FDC Presents "Calculations - Part Two"
Gotham City, The Clock Tower
“You contacted me to discuss the Calculator?” Oracle asked incredulously. Surely she heard Arsenal wrong. The Calculator was a second-rate, semi-retired crackpot who once made himself a blip on the Justice League’s radar with a crude computer built into his costume that analyzed an opponent’s tendencies in battle. Why would a group as formidable as the Titans need help with such a loser?
A three-dimensional hologram of Arsenal’s ruddy face hovered over her workspace and looked genuinely worried. The hologram stuttered as he shook his head from side to side. “Not the whack job the Justice League pounded on a few years ago, but a much more dangerous doppelganger from the new earth.”
“Ah yes, the new earth! A lot of that going around lately” Oracle exclaimed. She first heard of the alternate earth when a girl calling herself Misfit hijacked the Clock Tower’s private frequency claiming to need assistance. The intrusion was disconcerting enough that Oracle dispensed Black Canary to a rooftop at the corner of Kane and 43rd to investigate. She reported meeting a young girl in a ragged mock-up of a superhero costume accompanied by an unknown older male. Canary got the impression the two didn’t belong together somehow but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. The two claimed to be from an alternate earth and seeking a way home. The girl’s request for assistance was “denied” so Oracle could track her activities discreetly through the GPS in her com device. Since then reports of all-new heroes and villains littered the mainstream news and the blogosphere.
“Not the first you’ve heard of it then?” Arsenal asked.
Oracle replied with a question of her own. “How does all this tie together, Roy? What are we missing?”
Arsenal shrugged his broad shoulders. “No idea, Babs. I leave the theories up to you brainy types but these kids tell me Calculator is a major player on their world, some kind of information broker for the underworld or something like that. He’s right there with you on the autobahn of the information superhighway.”
That tidbit of intelligence was unsettling. Oracle viewed her role as a tactical advantage for her side in the good fight. She was at once frightened by the possibilities and intrigued by the challenge such a foe represented. “That remains to be seen but you can’t goad me into action by insulting my ego.”
Arsenal mimed an arrow through his heart. “You wound me!”
“And you’re sure these kids aren’t leading us on some wild goose chase?” Oracle asked.
“They’re good kids,” Arsenal replied. “A bit rough around the edges and in need of some mentoring but I’d bet my life on them. They remind me too much of another group of kids I used to know.”
That was good enough. Roy Harper came a long way since his days as Speedy, the Boy Bowman of the Teen Titans and Green Arrow’s erstwhile sidekick. Beating a drug addiction, working with Checkmate, and fatherhood matured him more than all the lectures Dinah and Ollie wasted on him in his youth. He was an integral part of the tightest-knit family in the superhero community and too street smart to be taken in by a bunch of kids from any world. He was a hero the older guard could look up to themselves.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” an unfamiliar voice interrupted. A young man dressed in a blue bug costume stepped into the view.
“I told you to stay out of sight,” Arsenal whispered –or at least tried to whisper. It was a talent he never mastered despite his aforementioned street smarts.
Oracle appreciated the young man’s manners even if she was upset with Roy for compromising the secure channel.
“I know you have zero reason to trust us but you have to understand the danger Calculator represents to your world,” the young man explained with a slight southwestern Hispanic accent. “He’s a sociopath that will stop at nothing to kill us or you.”
“And who are you?” Oracle asked. “Since Mr. Harper brought you into the conversation unannounced.”
The young man looked to Arsenal for guidance. His youth was disarming. No wonder Bruce demonstrated such uncertainty about bringing her and Dick along in the old days.
With a nod from Arsenal he finally answered. “I am my world’s Blue Beetle.”
“There is no Ted Kord on your world?” Oracle asked.
Blue Beetle lowered his head. “I hope to do him proud.”
The news saddened Oracle even if she didn’t really know the other Ted Kord. So much for ripping Arsenal a new one later. The young Blue Beetle’s reverence of Ted’s memory spoke volumes of his trustworthiness.
“You should get Canary, Huntress, Zinda, whoever you can round up, and help us find this lunatic before he kills again,” Blue Beetle advised.
There were those names again – Huntress and Zinda. The only Huntress Oracle knew served briefly with the Justice League. She was difficult, prone to improvise, and had a mean streak second to none. Surely her doppelganger didn’t employ a wildcard like Helena Bertenelli as an associate? And Zinda? Lady Blackhawk? The last Oracle heard Lady Blackhawk was helping Guy Gardner after becoming displaced in time. Oracle hated when answers led to more questions.
