Shocked and Stunned
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Shock" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 29 March 2010.
Screams filled the air, echoing throughout the dark and drafty corners of the abandoned amusement arcade. The sounds of agony ebbed and flowed around dusty slot machines that blindly flashed their dancing neon lights in the empty hall, while cheerfully tinny electronic music blared from their speakers.
What more could a gal want from a happy home-cum-hideout?
Harley decided she could get to like this latest change of address. Thanks to the Gotham police department being awarded extra cash in the new city budget there had been a recent crack down on so-called 'costumed criminal activity'. Combined with the Bat being extra crabby and spoiling all Mistah J's bestest plans for the national census with some very unnecessary violence on the Dork Knight's part, it had meant a lot of boring laying low and moving from place to place until the heat died down and hilarity could rein in Gotham once more.
Mistah J was currently taking some of his pent-up frustration out on an unfortunate kid working for the Census Bureau who'd chosen a really bad time to sample the neighbourhood, so Harley was occupying herself and having some fun with the old arcade games. Unfortunately the three quarters she found in Mistah J's coat pocket hadn't lasted her very long, and for some reason the ancient change machine didn't seem to accept stolen $100 bills. Harley figured her Ms Pac-Man marathon would just have to wait until they had the chance to knock over some grade schoolers for their pocket money or rob a laundrette or something.
Harley still wanted to win a stuffed animal for Bud and Lou on one of the long forgotten claw machines, so she turned to the tried-and-tested juvenile delinquent approach of reaching up through the chute. The twists and turns of the chute bent her arm in ways reminiscent of her last rather unpleasant meeting with the Bat-Brute, but finally with a lot of effort, contortion and un-ladylike language she managed to snag the fuzzy tail of the blue stuffed dog closest to the opening, claiming her prize with a cheer of satisfaction and a lingering pins and needles sensation below the elbow.
Judging by the growls and snarls as they engaged in a tug of war with their new toy, Bud and Lou were happy hyenas.
"You boys play nice," she said fondly as Lou tumbled over backwards with a detached leg of the toy gripped in his jaws.
As she tried to rub some feeling back into her arm the overhead lights and illuminated arcade machines flickered and dimmed, with the echoing screams reaching a crescendo accompanied by a delighted cackle of laughter. The hyenas immediately stopped in their play fighting and pricked up their ears.
Harley looked quizzically towards the darkened office that Joker had claimed as his "den".
"What do we think Daddy's doing in there, huh babies? He's been busy with that silly census guy all afternoon and the lights keep goin' funny..."
The lights flickered once more and returned to normal, so Harley shrugged and went back to giggling as her boisterous hyenas ripped the remains of the stuffed toy to shreds.
"Oh, you liked playing with the silly doggy, didn't you? Didn't you kill it good? Yes you did, good boys!" Bud and Lou wagged their hyena tails as they shook their heads vigorously to get the last of the fluffy material out of their teeth. Harley shook her head along with them in a long-suffering fashion. "An' now you want another one to tear up, don't you?"
Harley looked back at the claw machine – there was another pink stuffed dog still in there, only six inches or so further away from the opening of the chute. And she could mostly feel her fingers again now. Harley sighed but couldn't help smiling at their wide hyena grins.
"Mommy is too good to you! Gimme a minute to turn my arm back into spaghetti and grab it." She knelt back down and grumbled quietly to herself. "You'd better make this one last a bit longer…"
Her arm protested at being squashed into the arcade machine for a second time, but after a lot of muttered cursing and further contortion she'd managed to just about brush her fingers against one of the toy's fluffy, floppy ears. And then the lights flickered once more and went out completely, plunging the hall into blackness.
At the same moment the Joker found his project interrupted as the old back office was engulfed by darkness, his equipment cutting out as though someone had pulled the plug. Without a single window or skylight the room was pitch black, but he groped for the switch to his transformer and flicked it back and forth with hopeful optimism that his equipment might spring zombie-like back into life. Instead it stayed resolutely dead.
"Dratted Gotham Electric Company," he growled. "They think they can keep cutting me off just because I feed all their final demand and court appearance letters to the hyenas, eh? I don't even own the buildings so why should I pay for the utilities!" The empty blackness didn't provide an adequate response to his argument. "Well then, I'm going to write a strongly worded letter of complaint and suffocate their executive director with it."
Joker took a few steps forward and tripped over a limp but solid object lying on the floor, executing an impressive pratfall that would have been worth a good laugh if anyone had been able to see it. The object he'd tripped over gave a muffled groan.
