackey who you’re here today replacing. Before being placed on leave, ADA Mackey implied the death penalty was a possibility. Do you share that view?...
Hm, almost but not quite.
…I’d say everything is on the table. Any other questions?…
They were focused on Payne. Understandable, Payne was the story of the day. But to Clark, the killer had been identified, captured and would now be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It was news but it wasn’t irregular news the way a district attorney abandoning all norms and professional decorum and playing to the mob calling for blood…
“Here we are,” Alfred said, returning with two envelopes and a satisfied grin. He slid an envelope into the outer pocket of each of the Globe-Trotter bags and instructed Clark most particularly that, however the other luggage was arranged, these two must be on the top with the envelope pockets facing out.
…22 caliber bullets in Mr. Payne’s home; equipment used to etch the symbols into the bullets found at the 39th Street storage facility and shavings from one of those bullets found in a sock in Mr. Payne’s bedroom…
Oswald switched off the television in his flat and went downstairs to the nightclub, where he found the TV over the bar was tuned into the same press conference, and also ‘The Tiki Man’ had arrived. This colorful moniker did not denote a visiting theme villain but a salesman and distributor of the most obscenely overpriced, absurdly exotic rums. He was always leaning into the bar, showing Sly how to make some wretched thing with chartreuse, demerara syrup, seltzer and lime juice… a phenomenon that never failed to result in cases of exorbitant, mysterious bottles of outlandishly bizarre origin that made his bartender’s heart skip a beat. To avoid financial ruin, Oswald usually met with The Tiki Man himself, but today he was breaking in his new assistant and nearly forgot.
The result? A Batman-at-the-crime-scene level disaster: Sly had left his place behind the bar to sit on a stool beside Tiki, the pair of them watching the press conference with a highball glass, two pilsners, three chilling whisky glasses and heavy tumbler between them, each filled with an improbably colored liquid. If Tiki had time to show Sly seven different cocktails, Oswald might have to commission an entirely new crime spree with Game Theory to finance it.
“Well now, Tiki, come into my office and tell me what you’ve brought to tempt my bartender,” he said bravely…
Postcard of the Latrun Monastery near Jerusalem found in Mr. Payne’s home matches a mural inside the storage unit.
…Coming through the ordeal with his inventory expanded by only a bottle of Flor de Caña Centenario 18 Year Old and Pampero Aniversario Reserva Exclusiva Añejo (as well as a Diplomatico for his personal use), Oswald walked Tiki to the door rather than leaving him to dawdle with Sly on his way out. Alas, Oswald enjoyed only a moment of victory before he discovered nothing less than a badge coming through the door.
“Detective Rowanski, Major Case,” the carbuncle introduced himself. “If I might have a moment of your time.”
“Kwak,” Oswald acquiesced since Sly was watching and at least the peasant was polite.
“Wondered if you’d seen this man. Or perhaps your staff…”
The detective held out a photo while he stretched his head slightly to indicate Sly behind the bar. Oswald considered the photo. It was a mug shot of a garden variety mook.
“Can’t say I’ve seen him,” he said with a dismissive sniff. “Although he’s hardly the sort one would notice. Sly?!”
Rowanski took it as tacit approval, so he sidestepped Oswald and walked to the bar. He handed Sly the photo. After a moment’s consideration, the bartender shook his head and made a sour face.
“I don’t think so, certainly not recently. Might’ve come in a few years ago. Really cheap beer if it’s him, but eh…” he shook his head more definitely. “I really couldn’t say.”
Rowanski probed a bit: if it was years ago the man would have been younger, more clean cut. A college student, cash poor, that’d account for the cheap beer. Sly shook his head a final time. He was sorry that he couldn’t help, and then he asked what the guy did.
“He makes fentanyl,” Rowanski pronounced, loud enough for Oswald to hear, but staring into Sly as if trying to decide if the apologetic manner and seemingly innocent curiosity was real. “Stronger than heroin, more complicated molecule than meth. He’s certainly got some organic chemistry in his past, from somewhere.”
“Well I hope you catch him,” Sly said pleasantly.
