Author's Note: Several hours after I first posted this chapter, I'm doing a little hasty editing to cover one or two small points which I belatedly realized had not been clearly addressed in the version I posted earlier today.
Postscript (added Thursday morning): I think I "replaced" this chapter at least 3 times before I went offline yesterday, as I kept spotting little things that needed to be fixed. Then I was offline for something like 15 hours, and didn't realize there was a huge problem until I logged on today and I saw I'd received a polite PM from a reader about a mixup. The last time around, yesterday afternoon, I must have clicked on the wrong line in a list of my current documents in Document Manager, with the result that I "replaced" the real Chapter 4 with a copy of a one-shot I had posted in the Justice League fandom last week! That must have been up all night, which is hideously embarrassing. I don't think I ever made such a mistake before.
Chapter Four: Secret Truths
At last she was alone in her suite again, reviewing the day's work and her private plans for the future.
Once she'd been confirmed in her authority, Talia had kept the other three men working through the afternoon and evening, only breaking it up after 11 p.m. Although she had allowed two meal breaks' each delivered to the conference room from the hotel kitchens. (Their orders had been given priority over those of any other guests of the hotel. Talia didn't think any of the three men were aware that the League of Shadows owned this establishment via a series of dummy corporations, and she'd felt no need to tell them that right away. There were things that only the treasurer and the leader of the League were required to know about the financial structure which subsidized everything else the League did.)
Talia had toyed with the idea of insisting no one would eat anything until after she said they were all done for the day. In theory, this would let the gathering accomplish more in the same timeframe. Any true member of the League had learned to function acceptably under much harsher conditions than missing a couple of meals while sitting in a climate-controlled room.
Ra's al Ghul might have done just that, and seen it accepted by the others as a minor test of their dedication.
But what could pass as proof of "confident and uncompromising leadership" in a man of his stature was liable to be interpreted as "sheer pettiness" when it came from his daughter. Oh, she would have gotten away with it in the short run—none of the three men would want to look weaker than the rest by being first to whine about the pangs in his belly—but afterwards they probably would have agreed that she was being childishly dictatorial just for the sake of flaunting her new authority.
After thinking it through that far . . . she'd been sorely tempted to go ahead and give the order anyway. If they wanted to underestimate her by thinking that kowtowing to her whims on minor matters would stroke her ego enough to distract her from the important issues, then it might be fun to let them cherish such illusions for a while, and see what happened.
Reluctantly she had set the idea aside. Overall, it was better to stick to the original plan and present the façade of an earnest, hard-working, only mildly ambitious woman who wanted to see necessary tasks identified and solved as efficiently as possible, without wasting too much time on personality clashes and other trifles.
(Some Hollywood personality or other had once said: "The most important thing in this business is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made!" The same thing applied to real-world intrigue.)
At any rate, several important decisions had been made: Where to establish a new training camp (a quiet spot in the Stanovoy Range in Sakha); which surviving shadow warriors to appoint to start mustering new recruits (under the guidance of Takaguchi); how to spread the word about Wayne's unprecedented status as a rightful leader who didn't know he was and wouldn't want to be even if he knew, and other things. Beyond that, there were areas where she had let each man in turn make a sales pitch for his preferred solution to a problem, and then she'd simply promised to take it all under advisement before announcing a decision. That allowed anyone whose suggestion wasn't taken to save face by believing it had been a very close thing.
The most important thing about these three men was that they were the ones she deemed most likely to support a fresh campaign against Gotham—not tomorrow or even next year, but in due course.
Taleniekov, Fuest, and Holcroft, on the other hand, had already been making noises about abandoning the whole idea in their encrypted communications with the League's Treasurer (Talia, of course) in the weeks following her father's death.
That was why she'd needed to remove them from the playing board for the time being. It was true that Taleniekov had died in Bucharest, as rumored, but not at the hands of Delta Force, nor U.S. Navy SEALs, nor any of the other likely suspects. He had been terminated with extreme prejudice by mercenaries in Talia's employ who knew nothing of her connection with the League of Shadows.
She would have preferred them to take him alive, as they had done with Holcroft and Fuest in separate operations, but Taleniekov's years of experience in doing wet work for the old KGB had made him a wary target indeed, even before the League's training methods added extra seasoning. Talia was convinced that her team had done well to stop him at all, with only two casualties on their own side: One dead, one severely wounded. She was paying for the latter man's surgery, of course, and the doctors believed he would be restored to full fighting trim in due course.
At any rate, the other members of that team had tossed Taleniekov's corpse in a body bag, and later weighted it down and dumped it in the middle of the Atlantic. So long as his death was unconfirmed, there was a two-year clock ticking before a replacement could be selected for his seat on the Seven.
Hoan was still in Blackgate, but the rules said he could not be replaced among the Seven when he was known to be alive and had not broken League law.
Two years from now, if the other three were still missing, they could be presumed dead, and then replacements could be appointed by a majority of however many of the Seven were both alive and available. At that point, the rules would allow them to discount the vote of Hoan (if he were still alive and imprisoned on that date) when calculating how many votes were needed for a "majority."
That law might need to be changed, one of these days—because Talia had found a way to turn it to her own advantage. Since she had Fuest and Holcroft under lock and key, in a dungeon which only she and her father (and now her hired mercenaries) had ever known about, she could arrange for fresh proof of those men's continued existence to be presented to Al-Hazred, Gutierrez, and Takaguchi at any time. (The tricky part would be making sure they didn't realize the proof came from her.)
