It was a lovely day inside Arkham Asylum. The fluorescent lights were buzzing, the floor tiles shone with the patina of years of coming into contact with blood and bare feet, and the orderlies went about their work with the cheerful expressions of people who hadn't had a coworker horribly murdered in almost a whole month.
It was generally fairly quiet in the rogues' wing just after lunch. Not that silence was necessarily a good thing - after all, the wing would be a lot noisier if all the cells had been properly filled. Still, what few rogues were inside the building were napping, or plotting, or indulging in whatever recreation they could find inside their four barren walls.
In cell 4R32, Dr. Jonathan Crane was ostensibly reading a book about some of Freud's more entertaining foibles, like cocaine addiction and his quest for the ever-elusive eel testicle. (It also had a lovely chapter on his phobias, a fact that he'd neglected to mention to the orderly who delivered it to him from Arkham's tiny library.)
But today, the book seemed inexplicably boring. Instead of scanning the text, he was eagerly peering over the edge of his book into the next cell, where a spider the size of his big toe was slowly descending on a collision course with Harvey Dent's head.
Five inches. Four. Come on, spider! Three inches. Two...and it stopped, dangling almost lifelessly above the other rogue's face, limp in sleep. Oh, if only he had a camera! The spider swung gently in the breeze from Harvey's open mouth as he snored. Come on, come on...it wasn't moving. Something had to be done! What if it went back up to the ceiling without Dent ever seeing it?
In one frantic movement, Crane vaulted off of the bed and slammed a foot into the frame, clanking it hard against the wall. Two-Face jerked awake, scrambling to sit up only to discover that a very panicked spider was now thrashing wildly in his hair. His scream - shrill, piercing, and almost completely terrified - was everything that Crane could have hoped for.
After a frantic, slapping dance, the spider had become nothing more than a smear on the floor. Dent snarled as he stomped up to the shatterproof plexiglass wall of his cell. "You did that on purpose," he growled.
"I was just getting up and I happened to kick the bed," Crane said airily, secretly delighting in the dull brick color of anger that was rapidly taking over what little face Dent had left. "Why? Did the little spider scare you?"
Two-Face scowled darkly. "I'm gonna tell on you and you're going to be in so much trouble," he grumbled. "GUARD!"
No! What was this? Rogues didn't tell on other rogues, that was the rule! That was the agreement that they'd...well...that they'd agreed on! "Tattletale!" he hissed angrily.
"HEY!" an orderly shouted. Both rogues fell silent, though they still glared defiantly at one another. "What's going on?"
"He put a spider in my cell!" Two-Face accused petulantly, pointing an acid-scarred finger across the hallway.
"Did not!" Crane protested.
The orderly watched the two rogues bicker for a moment. This was...this was weird. He was used to the normal brand of weird. Things were always weird at Arkham. (Obviously. If things weren't weird at Arkham, the world itself might have gone mad.) Still, he'd never seen two grown men act so much like...
"I know you are, but what am I?"
"I don't make monkeys - I train 'em!"
Like children. "Hey!" The two rogues broke off their argument and glared at him sullenly. "There is no way that he could have put a spider in your cell," he told Two-Face.
"See?" Crane crowed triumphantly, smirking at Two-Face.
"But he did!" Dent whined. Crane stuck out his tongue. "He's making faces at me! Make him stop!"
"I don't want to hear it!" the orderly snapped, unconsciously adopting the tone of voice that he used when his two daughters were arguing over something extremely trivial. "Unless the two of you want something to drink, you'd better be quiet and behave yourselves!"
Both rogues' lips clamped tight at the thought of another visit from Mr. Thorazine. The orderly stood for a moment, making sure that they'd behave themselves, and then hurried off toward the records room. The docs didn't care much when the orderlies wrote down specific craziness, but it'd come in handy later to back up the story he was going to tell at the bar. Without it, no one would ever believe that Two-Face would get so upset over a stupid spider - or, for that matter, that Jonathan "Mr. Dignity" Crane would lower himself to an argument of that intellectual caliber.