“We did,” Rowanski said dramatically. After a pause just long enough to note the reaction (or lack of one), he continued. “He escaped. Some fool left him in the interrogation room with a can of soda, and he ripped the can apart to make a strip of aluminum and got out of the cuffs.”
“Whoa,” Sly remarked.
“Is there anything else?” Oswald called from behind them. “We do have a business to run. Customers to prepare for…”
Rowanski ignored Oswald and gave Sly his card, asking him to call if the guy came in.
“Why would such an appalling person come here?” Oswald asked acidly.
“Well I couldn’t say, Mr. Cobblepot. It’s not like the Iceberg has a reputation as a hub of criminal activity. Thank you for your cooperation,” he ended pleasantly. “It was unexpected.”
Superman made a flashy appearance in Washington moments before he sped to the resort, landing as an imperceptible flicker behind the bush outside Malone’s bungalow. A moment later, Clark knocked on the door.
“That parrot outside looks terrified,” he joked in the tone Midwestern uncles take with newlyweds on their honeymoon. “What have you two been… up to.” Kryptonian muscle control did a poor job concealing his ‘You look like Thomas Magnum and Anna Wintour’ reaction.
“I know,” Selina said crisply. “We didn’t exactly coordinate our looks. Dress rehearsal next time. For now, we push through.” With that, she casually passed him a gift box which he casually accepted and then vanished in the blinking change into Superman.
“What’s this?” Bruce asked, pointing to the crevice of cape where he’d last seen the box as it disappeared.
“Selina says ‘thank you’ for flying favors,” Clark remarked with a broad nobody-else-thinks-to smile. Then he appeared to rummage in the cape and pulled out a mangled wad of kevlar, which he handed to Bruce accusingly.
“It was shiny and perfect and I punched it,” he said with the judgmental air of a hero who cannot believe the depths of your criminal depravity. “I reached in, pulled out a handful of its aluminum-kevlar guts, and then gave it a shove towards another innocent satellite that was just doing its job.”
“Thank you,” Bruce said without a shred of regret that he’d ordered a hit on valuable orbiting space gear. Then he added “Don’t feel bad, Clark. They were antiquated. The replacement will be the first wave produced with Wayne Aerospace’s smart-mesh, a kevlar-aerogel hybrid that mutates after the high-G phase of the launch to adapt for the microgravity of space.”
“I understand, Bruce, I do. It still doesn’t… I just… after that movie, the idea of intentionally destroying property makes me uneasy.”
Bruce said nothing, but Selina emitted the low sound that meant either she discovered halfway through a break-in that the security system didn’t match the schematics or she’d spotted a cat with an injured paw.
“And this is all an identity thing?” Clark said with an abrupt change of tone, looking at the loud, tropical flower at the center of Bruce’s shirt and thus including the day’s bizarre mission in the statement. “You know I do it with a pair of eyeglasses.”
“It’s more complicated, Clark,” Selina put in. “Bruce is more high profile than you and Lois: all those years of the playboy on Page 6 and the Financial Times’s interest in the Wayne CEO. Add in that Catwoman sells papers and has ties to Batman, who is also very high profile. One tabloid sticks it to me so consistently it’s their brand at this point…”
“It’s psychological warfare,” Bruce interrupted. “After that monstrous episode in the Times about the wedding not happening and the garbage the Post printed after about Selina leaving me at the altar, I will not have them reading into our coming home early. We had to do it this way. The satellite was Step One. They were stymied. It was too unexpected, on a scale they weren’t prepared for. That frustrated energy has to go somewhere, so we direct it: give them blurred, grainy pictures of ‘Bruce and Selina’ in Hawaii, Nice, Mykonos, San Sebastián, Jade Mountain… no more than one can be real. The closer they look, the more confusing it will become. Since we’re going in like this, as Matches and Gina, there will be nothing to corroborate it, no evidence to find that Bruce and Selina were there. We’ll let it build to a fever pitch: ‘Where are they really?’ No one will think to question the satellite story let alone the possibility that we never left town at all. They’ll be consumed with the mystery I give them: Where are they really? And then it will all come to nothing. Phase three, the anticlimax: the plane is in Scotland. Anyone who looks it up will see when it left Gotham, refueled in London, they can track it flying us home, and we—mmph.”