"Oh good, you're still alive down there Davey-boy," he addressed the lump on the floor cheerfully. "Awfully sorry for the unexpected technical delay, but don't worry, after this brief interval I'll be right back with you." The object groaned again. "You just make yourself comfortable, stretch your legs as much as the restraints allow you to, take a few restorative breaths and make sure you're in tip-top shape for the second act."
Joker jumped back up and strode with confidence towards where he recalled the door being. After an initial collision with a wall that resulted in a small but enthusiastic quantity of blood spurting from his nose, he was soon out of the darkness of his den and into the relative light of the arcade hall.
"Harley, where the devil are you?" he called, although with one hand clamped to his bleeding nose he sounded not dissimilar to a small child trying to say grace around a large pre-emptive mouthful of peanut butter sandwich.
"Mistah J?" a voice replied from somewhere in the echoing hall, "Is that you?"
"Who else is it going to be – does Batman typically call your name before he drops on your head from twenty feet up?" Joker asked rhetorically, too distracted by dabbing at his noise with a vibrantly lime green handkerchief to focus on berating his slow-witted henchwench. "Just get over here."
"Uhh," she stalled for several long seconds, before evidently deciding to fess up to her latest act of incompetence. "I'm afraid I can't right now Puddin', I'm a little stuck under an arcade machine."
Joker narrowed his eyes in suspicion as he glanced around trying to work out which direction her voice was coming from. "If you were tilting the pinball machine and it fell over and crushed you, Harleykins, then you can just be slowly squashed to death and it'll serve you right. Do you know how long it took me to get that good a high score for Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure? No tilting cheater is taking first place away from me."
"I wasn't cheatin' at pinball!" Harley's voice replied, exasperation beginning to creep in. "I'm stuck in the toy grabbing machine, over by the old cash desk."
Joker sighed and stalked off in the direction she indicated, safe from further nose-wall collisions thanks to the low light filtering through the scratched, dirty skylights and cracked blacked-out windows of the hall. He turned at a line of silent electronic poker machines and spotted Harley lounging around on the floor doing a passable impression of a vet assisting a cow in giving birth, only with an resolutely non-bovine arcade machine. She was watched by a pair of patiently expectant looking hyenas.
Harley greeted him with a happy sigh and dopey "my white knight is here to save me!" expression, squinting a little in the dim light. Then as he got closer she gave a gasp of shock.
"Puddin' – what happened to your poor nose?"
"A wall jumped out and hit me; it was colluding with a door that moved when I wasn't looking."
She moved to clutch at him – only able to reach to the height of his knee she settled for a tight grip of his trouser leg – and petted his ankle consolingly. "Mean ole wall – d'you need your Harley to kiss it better?" she asked hopefully, gazing up at him with a coquettish smile.
"The world of medicine lost a promising young doctor when your licence was revoked, didn't it?" He extricated his leg from her vice-like coddling grip and settled for giving her a gentle message-reinforcing kick to the kidneys. "No, even if you could actually reach the affected area I do not need the assistance of your dubious medical skills. I just need the power back on."
Harley stopped rubbing her sore kidneys and propped herself up with her one free arm thoughtfully. "I think they cut us off again Puddin'."
"Y'don't say?" She nodded, sarcasm never being one of her strong points. "Look, I'm at a vital point in a very important experiment involving several of young David's natural apertures, half a dozen lightbulbs and a moderate electrical voltage. I need more juice!"
Harley's face was set with determined optimism. "How can I help, Puddin'?"
"Sort it out – hook us up to the next building, hack into the electricity system, something like that – use your imagination." Her optimism seemed to drain away as he spoke. "Your brains might not be your number one winning feature, but I shouldn't have to do all your thinking for you."
"Uhh, but Puddin' I'm not really an electrician…" his expression darkened and he almost swore he heard the gears in her head ramp up a notch in desperation. "Umm, umm… how's about a car battery? Would that help?"
Joker recalled a pleasant jape involving one of his more gormless hired goons and a television set he'd wired up to a car battery once. Judging by the residual twitchiness the man had exhibited for the next day or two it had been quite effective.
"It's not ideal but it'd do with a few alterations," he conceded.
"Great! I'll find you one right away, boss!" Harley beamed, glowing with the rare satisfaction of contributing a useful idea. Then her smile faltered slightly. "Uhh, couldya give me a little help getting out of here first though? I musta jumped when the lights went and now my wrist's stuck, it won't budge."
Joker rolled his eyes and sighed melodramatically. "You're a thundering nuisance sometimes, Harley. I've only got a penknife so it'll be messy." He produced said penknife from his jacket pocket and flicked open the blade to examine it for sharpness. "And can you really fetch me a car battery with only one arm?"