Robinson Park was surrounded by a glowing moat of police cars, lights twirling merrily in the springtime sunset. Batman ghosted up behind the commissioner. "Nice night," he graveled.
Jim Gordon twitched with surprise and spun around. "I wish you'd stop doing that," he grumbled.
Batman ignored a phalanx of policemen hustling by with an enormous tank of weedkiller. "What's she doing?"
Gordon sighed. "Everything came to life and kicked all the people out of the park at around three. Ever since then, all we've heard is her talking. Something about subjects." He frowned and took his glasses off to clear a smudge. "She doesn't normally experiment directly on people. Maybe you could -" But by the time he'd put his glasses back on, Batman was already up and over the wall that wrapped around the park like a concrete poncho.
It didn't take him long to find Ivy. A quick jaunt into the treetops with his thermal binoculars and he had her location pinpointed halfway across the park, fast asleep in a bundle of vines stuffed into the bend of a tree limb. He leaped from treetop to treetop until he was fairly near to her and slowly picked his way down to the ground.
After ducking into a gap between two saplings, he was through into a brand-new thicket of flowering shrubs and evergreen trees. He leaned close to one of the trees, rubbing the needles between his fingers to see if they'd been altered somehow. The plain green needles broke off easily under his hand and obediently crumpled under the pressure of his fingers.
"Don't you touch the duke!" An imperious green head crowned with an untidy thatch of red hair emerged from the nearby vine nest. Green eyes glared balefully in his direction. The vines spilled gently to the ground, carrying the rogue along with them and setting her bare feet tenderly on the earth.
Batman almost physically recoiled in shock. For the first time in a non-Arkham setting, she was wearing clothes! Admittedly, they weren't exactly standard clothes. In fact, the poufy green dress looked like it had been stolen from a costume shop specializing in fashion in the mid-1100's, while the cheap black velvet cape could have come from any of the Halloween stores that popped up across the city every October like a seasonal rash. The solid silver tiara set with diamonds, however, was all too real, and had probably come from the jeweler's across the street.
Poison Ivy stalked over to the smallish tree and pointedly shoved Batman aside with her hip. "I'm sorry, Your Grace," she cooed to it in a bad imitation of an English accent. "The knave here has no manners."
Knave? Your Grace? Batman was taken aback by this fresh outburst of insanity. What had caused this new fascination with medieval royalty?
"Well?" she demanded, tapping one foot in the dirt. She frowned as he didn't jump to her bidding, whatever it was. "Bow to your queen," she insisted, folding her arms. "That's me," she added, unnecessarily, in a stage whisper.
Things had gone far enough. Instead of bowing, he lashed a hand out and caught her around the wrist. "Peasant!" she shrieked, writhing under his grip. "To touch the queen means death!"
Finally, something that he understood. With his free hand, he withdrew the bottle of herbicide that went with him to every Ivy apprehension and waited for her next inevitable move.
"Don't you dare hurt my subjects!" she screeched, kicking him in the ankle. A vine whipped around his neck, tightening as if it was a boa constrictor who had had one too many novelty pictures taken with tourists. With one squirt of herbicide, it was brown and dying.
"You're going to Arkham," he growled, tugging her toward the nearest path.
"NO!" she screamed, stamping her feet into the dirt and sobbing. "NO NO NO! I DON'T WANNA GO TO ARKHAM! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME I DON'T WANNA NO NO NO NO NO!"
This wasn't like Ivy at all. She hadn't tried to seduce him - she wasn't even half-naked, for once! - she hadn't tried to sic a troupe of pheromoned minions on him, and most importantly, she was throwing an all-out two-year-old's tantrum. Okay, so Ivy threw tantrums a lot, but there was a distinct difference between her normal icy rage and this humiliating display of tears and thrashing about.
Well, if she was going to behave like a little kid, then that's how he'd treat her. "You're going," he snarled, kicking a slithering tree branch out of their way.
"NO!" she howled, flailing with her free hand and grabbing at her precious plants. She got a grip on one smallish tree trunk and pulled, wrapping one leg around it as well to pin herself in place. "NO NO NO!"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Do you want me to kill the tree?" he asked coldly, brandishing the herbicide.