Selina overcame her aversion to Matches’s mustache and kissed him full on the lips.
“To think, I once thought I didn’t rate a protocol,” she cooed.
Over the next hours, the niches devoted to Wayne-watching consumed the drip-feed of photos Bruce planned for them while more serious news outlets were experiencing a similar series of announcements crafted for their benefit. “Greenwich Glen” Reinajo had signed on to defend the alleged Charah killer Gus Robert Payne. Within an hour of the Gotham DA’s press conference, his press release went out. While the Wayne-watchers compared a couple on the beach in St. Lucia with a photo of Bruce from the bachelor party, legal pundits picked over Reinajo’s resume. He didn’t seem like a good fit for the case, apart from being at home in front of a camera. His clients were mostly Wall Street: bankers and brokers whose legal misadventures were confined to Ponzi schemes, insider trading, high stakes poker, and cocaine possession. He was hopelessly out of his depth with a serial killer, and speculation built as to who he would bring in versus when he would drop out.
Only two analyses digressed from the universal narrative. The renowned A. Peter Nohr, once the most famous lawyer in the country, ignored Reinajo and focused on ADA Cassidy and the evidence laid out in her press conference. Blue Valley law professor Ira Eisenhardt followed suit, singling out aspects of the evidence that were not as cut-and-dried as Cassidy implied…
Instagram discovered the woman walking along the coastline of the Plage des Sablettes, the last stretch of the French Riviera before the Italian border. Her hair was hidden by a hat, but the sun dress was absolutely the one Selina had been photographed in at the Bristol Yacht Club. A mad hunt for Bruce began, along with squabbling among those sticking by the St. Lucia picture. Finally he was found! Bruce and Selina together at a café outside the nearby Basilica St. Michel—but “Selina” was no longer in the dress. This Selina wore a halter and skirt, and her hair was wrapped in a scarf. The squabbling intensified as a press release went out announcing that A. Peter Nohr was coming out of retirement to join the Payne defense team, along with Ira Eisenhardt and his forensic specialist Ellen Frohl…
After a day that saw whale watching off the Big Island, kayaking in St. Lucia, and dancing on a terrace in Lake Como, Bruce and Selina were deposited on a quiet road in a quaint village in Fife, where a hired car picked them up to bring them to an airplane hangar outside Edinburgh. A mound of luggage was waiting just as Clark said, conspicuous luggage bought to advertise Bruce’s presence in hotels and cities where he wasn’t. Bruce had seen it a dozen times, but never before did it stop him in his tracks.
“Well look at that,” he said through an uncontrollable grin. On the very top sat a small, familiar Globe-Trotter bag, navy blue with black trim, joined by a second in the same style, ivory and beige, which he had never seen before. “We’re married,” he said, looking at Selina in wonder. “It just hit me, we’re married.” He looked again at the second bag. “Welcome to the family, Kitten. Prepare to be ‘handled.’”
“What?” Selina said as Bruce handed her the beige bag.
“I have no idea, but there will be a note. Whatever it says, you’ll do. We’ve been out of Gotham—”
“But we haven’t.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Wayne have. As far as the world is concerned we have, and Alfred has provided whatever we need to get home without sullying the name.”
Selina raised an eyebrow and unzipped the bag to find an unsealed envelope and several parcels wrapped in bold, plaid paper. She unfolded the note and read:
I have taken the liberty of supplying small tokens of appreciation for you and Master Bruce to give Captain Leffinger when he meets you, such as would be thoughtful and appropriate for returning newlyweds. Master Bruce will be giving a fine pair leather gloves from a prestigious men’s shop here in Edinburgh, likely a last-minute purchase prompted by your example. You made your purchases at the village near the castle: the highly sought-after Wemyss cats seemed appropriate. You will find figures sufficient for the flight crew and two extras for incidental persons you encounter, if needed.
