The long, black car moved through the nearly-deserted streets of Gotham City.
It was half past three in the morning, and the cold, windy winter rain, coupled with the time, kept the streets fairly clear of people, yet, even at this time and in this weather, there were those who were out.
The car had a distinct shape. It looked as if it had small wings or fins, and the appendages were not just for show. An intake and an exhaust were all that was evident of the on-demand jet engine that the car was equipped with. It could substitute for the combustion engine to power and propel the car, and, when engaged, it was able to propel the vehicle to extremely high speeds. Its use was not recommended except under the most extreme circumstances, and even then, only with utmost caution. The appendages helped control the vehicle under such extreme conditions.
For the dark figure at the controls, this was his favorite vehicle, and of all the ones he used for his mostly nocturnal prowling, this one most matched its descriptive name. Down in the cave under Wayne Manor where this vehicle was garaged along with the other vehicles, when Sasha first heard the word "Batmobile", she immediately looked at this vehicle. The figure had smiled at her reaction when he explained that he preferred to use the other ones, since they drew less attention, but he could tell by the look on Sasha's face that this one was her favorite as well.
"You are well, sir? I have been quite worried ever since you left," the gentleman on the video screen commented, relief notable in his voice, his English accent garbled ever so slightly by the communications system which scrambled the transmissions to prevent eavesdropping by outsiders. "I had suspected that it was a trap."
"It was," the figure glanced at the viewscreen.
"Vasilissa set a trap for you then?"
"No, not deliberately. They had her under surveillance. I think they have had her under surveillance for some time, and probably increased the manpower watching her tonight, considering what is going on."
The gentleman on the viewscreen winced as he heard the news. "What happened then?"
"I slipped past them, made the contact, and slipped away, again."
Hearing these words, Alfred expected to see a smile on the figure's face, but the absence of a smile, even a faint one, alarmed him. "What is wrong, sir? Bad news?"
"The Gotham Police are rounding up only journalists whose connection with the investigation of the Mujahideen is known about publicly. Vasilissa says that those who have been looking into it anonymously have been targeted for elimination. She says the public will not connect the hits to the Mujahideen, since the public does not know of these journalists' connections to the investigation." The figure paused, then added, "The journalists presumably thought that maintaining their anonymity would make them less vulnerable to attack, but it only made them vulnerable to a more severe type of retaliation by organized crime."
"When is this supposed to happen?"
"That is unclear, but soon is what she understood."
There was a moment of silence, as the gentleman on the screen considered the news, and the figure in the vehicle looked around outside at his surroundings, and inside at the vehicle's sensors.
"It won't stop with them, Alfred."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Vasilissa indicated that another, more important operation was underway, as well. While the Mujahideen and their friends are silencing and eliminating their enemies, those who have been looking into the events surrounding corruption in Gotham City will be targeted as well. Once again, the activities of the Mujahideen and their allies will be used as cover for other crimes that have a deeper motivation."
"So, Linda's relative obscurity places her in greater, not less, danger."
"Exactly. And the fact that Dr. Villanova has not publicly commented on any related topics also places her in jeopardy."
"So those who speak out overtly are targeted for libel lawsuits and prosecutions for violation of hate speech laws, while those who have been more covert are being targeted for assassination."
"That's about it, Alfred." The figure paused, then continued. "Alfred, we missed some clues in the riddles. The expression 'king takes queen' did not refer to the mayor taking Gotham's freedom, symbolized by Lady Liberty, through his abuses of power. I now think it symbolized this move on the part of the cartel. The 'queen' is not Gotham's freedom, but the use of Gotham's freedom. Gotham's citizens can have all the freedom they want, provided they don't use it. While freedoms are being eroded by the mayor's infringing laws, the 'queen' we are losing are those who speak out, even though still doing so within the bounds of the more restrictives laws." He paused, thinking. "Freedom is a use-it-or-lose-it commodity, and it is being taken because too few people in Gotham are using it -- they are not taking the time to learn about and speak out about what is happening in Gotham City."
"Sasha and I shall begin at once to review the riddles."
"Thanks, Alfred. I'm on my way."