Gotham. Even at three in the morning, this hellhole still has fires burning and demons causing mischief. As if trouble, desperation, and hopelessness found each other and set up a sustainable community. Like a black hole of misery, it is hard to escape the pull of that place but things are a bit better on the outskirts. Better is generous and only works if you think unconsciousness is better than reality. Here, people are asleep, passed out, or nowhere to be found. This makes things quiet, not a little too quiet though, as silence can be a friend in the middle of the night.

There are fewer lights beyond the decaying edges of Gotham but if you think that makes stars visible, you've never been to Gotham. The pollution and darkness spreads for miles, thinning but still present even at this remote and defunct factory. Abandoned long ago, a few dead leaves blow past and rustle among the concrete and metal jungle, joining minor swirls of dust, debris, and a few mounds of dirt. Whatever surrounding greenery used to exist withered on the vine years ago for dried out branches cover most of the factory. The exterior is not what is important though. Just like your mamma told you, it's what's inside that counts.

Deep in the basement, surrounding by lead pipes, thick doors and thick concrete walls, there is a room. It is empty except for a single overhead light, creating a triangle of illumination above a man on a chair. The man is not so much sitting on the chair as bound to it, tightly, with the ropes pressing into his arms and legs. This man is large and muscled; the way his head is slumped forward, he might be dead.

A few minutes pass.

The complete stillness is interrupted by the man's subtle jolt.

A moment later, he slowly raises his head while his eyes blink towards consciousness. He is gagged, disheveled, and bruised, with a minor streak of blood running down his face. The man is confused at first. He soon grimaces, his face creased with fear as he feels the full tightness of the ropes and the revolting gag halfway down his throat. Struggling, trying to lift his legs or even move the chair, he realizes he is unable to make almost any movement or sound. The chair is bolted to the floor.

Just as he is starting to contemplate his horrible situation, from the darkness, he hears a deep voice whisper the words, "Hmmm, twenty seconds early… still within error ranges though. Revisit."

His eyes widen further with anxiety as he realizes he is not alone. There is someone else here, someone hidden in the shadows.

The silence does not last. This time the deep voice is clear.

"Since you are awake, let's begin. Welcome to the rest of your life."

The bound man nervously attempts to swallow but the gag disrupts it. Scared, he nods very, very slowly. The voice from the shadows continues.

"You are likely wondering why you are here. There are so many answers to such a question. Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are, any of us, anywhere? Things happen. Events… ripple across space and time… but you're likely seeking a proximate answer, something more informative to your current circumstances."

The bound man can see only darkness beyond the cone of light originating above him. There is no sound of movement but the location of the voice moves in the shadows, so the man must be pacing.

"I brought you here to serve a purpose. An important purpose. In fact, it is near critical, in a way. I'd like to say it is for the greater good, but even I can't embrace that much self-deception. You will provide an important contribution in this theatre of existence we all must play out...I must play out.

"I'm certain you didn't think that this is how your dark night would begin. In fact, it started hours ago but your memory is understandably hazy, given the alcohol and minor concussion. The short version is that you arrived around 11:30pm at that bar so many of you wastes-of-existence frequent. You imbibed your usual whisky, seeking to forget who you are and what you've done. It was at 1:13am, after you had relieved yourself in the ally and were stumbling to return, that your night got worse. A lot worse."

A moment of relief drains from the bound man. Worse than assaulted, kidnapped, gagged and bound to a chair?

"I've had my eye on you for some time. You have caused so much suffering in such gruesome ways, and you just don't seem to be able to change. I know of your times in prison, in the various programs, that so many have tried to help you and it just doesn't ever work. That innocent young councillor believed in you so much, Marko. Did she really deserve what you did to her?

"They didn't fail. You did.

"So very many chances to correct an evil path and yet, you continued into darkness… this darkness… my darkness."

Sweat quickly covers Marko's creased forehead and anxious eyes; his face is a poster for fear.

