Disclaimer: I do not own any characters from Marvel Comics. Joviana is an original character.
My name is, or, rather, is now Joviana Florescu, and for the past three years I have had a career as a professional henchwoman, a courtier, or a minion, to Victor Von Doom. It's been interesting.
I shall begin at the beginning, and perhaps jump ahead to the present day after that.
It was not love at first sight, but something else, something extraordinary, not as clichéd, hard to define.
Doctor Doom was not the first to whom I had gone, when I formulated my plan; he was the last, and the last on my list. Magneto had been the worst of them—he had sneered at me, and been openly insulting, partly because I was twenty-two, plain, and pudgy, but mostly because I was not a mutant. I told him, as I left, that with his attitude, if he had been born an American Southerner, he would habitually pronounce the word 'Negro' with two 'g's. I don't believe he got my meaning, but then again, what more could I have expected from him? I could think of half a dozen uses for his powers that he had never come up with.
But finally, I had made the circuit, an expensive and demoralizing quest. The Sub-Mariner—the King-Pin—Arcade—so many others, and the only one left on my list was Doom.
I had left him for the last for several reasons. He had diplomatic immunity, and could kill me without any fear of reprisal, that was one, and he was by far the most intelligent and powerful, which was another, and finally, I thought he was by far my best chance. I had an advantage with him that I lacked with the others: Thanks to my late grandmother, I could claim Latverian descent, and I could make my appeal in Latverian. If I failed to convince him, it was all over. I would have to go back home, where I no longer had a job, an apartment, any savings, or a car—but where I now had a massive credit card debt.
Of course I could always have gone home to live with my 'natural' mother, but suicide would have been infinitely preferable. That was, in fact, my plan, if all else failed. Once all else failed…
Doom had been in New York explaining to the United Nations why his latest contretemps with the Fantastic Four did not constitute an act of war. He had won on the grounds that the attack was against them as private citizens, and that he had been acting as an individual rather than as the leader of Latveria.
While he was in residence, I had gone to the Latverian Embassy every day for a week, beginning on Monday, and by Friday, I was desperate. He would be leaving soon. I was running out of both time and credit. I had to be desperate. It was the only way I could work up enough courage to approach him.
Every morning that week, I had gone through the embassy security check, put my name down for an audience with Doom, and then sat and waited. I left for an hour at lunch, came back afterwards, and sat and waited until the embassy closed to the public, after which I went back to my fleabag hotel.
So on Friday morning, before I left that cramped, hideous hotel room, I sat down and wrote a note explaining why I thought he should see me. I signed the name I was born with, the name I used to use, back in those unhappy days, and I sealed it. When the aide at the embassy took my name for the fifth time, I passed him the envelope, along with a hundred dollar bill, which I could in no way afford to give out.
"If you would be so kind as to give this to His Excellency, it will explain why I want to see him." I said, as I handed over the money and the envelope.
The aide's eyes flicked from the envelope to me as he discovered the money, and back again.
"I can't accept this." he said, and my heart sank. But he only handed back the money, and not the note. "I can pass this along, but I can't make any promises."
"I understand." I said, and sat to wait some more. After the first morning, I had made sure to bring a book with me, so I sat and read for forty-five minutes.
The aide returned, and gave me a puzzled, searching look. "His Excellency will see you now."
I was put through another security check before he led me down a thickly carpeted hall to a massive pair of doors. "You may go in. He is expecting you." The aide opened the door, and I went it.
It was an office, expensively furnished and, at that moment, rather dark. None of the lights were on, and it was a cloudy day, so the only illumination was the watery grey daylight that shone feebly through the windows, where Doom was standing.
His back was toward me, and that hooded figure so dominated the room that I could look nowhere else. It was not like being in the room with a person: it was like that moment in Mozart's Don Giovanni, when the statue of the Commandant comes to life. He did not turn. He barely stirred.
Then he spoke, quoting what I had written in my note. " 'If you will see me I can tell you how you can triumph over Reed Richards completely and forever.' That is an audacious assertion, particularly coming from you.
"Your name is—." The name I used then is not important anymore. I will let it die. "You are twenty-two years old. You come from a former mining town in Pennsylvania, which once produced both coal and steel, but the coal was mined out a generation ago and the steel industry has moved overseas. Nothing has taken its place; your town is in a seemingly permanent state of depression. You are Scots-Irish on your mother's side, but your father is, or was, half-German, half-Latverian. His mother raised you entirely by herself for the first seven years of your life, and it was undoubtedly she who taught you to speak, read and write Latverian."