You will also find recipes for shortbread, Cranachan, Steak Balmoral and a few other dishes you would have enjoyed at the castle and thus obtained from the cook in the final days of your stay. You will want to familiarize yourself with these on the flight home. Also you will find a clipping from the London Times mention of your wedding, which of course would have reached you at the castle. Onboard you will find a scrapbook of the coverage from the Gotham papers which you would not have been in a position to see at the time.
One appreciates that, given the outrage in the Gotham Times and the truly appalling nonsense that followed in the Post, you will not welcome these reminders. One is nevertheless compelled to remind you that, as far as the world is concerned, Mrs. Wayne was shielded from the tumult all these weeks and is only learning of it now. It would therefore be prudent to read through the scrapbook during the flight so the details are fresh in your mind. The rest of us have been much distracted by the Charah killer, of course, so your focus on the fresh wound of these libels will make your return particularly convincing…
“Pretty straightforward, I’m giving Captain Leffinger gloves,” Bruce said casually, folding his own note.
“This is normal?” Selina asked, seeing that her letter had a fourth and fifth page of instructions, while Bruce had only a few lines on a single sheet.
“What does it matter,” he said. “It’s really over. We got through it and we can go back to our real lives, being our real selves.”
“Meow,” she said, kissed him, and then snuck another envious look at his short note.
Oswald made himself scarce in the early hours when the bar was filling up. Talon checked in for any last minute instructions on what the ‘word on the street’ was to be before he met with the snitches. Crow checked in with the odds from the bookies. Oswald asked about that guy they use to lay off football, the one who ran a lonely hearts scam in Vegas, what’s his name? Credit cards and a wedding chapel—Devon Marcus, yeah that was him, kwak. Send him up if he’s in the back room tonight… Finally he sent for Raven and showed her the security footage of Detective Rowanski’s visit. He said the police were looking for an escaped con, who Oswald didn’t care about. He cared if this Rowanski came back. Either he’d be sending in a couple of plainclothes to keep an eye on the place (Oswald didn’t care about them either) or else he’d come back himself. If that happened, if Rowanski came back to the Iceberg as a guest, sat down at a table and ordered a drink in the guise of keeping an eye out for this con, it would mean he’s for sale. Raven should let Oswald know at once, and he would make overtures. That last item of business accomplished, Oswald settled into his chair. He had time to sample the Diplomatico before the serious clientele arrived…
By the time he confirmed that the dark rum from St. Lucia aged in oak casks, blended, and then reintroduced to the oak really did produce aromas of sweet honeyed fruit and a mellow but complex palate of raisin, vanilla, tobacco and spice, the bar was alive with the kind of patrons Oswald cared about. He opened the door to his office and proceeded to make his rounds.
The usual thugs, bruisers and crooks were clustered around the bar (beneath his notice) along with Hugo Strange, Catman, an old Maxie Zeus trollop and other riffraff… Roxy was looking quite fetching... Double Dare trying to ingratiate themselves through Magpie. They would have a long wait if they thought they’d get back into favor with nothing but a ‘water under the bridge’ strategy.
Oswald went to the bar and had a word with Sly only to deliver the snub:
“That Diplomatico isn’t so special. I’ll send it out here and you can keep it with the others behind the bar. Price it same as the 18 year.”
He appeared to see right through them and practically stepped on Margot as he turned away, then bent to inspect his shoe as though he’d tripped. It brought a giggle that sounded like Roxy, but it would have wrecked his performance if Oswald had noticed. Instead he headed into the dining room like an emperor (penguin) touring his domain.
He nodded first to Riddler and Game Theory, holding court at their regular booth… He next looked to Victor, sucking all the life out of a three foot radius around his table… Jervis, accompanied by “The Tweeds,” a pair of groupies who had taken it upon themselves to cheer him up in case the Mad Hatter appearance in a new Alice in Wonderland flick disappointed… and a loud burst of merriment coming from The Z. There was a time Oswald would have looked askance at a party of former henchmen making a spectacle of themselves in his dining room, but that was before these particular ex-henchmen came around. If the Z were doing well enough to outspend Ghost Dragons, he would be the last to discourage them.
“So much merriment,” Victor intoned, and Oswald hid his wince. He could have kicked himself for pausing so near to Victor’s table, but there was nothing for it now but to get it over with.