Waiting, say, twenty months, and then presenting that proof, would reset the clock—another two years before Fuest and Holcroft could lawfully be "presumed dead" and replaced. Wait twenty-two months, and do it again. The result would be to keep the Seven perpetually under-strength, which would make it that much harder for a majority to ever select a new leader-for-life. Instead, a group of three (or even four, if need be) could keep voting to give Talia another two-year term as acting deputy as an "interim measure." Al-Hazred didn't seem to have considered that while a deputy's term could only be two years, there was no prohibition against that deputy being reelected for multiple terms if extreme circumstances continued to prevent the appointment of a regular leader-for-life!
(Appointing a new leader would only become an urgent problem if and when Bruce Wayne died; whether at the hands of one of the League, or because of the other occupational hazards of his secret lifestyle. But if Ra's al Ghul had tried and failed to bring him down in mortal combat, Talia was prepared to gamble that it would be a very long time before anyone else did better at the same task.)
Without such measures on Talia's part—first arranging for some of the Seven to be mysteriously absent, and then arguing persuasively that Wayne was already the rightful leader in absentia—this meeting would have seen a majority of the Seven agreeing on a new leader, who probably would have decided to write off Gotham as more trouble than it was worth and move on to some other strategic objective.
That was not to be borne.
There were things Talia would never speak aloud. Not even in a luxury hotel suite which had been swept for bugs by three security firms within the last four hours, while she was planning the League's future with Gutierrez, Takaguchi, and Al-Hazred. But she stood near the glass doors leading to a balcony, and gazed out at the night lights of the city, and silently formed the words she would have said to Ra's al Ghul about her day's work if he could hear.
This is the best I can do, father.
Twice you tried to reduce Gotham's corruption to sheer chaos, and twice your plans were shattered—thanks in large part to the House of Wayne. The men I hunted down lack your vision; they prefer to think we should stop throwing away resources on that objective and seek a softer target for our next great operation. (As if a lesser challenge would be worth the effort of overcoming.) I had to ensure that we would stay on target until we had risen to the challenge and finally proved ourselves worthy by finding the correct strategy to conquer it.
And who knows? It may yet come to pass that Bruce Wayne realizes his non-lethal vigilante activities will never cure the diseased city which breeds so many criminals, and then he may recognize that sometimes it is necessary to set an object lesson for the world by dealing with some of the most corrupt cases in similar fashion to how the Biblical God allegedly dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Whether or not he does see that, I still hope to use my charms as you intended for me to use them: On your favored pupil, the young man who had all the qualities you had sought in a worthy successor. Someday your grandson may yet have the chance to lead the League into a new age, with or without his father's approval.
In the last years of your life you wanted three things: Gotham devastated; Bruce Wayne embracing his role as your chosen successor; and he and I mating to combine two worthy bloodlines in a new heir. If I cannot contrive to make all three of those happen within the next several years, I still see reason to hope for at least one or two of them.
Author's Notes: A few comments on differences between the comic book continuity and the Nolanverse continuity, and the assumptions I'm making for my own purposes.
In case anyone was wondering, I am aware that in the novelization of Batman Begins, writer Denny O'Neil (the same guy who created Ra's al Ghul and his daughter Talia way back in the 1970s) worked in references to such things as the Lazarus Pit and the idea that Ra's has been using it to keep himself alive and fit for hundreds of years. (In DC comic books, a Lazarus Pit can literally raise the dead. If Ra's gets himself killed, as he often does, his daughter and/or other faithful servants usually retrieve the corpse and cart it off to the nearest available Lazarus Pit so he can make a comeback in a later story.)
But since there was no mention of those ideas in the actual movie, I very much doubt Christopher Nolan considers Lazarus Pits to be part of his Batman continuity. (He might well accept the idea of Ra's al Ghul having a beautiful daughter named Talia, though—that's a simpler and more "realistic" concept.) I decided to work on the theory that in the Nolanverse continuity, Ra's al Ghul was just another mortal man, the latest of many to lead the League throughout its long history, and now that he's dead, his daughter Talia doesn't know of any way to magically bring him back.
The idea of a council of Seven who stand one level below the leader in the League's pecking order, and can elect a new leader if necessary, is one I invented out of thin air. Along with the idea that while a woman can join the League, she cannot rise to a seat on the Seven, nor to being the regularly elected "leader for life" of the entire League. Those assumptions allowed me to play around with ideas for how Talia might plan to sneak in the back door, as it were, via a loophole, if she saw it as her solemn duty to continue her father's work by fair means or foul.
I don't know if I will ever again write about my vision of Talia as she might exist in the Nolanverse, but I'm keeping my options open!
P.S. Although I don't remember consciously thinking of this example when I began working out the plot of this story and writing a rough draft, I may well have been inspired by things I've read on the subject of how, according to the strict letter of the law, J. Edgar Hoover easily could have been removed from his job as the head of the FBI if any U.S. President had worked up the nerve to tell him he was fired. In theory, that could have happened at any time over a period of decades (and some Presidents were sorely tempted). In practice, J. Edgar became so frighteningly powerful that nobody ever found the nerve to fire him. End result? J. Edgar stayed in the same job for a solid forty-eight years, only leaving office when he died at the ripe old age of seventy-seven. From his perspective, the legal fact that nobody had ever appointed him "Director-for-life" had become a meaningless technicality!