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A Parliament of Rooks

the many places here can mean

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Fic: The Radio Star
Author: missnyah
Disclaimer: Nothing Batman-related is mine. Also, nothing news-related is mine as it is based on actual people and things happening in the news.
Rating: PG
Summary: In a besieged Gotham, word travels at the speed of footsteps in the dark and notes slipped under doors. But in Selina's neighborhood there is a secret and a small hope and voices from the outside. Selina/Bruce. Dark humor.
Note: Product of the Tears of a Clown Meme which asks for a plot point based on the last thing that made you, the writer, cry.

The Radio Star

Like in any decent power play, the first thing Bane does is break the lines of communication. Cell towers go down, news and radio stations are occupied. The outside world is so much white noise. Gotham becomes an island in more senses than ever before.

                   It’s as bad as the brown outs and as good as the ire of a city that had gone near dead with apathy. Outside the city, she has no doubt, information still travels at 100 words per minute, anchormen and bloggers and teenaged girls reporting constantly on the miracles and minutiae of the entire world all at once. But in Gotham, information travels at the speed of footsteps in the dark, of notes stuck to doors and left on kitchen tables. If it weren’t for the lights of civilization burning on the close, untouchable shore of the river, the outside world might not exist. It’s the most alone and most connected Selina Kyle has ever felt amongst 8 million people.

                   There’s always a way, of course. People will always, always talk. A few weeks in, Selina came across a clutch of young toughs who had quietly staked out territory in a warehouse three blocks over from her building. She watched them for a few days, noting the weaknesses in their formation, how they changed places like a shifting of guards. She hadn’t heard of any violence breaking out and it didn’t matter to her much that they were in her neighborhood. It did matter that the presence of guards meant they were guarding something.

                   Someone and something, it turned out.

                   Guy Mazel had been a professor at the state college, a grandfather, and an amateur radio operator. Small, bespectacled, and without an unkind bone in his body, Guy looked laughably incongruous with his contingent of meat-necked, well-armed bodyguards who had elected themselves to his protection. “Short wave radio,” Guy told her without hesitation or trepidation when she climbed in his window and leveled a questioning look. “It’s exceptionally difficult to censor.”

                   That first evening Selina nearly bolted as the sound of a dozen or so heavy-footed men came from the stairwell. “They’re coming for the news,” Guy said quickly. “I don’t mind if you stay too.”

                   Selina positioned herself by the window warily as ten mean-eyed men and a handful of women circled around the little professor and his radio. They fell silent as Guy adjusted frequency and volume, delicately tuning in scratchy voices from the outside world. Mean-eyed, she’d thought but she revised that to hungry.

                   There was a subdued quality to the American broadcasts, the awkward pauses and in-drawn breaths of a wounded and confused nation, limping along as its greatest city rotted. But it was news, human voices bridging the siege, making the world both bigger and smaller than the terrifying reality that was Gotham. An international station reported on skirmishes in Syria, the flood devastating southeast Asia, the UN meeting to discuss how the world at large was slowly dying under the weight of chronic disease.

                   It was strangely horrific and comforting for them all, Selina thought, to measure their tragedy against the world's in its entirety. Rarely was an American city affected so acutely and on such a large scale. The Narrows, sure. Where she’d grown up it wasn’t unusual to mourn a murder victim, not strange to suspect your neighbor of burning an entire family inside their home. Suffering in Gotham had been thoroughly and efficiently ghettoized but now the whole city was a ghetto and the geography of pain had expanded. Quite a few people called it fair. Granted, no one was very good at geography these days. Mostly, it came down to Us and Them.

                   The broadcast named a city in northern Africa torn apart by civil war, the newscaster describing a situation gone from bad to worse. “At least this is America. Maybe we got it easy,” a voice mutters from the otherwise silent crowd.

                   No one offers agreement or argument. Maybe we do have it easy by comparison, Selina thinks. The rich cowering in their mansion, the poor, adapting to this newest string of bad luck. Maybe they all had it easy by comparison. Did that mean their pain counted for less? Yes, she would have said once.

                   Near the end of the broadcast, the newscaster’s tone lightened and he broke into a story about Japan and the problem of the power station damaged in the tsunami. There was a group of men and women, engineers mostly, retirees all, who were lobbying to be allowed to take on the power station, replacing the younger workers on clean up crews. The Skilled Veterans Corp, they called themselves, and insisted that the risk of the power station be theirs to bear. Most were more than 70 years old; logic said they’d die of other causes long before radiation-born cancer did them in. The newscaster made mention of the buzz surrounding the group, how people were dropping the word kamikaze.

                   Then there was a quote from a man speaking in softly accented English. “We are not kamikaze,” he said. “The kamikaze were something strange, no risk management there. They were going to die. But we are going to come back.”

                   The hush in the radio room seemed to have deepened. Retired Catholic Selina might be but she swore the word for it was holy. It left the right sort of burn behind the eyes.

                   “That’s some noble shit, right there,” a voice finally said and was answered by more than one choked sob. “People who can takin’ care of their own.”

                   The crowd dispersed soon after, most of the men and women shuffling out and murmuring thanks but otherwise maintaining that strange, respectful silence. A few sat where they were, legs crossed on the dirty floor boards, apparently intending to stay as long as Guy kept the signal running.