“To be young again, eh-kwak?” he said.
“I gather some ‘water sports’ are being planned. ‘Summer fun,’ of all the abominable oxymorons.”
This time Oswald let his wince be seen. The Z’s outrageous extras were supposed to be fun. But if they overcharged Victor to pay for ‘summer fun,’ that was more like a tasteless prank.
“I heard they made a lair for you. How did you get bit?” he asked.
“A not unamusing collection of charges: They each purchased a ‘cooler’ equipped with a blender, a waterproof bluetooth speaker and a USB charger. Also an ergonomic, silicone ice cream scoop, and nine tubs of gourmet gelato flown in from Italy.”
Oswald couldn’t suppress the chuckle, and Victor ignored it as he concluded: “I make no claim to be a detective, but I think they had an ice cream party.”
“I would say so,” Oswald agreed as the Z’s table erupted into laughter again. “The ‘summer fun’ is on someone else’s tab then?”
“Double Dare, I think, or maybe Scarecrow.”
“Hmph,” Oswald sniffed. “Not sure I like the idea of the Z working for the Double-cross Twins. Picking their pockets is good, but –kwak– it lets them back into the club. They don’t deserve that, abandoning Gotham when they did. Betraying the top names in villainy—kwak—that’s what they did. Leaving us to the likes of Falcone—kwak—Bane—kwak. Going to take a lot more than water under the bridge—kwak—before I let bygones be bygones.”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” Victor reminded him—at which point, another round of laughter from the Z gave Oswald his opening to escape.
“What unruly mob is this,” he began, looking over the table sternly—and noting a gratifying number of platters, pitchers and empty glasses. “If you persist in having this much fun, I warn you there will be a surcharge, if I am not let in on the joke.”
They happily showed him a tablet (that Hugo Strange undoubtedly paid for) open to a shopping website and the ‘Water fight accoutrements’ they were debating. There were champagne guns, like water pistols (or water uzis) but loaded with any champagne brand’s magnum size bottle. There was no question of if or even how many guns to purchase, only the finish: chrome, gold or rose gold.
They were also decided on the custom-tailored wetsuits and the waterproof, 360-degree camera to record the battle for the ages. But they could not agree on the inflatables: the swan pool float or (the cause of the incessant laughter) the 14-foot iceberg waterslide and climbing wall.
Oswald blinked, the audacity of it.
Since their dilemma was one of bird versus iceberg, they asked his opinion…
Oswald blinked again. The iceberg alone cost $8000. The wetsuits were $500 a piece and so were the champagne guns. All charged to Double Dare.
He bent down and whispered that, were it he, he would go with the iceberg and three of the swans—and also that their chicken wings and ribs were on the house.
Wayne One had reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, a full 5,000 over what was planned to avoid turbulence. Within the cabin, Selina had laid aside the scrapbook Alfred had sent with the luggage and appropriated the tablet that controlled the plane’s entertainment system and internet. She was swiping through breaking news and social media chatter as fast as their resort appearances were discovered, and periodically breaking into helpless giggles.
“Am I ever going to live this down?” Bruce asked, and she shook her head slowly, then held the tablet at arm’s length, comparing him to the picture on the screen.
“Nope,” she said, grinning. “You are declared ‘a thirst trap,’ a ‘sun-soaked beefcake,’ ‘shredded…’” She turned around the tablet to display a photo of him on the deck of a whale watching charter, Hawaiian shirt open to reveal an excessively chiseled six pack. “And ‘a delectable yum,’” she concluded. She turned the tablet briefly and swiped to display a photo of him sunbathing, shirtless… paused to admire the rippling muscles as he kayaked, and finally she licked her lips and very subtly let a hand travel down her thigh as she revealed one of him running on the beach in deliciously short swimming trunks. “’Beach bod of a Greek god,’” she managed. “And I, the new Mrs. Wayne, am declared a very lucky woman. For once the Internet got one right.”
“That’s really not the coverage I was going for,” Bruce said, coloring slightly.
“We did this for a reason,” he reminded her. “It’s not the reaction I expected.”
