Wednesday, September 21, 2005

198. The omniscient narrator

Bruce Wayne sat alone in the enormous room, naked, bound to a chair at the wrists and ankles. He'd been here for at least twelve hours, and he'd spent most of that period stiff as a board.

Solitary confinement gave him plenty of time to reflect back on the past month. The sessions with Gustavus had been put on hold for a week and a half when word hit that a massive storm had decimated much of the nation's southern coast. Wayne had sent two trucks of supplies to New Orleans days after the hurricane, only to find them turned away by confused and overly territorial officials. Outraged that no federal relief had yet arrived, he'd stormed into his senator's Gotham office and demanded that action be taken--but nothing came of it.

He felt powerless, a perception that only grew stronger as the days passed. Each day brought fresh reports of law enforcement officers walking off the job in a state of shock, sometimes even killing themselves. Lawlessness had gripped the land--and he, as Batman, was one man who could do something about it. Only he'd abandoned that job, a failure. It was too big, and he was too small. What use is a lone, broken being reduced to the level of "Object X" in the face of such a global catastrophe, he asked himself.

The Wayne Foundation seemed the best and only way that he could help, and he made relief efforts the organization's top priority for the immediate future. Then Richard contacted him--via Alfred--with a plan to head down South as a volunteer in the reconstruction. Bruce insisted on covering all of Grayson's expenses on the trip.

All of this made it hard to think about the dark path of self-exploration with Gustavus. The sessions seemed like an obscene luxury in the face of so much suffering. What right did he, millionaire Bruce Wayne, have to pay outrageous sums to have himself tormented and abused when, elsewhere in the nation, men, women, and children were desperate for a drink of water?

It was Alfred who convinced him otherwise. "Innocent people will suffer no matter what you do or don't do, Master Bruce," he'd said. "They have done so throughout history, and will most likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But at the moment you are suffering, too, sir--and you are unable to help them, or anyone else, until you first get help for yourself."

And so Bruce found himself here, bound to this chair, in a state of high arousal--merely the latest in another extended round of activities devised by Gustavus. He'd been caged, collared, shocked, whipped, suspended upside down, forced to drink and eat the foulest of substances, and otherwise treated like the lowest form of life. And he'd admitted, first to himself and then out loud, that this treatment brought him unspeakable satisfaction. Not pleasure, mind you: more a sense of calm, of tranquility, of empowerment. These were the things, he whispered ony to himself, that had first driven him to don a cowl and assume the life of a "caped crusader" of the kind he'd imagined as a child. Only now he knew he did not need to pretend that he was a hero, a crimefighter, anything but an explorer of private realms.

Gustavus entered the room silently and forcefully. His presence was, as always, unmistakable. He began untying Bruce.

"Before we began this latest session, I told you to bring something with you to the retreat center. Do you remember what it was?" Gustavus asked.

"Yes, sir," Bruce said meekly.

"Tell me."

"You told me to pack something that was the outward embodiment of my innermost self. An expression of all my hidden secrets. The one side of myself I have not yet shown you."

"And did you obey me?" Gustavus asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Then go get it and bring it to me. The time has come."

"I will, sir."