Monday, October 29, 2007

Vasilissa the Beauty (Part 8 of 12)

"What is Vasilissa?" Bruce Wayne asked, looking at Alfred again.

"Not 'what', 'who'!" corrected Sasha. "Vasilissa is a woman that works for Falcone in one of his escort services," explained Sasha. "She was trafficked into Gotham when she was in her late teens, but she is very intelligent and beautiful, and charmed her way to the top. Now she is in her mid-twenties, but she is essentially autonomous. She is one of the few people who can say something to Falcone and get away with it. She is one of his favorites, so he lets her do what she wants to do -- she chooses which clients she sees, and how often. She also sees Falcone from time to time, and Falcone likes her."

"Vasilissa," Wayne repeated.

"Vasilissa the Beauty," said Sasha, as Wayne and Alfred again exchanged glances.

"She was kidnapped from our country and forced into prostitution. She was trafficked as a sex-slave," Sasha explained. She tried to tell the story matter-of-factly, but her voice betrayed a deeper concern.

As she was speaking, Wayne thought back again to his conversation with Dr. Villanova.

"While physically mature, she was very much an innocent little girl when she was taken. She still had a doll that her mother had given her," Sasha explained, then paused. She took a moment to recover. "I'm sorry." She walked away, her voice breaking.

Alfred glanced at Wayne, then stepped over toward Sasha, holding out a box of facial tissues. "It's alright, my dear. If this is too difficult for you...." he said, his fatherly voice calm and soothing.

Angry at the story, and angry at herself for getting emotional, Sasha took a tissue, wiped her eyes, and turned to Alfred. "It's okay, Alfred. I'm okay," Sasha said, regaining control of herself.

"In my country, there is a story of a little girl named Vasilissa. Her mother died when she was young, but on her deathbed, she gave Vasilissa a magical doll. She explained to her daughter that the doll would come to life and help her when she got into trouble. After her mother died, her father mourned for a time, then married a widow who had two daughters, thinking Vasilissa would have a supportive mother again, and two sisters. But, Vasilissa was beautiful, and her stepsisters were not. Though they were older than she, all the men in town wanted to marry Vasilissa, because, though she was the youngest, she was by far the most beautiful -- she was incomparably beautiful, a deep beauty that goes all the way to the soul, without pretense; she was a classic Russian beauty. Her stepsisters were insanely jealous, and her step family hated her. When her father left town on a long journey, her evil stepmother sold her into slavery to a witch who lived deep in the woods. The witch was an evil cannibal, who ate people the way people eat chickens, and she used to give Vasilissa more work than was humanly possible to do, threatening Vasilissa that she would cook her and eat her if it didn't all get done."

Sasha paused for a breath, caught up in the story, and in the memories of her homeland. "But Vasilissa's doll came to life every day while the witch was away and did the work, and when the witch came back in the evening, the work was all done; all Vasilissa had to do was cook, and Vasilissa was an excellent cook, and soon the witch had compassion on her. In the end, the witch let Vasilissa go, and Vasilissa married the crown prince of the land and lived happily ever after."

"What happened to the stepmother and the stepsisters?" Wayne asked, captivated by the story.

Sasha looked at Wayne, then smiled. "The witch ate them, of course."

Once again, Wayne and Alfred exchanged glances.

"Anyway, that was the fairy tale. Our Vasilissa's mother died, and on her deathbed, she gave Vasilissa a doll that she had crafted during her last days of life. She promised Vasilissa that her spirit would be with the doll, and that the doll would help protect her. Whenever Vasilissa got lonely, she only had to hold her doll and remember her mother."

"Where was Vasilissa's father?" interjected Wayne.

"She never knew her father, and she never talked about him much. So, when Vasilissa's mother died, Vasilissa went to live with her aunt, and was very happy...." Sasha's voice trailed off.

"And then...." Wayne prompted, knowing the story did not end there.

"While she matured physically, she still enjoyed being a young girl. Vasilissa carried her doll with her to school, even as a teenager -- she hid her doll in her book bag. Her aunt wanted her to grow up, so one day, she sent Vasilissa to school without her doll, promising that everything would be fine, and that she and the doll would be at home when Vasilissa returned." Sasha paused, making an effort to keep her emotions under control. "That was the day Vasilissa was kidnapped by a gang of men, and trafficked outside our country, where she was raped, beaten and mistreated, then sold as a sex slave."

Alfred looked as Bruce Wayne, a large, brooding figure, sat down on a stool next to the computer, a very serious look on his face. The brooding figure had learned long ago to control his emotions. There were times when they got the best of Bruce Wayne, but emotions never got the best of Batman, and Alfred had been watching that transformation take place, from Bruce Wayne to Batman, as Sasha told the story about Vasilissa.

Feeling he had to do something, Alfred spoke up. "I say, my dear, Vasilissa -- that's not her real name, is it?"

"Oh no," Sasha answered. "That's just the name she has chosen as her professional name."

There was a momentary silence, broken by a voice coming from the direction of the Batcomputer. It was a low, raspy whisper -- the kind of voice that got someone's attention.

"What is her real name?"

"Nyssa, Father. I want to go see Nyssa, and I think I have found her."

Nyssa -- that was a name that he had not heard in a while.

"Where is Nyssa, my dear?"

Talia smiled with the thought of seeing Nyssa. "I have a reliable report that she is in Gotham City."

Ra's al Ghul turned around and looked at his daughter. "Gotham City is a dangerous place. It is an evil place."

"But Nyssa is my half-sister. She is your daughter. Don't you care about her?" Talia pleaded. "If she is in such a dangerous place as Gotham City, then we must help her."

Talia looked at her father. Ra's al Ghul was unable to resist the pleading eyes of his beloved daughter. It was as if Talia's eyes mirrored a plea from Nyssa for help, a plea that stretched across time and space, a plea that touched his very soul.

"Gotham City is a very dangerous place right now, Talia," he began to explain.

"I know, there is Aladdin and that 'War on Crime'," Talia said dismissively, almost contemptuously.

"No, my dear, it is worse than you know. Aladdin is in league with the man who runs Gotham City...."

"The mayor?"

"No, The Roman."

Talia looked at her father innocently. She had no idea who The Roman was; she only knew of him by a different name.

"The Roman is an organized crime boss, an evil man, a man without conscience. He has complete control over Gotham City. Gotham is rotten to the core. A disaster there would be a blessing."

"Then we must get Nyssa out as quickly as we can. And the fact that there are two crime bosses doesn't really change anything."

"You don't understand, my dear. Aladdin has nuclear weapons, and plans to use them to destroy Gotham City."

There was a long silence, as Talia thought not only of Nyssa, but of her love from a past time, who also lived in Gotham City, and whom she had hoped to see while there looking for Nyssa.

"Then Bruce Wayne is in danger, as well," Talia said, a deep fear in her voice.

Talia paused, her head cocked at an odd angle.

"Father, how do you know Aladdin has nuclear weapons?"

The silence that answered that question was deafening, as Talia suddenly looked at her father angrily.

"Father," she insisted, "where did Aladdin get his nuclear weapons from?"

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