"Yes. I grew up bi-lingual."
"Your IQ has tested at 167. You are to be congratulated," he continued, as if I had not spoken. "One hundred fifty and above is considered to be on a genius level. Unfortunately, you have never lived up to your potential. You are a chronic underachiever. Your standardized test scores are in the 99th percentile, but your academic records are little better than mediocre. You went to a local community college, then to a local liberal arts school—and not a prestigious one. You managed a degree in French literature. Until two months ago, you had been employed as a cashier in a drugstore—only the latest in a series of low-level clerical and retail jobs—file clerk, stock person, and the like. You have never made as much as twenty thousand dollars in a year. You live alone in a studio apartment. Finally—and this, at least, I find highly individual of you—you have a restraining order out against your mother." With his resources, it must have been easy for him to find out all about me.
He was still looking out the window. He had never turned around—never turned his head to see to whom he was speaking. "So. Tell me, what have you have ferreted out? How shall I triumph over Reed Richards completely and forever? I am all agog to hear it." His voice was heavy with sarcasm. "I don't expect much of an answer out of you. I decided to hear you out merely on the off-chance that I might find it amusing."
I couldn't speak. The lyrics of a Tori Amos song echoed through my head: 'Got a bowling ball in my stomach, and a desert in my mouth. Figures that my courage would choose to sell out now.'
"Well? I am waiting."
"It will be easier," I began, the words coming out haltingly at first, "if I explain what Reed Richards is doing wrong. I read. I read a lot. I read everything I can get my hands on. I know that magazines like Popular Science and Discover are to you what abridged novels are to me, something cut down to size for those who aren't ready for the real thing, and may never be ready for the real thing, but I enjoy them.
"Six months ago," I continued; my words were flowing better, "there were a lot of articles about Dr. Richards' latest development, a way to transmit and receive energy, especially electricity, as if it were radio waves."
The hint of a growl welled up from the depths of Doom's throat.
"Of course, Richards' sponsoring corporation, Winfield-Merton, was prominently mentioned in all the articles, with statements from their CEO saying how their partnership with Richards is contributing to a cleaner, greener America, and a better world to follow. The arrangement they have with Richards goes back years; they underwrite his research, and in exchange, they get his patents and developments."
"I know all of this. Why repeat it?" he asked.
"Because if Reed Richards' developments and inventions are so good, so ecologically sound and economically feasible, why does Winfield-Merton have some of the worst track records in terms of industrial emissions?"
For the first time since I had entered the room, he moved. He turned his head, not enough to look at me directly, just enough to see me out of the corner of his eye. "Go on." he commanded.
"Richards came up with a functioning cold-fusion reactor five years ago. It emits no radiation or other pollution, and it's so powerful that a unit the size of a refrigerator should be able to power a small city. He came up with an anti-gravity unit that can safely be used as transportation. He—well, you undoubtedly know all of this better than I do, but the sum and total of it is this: Winfield-Merton is sitting on Richards' work—every significant development, at least. There is a safety valve that's used in commercial grade espresso machines across America, and an anti-drift, anti-static device that used widely in cell phones, but, other than bits and pieces like that, nothing Richards developed is in production. I had thought you were responsible, but as I continued with my research, I became convinced that you were not."
"You are correct. Continue."
"Richards didn't turn over prototypes. He saves those for the Fantastic Four. He turned over working models, blueprints, diagrams, everything required and ready to go into production—and Winfield-Merton isn't producing a thing. I have a disc with all the articles and publications I used in my research. It's indexed, highlighted, and cross referenced, with notes that I made as I came to my conclusion."
I had drawn closer to him as I talked, not close enough to touch, but close enough to be so startled when he turned to face me that I jumped.
I had never before seen him in person, of course, and while the mask was shocking at such a close range, it was his eyes that affected me the most. The look he turned on me should have set his eyelashes on fire.
He looked me up and down, and his was not the assessing 'Do I want to screw her?' glance men usually give women. It was a visual examination of the kind Sherlock Holmes might have used.
When he spoke again, it was in a completely different tone of voice. "I will review your disc, but not at the present moment. What, in your estimation, is the reason why Winfield-Merton should choose to spend millions—even billions—sponsoring Richards, only to make no use of the greater part of what they receive in return?"
He was listening.
He was listening seriously.
"I can't be as definite about that. I have no proof; I can only offer surmise." I warned him.
