Tell me, Object X, said the doctor. Did you enjoy your brief vacation? Did you savor the illusion of freedom while it lasted? Judging from that bulge of yours, you appear to be enjoying yourself at this very minute. Does this mean you are ready now to crawl back into your cage for the rest of your miserable life?
"You're insane," Batman barked, still trying to figure out how any of this could be happening. "Whoever you are. There's no way on earth Hugo Strange could have made it through that fire alive."
No way on earth, perhaps. But I'd say it looks like we are now in a very different place. A moment ago you told me to go to hell. The way I see it, I'm already there--and I've dragged you down here with me.
Might as well make yourself comfortable, Object X. Oh,very well,you may call yourself "Bruce Wayne" if you like. Or even "Batman"--it hardly matters. I know them all. And I own them all, too.
Strange drew his captive's attention back to the large red "H" now desecrating Batman's chest emblem. As he glanced at it, the masked man began to sense a slight tingling in his limbs. He tried flexing his gloved hands. It was still difficult, but he seemed to be gaining a certain limited degree of mobility.
That's right, Strange said matter-of-factly. You are slowly beginning to regain the feeling in your arms and legs. It will take a while, but it will happen. All part of my plan. You will need to move freely, after all, in order to crawl over here and worship at my feet.
Batman was alarmed--not at Strange's brash declaration, but at his own actions. Had he really been so obvious just now as to draw attention to gestures he'd thought were hidden? Or had he forgotten the doctor's powers of observation, so finely honed that they bordered on mind-reading? In any case, there was no disguising the obvious arousal he was experiencing upon seeing once again the man who had broken him.
"The only move I'm going to make is to strangle you, you fiend," he said, mustering all the confidence he could find to deliver the threat.
What's this? I thought the mighty Batman had made a solemn vow never to kill, Strange sneered. On the other hand, you're not yourself at the moment, are you? You've run out of defenses. You have no other options, because you acknowledge I am the one man you cannot beat. The man, in fact, who beat you. The man who robbed you of your mask and all your secrets. The man who broke your will. The man who took complete possession of your life. I can see why the desire to destroy me would lead you to abandon your age-old moral code. After all, it's hopelessly out of date now, as we both know.,,
So go ahead, Mr. Wayne. I'd very much like to see you try and kill me. Because I don't think you can do it. I don't think you're up to the challenge. I think what you'd much prefer to do is to rest yourself here at my feet and kneel before me. To THANK me for all that I have done for you, and to plead that I show you mercy in the times ahead. And it's true: they will be very, very dark times indeed...
Images of past torments flooded Batman's brain. He felt swept away by them, unable to concentrate on a plan of action. He remembered every torture, every humiliation inflicted by Strange during that horrible period a year earlier--a period he thought he'd put behind him once and for all. He could not recall the events that had brought him to this moment, but that did not make the present crisis seem any less intense.
Now there was nothing to do but wait. Wait until he was able to move, and then do something he had never done before. Something he had sworn he would never do.
But now the writing was on the wall. He had no other choice.