                   Selina made her own way out, traversing the darkened city to her own apartment. In the morning she told Jen about the funny little man with his radio-church full of ex-cons and hood rats. She expected Jen’s usual carefree glibness but her friend looked up from the palm where she cradled her hung over skull and asked with unfeigned interest, “So what’s happening? You know … out there?” There was that look in her eyes, the same one Selina hadn’t expected in last night’s crowd. Hunger.

                   Selina told what she remembered, short on details until she came to the story about the power station. She did it as much justice as her own strange, tumultuous feelings allowed. When she finished, Jen had tears in her eyes. “They’re kind of sacrificing themselves, huh? I mean, I split this insanely good Cognac with Shell last night but … kind of makes you wish we had people like that.”

                   Selina didn’t say, we did. Instead she dropped that Jen could come along to Guy’s if Selina went again.

                   She went again that night and the one after. It wasn’t that there was so little to do in her little fiefdom of a neighborhood. The territory between Thames and 77th might be more landfill than hill but Selina Kyle was its king. Still, Guy’s little radio base fell within the space she’d claimed and it didn’t seem unreasonable to check on things and once she was there, to stay.

                   Jen caught on, or let on that she’d caught on, after a week. “I’m coming tonight,” is all she says. It’s enough.

                   Guy’s audience is a tight-lipped group, protective of the luxury of their radio and its operator. Still, the room is the fullest Selina had ever seen it. She learned quickly that a rumor had gone around that Guy would be trying to tap into a broadcast of Sunday football. Gotham’s home team was dead almost to a man and the contenders were no one anybody cared much about but the crowd was twice its usual size.

                   Selina rolled her eyes when she explained the situation to Jen. But privately she understood the draw of such mundane normalcy.

                   Guy didn’t manage to get football. He did manage a secondhand BBC cast and a choppy reel of pop culture gossip. The crowd retained its hush even through the inane banter of newscasters over box office trends.

                   Then a woman’s voice talked about “breaking news” in sensationalist tones, and broke the story of none other than teen pop icon Justin Bieber dialing 911 while fleeing paparazzi. There were headshakes in the crowd, poor people cast further down had little sympathy for the woes of the rich and useless.

                   Selina was eying the window and nudging Jen to leave when a tape of the boy’s 911 call crackled over Guy’s radio. He sounded as scared as any of the young voices Selina had heard over the past month. At least before they started screaming. There were cars pursuing him, he said, driving recklessly, dangerously. The 911 operator asked him his name. “Justin,” he said.

                   “And what’s your last name, Justin?” the operator asked and Selina recognized a hint of suspicion in the voice.

                   There was a pause. Then, “Johnson.” The boy lied.

                   There was more, probably, to the tape and story but Selina didn’t hear it, lost for a moment in the acute tragedy of a boy afraid to say his own name. It was for his own protection maybe, from prying media and a bored nation. But it was also because he was afraid his emergency was not an emergency. Because he was rich and he was famous. Because his pain counted for less.

                   “Hey … are you crying?” Jen forced a laugh but Selina knew exactly how her friend sounded when worried.

                   “Yes,” Selina said because this was Jen just like she didn’t elaborate because she was Selina. “Yes,” was all she said, ending the conversation before it started, not blaming hormones or nostalgia or any of the hundred things a person might cry about inside a war zone.

                   Now she walks the perimeter around Guy’s building, relieving his guards who know her face by now to go listen to the broadcast. She stalks the rooftop and alleys, guarding the precious secret at the heart of her besieged little kingdom.

Her own secret is much darker than the sad spark of hope that is the radio. Try as she might she can’t keep thoughts of that night in the sewers at bay, the planned betrayal, the unplanned regret. She can’t help but wonder if things would have been any different if he had been anyone else under that mask, if he had trusted her with his name.

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I wasn't sure I would like the story when I read the blurb about it being a weird combo with Selina and Justin Bieber, but I think you did a great job of not only making it work but given the piece a bit of depth.

Edited at 2012-08-16 08:47 pm (UTC)

Thanks so much :) I wasn't sure I could pull it off.

omg i love this story and i didn't think i would. it's totally not at all crack!fic, it's deep and powerful. i love that what gets selina is that justin bieber was afraid to say his name, afraid that the rich and famous won't get pity or justice from the system in this world. and the thing of it is, selina knew bruce wayne but didn't know batman, and if she'd just known it was bruce wayne, billionaire, that she was leading into that trap, she never would've done it. she's so stricken b/c she's starting to realize that her time-worn wisdom about never giving a shit about the rich isn't holding. they are people to pity, too.

(ugh and the 99 percenter in me just wanted to puke a little at the way that Nolan is making me feel for the superwealthy - argh! well if they were batman, i guess i *would* feel something for them. or - tony stark. the superrich can be them.)

Thanks for giving this a shot. I hadn't meant to take it seriously and then it turned into this story I cared about rather a lot ;)

I'm still not really sure what moral Mr. Nolan was going for or if I agree but I do like difficult angles.

There needs to be more stories of regular Gotham people dealing with the occupation. I really like what you did with this.

Thanks very much. And I agree, I'm very curious about the occupation and what that would look like in an American city. Kind of boggles my mind, actually.

Oh, Selina. This slice of besieged life felt that it could have, no, did happen. I love how it brings out how she is changing, cynicism tempered by learning the value of things like sacrifice, tinged with regret.

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