"I'll begin as usual. Long ago, my world fractured. Who I was… no longer was. I broke apart, and all the king's men couldn't help me either. My atom split and yet the intense energy did not immediately release. The energy built up for years before it went exothermic. It still builds up though, all the time. That is why we are here.

"Playing in the park with other boys, laughing and running around, eating ice cream – these activities made no sense to me. Even now, going for a bike ride, sitting in the park with a coffee, chatting with a friend… Can you even imagine? Laughable. None of these actions serve my purpose, my reason for being."

Silence. Marko wants to scream: "Why am I here? What's going on?"

As if knowing his mind, the silence is pierced.

"Let me be clear. My goal is to cause suffering.

"I am a demon. Hell doesn't come with me; it is me. The fire releases but does not fully cleanse.

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. Smaller worlds… your world.

"I want to hurt people.

"I need to hurt people.

"It's all I crave."

"Let me ask you, Marko, how could it ever be possible that one could exist in modern society and be allowed hurt people, really hurt people? Every day? That question plagued me for years. Then a flash of insight amidst the flashes of anger, the brilliant answer that changed my life: I get to hurt people as long as I appear to help people.

"It seems so simple now but that is only in hindsight. It was not at all clear that it would work. Even now, this complicated fiction requires a massive amount of effort to ensure that there aren't disruptions for my… needs.

"I trained and trained. From the farthest regions of the globe to the deepest depths of my mind. I trained more than you could ever understand. I am the ultimate weapon; but nothing at all if not used. A gun that isn't fired is a paperweight, to use a shameful metaphor."

More silence. Marko's heart is already beating fast but actually skips a beat when the voice suddenly comes from behind him.

"Gordon and I have an arrangement, but not the one he thinks.

"He believes my darkness is necessary to help the city. I believe it is necessary to help the city to release my darkness.

"The GCPD wouldn't let me hit people, to punch and to kick them, to fracture their bones, to terrorize and occasionally torture, unless those people are criminals. The only rule is that I don't get to kill them."

Disturbing laughter fills the air.

"I can't count how many times I've laughed to myself that people find this arrangement acceptable.

"That said, it's not perfect. I can't do whatever I want. No killing. That code is not due to a misplaced sense of self-righteousness but a personal compromise. Sometimes one must sacrifice for the greater bad. Regardless, I take solace in the fact that if someone were to die, then they could no longer suffer. Once dead, I don't get to hurt them again. Why end the good times early?

"The belief that I am doing this to help Gotham is a useful myth I exploit. The power of people to believe in goodness is so strong, their unfamiliarity with darkness so staggering, that even when some of my actions are heinous, I still get the benefit of the doubt. At least from anyone who could stop me.

"I'll admit I'm surprised that the very few that know more than the rest haven't raised the obvious question: Why would a billionaire spend so much time and money just to punch people in the face?

"I could take my money and actually make the world better but then I couldn't punish people, personally. I need the intimacy. To physically cause the hurt. To see it, up close."

Marko desperately tries to see in the shadows. Where is this man? Where?! The sound makes Marko's eyes dart to the right.

"Faking being Wayne is one of my proudest accomplishments. It might seem easy having fancy cars, expensive clothes, stiff drinks, and slow times with fast women, but those are empty distractions. They are for the public, for the collective delusion Gotham participates in.

"No one knows the real Bruce Wayne.

"Pleasures of the flesh and food are nothing compared to kicking someone through a wall. Despite the harm you have caused to at least eight people, I doubt someone as feeble minded and unskilled as yourself can appreciate what it is like to perform at my level of excellence. To be able to deliver kicks at precisely different ribs, at different angles, to use the exact amount of pressure to cause a day of damage, a week of damage, exactly thirteen days of recovery?

"To be able put your open hand around someone's neck, squeeze with increasing tightness and lift them up with the power of your muscles and will… to see the terror in their eyes as they flail and gasp… that's something else. I am not a delightful person but some things I do delight me.

"Like the signal! It may strike fear in criminals but it brings me to life. It is a signal of excitement and future pleasure. I get to cause suffering. I get to release. I wish they never turned it off," the voice says wistfully.