“I don’t care. This is the direction it took, and I’m loving it.”
“What about you?” he asked suddenly.
“There’s some admiration,” she conceded. “Also a guy who thinks my swim suit cost a thousand dollars.” Bruce raised an eyebrow and she winked. “It’s Balmain, it was seven hundred. But at least the ones obsessing on price tags are erring in the right direction now. Better than that outlet mall tramp imagining my dress was 28k.”
“You’re semi-quoting Ford Dormont,” Bruce pointed out. “Please don’t. He’s still a wild card. Every other media outlet has said whatever they’re going to say about the wedding, and in a day or two they’ll be done with the honeymoon. But Dormont’s novel, who knows how long that will take to come out.”
“Yes, I know,” Selina sighed. “Manderson Hume who punched Reid whoever in Ormolo’s dining room, tormented by injustice, haunted by crime unpunished and unatoned, finds love with a criminal and isn’t it ironic—I’m not worried.”
“The thing about Bruce is he’s trompe l’oeil,” Bruce quoted grimly. “It’s not just my fictional counterpart in his novels where he picked up on things no one else did. Ford has written seven essays for Mayfair since the engagement party. Seven, about the real us, where he invented a story about our first date that fits the playboy act as well as any lie I’ve made up. And that essay on the bachelor party—”
“Swallowed everything you staged for them. Repeated it, validated it and glorified it,” Selina put in.
“—said that Bruce Wayne’s life is crafted to deceive the eye, that I created a character and the press laps it up.”
“Nobody but you remembers that sentence, Bruce. They remember Dubai and the Al Falak ballroom, the sushi flown in from Nobu and the jetset twins dancing on the helicopter pad at Birj al Arab.”
“Manderson Hume was a minor character in Our Crowd, Selina, and for all the callbacks in later books—he punched out Reid Nogales the night Sissy bought the Monet—the nuance and subtext went unnoticed. But we’re going to be the main story in the new novel, and whatever he says is going to be noticed. And he sees things. It doesn’t land, fortunately. It gets lost in his fascination with the money, but he sees. And I do worry that one day the fog will lift and he will see it very clearly.”
“I’m sorry I made light of it,” Selina said gently. “If he does, we’ll deal with it then.” She turned the tablet slowly. “In the meantime, you’re a smoking hot man-meal of unadulterated sex, GQ said so.”
Bruce crumpled, his hand lifting to catch his forehead as it fell.
“Please say you made that up,” he murmured. “Lucius reads GQ.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” Harley cried, running through the Ha-hacienda in her bra and blue jeans, holding a hot curling iron in place with one hand while she dragged a hacking hyena by his collar with the other. “DON’T—” she ordered, releasing him just long enough to grip the doorknob “—MOVE!” squirming to block his retreat with her lower body while she got the door open. “OUTSIDE!” she called triumphantly, regrabbing the collar and flinging the sick animal outside to vomit the lemongrass he’d eaten.
Across the street, a bike messenger with a stack of Amazon packages stared.
“Yeah, I’m in my bra!” she announced. “It was that or clean up hyena sick, and I gotta get to work.”
The messenger gave an enthusiastic thumbs up, which Harley decided to take at face value.
“I gotta get to work,” she repeated as she returned to the bathroom mirror.
It was an odd way to describe dropping in on Red at the greenhouse like she’d done a thousand times. But that was when Red was a fully functioning Poison Ivy with the power to animate plants, order them into battle, and make any man with a spark of attraction fall at her feet as a willing slave. Without that, her whole sense of herself had imploded, and Harley found herself unexpectedly… needed.
At first, she didn’t like to think about it. Her new status meant acknowledging how utterly irrelevant she’d always been. Mistah J never needed her. She was an accessory in most of his schemes, and if she was late to a job or blew it off entirely to go shopping, she wouldn’t be missed. She didn’t like admitting it, but in her heart, she knew she wouldn’t be missed.
Red wasn’t that different. Poison Ivy didn’t have “sidekicks;” she had staff. Nymphs that flitted around the spa or florist or whatever front she was using, not individuals who acted as junior partners and reflected her theme. When Harley came along, Ivy made a place for her, but it was just that: Red finding things for her to do, not Harley bringing any particular skills to the table that a job required.
