The first right place and time was growing up around the Justice League. For better or worse, witnessing all of the heroes and villains with varying ethical codes created a moral compass that left a lot of gray area in her own ethics, despite the various values her parents tried to instill within her. The only detriment she experienced to doing whatever she wanted was when she was caught. Even then, with anything from twenty to thirty heroes around at any one time, it was easy enough to stay under the radar while in the Metro or Watchtower. Dealing with the guilt became easier over time and she sought greater thrills the older she got.
Her life of crime had started at a young age, when she would sneak into the Watchtower's cafeteria and steal sweets and other junk foods. Then she took some of her brother's toys and, when she was older, pass codes from the founders and other members of the Justice League. She took it upon herself to be the alpha so she started getting into fights at school. Fighting was where she excelled. And she learned fast that she didn't have to steal anything if she could intimidate others to do it for her.
Being smart helped a lot and, when she got to Gotham University, she found it unnecessary to change her style. She fit in with the self-described hard knocks, though she found them sophomoric and sycophantic. She fit in with the scholastic types because she could keep up with their intellect and she knew about the seedy underbelly of the world that they liked to dabble in on weekends with their parents' money. They felt safe around her, while also feeling a little dangerous.
They also had more money than she did and they were willing to pay her to do the things that she was good at. The first time she picked up and delivered a package with supplies for splicing. It was implied that she was beneath those for whom she was doing the work for, so naturally she left a few bloody noses along the way. One of the noses belonged to a high-level dealer that was connected to notorious, underground organization in Gotham City.
The syndicate was displeased to hear about the scuffle. The dealer was punished for being beaten by a girl, and two large goons appeared at Emma's dorm one evening. The knock on the door was loud and abrupt; the hairs on the back of her neck stood, some primal force within her alerted her that something was wrong.
There were two things Emma knew: she could take a beating and she could deliver one. She didn't bother looking out the peephole; cracking her knuckles, she just opened the door with a savage grin, "Gentlemen?"
As luck may have it, the dorm was deserted that night. The Gotham Nighthawks had just decimated their most loathed rivals, the Metropolis Bulldogs, in the most crucial football game of the season. Who ever won that game would take first place and a slot in the playoffs. College students, being who they were, celebrated by going off campus with the entire football team, including the cheerleading squad to a few's delight, and decided to party the night away in celebration.
Emma, being the least sociable person, had drifted away right before the end of the game and returned to the dorms. The peace and quiet of everyone gone was refreshing for a change. Besides, she had gotten drunk before at other parties. She found no pleasure in being intoxicated, which didn't take long for her. She found it quite amazing that having Thanagarian genes in her didn't give her a better tolerance for alcohol, like it did for her mother. As fate would have it Emma could barely consume one standard drink of any size without going under the table.
Now the two men before her were large, for sure, and Emma felt sure that they each had well earned reputations. The biggest one smiled back and the smaller one stepped forward. They looked like a pair straight out of the old Godfather movies she liked to occasionally watch.
"Hello there little miss."
"Little miss?" She quipped, her eyes level with the large man's gaze. It was just her and them with no on-campus security guards in sight. Emma silently thanked whatever gods there were for putting the odds in her favor.
"We understand you were responsible for-"
"I knocked over your boy, yeah." She leaned back against the door and nonchalantly slid a hand in the pocket of her sweatshirt. "You even teach him how to fight? Considering the type of business he's in, he should know how to hold his own. He was lucky I was holding back."
"We had to pay to correct the damage done to him. That means that, despite the money you paid us, we incurred a loss."
Emma rolled her eyes and widened the door with a shrug, demonstrating an invitation, "He got handsy. I warned him."
A look somewhere between bemusement and mild shock flickered over the small man's face at her action. The large one almost laughed at her brass but they entered all the same. The dorm room was sparse, filled primarily with simple furniture, a computer and laptop, and a lot of books. Thankfully she was in one of the few rooms that could only hold one student at a time. Meaning no roommate to notice any damaged or broken furniture.