"I understand. You have, however, shown a certain perspicacity thus far, and I am intrigued."
I took a deep breath, and began. "While I can't blame Winfield-Merton for not putting an anti-gravity car on the general market—there are more than enough accidents on the roads as it is without giving the average driver the capacity to go airborne—there could be anti-gravity mass transit systems, and the cold fusion generator ought to be used in cities around the world.
"Winfield-Merton has ties to the current administration—very close ties—and to big oil, and so many other groups and interests that I'm surprised they haven't run afoul of the anti-trust regulations. Reed Richards' innovations are so comprehensive, and so far reaching, that the changes they would have to make to put his developments into production would be so costly—and with so little future return, since the bottom would fall out of the oil market—that they have a greater profit margin keeping things as they are now. They spend millions financing him—but they regain it in publicity, and they save billions by not making his inventions available."
His eyes did not leave me. "Now tell me why Richards has not noticed this himself."
I had reached what was probably the weakest point in my argument. This took a fresh infusion of courage. "I think he hasn't noticed because he's too busy being a superhero."
I regretted those words the moment they left my mouth. It was too simple. It was ridiculous.
He threw back his head, and gave a harsh bark of laughter. "I decided to see you because I thought you might prove amusing—and so you have, but not in the way I anticipated. And now—how do you propose that I should use this knowledge? How shall I triumph over Richards completely and for all time? I have no need of your guidance, but I have heard you this far. I will hear you to the end."
"That would depend on when you want to reveal Richards' blind spot to him—or he may realize it on his own, eventually. As soon as he finds out, he's going to go to the press and to court to try and force Winfield-Merton either to put his developments into production, or else recover his patents. He'll find the process to be expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting, and I doubt he'll succeed. Winfield-Merton can afford better lawyers, and their contract with Richards would be water-tight. More—air-tight.
"As long as he doesn't catch on, you'll have time to get even further ahead, to achieve even more. You," I hesitated. "You ought to cease any and all actively aggressive combat-oriented maneuvers and plans against him—against them. That isn't the right battlefield. It's a waste of your time, your energies, and your attention." This next bit was risky. It was entirely true, but he might perceive it as flattery—or even outright brown nosing. Also, I would have to come right out and say the 'M' word—'mistake'.
"You see, I think you make the mistake," (I could see his brows contract through the eye-holes of the mask. He was probably frowning.) "of measuring your success against his only in the realm of science—his strongest suit—where there are so many other areas where, if the two of you were compared, he would be found sadly wanting. Winfield-Merton would never have been able to pull the wool over your eyes with a combination of money and publicity. You're far too aware, too canny, and too responsible to allow that to happen. He leads a group of four, and they're always squabbling. You lead a nation of five hundred thousand people, and you do an extraordinary job of it.
"That's just the beginning. It's true that the Fantastic Four are always saving the planet from something or other, but there are plenty of other hero-teams out there who do the same thing, and while they're at it, the tundra up in Alaska and Canada is disappearing, a third of the population of Africa is infected with the HIV virus, and Venice is sinking into the sea. None of them are doing anything effective about that—because it's more fun to play at being a superhero."
"Your observations are exceptionally keen—if somewhat presumptuous. I retract my earlier statement."
"Which one was that?" I asked.
"You are not a chronic underachiever. The exact nature of your genius was never fully understood—genius rarely fits into preconceived roles. Now, since I am not so naïve as to think you have done all of this for nothing, and since I am indebted to you in some degree—how may I reward you?"
I had, and still have, an ulterior motive, a personal agenda, but at that moment, I thought of my life, which he had summarized so effectively—the hometown where I had no prospects of any kind, the series of menial jobs that stretched into my future just as they did into my past, my mother, who, despite the restraining order, called every place I was hired , and said things about me until I was either fired, or quit because I couldn't stand the unfriendly atmosphere any longer.
I let those things cause tears to sting my eyes, and then I said, "I want a new life. The one I've got is horrible."
"You shall have it."
That was three years ago.
He was true to his word.
A/N: If you're a current reader of another of my fics, don't worry, I haven't abandoned them. It's just that—well, Doom is another phenomenally brilliant man in a mask, and he's even been known to play and compose music now and then. You understand the dilemma….
Next, the next chapters, IF I post more (they're already done, and posted elsewhere) will be naughty. Very naughty. So naughty I'll have to censor them somewhat. So this is here to serve as a warning, and also as an encouragement for you to post feedback and reviews—your response, or lack thereof, will determine what happens.