"Then let go."
"Let go," he growled, jerking her arm.
"NO NO NO!"
"Then I'm killing the tree." He brought the herbicide closer.
With tears streaming down her face, Ivy slowly peeled herself off of the tree. Loose bark clung to the fabric of her skirt. "You're mean," she wept.
"I hear that a lot," he muttered. "Come on."
With a defiant look on her face, she sank to the ground. "Make me," she snarled, letting herself go absolutely limp. She stuck her tongue out at him from her puddled position on the dirt path.
He considered her for a moment. Maybe this trick would work on beleaguered parents, but it certainly wouldn't work on a man who could bench-press nearly twice his own weight. Without another word, this most super of Supernannies turned on his heel and began hauling the limp rogue through the brush.
She maintained a sullen silence until they were out of the park. As he dragged her onto the concrete sidewalk, her entire body stiffened and she propelled herself upright in one elastic leap. "Lemme go, you creep!" she wailed, beating on him with her free hand. A squadron of policemen in biohazard suits rushed over and latched on to her, dragging her away as she screamed "I hate you! I hate you! You suck!"
"That was fast," Gordon commented.
Batman brushed a bit of dead creeper off of his shoulder. "Something's not right. Get her to Arkham."
Gordon glanced at the kicking, screaming botanist being loaded into the armored police van. When he looked back, Batman had gone.
"Computer," Bruce ordered, exhaustion in his voice, "check for anomalies in Arkham's water."
The computer whirred gently. "No unknown or suspicious compounds detected."
"Check for anomalies in Arkham's air and ventilation ducts."
"No unknown or suspicious compounds detected."
"Check for -"
"Supper, master Bruce." Alfred held out a tray with a sandwich and a large glass of water. "I assure you, there aren't any unknown or suspicious compounds in it."
"Ha. Ha." Bruce scooped up the sandwich and took a bite. "Cmmpher-"
Alfred pointedly cleared his throat. Bruce obediently swallowed. "Computer, check for anomalies in Arkham's kitchens."
"No unknown or suspicious-"
"Right, right," Bruce muttered, taking another bite.
"Are the staff of the asylum aware that you've filled their facility with probes?" Alfred inquired.
"No," Bruce said flatly. "They're also not aware that I've hacked into their intranet. Computer! Look for references to childlike behavior in therapy sessions at Arkham and police records." The therapy notes were a long shot, since most of the psychiatrists didn't bother transcribing anything into the computer where it could be useful, but maybe he'd get lucky this time.
Whir. "No references in therapy notes. Police records are as follows." The screen lit with a series of reports. Bruce set his food back onto the tray and leaned closer to the monitor.
The Riddler, on escaping from the cops, had paused to mock them by sticking his thumbs in his ears, waggling his fingers, and chanting 'Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyah' from his seat in a rapidly departing van. The cops had burst in on the Ventriloquist and Mr. Scarface having a tea party with a one-eyed teddy bear. Catwoman had been spotted pulling a heist in the Toys R Us Barbie aisle. Killer Croc had -
The tray flew to the floor, forgotten, as Batman bolted to his feet. Killer Croc had been spotted around several playgrounds in the lower Gotham area. If he had decided to kidnap another easy hostage - or worse, a playmate - there could be serious trouble brewing in the sewers. He stayed in the cave only long enough to grab his special sewer utility belt (the Steve Irwin special, as the boys had lovingly dubbed it) and burned rubber out into Gotham as fast as was humanly possible.
Alfred sighed and began cleaning up the sandwich, which had fragmented into a half-dozen pieces on the way to the floor. At least he hadn't bothered with soup that evening -
Bzzzt! The trespasser's alarm sounded, indicating that an overeager someone had hopped the gate. Alfred tucked the last of the sandwich onto the tray and hurried upstairs to answer the summons that he knew was coming. Of course, had he known exactly who was at the door, perhaps he wouldn't have run quite so fast...or at all.
(to be continued)