"No, no, no, Puddin'!" Harley protested, nervously laughing as she tried to assess how serious he was being. "Can we leave amputation as a plan B?" Joker frowned somewhat disappointedly but she soldiered on. "I think there's a lock at the top of the door – force that and the hatch should open."
The casual vandalism of breaking the machine open cheered the Joker slightly, and after a bit of gentle persuasion the machine door swung open leaving Harley freed with both arms still attached, even if one was clearly sore and tinged a little blue around the fingernails as she pulled off her glove to examine them.
"Owie," she declared, arm throbbing. "Better not forget the babies' toy though!" She reached into the now open machine and picked out the toy, throwing it to the patient hyenas to destroy. "It mighta been a little easier to just do in the first place, right?" she joked.
Joker declined to take such an easy shot. "Go, find me some power. And try not to electrocute yourself in the process – there's no point in doing something that hilarious if I'm not there to see it." Then he stalked back to the darkness of his den to adjust the electronics, pondering whether to douse his subject in salt water for better conduction.
Harley returned twenty minutes later, almost bent double as she carried a heavy car battery a few inches from the floor. She dropped it on the ground next to his desk and only narrowly avoided crushing several fingers in the process.
"Here ya go Puddin' – one portable power source for you!" Harley beamed proudly even as she slowly became aware of just how filthy her costume had become in the process of disconnecting and carrying the oily, rusty object. She removed her grime-encrusted gloves, smile drooping a little as she wondered what was the best way to get motor oil and rust out of spandex.
"About time – put it on the table and hook it up to the transformer will you?" Joker paused. "On second thoughts put it on the table but I'll hook it up – you'd probably plug it in wrong and make it explode acid all over your face, which would be funny but we don't really have time for that now."
With a very tiny sigh that she almost entirely managed to clamp down on (it was for Mistah J, he had almost asked nicely, there was no need for him to get oil all over his lovely suit as well, she should be grateful she was being allowed to help him with his work even if it was just by heavy lifting…) Harley hefted the filthy battery off the floor and onto the table next to a jumble of wiring and electronic machinery.
"Is this your project, Puddin'?" She squinted at the slightly squirming person-shaped shadow on the floor as Joker fiddled with the connections on the battery. "Dontcha want to move him out of your den and closer to a window or somethin'? It's pretty dark in here even with the door open."
"No, darkness is important to get the full effect. It probably won't be quite as bright running off a battery, even with the voltage adjusted through all the little gizmos. But the plus side is that Davey here probably won't fry off all the water in his brain quite so quickly either, so he can be left plugged in for longer." Joker patted a trussed-up knee affectionately. "That'll be nice for you, won't it?"
After connecting the final cable with a flourish, Joker took a few steps back and kicked the door closed, then presented the switch to Harley. Whether it was as a gesture of thanks for her assistance or so that any mistakes in the wiring would be routed through her first when she turned it on was debatable. Regardless, Harley smiled bashfully and accepted the switch, screwing her eyes closed and crossing the fingers of her spare hand for luck just in case, as she slowly pressed the button.
After pausing for a second to make sure she was still alive, Harley opened her eyes.
"Ooh, Mistah J – it's so pretty!" she cooed, bathed in the soft glow of green light. "He's like a people-firefly, or a human Christmas tree!" she paused for second. "Red would probably love to have somethin' like this at Christmas, made from a Christmas tree farmer. Or Christmas tree seller. Or Christmas tree distributor…"
"Yes, yes, we get the point," Joker interrupted. "But bizarrely designing eco-loony Christmas decorations for the weed wasn't the main motivation behind this experiment," he scoffed, delicately adjusting a circuit board now he could see what he was doing again. "I was planning to make a Bat-light centrepiece to descend in Gotham Square on New Years Eve, and this is an early test run. I think it's quite successful."
Harley said something appreciative in response that was drowned out by painful gurgling screams. She waited a second for them to dip in volume then continued, "I was gonna say he's pretty loud though. I guess that won't matter stuck up on top of a flagpole, but it might be a little intrusive in your living room."
Joker wordlessly handed her a ball of rags and she bent over to gag the unfortunate census taker. The second she touched him with her bare hands she jumped a foot in the air and let out a piercing yelp. The hilarity of this was only matched by the look of utter confusion on her face, which was slowly replaced by dawning realisation.
Joker bent over in helpless laughter, soon joined by Harley who descended into a fit of uncontrollable giggles, both lit by the faltering green light that gradually faded away as the battery lost power.