Tuesday, February 22, 2005

120. The omniscient narrator

Whatever drug Hugo Strange was giving him made Batman feel woozy and listless. He knew on some level that it was absolutely imperative for him to escape, but he lacked the energy and focus to plot a strategy. Employing an old technique he'd used countlesss times in similar situations, he began counting tiles on the floor. That activity only made him drowsier after a while, so he modified it and tried multiplication tables based on varying numbers of tiles in rows and columns...

An hour passed, maybe two. Maybe more. It was hard to say in the darkened office. Sometimes he sensed he was alone, sometimes Strange and Dick stood guard over him. Perhaps there were other eyes watching him, too.

And then the light flicked on once more. "Time for another round," Strange announced. "The briefs, Richard."

Grayson approached his mentor and began tugging on his dark outer briefs. He did not make eye contact with Batman as he pulled them down the man's legs and away from the couch. They wound up on the desk with the other discarded items.

"It's very quiet here," Strange said. "Grayson is silent because I have instructed him not to speak. You are silent because you are unable to make a sound. I'm sure you've tried already. Go ahead, though: try it once again."

Batman attempted to talk, not sure whether he was simply following orders or acting on his own accord. The sounds he managed to produce with great effort were more like gutteral whispers than actual language. "W... wh... wha..."

"What's that, Batman?" Strange said. "Can't tell what you're trying to ask. I assume it's somethng like 'Why are you doing this to me?' or 'What have you done to Grayson?' Both very good questions. And, as I say, all things in time.

"Let's take the first one. WHY. A fascinating question, one that each of us must ask ourselves, every day. It's at the heart of my profession, you know. One might ask it of you: why do you live this double life? Why do you dress in these interesting clothes and spend your evenings fighting wrongdoers? To avenge your parents' deaths? To 'make the world a better place'? Or simply because it excites you? Because you have a clothing fetish? Because you desire to be captured and tortured--which is exactly the situation you now find yourself in? Your partner here has given me some excellent insight into your behavior. You are a deeply troubled man, Mr. Wayne. You suffer from serious delusions. You must be grateful that you have finally summoned the courage to seek my help."

Hugo Strange reached into his pocket.This time, he produced not a syringe but a small orange-and-white pill. He snapped his hands and Dick Grayson brought over a paper cup of water. "Swallow this," he told Batman, easing the capsule into the man's throat and following it with a splash of liquid.

The gesture reminded Batman that he was, at this point, incapable of eating or drinking without assistance.

He swallowed with some difficulty and then settled back onto the couch. The lights went out.

And the waiting began again.