“Assuming I put my… team on the case to hunt down this new Calculator, what am I looking for?” Oracle asked.
“I have no idea,” Arsenal replied.
Blue Beetle squeezed Arsenal out of the view completely. “I ran a preliminary background check on the internet and he’s apparently the same person he is here on this earth – Noah Kuttler, but again, much more dangerous from what I hear.”
The kid had spunk to push Arsenal aside.
“My guess is that he’ll go after more members of the Titans or your associates,” Blue Beetle added. “He has a thing for both of us.”
“We share a mutual adversary on your earth?” Oracle asked.
Blue Beetle nodded. “He blames us for his son’s death and has vowed to kill us one by one if necessary. It blows my mind that he would get his jollies taking revenge across multiple earths but who knows with these locos, right? He sees you as Superman to his Lex Luthor. You also helped his daughter after she lost use of her legs and she works with you now so he blames you for taking her away from him too. Maybe if daddy dearest weren’t a homicidal maniac. Go figure.”
Oracle’s head was spinning. How did her simple covert operation expand so on the other earth to include a small army of associates? Like her mentor Batman she wasn’t the trusting type. After the Calculator business concluded she would have to get Dinah to track down Misfit for a face to face.
The Calculator mystery and the appearance of so many new metas were difficult to ignore. Like it or not she would have to get involved. “I’ll run some scans and put my ear to the ground. Perhaps some chatter will turn up on Calculator. At the very least I should be able to detect any significant new infrastructure on the ‘net.”
“Sounds like a good place to start,” Arsenal replied, pushing Blue Beetle aside. “While you dust for digital fingerprints we’ll start our own search. Arsenal out. I thought I told you…”
Oracle couldn’t help but chuckle at Roy chiding the Blue Beetle as they signed off. A click of the mouse and the channel was closed, replaced by a prison release file belonging to Noah Kuttler. She scanned it quickly. The information provided little more than a dossier detailing a list of charges and incarceration and release dates but did display the probation address. She hoped it would provide a starting point. “Dinah, I need you to check out an address for me.”
Queens, New York
“Looks like no one’s home,” said Black Canary. “I can’t see into the living room though. The window is too high but it looks like the television is on.” She spoke into the special earpiece that allowed her to stay in constant contact with Oracle. She stood on the front porch of a modest-looking, older home and was trying her best to peer into the window between the shade and the trim. The small lawn was in serious need of attention and the house itself needed major TLC as well. The neighborhood was probably nice twenty years prior but was beginning to show the gray of urban blight. Maybe it looked better during the day.
“Did you try knocking?” Oracle asked.
“I do hope that was an attempt at humor,” Black Canary replied.
“Try the back door,” Oracle advised. “The original building plans say there should be one.”
Oracle meant well but sometimes Canary wanted to strangle her. What Oracle couldn’t see from the comfort of the Clock Tower was the large, plank fence around the back yard or the pit bull roaming the premises.
“I’d rather just kick the door in,” Canary replied.
“Negative,” Oracle replied. “If Calculator has done nothing wrong then kicking in his door would….”
“That was my attempt at humor,” Canary countered. She backed off the porch and spied the low roof covering it. There were three windows on the second floor that could provide access if one were left unlocked. “Hold on, let me try something.”
“Dinah?” Oracle asked. “What are you planning?”
“A move that would do your man proud,” Canary replied, referring to Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing. She climbed up on the banister and pulled herself up onto the small roof with a flip. The porch roof led to a much larger one that stretched across the length of the house. The first two windows were locked but the last one wasn’t. She tugged the window open and stepped inside an unfurnished bedroom. Even with the door closed, the house was filled with the stench of death.
“I’m in,” said Canary, trying her best not to breathe the foul air.
“Your voice sounds odd,” Oracle replied.
“I’m trying to breathe through my mouth. Something’s dead in here,” said Canary. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Me too,” said Oracle. “Be careful.”
Canary opened the door and made her way into a small hallway. She contemplated the bare walls. How sad there were no pictures hanging on them. The life of even a not-so-super villain was surely a lonely one. She found the stairs and descended them carefully. They were impossibly steep and narrow as one finds often in older homes. They were certainly not made for super-heroines in high heeled boots. The smell grew fouler as she neared the landing. Finally she stepped onto the first floor and made her way toward the television’s flickering light. The familiar dramatic strains of “Law and Order” were barely audible. She turned the corner and was nearly overcome by the powerful smell.