"How do you intend to repay this debt girly," the short man got to his point, stepping inside and turning toward her, his face all business now.
She gave him a confused smile and held her arms up in question, "Debt?"
"We had to pay to correct the mandible and maxilla damage done by having his jaw wired shut, the five broken ribs, and the shattered knee cap. So once again that means that, despite the money you delivered in exchange for the goods, we have incurred a loss. How do you intend to repay the debt?"
Emma leaned against the door frame, looking entirely too amused. The big guy clearly did not approve of her expression because he stepped forward with his hands folded in front of his torso; she could tell that his muscles were flexed. He was probably also on steroids, which made her chuckle to think of some of the side-effects.
Wrong move on her part.
"I am a friendly man so I give you one more chance to answer correctly. We hear that you're smart so let's see how true that is. How do you intend to repay the debt?"
She nodded slowly and inhaled deeply, "I...don't."
Silence stretched among the three of them; she knew enough about groups of people to know that the two men were having a silent conversation about what to do with her. She waited patiently, peeking out the door to see if anyone else was joining this little party. Not surprisingly, the two had come alone. She was, after all, just one young woman. A pity really in her perspective. As the saying went: the more, the merrier.
She heard the familiar sound of joints popping and she slid in and shut the door.
"Well then, you leave us with no choice."
There was a subtle calm that Emma found when she was about to fight and she felt it distinctly that night. The following seconds felt like minutes, as the large man stepped forward; she watched as his torso tensed, his fist pulled back, and she ducked low, her own fist meeting with the man's sternum.
It was funny to her even then how neither of the two had thought to question the fact that her hand had slipped into a pocket. And that her hand had been clenched in a fist since then. The force of her first, backed up solidly by the brass knuckles in her grip, was enough to knock the air out of the man's lungs, along with a little bit of blood.
Gravity did the rest.
The smaller man's eyes widened marginally but Emma had perhaps misjudged him. He was fast and she barely had time to react when he lashed out with a vicious kick aimed right at her midsection. She twisted awkwardly, feeling the muscles pull uncomfortably in her back, and it wasn't quite enough; the pointed metal tip of the man's boot connected against her lower back, forcing her forward and likely leaving a bruise.
She rolled forward with the momentum and came up by a small entrance table. She grabbed one of the legs and turned in time to see the short man coming at her, ready to lash out with a knife. She didn't bother trying to keep a hand on the table. She tossed it forcefully and watched as it crashed and shattered against the man's torso.
Emma didn't wait for them to recover. She stomped the heel of her sneakers into the large man's face to ensure he was unconscious and used a recently detached leg of the table to knock out the smaller one. When she felt confident they were down, she rifled through the short man's pocket, finding a cellphone in the left chest pocket along with a large wad of cash.
She stood then, leaning against her computer desk, as she scrolled through the contacts of the man's phone. There were a few contacts without names but only one that had been contacted recently, so she chose the last number and listened as it rang.
There was a click on the other end but no one spoke.
"This is that girl you just tried to get some cash out of for incurring a loss. I have two of your guys here who are...uh...unable to complete their assigned duties."
The pause on the other end was filled with palpable ire, "Excuse me?"
Emma paused for a few moments. She knew that voice. She definitely knew it, "Look your two goons failed, miserably. They are lying in two mangled piles on my floor. I wanted to let you know to spare them the inevitable embarrassment. They honestly never stood a chance."
"Do you realize what this means?"
"Do you? Look, I'm sorry that the dealer bullied your partner into making you pay his medical bills. That sucks but that's not my fault. He grabbed my ass; I kicked his. Now, the way I see it, you can keep sending cannon fodder here or you can see this as a bright opportunity."
"I'm cheap and I'm good. And clearly these two will need someone to step in to pick up the slack for a few days. Or do you have something else in mind in order for me to pay off Dr. Abel Cuvier?" She paused as she grinned. "Well Mr. Powers?"
"How did you..." There was another long pause until, "Keep this phone and take the men outside. We will be in touch."
So maybe it wasn't just about being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it was also a little bit about being ruthless and living in that morally gray area more than anything.