"And children think I'm cool! That is so goddam funny. Playing with their little toys, pretending to be a hero… commerce imitating life. Parents are fools. Parents… should be more careful where they take their kids."

Marko's mind is chaos; it scrambles to comprehend all he has heard: Batman only wants to hurt people? Bruce… Wayne? What the hell is going on?!

The voice abruptly comes from Marko's left, shocking him out of his thoughts and into this horror.

"The kids, and most of their parents, think I'm a good guy, fighting to help people. You want goodness? Go to Metropolis.

"Speaking of Him, I want to share just how much work I had to put into this, just how valuable you are to me, Marko. You see, you can never know when there might be a quick flyby and what those damn senses can pick up. Consequently, we are in the basement of this factory and it is soundproofed and lined with lead, but just in case, I also have sonic disruptors that scramble the vibrations that are caused by any loud sounds. I even had to set up more of them to provide cover for their own functioning. Everything has a frequency and he can usually disambiguate. My tech is now indistinguishable from the energy vibrating off those old power lines that still carry a small current through this dead space.

"He told me that he can't yet see neuronal firing patterns, but he said he is trying to learn. With enough time, data, and familiarity, he might be able to piece together what someone is thinking.

Just in case, he said. Just in case.

"Lead nanomaterials now line the cowl. I told him it is part of the necessary armour and tech I need. I don't think he believed me. He knew I knew, but that's okay. He would never suspect it is this bad.

"Huh, imagine He had been lying all these years about being unable to see through lead? Wouldn't that be something? I'd probably feel closer to you than I ever have, Clark."

Panicked and confused thoughts explode in Marko: "Who is Clark? S-Superman? …why can't Superman know? ...I thought they were friends."

Remorseful, defiant and firm, Batman thinks to himself, "Oh Clark, you wouldn't understand, you couldn't. You would finally have to bring me in… or try anyway. Never trust anyone, Clark, I've tried to teach you that." Batman's right thumb and forefinger slowly rub the latch of a section of his utility belt.

Batman continues aloud, "And dear sweet Alfred. This would break his heart. He has given me so much. My entire life he has given me his entire life. Such dedication to a warped boy and a… something like a man. Alfred can barely accept how I go right up to the line, so he could never accept this.

"These things I do and the reasons I do them are beyond any line. Beyond his understanding of me.

"They think they understand but they do not. The hurt, the pain, it consumes. That's why I do this. Dick had a sense of it, both from me and from within himself. He was able to turn away from it though. Of all the people, he would be disappointed and yes, outraged, but deep down he would not be surprised.

"All the bones I've broken? All the blood I've spilled? It is incomprehensible to them. The strong silent figure, fighting for justice while they sleep. Justice… what a convenient conceit. A beautiful lie. It makes me laugh.

"I prefer it is me causing the suffering but why not embrace opportunities as they arise? I sometimes allow a few extra moments of terror when someone is being attacked. They get a glimpse of just how much horror life could have.

"Maybe a woman is about to be kidnapped. Or a man is being assaulted and mugged. I make sure to intervene before anything terrible happens, but maybe that man receives a punch or two from the mugger. Maybe that woman starts truly to believe she will be taken and her body will be decimated.

"Good.

"Welcome to existence.

"Welcome to Hell.

"Welcome to my waking life.

"Not that you are concerned at all, but my timing is impeccable, so the woman is saved and the man isn't critically harmed. She gets to go free; he gets his wallet back. They return to their tedious lives with a story to tell about a brush with darkness. They get to watch the "bad guys" taken out by Batman. A thrilling sight to see, I imagine, if it is even a fraction as thrilling as it is for me to do.

"All those people who hate me, all those who are skeptical of my motives are right. I'm not even a vigilante, not in intention nor execution. I break the law. I'm a criminal and I get away with it because I do just enough to stop crimes. Just. Enough."

Silence. Marko's distress, already extreme, is mitigated by incomprehensibility of his own circumstances. Batman can't be telling him all this… No, it is a nightmare.