But now Red needed her. Really needed her like never before. Without her plants, she needed a sounding board. And as she laid out scheme after scheme trying to re-engineer them to her depowered status, she was finding the former Dr. Quinzel to be a very good listener.
“Red always suffered writers block more than other rogues,” Harley told the planter of chewed lemongrass. “And it’s your guys fault, in my professional opinion. Ideas come together when they’re put into words for a specific person that ain’t in your own head, and no matter how sentient she thinks you vegetables are, you don’t qualify. Talking to her babies is like talkin’ to herself. No wonder she used to block so much. Now she has me.”
While her words were harsh, she was picking clumps of dirt off the floor and doing her best to restore some semblance of hope to the decimated tray of grass. If it didn’t recover, Red would give her more, but that would mean telling Red the hyenas attacked the first batch, and that wouldn’t go over well…
So where was she? Right. Red needed her.
Poison Ivy was the only rogue Harley was any good at analyzing, and lately her fears practically blinked over her head like a neon sign: Will I regain my stature as a rogue? Can I even continue as one without my powers? What happens if the world finds out I lost them? And the one Harley couldn’t ignore which had galvanized her into action: Will Harley lose respect for me?
The pop-up at the Botanical Gardens was a start. Red had a mailing list and credit card information on customers who would spend ten dollars for a bar of soap, twenty for a tube of hand cream, or 125 on the special eau de parfum extracted from living florals. People who’d responded to the sales pitch for living florals and found a scent they liked enough to try. It was a start. Now that the shop popped away again, those who reordered by mail—or anyone who showed up if it popped up somewhere new in the future—those people were actively using the stuff, and building up a nice reserve of whatever it was Red was dosing them with.
To help keep track—and to underscore that, no matter what, she still viewed Red as the boss—Harley had prepared a spreadsheet with all those customers and their credit cards. It could be sorted and filtered by the product they bought and the scent they were using, not unlike the database/spreadsheets at Arkham. So, a job. And Red was still the boss. Somehow she’d use this to pull off the old-fashioned pheromone-based mind control, and as long as Harley kept watering the plants at the Iceberg, there was no fear of anybody finding out about Red’s condition.
If she could just find a way to keep the hyenas from eating the plants Red gave her, everything would be perfect.
Wayne One was a little over the half-way mark of its flight over the Atlantic when Bruce entered the video conference pre-arranged with Lucius. The NASA Chief Director and her deputy, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Paula Winn from the Daily Planet Group and representatives from the Luxemburg and Australian firms that owned the other damaged satellites, along with the Wayne Aerospace executives assembled in the secured high-tech meeting room made to interface with the Sub-Diego all saw Bruce on their respective viewscreens with just enough of the plane (and for a time, Selina’s crossed legs) visible behind him to serve as a reminder that he was returning from his honeymoon.
“As you can see, the Geostat 9 we’ll be using to replace the Daily Planet satellite is more than capable of servicing your networks as well, with room to spare. Let’s be frank: they were three antiquated satellites that were lost, and with today’s tech we can do better. We were ready to replace the DP: licensing will be done by the end of the month for launch in twelve weeks, max. Buy in on the Geo 9 and you would be free to auction off your spots on the orbital ring, that will more than cover your losses and you’ve got a much newer, more reliable and more robust array of geostationary orbit-based technology. Or spend the two years, and anywhere from fifty to four hundred million to launch your own…”
Selina sat quietly shaking her head in her hidden corner of the cabin, an old mantra echoing in her thoughts as she listened. Occasionally she glanced down at the tablet and that picture of her husband: showing off on a beach, doing one-armed push-ups.
The call ended, and said husband joined her.
“Lucius, Paula Winn, and then everybody sent congratulations and apologies that our honeymoon was cut short this way.”
“No wolf whistles?” she teased. “Wayne dignity is intact?”
“In a few hours, Alfred will look at you and say ‘Welcome home, madam.’ We’ll go inside, and he’ll insist on bringing tea. And everything will go back to normal.”
To be continued...