Title: A Divine Comedy: Elysian Fields
Author: DC Luder
Rating: M for violence and dramatic elements.
Summary: With the Joker ruling and destroying the universe with Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers, there's one that will suffer the most…
Author's Note: All recognizable characters and events are property of DC Comics not DC Luder. Based on the events seen in Superman: Emperor Joker with numerous quotes and references throughout. I have put all direct quotes in italics and nods to Dante's Inferno in bookend ellipses.
I shot up in bed, taking only a second to locate Alfred in the darkness of my bedroom. I glanced at the bedside clock to see it was barely seven in the morning, not three hours since I had fallen asleep, "What is it, Alfred?"
"Mr. Kent has called… and asked for your assistance, he said it was not a dire emergency but…"
After reclining back against the down pillows, I sighed, thinking to myself that it better damn well have been an emergency. Following patrols that evening, I found myself completely exhausted, to the point that I had bypassed completing log entries of my activities from that evening. I had simply showered and changed into a robe before slowly climbing the steps up to the Manor and then to the master bedroom.
It felt like I hadn't slept in months.
Generally, it took some time for my mind to wind down enough for me to fall asleep. I often meditated, performed breathing exercises or listed streets in alphabetical order. Eventually, I would be able to block out what ever was troubling me and succumb to slumber. That night, the second my head had hit the pillow, I was out.
As I began to sit up once more, Alfred continued, "He asked to meet you at the Slab, sir, in New York... at your earliest convenience."
Growling to myself, I pushed back the covers and stepped out of bed. Alfred was quick to offer my robe and I took it without a word, putting it on as I walked out the door. As he followed me into the dark corridor, he offered, "Shall I prepare a breakfast for you…to go, as it were."
Although I ignored him, he took it as an affirmative answer and when I turned off on the ground floor towards the study, he went in the opposite direction towards the kitchen. The moment I was in the Cave, I said aloud, "Computer, activities scan New York City."
As I donned a clean suit and restocked my utility belt, I listened intently to the various news stories and scanner feeds. Nothing out of the ordinary, especially for a city nearly as corrupt as Gotham. Then an early morning news story caught my attention.
"Sleep walking has been blamed for a number of incidents throughout the evening. A man in the Bronx reportedly filled up his car at an Exxon gas station in the Anderson Shopping Center and then drove off without paying. When the attendant caught up with the driver, he was shocked to see the man was sound asleep in driver's seat..."
After donning my cowl, I approached the workstation, "Computer… search somnambulistic occurrences in New York City."
A list of twenty-seven incidences of sleepwalking related alterations and incidents that involved police intervention came up on the main display.
"Computer… search sleep disturbances… in the northeast."
An infinite list was formed of blogs and e-mails in a matter of seconds. I chose several at random, confused to see people reporting about bizarre dreams. There were even requests and appointments made with therapists to discuss horrific nightmares.
Clark was right, not a dire emergency, but…
Alfred approached me in the Cave just as I was making my way to the jet. As he handed me a warm thermos and a small, brown paper bag, he said, "Do be careful, sir."
"Why do you say that?"
He hesitated before replying, "I must say, as much as I find disbelief in premonitions and that sort… I had the most terrible dream last night…"
"Apparently, you're not the only one," I muttered. When he inquired further I told him, "Nothing… I'll call when I'm on my way back."
After setting out on autopilot in the jet, I continued to look into the issue, finding similar occurrences all over the world. This had happened before, after world dominations by an alien race or superhuman force, of whom had always been defeated by the Justice League. Once things were set back to normal, many victims still held faint memories of what had taken place and assumed they were the things of the imagination. Thankfully, most people would rather pass off odd memories as a dream or influences from the media as opposed to admitting they were real.
But why didn't I remember anything?
I found Superman waiting for me on the roof of the maximum-security wing of the Slab, home to a number of criminals that had been transferred from Blackgate and Arkham. I had the jet hover above him briefly so that I could jump out of the stilled craft. Once I had landed, I ordered it to cruise the perimeter of the prison out of sight.
"This better be good," I growled, low enough to wipe the smile from his face.
He stared at me for a moment, the look in his eyes somewhere between shocked and hopeful. He sighed before replying, "I take it you're aware of what's going on."
I nodded and strode towards him slowly, "Dreams, nightmares and somnambulistic incidents reported citywide… too many to be a coincidence."
Superman regained his smile; "Afraid I might have had a bit of a dream myself… woke up with this… gut feeling that I needed to make sure the Joker was tucked in to his cell."
I felt my heart skip a beat but didn't show any outward sign of anxiety as I asked, "And?"
"He's in a straight coat in the fetal position, drooling and mumbling to himself."
"Right where he belongs," I said quietly, "The thorazine dose they have him on has been able to limit physical activity which no doubt has made him a humble patient." When he didn't say anything, I asked, "So explain to me why, exactly, I'm in the Slab in New York with him instead of Gotham, with them, keeping my city safe."
Superman smirked again, "I had a hunch."
"A hunch. A bad feeling that maybe something wasn't right… you get them all the time."