"Marko, Have you ever wondered how the Joker keeps escaping Arkham? Oswald, Celina, Edward? My little rogues… Do you honestly think the Joker can escape by accident? It is as if the whole Asylum is systemically dysfunctional: the leadership, board members, and even guards being selected by a powerful businessman to create the appearance of an earnest but ineffective bureaucracy, instead of an intentional failure.

"They cannot stay locked up. I need the repetition and the variety.

"Joker is well-known as one of my primary nemeses but few know that he has a different place in my life. Punching someone in the face is great, it really is. You already know this on some level, but hitting that perpetually smiling face is one of the best feelings in the whole world. The way the white gets smeared with red as the green snaps back? It's special. Makes my knuckles hungry just thinking about it.

"You see, the Joker gets to embrace what I must constrain. I understand him so well because we are so alike. I admit I get some vicarious pleasure from his acts, but then envy takes over so I make him stop, painfully. Not only does that bring the pleasure of hurting him, but I also get to reward the fraction of a conscience I have left.

"He gets to cause mayhem and perhaps kill a few people and I get praise for stopping such a madman. The more victims he has, the more valuable his capture. Win-win.

Marko's world is upside down with anxiety high and climbing. Why why why why tell me this?

"Marko, you look surprised. You must be wondering why I am telling you all of this? Why act like some silly villain who has captured a hero, spilling his life story, motives and plans? Because once in awhile, it just gets too much, even for me. Too much to keep inside, to maintain the lie within a lie. I have learned that revealing these secrets feels good, a brief respite from my Sisyphean existence."

Pacing in and out of the light beams, Batman continues, "I said that Gordon and the cops, and even the League, and I have an arrangement where I don't kill people. Killing isn't usually necessary, usually beatings and terror are enough… usually. This moment is when it does not. You have done many heinous things, but I'm about to be worse than you have ever been.

"You look terrified, Marko, and you should. This isn't me playing the game, abiding by the Arrangement. This isn't going to be a warning for others to, of all things, fear the night.

"No, this is catharsis.

"The police will never find the body.

"No one will ever find your body."

Deafening silence.

Marko is crushed by a wave of devastating dread … he… he wouldn't!

"I allow myself this…this experience. An annual event of self-reflection and something approaching honesty. Nothing can make up for the death of that boy, that future life – as if a couple roses would be soothing enough – but I believe this helps.

"I sometimes wonder if I make the ghost of Socrates proud before disappointing him again. It doesn't really matter. After this, the darkness swiftly swarms back into place, engulfs me, calms me, hurts while consoles. The feeling of peace is temporary, fleeting even, but I still need it. I need the release.

"I know you can't move despite frantically wanting to, but I still appreciate you listening. Catharsis sometimes needs an audience, my version often needs an ambulance, but in this case, I think you understand why there will be neither. This cannot have witnesses.

"Part one of the release is done. I used my words.

"Part two of the release will now begin. I'll use my fists."

In a blur of movement, the gag is severed by the gauntlet on Batman's right arm and ripped out of Marko's throat with Batman's left hand. Marko coughs, exasperated breathing fills the air, he is still unable to move his body but millimeters.

Coming closer, Batman says, "I value you being here. I need you to be here. I need this to happen."

Closer still. "I thank you."

After several reflective moments, Batman then says,

"Any last words?"

Marko's mouth is open as if to speak, but no sound comes out. He is paralyzed by dreadfulness.

Batman comes even closer; his face now just inches away from Marko's.

Swiftly with his left hand, Batman rips off his cowl, revealing wide, unnervingly intense eyes. They are somehow a mixture of anxious anticipation, wrath, and joy.

"No? Okay, then."

Batman's massive right arm starts to move back, pulling his torso and hips diagonally to the right and backwards; he maintains firm footing in his back right leg. The fingers on Batman's right hand expertly and smoothly curl into a powerful fist, as they have so many times before.

Marko is terror-stricken.

Consumed by fear, he barely manages to say, "But B-Batman doesn't kill people! He has a code!"

"Yes. True. Batman does not kill people... but Bruce Wayne does."