“Oh god,” Canary whispered. “Smells like a dead skunk in here.”
“ Dinah? What do you see?” Oracle asked.
“I found Calculator,” Canary answered. “He’s dead – a bullet through his head.”
“Any clues?” Oracle asked.
Canary was already a step ahead. She scanned the room carefully before making her move. Calculator lay face up in the center of the living room wearing the chest plate of his ridiculous costume and boxer briefs. Black socks with a hole in the big toe of the right one completed the ensemble. Blood was splattered all over the wall behind him and judging by the angle of the splatters and the hole in the wall behind the television it appeared the shooter was seated.
The soft glow from Calculator’s LCD was barely visible. Canary approached the body slowly and saw a message written on the screen.
“YOU’RE TOO LATE,” the message flashed on a gaudy, old-fashioned vacuum fluorescent display in cumbersome seven-segment letters.
“There’s a taunting message on the display,” said Canary. “It says we’re too late.”
The display changed. “NO, BLACK CANARY! YOU ARE TOO LATE.”
Black Canary’s mind raced. She was being watched. “Who are you?”
The message changed once more. “OH COME NOW! YOU ARE NOT THAT DENSE, MY DEAR!”
“Oracle, are you getting this?” Black Canary asked. “Oracle?”
It was then Canary noticed Oracle hadn’t answered her. “Oracle, are you there?”
“NO, SHE ISN’T,” the display answered. “SHE IS OCCUPIED.”
Canary’s heart skipped a beat. “Oracle? Oracle? Oracle!”
The Clock Tower
Oracle came to on the floor of her safe room and discovered her hands were bound and she was gagged. Her head hurt and her vision was blurry but instinct kicked in and she immediately searched for her attacker. It didn’t take long. He was seated in her chair waiting for her to regain consciousness. The Titans tried to warn her about this man. He was much more dangerous than his now-deceased doppelganger. The knot on the back of her head was evidence of that. Her hands were bound.
Calculator leaned forward. “How nice of you to join me, Oracle! I hope you’ll forgive my roughing you up.”
Oracle strained against her bonds. The bastard left her legs untied to taunt her.
“I’m sure you have plenty of questions,” said Calculator.
Oracle nodded. She hoped to keep him talking long enough to give her a fighting chance.
“Your doppelganger is quite an adversary,” Calculator explained. “I only hope you do her name justice. Do realize how much our worlds share in common? People, places, and networks are identical across the multiverse in many instances. Your doppelganger proved very formidable. It took years before I cracked her security protocols, so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered your own measures were among the many shared variables. So it was nothing for me to slip in here undetected.”
“Why?” Oracle yelled into her gag.
“Consider this a shot across your bow,” Calculator answered. “I wanted to let you know I’m here. I should kill you, but you know my type. I’m sure I’ll regret it later but my ego won’t let me end your life this way. My idiot doppelganger and the Bloomberg kid were expendable, but I need you to make me great. Steel sharpens steel.”
Oracle sighed. Just what she needed – her own personal crackpot. She would be glad to leave those to Batman and Superman.
“And I wanted to get my hands on this!” said Calculator. He spun around and faced her workstation. His fingers flew across Oracle’s keyboard. Three-dimensional holo-monitors blared to life. “The information you have stored on your hard drive is worth a fortune to an information broker like me.”
He retrieved a small, external hard drive and connected it to her systems and began transferring files to his hard drive. “The only thing that disappoints me is how far behind the technological curve your world is compared to mine. This setup is a toy compared to what you use back home. I can transfer every file on your systems to this small. portable unit. How does that make you feel?”
Oracle was almost ashamed to admit that intrigued was the correct answer. Perhaps her technological superiority to even the most complex networks on earth made her lax. She couldn’t help but wonder how much further ahead the other world was. The playing field wasn’t level nor was it tipped in her favor. If this Calculator let her live as he said, he would prove to be a formidable foe indeed. She hoped her ingenuity could equalize his technological advantage.
“My, my!” Calculator exclaimed. “Color me impressed! Someone certainly has connections! The Justice League and Justice Society? The Bat Cave? Titans Tower? Personal information on all the heroes? Schematics to headquarters and contingency plans should some of the more powerful superheroes go rogue. Tell me, Oracle. How much do you suppose such intel would net on the open market?”
A lump formed in Oracle’s throat. She was smart enough to encrypt her information many layers deep with the most sophisticated algorithms on the planet, protocols she designed and wrote herself. Even if Calculator copied her hard drives he would still have to decode the information, but her systems were the national security of the spandex nation. This was a serious breach.
