Sunday, March 06, 2005

132. The omniscient narrator

"You have the read the letter, Batman," Hugo Strange said gently but firmly. "Do you understand what you are to do next?"

Bruce felt himself nodding his head up and down against his will, stunned once more that he was only able to move when Strange allowed it.

"Speak," Dr. Strange said.

Bruce's throat was dry and his voice was weak as he heard himself reply, "Y-yessss."

"It is time," Strange responded. "Take off the cowl now."

To his horror, Batman felt his hands rising to his head as if controlled by a puppeteer. Using every bit of remaining willpower, he struggled to hold them at his side. The strain was evident on his face.

"Why do you resist?" Strange asked. "You know that this is a purely symbolic gesture. I already know that you are Bruce Wayne under the mask. I have known this for months. Must we review what else I have done? I have rendered your computing system useless. I have disfigured your face and made you so ill that you could not leave your bed. I have taken control of your former partner, and with his help I have completely discredited all your work as Batman. The good people of Gotham City hate and fear you now. Your crimefighting career is over. I have held you here for days; although you were not restrained for most of that time, you could not leave. I tell you when to move, when to speak, what to do.

"It is important that you understand the full extent of your debt to me if we are to proceed. You must take the next step yourself. Show me that you are ready to move on, Mr. Wayne. Take off the mask. It is useless now. Give it to me. Now."

Batman was shaking as he struggled not to obey. The madman sat and watched his captive's internal battle, studying the nearly naked hero who was on the brink of total surrender. For years Strange had been obsessed with studying Batman's every move, fantasizing about destroying him, lusting after his powerful mind and body. Now he was carrying out the plan he had been honing for close to a decade. There was no turning back.

"You disappoint me, Batman," Strange said after twenty minutes had passed, his voice now stern. "You are only making our job more difficult."

He turned his attention to the other man. "Richard, come here," Strange said in a commanding tone. "It is time to demonstrate to Mr. Wayne here the true meaning of obedience."