The recreation room at Arkham Asylum was poorly named. Recreation generally implies fun or at the very least, some mildly entertaining way to pass the time. Neither were allowed within its four walls.
Of course, that was mainly due to the inhabitants, to whom 'fun' translated into 'mayhem' and 'activity' generally meant, well, 'mayhem'. The recreation room had been specifically designed to avoid any prospect of mayhem. There was a television (bolted to the wall inside a plexiglass box), there were magazines (with the staples removed so that pages flew everywhere), and there were jigsaw puzzles which no one ever touched.
And, of course, there was the chess table. The regulations stated quite clearly that board games were not allowed. There had been too many deaths and injuries from little things like sharpened Monopoly pieces and carefully reshaped Sorry! tokens, not to mention the Joker's last elaborate masterpiece of a deathtrap involving two Guess Who? boards and the pegs from two games of Battleship. Children's games had been deemed to be completely unsafe.
The handful of intellectuals among the rogues, desperate for mental stimulation, had weaseled their way around that particular rule by incising a chessboard directly onto one of the table tops with a broken bedspring. The chessmen were jigsaw puzzle pieces turned over to reveal dull grey or dirty brown cardboard backing with letters inscribed on them.
Jervis Tetch was idly pushing one of these pieces about on the table in front of him. He watched with boredom as the rogues went about their usual business. Some, like the Riddler, retreated to solitary pursuits of crosswords or reading. Some, like the Ventriloquist and Scarface, opted for a more social way to spend the time, carefully not discussing anything that might be of actual interest since the orderlies tended to eavesdrop.
The Mad Hatter and the Scarecrow generally wound up at the chess table. They'd played approximately fifteen hundred games of chess over the years. Of them all, Jervis Tetch had won precisely two. Jervis didn't much care for strategy, or the thrill of winning, or any of the traditional reasons to play the game. Matching his wits against Jonathan Crane merely meant that he could relive parts of Through the Looking-Glass while Jonathan could get his daily fill of feeling superior to someone. Everyone won.
Except for today, when the only ones winning were the doctors. Jervis sighed and flicked the piece labeled "BLACK KING" across the table toward Jonathan Crane. It hit him in the face. There were a few seconds of silence as Jonathan's heavily drugged mind struggled to process what had just happened. "Hey," he finally said. Another round of silence. "Don't."
At least his own medications weren't affecting him that badly. He didn't like taking them. They made him tired and grumpy. But the doctors had found out that he was hiding his pills in his mattress, so they'd switched him over to liquids...and when a three-hundred-pound orderly handed him a cup of bitter liquid and gave him the option of drinking it or having it forced down his throat in a seclusion room, the option that allowed him to retain some of his rather sparse dignity prevailed.
He breathed a short, sharp sigh of irritation. This was useless. He could still talk to Crane, he supposed - it's not like the man normally answered him, anyway - but it would be even more like talking to a brick wall today. He sighed and picked up another piece, twisting it round in his fingers as he stared out the window.
He could use this time to plan another heist, he supposed. But somehow, that didn't feel right either. How long had he been doing this? Ten years? Twenty? How many more theme crimes could he possibly pull out of two little books? Well, Lewis Carroll had written a large number of other things. He could switch over to the poems for a while, or 'Sylvie and Bruno'...no. He wasn't the Mad Carroller, he was the Mad Hatter.
Not that that seemed to mean much nowadays. It had been fun at first - living the dream, as it were - but the whole routine had gotten stale. Arkham to hideout to heist to Arkham, every time with new injuries, every time with the same conviction that he'd win out next time. How long had it been since it was fun?
When was the last time he'd actually had any fun? He frowned. His last crime had been inspired, certainly, and it had been mildly enjoyable right up to the point that Batman had kicked him repeatedly in the head...but it hadn't actually been fun at any point.
He couldn't remember having fun at any point recently. In fact, his life had been lacking in a lot of respects. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd had a friend that didn't have one of his mind-control chips tucked behind their ear. He couldn't count the rogues as friends. Oh, they were civil enough to one another, certainly, but it was only because they happened to live together in the asylum. It did not do to irritate your psychotically homicidal neighbors with petty things like arguments, which is why with a real effort they had managed to keep the fights down to three or four a week. How many times had the others used him as a convenient punching bag? (Of course, he wasn't entirely blameless, he had to admit. Civil neighbors didn't point out to Two-Face that his entire psychosis was thoroughly at odds with the reality of how the brain worked, for example. That beating had been entirely worth it for the look on each half of Harvey's bifurcated face.)
And girls! He missed girls. The only females he ever saw on a regular basis anymore were Poison Ivy (beautiful, yes, but deadly) Harley Quinn (beautiful, deadly and most emphatically taken) and his therapist (boring, ugly, and taken). His various crew of Alices over the years had been fine to take tea with, but they hadn't exactly been girlfriend material.
He needed a distraction. He flicked another puzzle piece at the Scarecrow. Normally Crane would have been extraordinarily put out with him at this point, maybe even going so far as to threaten to burn his mind out with terror or something similar. This time, he merely blinked slowly at him and tilted his head to one side.
Okay, so that wasn't going to help. Jervis turned to the rest of the room, wondering if anything interesting was happening. The Riddler and Two-Face were engaged in a brisk game of double solitaire in the corner. Jervis sat, head on his hand, and watched them quietly slap cards down onto piles. When the game was over, they silently shook hands, separated out the decks, and laid out the game again. It was about as friendly as most of the rogues ever got with one another in Arkham, since the doctors tended to look upon every single social interaction between them as a dangerous thing.
Was there entertainment to be had in other parts of the room? Jervis shifted his gaze. Well, if Harley Quinn was snuggled any closer to the Joker they'd fuse into one being, but watching the Joker be all lovey-dovey made his stomach turn. He, the rest of the rogues, and probably everyone in the asylum knew that the Joker's occasional displays of affection for Harley were as artificial as the cheese sauce on the cafeteria's ham sandwiches, but it still just wasn't right.
He was bored, depressed, and lonely. It wasn't supposed to be like this. When had his Wonderland of fun turned into this trash hole of a life?
Jervis Tetch sighed. "You know," he confided to the Scarecrow, "I'm thinking of quitting."
When this non-Wonderland quote sank into the Scarecrow's head, his eyes widened in shock. Jervis Tetch not quoting Lewis Carroll was like Batman dressing in pink. "Can't quit," Jonathan managed to mumble. "Can't do it."
Jervis was affronted. He'd managed to do quite well for himself before becoming a rogue! Surely he could do just as well now. "You think I can't do it?" he snapped.
"Can't," the Scarecrow repeated. "Too scared..."
"Watch me," Jervis said, shoving himself up from the table. He'd get out of this asylum and become a normal human being again. To hell with Alice in Wonderland, to hell with Lewis Carroll, and to hell with being locked away for the rest of his life in a room full of lunatics! He stormed off to the other side of the room.
"...they won't let you," the Scarecrow finished, fighting to get the words out before Jervis was too far away.
(to be continued)
Author's Note: Jervis' uncivil behavior appeared in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell.