Miranda Lawson was a native to the universe. At least, I'm pretty sure that she was. She hadn't really given anything away, much less admitted that she's from another universe or whipped out an Omni-tool or something. She talked little about her past beyond mentions that she found herself on the streets when she came to Gotham and heard about Lowtown. No mention of where she came from or what she did before.
The only thing that tipped me off that she was a native, similar to how Revy was, was the fact that a quick search turned up Lawson Industries - a multi-billion dollar medical company that focused on drug development and gene editing tech. The CEO was Henry Lawson, who was the spitting image of Miranda. Officially, he didn't have any children, but rumors floated around about an illegitimate daughter. Given the age of the rumors, they lined up with how old Miranda was - nineteen or so.
It could just be a doppelganger or something and she really was from the Mass Effect series. I wasn't sure, but it was something I decided to keep my eye on. Time would give me my answer. Either way, in theory, Miranda was a biotic so I was welcoming her with open arms. And even if she wasn't a biotic, her management skills could be considered a superpower on their own.
It was Christmas Eve, a few days since the Gala at Bruce Wayne's mansion. Before, I was run ragged and constantly barraged with work. There was just so much of it, so many spinning plates and meetings to deal with. Then Miranda stepped in, and all of a sudden… I had free time. I wasn't even sure where half of the workload had gone. It was like it straight up just vanished. At first, I thought that it just wasn't being done, but double-checking proved that all the checkboxes were getting ticked. Apparently, I just sucked at time management or something.
And, all of a sudden, the trope of a man falling in love with his secretary made a whole lot more sense. If I didn't have Tifa, then I would have fallen head over heels in love with her the moment I was able to get a full eight hours of sleep again.
"You're a lifesaver," I told Miranda as she passed along a handful of papers that detailed Sainthood Enterprises' most recent acquisition. An auto shop. Employees were hired from Lowtown - all of which had prior experience in mechanics. I was hoping to get a chance to break down a high-ranked car to see if they could replicate what was done to improve the vehicles, but that was probably above their skill level. That was until my company received an application from a college graduate with an engineering degree.
With him, whose name I couldn't remember for the life of me, Sainthood Auto was born.
Everything was in place, so signed off on it.
"So you've mentioned," Miranda said, before she placed another piece of paper in front of me. "A permit is necessary. However, the chief of city development is open to be bribed."
"Ah, that guy again. I'll send over ten thousand," I agreed, unsealing a card filled with counterfeit money and handing her a bundle. "Offer half at the start. He likes to haggle."
Miranda smiled, "Dealt with him often?" She questioned, earning a nod from me.
"All the time. You need to go through him to get permits and building licenses. But, he plays pretty loose with bribes. Give him one, and he'll give you a freebie if you've gone to him recently. Guy offered me a discount on my liquor licenses even though I'm sixteen… a decent guy. Corrupt as all hell, but decent," I said, flipping through some papers. I glanced at the clock - it was only one o'clock. Normally I'd be parked at this desk until dusk. "Also, talk to him about a gambling license."
"Anything else?" Miranda questioned, and I tried to think of something. After months of running myself ragged with work and responsibility, I didn't trust free time at all. It felt like I had just forgotten to do something. But, a quick look at my schedule proved that it was all taken care of. I was officially free for the day.
"I don't think so," I muttered, feeling a little lost. If Miranda noticed then she didn't comment on it. She nodded before she took her leave - I waved her off before leaning back in my chair, my gaze going to the ceiling. I sat there for a moment and just did… nothing.
You never realize how awesome doing nothing is until you've been forced to do something for all hours of the day for months. Doing nothing just might be the single greatest gift that I've received. A moment of peace where my brain could stop to rest.
Between the counterfeiting, the dirty funds from the gang war, and my various enterprises, we were inching closer to making a profit. When things had settled and the ball started rolling, then we likely would. Batman had yet to show and the cops had yet to make a move. To that end…
I unsealed a burner phone and dialed a number. The phone rang once before I received an answer. "Need help with something, my favorite minion?" I heard through the speaker.
"For once, I don't," I responded. "I was wondering if your contacts had heard a peep of a move being made?" I questioned, my moment of peace ending.
Mr. Cobblepot chuckled on the other end, "Not a word. They've had a few CIs go down to that lair of yours, but between a gang war and a breakout in Arkham, you've been shelved for the moment. A lovely touch, might I add." He complimented, sounding genuinely amused.
He thought that I had planned the breakout with Ivy. He approved immensely, so I didn't exactly dissuade him of the idea. Because of it, Mr. Cobblepot waived a fee for information from inside of the police force. The cops that were assigned to my case? Roman Cavallo and Marcas Wise - the cops that beat the shit out of me in the alley after I limped out of Dr. Thompkins' clinic after getting shot.
They were dragging their feet on Mr. Cobblepot's orders, and despite shouts from Gordon that I was going to be arrested, no warrant was ever issued. The secret of Lowtown was no longer a secret. Word had gotten out. The Court of Owls knew, Batman knew, the cops knew… it was only a matter of time before the general public learned of the tunnel system beneath their feet.
"It was a fortunate turn of events," I admitted. "Especially with the attention that Two-Face ended up bringing me," I added. Speaking of which, I brought up a file on my contacts related to his former mob. They were about a hundred strong altogether - not a massive mob, but they didn't need to be. Right now, their orders were to expand their numbers and to sit tight. I even refused a kick-up to make sure they were better prepared for what was to come.
"The other matter is being taken care of as well," Mr. Cobblepot said, and I swallowed a breath of relief. I didn't care for leaning on Mr. Cobblepot for affairs like these, but he had contacts where I didn't. He had the money, the connections, and inspired the fear that I just lacked. Outside of him, I really didn't have any contacts because, as expected, no one from the gala had reached out. Maybe they were expecting me to, but that would make me look weak.
"I appreciate it," I told him, and I meant it. What I wanted done was just currently beyond my means. I just wasn't quite there yet. "I'll pay you back for it. One way or the other."
"Might mean a bit more if you didn't owe me twenty-five million," Mr. Cobblepot remarked, and he had a point there.
"To be honest, I was planning on giving it all back to you at one time. Wanted to make a show of it," I told him. "I don't want to shoot myself in the foot and give you an exact date, but the goal is to have my debt paid off soon. All twenty-five million of it." I said - I couldn't use counterfeit money. Too risky. However, the gang war was one hell of a moneymaker. So, it would be money lifted from that that would be used to pay off my debt.
I could hear Mr. Cobblepot smiling on the other end, "I look forward to it. In return, you'll get that pesky video that's been hanging over your head." The video of me murdering a man. "Have you put any thought into your future beyond it?"
That was a loaded question if I've ever heard one.
Despite the fact that he couldn't see me, I fixed a smile on my face. It was a question that I've considered for some time, but I wasn't even sure what the answer was. "Given the circumstances… I see no reason to change the current arrangement. I think we can both benefit each other greatly. I already have," I told him, not certain if the words that came out my mouth were the truth or not.
I was going to betray Mr. Cobblepot. That die was already cast. However, what came after…?
Events were in motion for me to become the secret crime boss of about a third of the city. As the secret crime boss, I could just step back from the role and focus entirely on Sainthood Enterprises…
But what I said to Bruce Wayne echoed in my ears. I was maneuvering myself in a position to control crime. I was no Red Hood, but the rules appealed to me - no kids. I could expand upon them too. I would control the dealers, so I could control who bought the drugs. I didn't really care if a junkie got their hands on heroin or not, but if they were a pregnant woman? Or a father with starving and abused kids?
I could put an end to that. With my information network that grew with each building that Sainthood Construction worked on… I could learn about crimes before they were committed. I could end crimes that only took place behind closed doors. Rape? Assault? Murder? I could stop it. And failing that, I would know exactly who committed the crimes.
It would be like Lowtown on a grander scale.
The idea of it was appealing. The idea of breaking the notion that Gotham is an eternally cursed place and carving out chunks of Gotham to become slices of heaven. First Lowtown. Then East End. Then the Narrows. And so on and so on.
I wasn't arrogant enough to think that I could solve the world's woes, much less every issue that everyone in my territory had… but, I could help out with some. I could be the hand that I wished was reached out to me before coming to Gotham, when I was drowning in problems without anyone to throw me a lifeline to cling onto.
It probably wasn't worth it. The cost of what I would have to do was way too high for the payoff. I just didn't really care about that. Justified or not, pointless or not, worth it or not - it's what I wanted to do.
So, I would do it.
"Happy to hear it kid. I look forward to my pile of money," Mr. Cobblepot said before the line went dead. I snapped the phone shut and sealed it away. I took in a deep breath and let it out, mulling over the conversation to see if I had made any mistakes. Nothing stood out to me, and the knowledge that the cops were off my back, as well as the other matter, was being taken care of was a load off my mind.
Right now, things were dangerously close to looking good for me.
I wonder how it was going to go to shit?
A knock at my door echoed through the room before it opened, revealing Cass. She didn't really get why people knocked on doors, I don't think. She just copied what people did because she saw them doing it. In her hands was a red toolbox that looked way too heavy for her. A card darted into my hand and I flicked it over to the toolbox. It sailed through the air perfectly. The moment it made contact, the heavy burden was lifted from Cass as the toolbox was sealed away.
She caught the card when it began to drift down. She looked down at it before flipping it over to show me - to her, it would appear to be a blank card. To me, I saw C-Rank Toolbox. With my free time, I started having toolboxes brought to me to grind up the base card. They were harder to come by on account of the weight and size of them. Still, I gained more than a few.
I held up a hand and the card flew back to my palm. Setting it down, I looked to Cass, What's up? I questioned in sign.
Reading. Cass answered, holding up a children's book as she entered. The basics of the alphabet - I wasn't sure what exactly prompted her desire to suddenly want to be able to read. She seemed pretty content with just sign language for some time now. I wasn't sure what prompted it, but I did approve. Soon enough, Cass would be able to read and write. Then she could try tackling talking, and she could do it without getting her brain punched by some magic spell and having to relearn how to fight like she did in DC canon.
She took a seat, pulling up the chair to the other side of the desk before she pulled out her workbook. Flipping it open, she revealed picture-perfect handwriting - her issue with words was that the rules of language didn't click in her mind. It was like Japanese kanji for me, I could copy kanji all day long but they were completely meaningless to me until I understood the meaning behind the strokes and the rules of the language. So, at the moment, Cass was stuck at the toddler stage of reading and writing. And that was fine. She'd get there eventually.
Until she asked for help, I distracted myself with another task. I looked to the cards on my desk - the toolbox as well as the Pod drone. The latter was an A-Rank even broken, so I wasn't sure if a C-Rank would cut it. But, combining tools with broken items worked on my trial runs. Though, I had yet to try an entire toolbox because I wasn't sure what exactly a Pod Drone needed.
My fingers drummed on my desk surface for a moment before I stopped. I hadn't yet managed to derank a card, so there was nothing stopping me beyond my own paranoia. With that thought in mind, I grabbed the toolbox card as well as the broken pod drone. Pressing the cards together, I almost instantly regretted the decision because something happened that had never happened before. I didn't manage to derank the card but it was something else entirely.
The toolbox card sank through the pod card instead of fusing with it. My hands paused, the cards halfway combined - normally, the card would just sink into the other card. Instead, I could clearly see the half that was poking out of the back of the drone card.
"Did I just screw up?" I muttered, uncertain what I should do. Cass looked up from her workbook. She blinked, appearing interested for a moment before she reached out and guided my hand through with the combination, acting in place of my hesitation. I allowed it, thinking it was probably better to follow through rather than back off at the halfway point.
The toolbox card flowed through the Drone card, the surface of the latter rippling before the action was complete. A second later, after the combination, I still held two cards in my hand.
A-Rank YoRHa Tactical Support Pod 042
My eyes narrowed at the drone, finding it fixed. Meaning that it could work? A suspicion arose within me before I turned to the other card. After a moment of hesitation, I decided to bite the bullet and try to combine the android with the Toolbox. The results?
S-Rank YoRHa Android Model 2B (2E)
"Huh," I muttered, eyeing the toolbox card. "Do I have typed cards now?" This was different. The toolbox card seemed to use ranks to fix items. The drone didn't seem to take a full tank, but the android bumped the toolbox all the way down to the lowest rank possible. The toolbox was practically trash now.
One thing was becoming increasingly clear - my cards were getting stronger. That was something that I couldn't do before. Was it something that just happened over time? Was it because I was using my cards more and more? I wasn't sure and I really didn't have a way to find out. It was just something that I was going to have to keep my eye on and try to find other things that I could do now.
Regardless, it meant that I suddenly had two fixed cards. The pod and the android.
I found Cass looking at me with curiosity. Our eyes met before she started to sign, Something wrong? Nervous. She pointed out, and I had to admit that I was. I found that I didn't care for working with unknowns, and the android was one hell of an unknown. I looked down at the cards for a moment, mulling over what I really wanted to do before my gaze drifted over my office.
In theory, the only signal that came in and out of my office in Lowtown was my contacts. In theory, if I unsealed the cards, I had nothing to worry about. In theory, if they did prove hostile, I could seal them away again. In theory, I could also fight them off if that plan failed. In theory, in theory, in theory.
I'm about to unseal a card, I told Cass. She set down her mechanical pencil and nodded. I took position behind my desk, calling up a few cards to my hand. My gun, and the concrete foam. Pinching the drone card between my fingers, I flicked it to the center of the room along with the concrete card. If it was hostile, then I would just submerge it in concrete.
I unsealed the card and the drone appeared. It was basically a blank square face with two arms attached at the base, along with two smaller arms between the larger set. It pushed itself up using the back arms as legs before it began to float, proving that it could ignore gravity, because I didn't hear any fans whirling to keep it afloat.
"Processing: Change in environment noted. Unable to connect to YoRHa servers. Unit 2B missing." The Pod stated in a monotone voice, testing out its body. "Unregulated repairs made to pod unit. Unknown entities found."
Huh. Not hostile yet, but it certainly did seem confused. "Hello there," I spoke, standing tall despite being willing to drop behind my desk at a moment's notice. "I'm the one that repaired you. Some people that worked for me found you in the city dump, and I was hoping that you could answer my questions." I said, eying the machine warily. It could speak. Was it an AI?
The machine bobbed, "Observation: Units do not appear to be members of the Resistance."
Resistance? "That would be because we are not. I hope that this won't be a problem," I said, keeping a friendly smile on my face. What could it mean by Resistance? Was I looking at a foreign robot from another nation? Then why was it speaking English?
"Inquiry: Units defected from Resistance? Processing… Proposal: Help Pod unit locate unit 2B in exchange for alteration of memory logs to hide your existence." The pod said, its small hands twitching almost nervously. I suppose that this was the difference between a smart AI and a dumb AI. The pod clearly had decision-making capabilities, but it really didn't feel like I was conversing with a person.
My smile didn't waver, "2B has been located. The Android was damaged severely, but I managed to fix it. I wanted to boot you up first because I thought you might be able to answer some questions for me. Firstly, what do you mean by Resistance?" I said, making a show of sitting down in my chair. The drone hovered in midair for a second, seemingly processing that.
"Request: Pod 042 requires clarification." The pod said, its hands rotating.
Hm. "Who or what is YoRHa? What resistance group do you believe I am a part of?" I questioned, and I received silence in response. "Okay… how about this - if I activate 2B, will it be hostile to me?" I questioned further, knowing that I likely couldn't trust any information that it gave me. Still, it really seemed to be struggling to answer a simple question. Maybe it wasn't as smart as I gave it credit for?
An alert appeared on my contacts, warning of an attempt to prob my system. I reacted instantly - a blank card flicked towards the pod, hitting it in the face before it was sealed within. The card fell to the floor next to the concrete foam one. My lips thinned as I recalled both to my hand.
That had been a little dangerous, but telling. All that I really got from it was that it was a member of some resistance group and it was isolated from YoRHa servers. Not as much info as I would have liked, but some. Enough that I flicked the concrete foam card to the chair along with the 2B card. My gaze darted over to Cass, who gave me a thumbs up and a nod to show that she was ready for trouble. Taking a deep breath, I unsealed the 2B card.
The Android was certainly a she, I noted. And she looked a lot better now that she wasn't half-destroyed and covered in what looked like blood. Her snow-white hair was cut in a bob, and her eyes covered with a black blindfold, but I noted a beauty mark near her mouth. An odd thing for an android to have. She wore a gothic black dress with an uneven hem, high heeled boots… the more I looked at her, the more I began to wonder if the Android was some kind of sexbot.
The Android slumped into the chair, as if she were asleep, unknowingly sitting on my foam card. I heard her take in a breath, her head shifting, going through the motions of what a human would do when they first wake up. Interesting.
"Good morning," I greeted, earning a small gasp of surprise, the android going to stand, but I held up a hand to stop her. "Please, remain seated. I have some questions that I would really like answered. If you can answer them, then we can take it from there."
"Who are you? Where am I?" The Android questioned, but remained seated, her tone was sharp, yet even. Guarded.
Hm. "I'm Vergil St. Jude, and the girl next to me is Cassandra, but she goes by Cass. Currently, you're in my office," I answered. Tit for tat. Answering her questions first made it clear that this wasn't an interrogation, even though it was. It might make her open up and relax a bit knowing that we weren't enemies. "Now, who are you?"
It was hard to read her face with half of it covered by a blindfold, but I noticed that she was surprisingly expressive. Her lips thinned, pressing together into a line while her hands clenched in her lap. "My designation is YoRHa No.2 Type B... Or 2B for short," 2B answered and that was interesting. Compared to the pod, she clearly felt more human.
"Type B… I suppose that would stand for battle, wouldn't it?" I questioned, earning a curt nod. Dangerous, but she was cooperative. And uncertain.
She didn't respond verbally to that but she tensed, making Cassandra tense up as well. So, despite being an Android, she still displayed clear body language that Cass could read. It was interesting - 2B was clearly designed to be as human as possible. If she was a sexbot, that would make much more sense. But a battle bot? Being human offered no clear advantages unless you considered espionage.
"2B, I have no intentions of harming you," I started. "You were found and repaired by me. I'm just curious about the circumstances that lead to you being so badly damaged." I forced my smile to widen, "I'm more worried that I stepped on some toes in repairing you. That's all this is."
2B considered that for a moment before she offered a curt nod. "I was forced to take extreme measures when my partner and I encountered a Goliath-class machine," she said with the clear expectation that I would know what that was. "Did… were you also able to repair 9S?" 2B questioned, trying to keep her tone even, but there was a hopeful edge in her voice. Partner…
I shook my head, dashing her hopes, "We only found something called a support pod with you. The area was searched, but we didn't find the bodies of any other androids. Unless 9S wasn't an android?" I questioned, noting how her hands clenched into fists.
"Of course he was!" She snapped sharply at me. An emotional response. I never really put much thought into the question of something like synth rights or anything, but now I was being confronted with the issue. 2B seemed like a person. If I hadn't seen the metal on the inside, I wouldn't think for a moment that she was an android. It also confirmed that there was supposed to be a second android in the area, but we turned the dump over. There was no second android.
"Perhaps he was able to walk it off?" I offered, but judging by her reaction, she didn't think that was likely. "What extreme measures were taken?" I questioned, probing for information. There was something that she was talking around - Resistance, Goliath Machines…
"Our mission was to destroy a factory producing Machine Lifeforms, including those of the Goliath-class. 9S and I destroyed one before we found ourselves surrounded by a half dozen others. We activated our black box to destroy them…" Based on her tone, she also thought something didn't add up. And I believe I found what it was.
"What do you mean machine lifeforms?" I questioned, tilting my head as the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. A theory formed, but I held off on voicing it until I had confirmation.
2B appeared to be taken back by the question, bewildered almost. "I- machine lifeforms. The soldiers of the aliens that invaded earth thousands of years ago and drove humanity into extinction? What happened to your memory logs? How could you possibly forget about machine lifeforms? We're designed to kill them!" She pressed, and there was that confirmation.
I clasped my hands in front of me, "I take it you think that Cass and I are androids?" I questioned, wanting to be sure.
She didn't even hesitate to answer, but it was clear her own suspicions were growing. "Of course," 2B confirmed.
This… made no sense, yet it did. I couldn't find any mention of YoRHa because there was no YoRHa. It didn't exist. She was speaking about machine lifeforms, alien invasions - which could make sense, but given that she said thousands of years and the extinction of humanity…
Right now I had two theories. The first was that 2B was a time traveler. She was an android from thousands of years in the future where humanity finally got fucked by some aliens and the Justice League was a thing of the past. The whole extinction bit didn't make sense because we had galactic spanning teleportation and spaceflight now, so it didn't make sense that humanity wouldn't spread out across the stars… but, given that this was DC comics, there were plenty of aliens that would wipe humanity out given the chance.
The second was that 2B was from a different universe. It was the more far-fetched theory, but it was also the more likely of the two. After all, Tifa had been plucked from her own universe before the Penguin had stuffed her in that fucking box. I still had no idea how he did it, or what method he used. I didn't even know why he did it, what his goal was, or anything. I just knew that Tifa had ended up in that box because of the Penguin. Which made 2B's situation stand out. She was dropped off in the dump… had she arrived as damaged goods, so they got rid of her?
"I see," I said, not quite sure how to break the news to her. "You would be mistaken," I pointed out, trying to nudge her to come to the conclusion herself. It would be easier that way.
"Pardon?" 2B question, an edge in her tone. She wasn't biting.
"Both Cass and I are human," I informed her, and I didn't get the reaction I was expecting. I expected her to shout in surprise, recoil in shock, or maybe stand up and refute the claim. Instead, there was a moment of heavy silence in the room as she stared at the two of us. My smile became a little more brittle with every passing second, wondering if she was simply refusing to entertain the idea.
Then she moved. A snow-white katana came out of absolutely nowhere, just appearing in her hand. My heart leaped to my throat, 2B moving before I could even think about setting off the card she had sat under, but it was a good thing that I didn't. 2B dropped into a kneeling position, planting the tip of her sword into the ground as she bowed her head low.
"You're… human…!" She spoke the word with reverence and disbelief. Did she have some kind of scanner or something that told her that? There was so much raw emotion in her voice that if I didn't know any better, I'd think she was on the verge of tears. "I don't… I thought you were all on the moon! I… for the glory of humanity, I will protect you. We…" 2B sounded overwhelmed.
As if to agree with her, I received an alert with my contacts.
"Ah… looks like that's going to be put to the test rather shortly," I informed as I stood up, straightening out my tie. 2B looked up at me sharply as I watched a video feed of some fucker trying to sneak into the building that I was in, one that was placed at the heart of 7th Heaven and Lowtown.
The Court of Owls sent their talons out to play.
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