“What’s the matter, Ra’s? Not what you expected?” The Joker stepped down from the rim of the Lazarus pit and walked over to grab a white linen robe from a rack on the wall. “I was able to hear you for the past few minutes, you know. I gather this pit tends to mess with people’s minds?”
“Indeed,” replied Ra’s al Ghul in a low voice. “Though it would appear to have had just the opposite effect on you.”
“Actually, no,” answered the Joker as he pulled on the robe, favoring Talia with a wink as he covered his nakedness. “Think about it: the normal state of my mind is insanity. The temporary alterations to my brain caused by the Lazarus pit are disrupting that, resulting in–”
“Precisely. Which is why I want this.” The Joker grabbed a long-handled dipper made of carved stone. “With a bit of luck and the lab I spotted on my way down here, I might just be able to isolate the right compounds and hold on to this feeling a while longer.”
“I think I can isolate the elements of the Lazarus Pit’s make-up that are allowing my mind to function clearly, and use them to keep from becoming a madman again. After all,” said the Joker, looking up from the Pit, “who would willingly choose to be insane?”
Three days later, atop the Wayne Foundation building in downtown Gotham City, a small dinner party was getting underway.
“To the happy couple!” offered Dick Grayson, raising his glass. To his right, Barbara Gordon and Jason Todd raised their glasses as well, as did Alfred Pennyworth sitting directly across from him.
“Thank you, all of you,” answered Silver St. Cloud. “You’ve all made me feel like part of the family already.”
Next to her, Bruce Wayne smiled. “It’s a family of circumstance to be sure, but a family nevertheless.”
“A family that I am happy to see growing,” added Alfred, nodding toward Silver, then Barbara.
“Yeah, just don’t go looking for me to bring a girl into the family anytime soon,” remarked Jason as he reached for the bowl of steaming pasta on the table before him. Everyone around the table laughed as they helped themselves to dinner.
“How are the wedding plans coming along?” asked Barbara.
“Hectic!” replied Silver. “But it’s coming together. But that reminds me — Bruce, would it be too much trouble if we added another couple to the wedding party?”
“Of course not,” replied Bruce. “Who is it?”
“Kari Limbo — the one who convinced me to come back to Gotham.” Silver smiled at her fiancé. “Of course, it’s up to you as to who the extra groomsman will be.”
“I had already been thinking that I’d like to have Clark involved in the wedding. I’ll call him when we get home.”
“Did you say you were going out of town tomorrow, Bruce?” asked Silver.
“Yes — flying down to Cape Canaveral for the launching of the last of the OneVoice satellites. This is the final link in the global communication network that we’ve been building since the Crisis. They want me to say a few words after the launch.”
“Those are the satellites that are supposed to provide automatic translation of voice and data, right, Bruce?” asked Jason.
“Exactly. Breaking down the language barrier between nations. We were able to incorporate Thanagarian and Rannian technology into the satellites.”
“Perhaps the British will finally be able to understand the Americans, despite the butchering of the King’s English,” remarked Alfred, eliciting laughs from around the table.
“I must admit, Ra’s, that I am surprised that you made that assumption.” The Joker stood staring at a map of the world. “What made you think I would no longer be interested in beating or killing Batman?”
Ra’s sat at a desk, honing the blade of a saber that was older than many of the nations outlined on the map. “With your insanity held in check by the effects of the Lazarus Pit, I thought your mind would function more like that of the common man and not be inclined toward murder and crime.”
The Joker turned. “Tell me, Ra’s, do you consider yourself insane?”
The older man scoffed. “Of course not. I am perfectly rational.”
“And yet you plot the destruction and overthrow of entire nations! I’m sure most people would consider that to be crazy, or simply evil. By most standards, it’s both.” The Joker walked over and looked down at the blade Ra’s had laid on the desk. “May I?”
Ra’s nodded. “I suppose it is human nature to associate madness with evil, though clearly one can exist without the other.” He picked up a knife with a short, curving blade and started running its edge along the sharpening stone in his left hand.
The Joker was executing a complex series of stabs, ripostes, thrusts, and parries against an imaginary enemy with the saber. “Interesting,” he said, turning back toward the desk. “I cannot remember much from before my accident, but I think I must have had some kind of training with a sword.” Walking to the desk, he returned to the topic of the conversation. “Yes, you can have evil without madness and vice versa. What you cannot have, though, is two evil masterminds in one organization.”
Ra’s looked up from his work just in time to see the saber arcing toward his neck.
A few moments later, the door opened, and Talia stepped into the room. She froze at the sight of the Joker pushing her father’s body into the blazing fireplace.
“Father! By all that is sacred!”
“Now, now, pretty one, it’s not as bad as you think.” Crinkling his long nose at the smell of burning flesh, the Joker shrugged. “Well, maybe it is.”
“What have you done, Joker?”
“I’ve taken control, my dear.” The Joker reached under the desk and pulled up a bundle wrapped in dark green cloth that Talia recognized as her father’s cloak. “And this is what will keep me in control. So long as this remains intact, there is still hope.” He unwrapped the bundle, revealing the blood-covered head of Ra’s al Ghul. “So, can I count on your cooperation?”
The following afternoon at Cape Canaveral, Florida, Bruce Wayne stood on a podium in front of several dozen reporters.
“Mr. Wayne, how long until the satellites are operational?” asked one of the reporters.
“Tests will actually start tomorrow, immediately after this satellite reaches its correct position in orbit. Of course, the positioning is critical, but the previous launches have all gone off flawlessly, and we expect that this one will do the same.”
A second reporter waved to catch his attention. “Isn’t it dangerous, Mr. Wayne, to have a network of satellites like this?
Bruce looked puzzled. “Dangerous? How so?”
“Trusting all communication to a single group of satellites — doesn’t that put people at risk if one of them fails? And what about the security risks of a network of interlinked satellites? What if someone decides to use them to spy on people, or something like that?”
“Safeguards have been built in, including locking the communications signals down at the factory. The only devices that can send control signals to the satellites had to be synchronized with the satellites as they were manufactured.” Bruce allowed a small grin to cross his face. “After all, when you have people like Lex Luthor in the world, you have to take precautions.”
“Mr. Wayne, they’re ready for you at Mission Control,” said one of the NASA staff people. Bruce waved and smiled for the reporters as the staffer led him away.
Nearly an hour later, an unmanned rocket lifted off, bearing the final OneVoice satellite toward its destination, 22,300 miles above the Earth. On the far side of the planet, the Joker watched the launch as he slowly paged through a file.
“Your fascination with Bruce Wayne and his business dealings is about to pay off, Ra’s. Having one of your followers on the programming team was a stroke of luck, and having him set up the system so you can assume total control was brilliant, I must say.”
Talia stood behind the Joker, looking over his shoulder. For the past twenty-four hours, she had tried to slip away even for a moment. He had been careful, not giving her a chance to speak to any of the numerous minions in the complex. When he slept, he locked her in the closet of her father’s suite. The patience borne of decades plotting with her father allowed her to maintain a façade of docility as she awaited the chance to counter the Joker’s machinations. “There is no need to keep up a pretense of speaking to my father,” she said coldly.
“My choices are speaking to a dead man, an ice maiden, or myself. I’ve been speaking to myself for fifteen years, and any attempt at conversation with you has been pointless, so I may as well address my comments to your dear old dad.”
“And what are you going to do now? The satellites do not take over global communications for weeks yet.”
“That’s what you think. The flunky your dad had at WayneTech did his job well, including activation on demand. In about three hours, when the satellite settles into orbit, then the fun begins.”