"I never get hunches," I retorted, "I make intuitive deductions. Clearly there's a difference because nothing's going down here." I turned on my heel suddenly and walked away.
"Nothing?" Superman asked as he followed me, "You don't get any sense of trouble from him-?"
I stopped in my tracks and accused, "You're hiding something."
"No, I'm… It was a hunch, that's all. It happens."
I stared at him, evaluating any sign of response as I glared at him. Finding none, I replied, "Hmm… Next time you get a 'hunch', go juggle some planets. You woke me up."
He approached me, the concern returning to his eyes, "Sorry, you dreaming too?"
"Actually, I wasn't. Strange… I had the best night's sleep of my entire life."
I had the jet drop into sight and rather than have it land so I would be able to board, I simply threw up a grapple and repelled up. I left Superman standing alone, his a face still not settled on a single emotion. There was obviously something he wasn't telling me, he always had been a horrible liar especially when he lied to me.
The question was what did he know that I didn't.
On my way back to Gotham, I tried to focus on the data the computer was listing for me but I couldn't help but drift back to what I had last said to Superman.
I hadn't been dreaming.
I always dreamed.
Ever since I was a child I had been plagued with nightmares and vivid dreams that usually kept me from truly restful sleep. Falling into the cave for the first time, my parents' murders and not to mention to infinite list of horrors I had faced as Batman. I was never able to close my eyes without seeing something there, waiting for me in the darkness of slumber.
My breath shortened for a moment as the flash of a memory faded.
When I tried to meditate in order to allow my concentration to access my subconscious, the memory did not surface again. I set the jet to autopilot and tried to replay the previous night's patrols from start to finish. I was able to account for my actions up until around midnight but from there I could not distinctly place myself in the city. Or anywhere for that matter.
The last thing I remembered was taking a tour with the Batmobile through the East End.
The next distinct memory I had was the drive home to Wayne Manor; feeling as if I had just run a gauntlet.
I physically shook my head, suddenly put at unease by the flare of memory that I had no recollection of ever having before that night. I had suffered enough brain injuries in my lifetime to require me to walk around in a helmet for the rest of my days but I had never quite experienced anything like that before.
"Computer… search medication log for the last week… the Joker…"
I stared in utter disbelief at the list that formed on the LCD screen. The Joker hadn't had any anti-psychotic medications or even tranquilizers in over twenty-four hours; and there was no physiological way that the residual traces in his system would have left him drooling a catatonic.
Damn Boy Scout.
With it nearing eight in the morning, I felt it was safe enough to contact Barbara without suffering her wrath. She took over a minute to respond and when the video feed came through on my screen, she looked fresh out of bed with disheveled hair and puffy eyes.
"What?" she asked tersely.
I summarized my meeting with Superman and my increasing interest in the sleep disturbances. After I asked her if she had experienced anything odd, she sniffed, "I'm pretty sure it's physiologically impossible to have sleep disturbances on two tablespoons of NyQuil."
"You're ill?" I asked.
"No, Bruce, I just love the green nuclear flavor…" she sighed before continuing, "Sorry, I just feel like death warmed over… But I can look into-."
"No… Rest. I'll work on it."
She offered a tired smile before signing off with, "Looks like you could get some sleep yourself."
…I had the best night's sleep of my entire life.
The next call I made was to Alfred. When I told him I was almost home, he sounded surprised, and asked, "Was the trip purposeful, sir?"
I looked over to the passenger seat to see the thermos and bag he had prepared for me, untouched. I answered, "Somewhat… Your dream, Alfred, what was it of?"
"Oh… please, sir, it was just a case of having tea before bed..."
He was reluctant but finally responded, "I dreamt I was walking through the streets of Gotham, only it wasn't the Gotham of today… It was distorted and hideous. There were no cars, nor people… There seemed to be no one else in the city and yet I heard horrendous screaming of someone in agonizing pain…"
"After what seemed like days, I finally came upon the person, and he… had expired from his wounds… he was… staked to a wall for all to see... although there was no one to…"
"Who was it, Alfred?" I asked quietly, "Who was the man?"
His voice faltered, "It was you, sir."
After I cut the connection, I replayed my conversation with Superman over in my head for the remainder of the trip. He had obviously been lying but why? If it was anything worthwhile, he knew I would eventually find out on my own. Unfortunately, my friendship with Superman had always been strained through our differences. I found myself reflecting on them as the skyline of Gotham finally came into the horizon, sun beaming down on skyscrapers and reflecting off of the water.
He had always been an optimist and I the pessimist.
He first sought out the good in people where I saw the bad.
He sheltered his friends and family from suffering where I seemed to only bring it into their lives.
Thinking like him for a moment, I would have been able to convince myself that his hunch about the Joker was only a result from seeing what the madman had been capable of for years. Fitful and restless sleep was frequent in all people, especially those in urban cities. Sleep walking, although uncommon, happened on a regular basis and didn't necessarily indicate foul play. My own night's rest had been the result of weeks, months, a lifetime of insomnia and pushing myself beyond my body and mind's limitations.
Everyone had a breaking point.