“You look worried, my dear. I wish I had time to sift through it all now, but I’m sure that infernal Black Canary has alerted some of your allies to my presence here. As soon as the transfer is complete, I’ll bid you adieu.”
The next few minutes seemed to drag by. Oracle hoped one of the many heroes in her database would come crashing through her door at any minute. It never budged.
Calculator finally disconnected the drive from her system. “There we go! All finished! Now that wasn’t so painful, was it? Who am I kidding? Of course it was! The anguish shows on your pretty face.”
The villain knelt beside her and grabbed her hair. He taunted her with the small hard drive inches from her face. “Just think what I can do with the information on this drive! Perhaps the Justice League will be willing to do a few favors and look the other way in exchange for keeping the names of their loved ones out of the hands of the scum of the earth? You think?”
Oracle shook her head.
Calculator smiled. “Nonsense, Miss Gordon.”
For the first time since her ordeal began, Oracle was genuinely scared.
“What if I offer you a trade? You lay aside your high-minded principles and I won’t expose your connection to Gotham’s police chief to the underworld? How many have you helped put away? I wonder who would value this information the most – you or your enemies? See my point?”
The point was all too clear. Armed with such information Calculator could potentially extort superheroes or sell the information to the highest bidder. How much would a Joker be willing to pay to discover the Batman’s secret identity? What would a Lex Luthor do to a Lois Lane to get at Superman? No one in her community would be safe.
Calculator stood. “Say, what is that unpleasant smell?”
Between being knocked unconscious and occupying herself with her situation, Oracle hadn’t noticed the smell until Calculator mentioned it.
“Never let it be said I take without giving something back,” Calculator bragged.
“I took the liberty of soaking your curtains with gasoline. It‘s a pity too. Silk Parisian pleated panels must cost a fortune in this size.”
He removed a Zippo lighter from his shirt pocket and smiled menacingly as he walked to the printer and removed a piece of paper. “Firewall anyone?”
Oracle cursed her useless legs. The contents of the Clock Tower not only represented her life’s work but were a vital cog in the war against metahuman crime. An arson fire would cripple the hero community’s efforts to keep the world safe from the likes of Gorilla Grodd, the Ultra-Humanite, and Ra’s al Ghul.
Calculator lit the paper and watched it burn for a moment. “That whole thing about me not killing you? You’d better hope your Gotham City Fire Department is faster than mine.”
He set the burning paper to the curtains. They erupted into flames immediately. Calculator rushed from the burning room and left Oracle to die or be rescued.
The fire spread rapidly around the room. Calculator obviously doused more than the curtains.
Oracle watched her life go up in flames. Tiles shriveled from the drop ceiling and fell to the floor in twisted, black balls of burning polystyrene foam. Using her bound hands like a giant club she crawled to the fire extinguisher but it was tantalizingly out of reach on the wall. She broke into tears.
Black smoke filled the room and then she heard the sirens. At first their piercing wails gave Oracle reason to hope, but it quickly faded when she realized how difficult she made it for anyone to reach her. She only hoped the gauntlet of booby traps between the lower floors of the building and her safe room would burn before they killed some unsuspecting firefighter.
Just then the door opened and Black Canary rushed to Oracle’s side and removed her gag. “Are you okay?”
“The building is on fire! What do you think?” Oracle replied.
“I mean physically,” Canary shot back.
Oracle nodded. “I have a nasty knot on the back of my head and was slapped around a little while I was out, but I’m fine. We have to get out of here.”
Canary scooped Oracle up in her arms and ran toward the clock window glass.
“Please tell me you’re not going to…”
The two women burst through the glass and plunged through the Gotham night. Soaring through the air was a sensation Oracle hadn’t experienced since Dick took her on the trapeze years ago. (Way back in the now-classic Birds of Prey #8 – David). The sudden rush of air fueled the fire and caused the room behind them to explode into an raging inferno. Canary reached for her grappling hook and shot it toward an adjacent rooftop. It took only a moment before the two of them were standing on the roof of the building and watching their headquarters burn.
“What happened here?” asked a familiar voice from behind them.
Oracle didn’t bother turning around. “I made an enemy today.”
“Welcome to my world,” said Batman. “Need help?”
Oracle shook her head. “This one’s personal! Get me?”
“He’s gone,” said Black Canary.
Oracle nodded. “I know.”
Next: The Startling Conclusion in Higher Learning Annual #1