Disclaimer: Not mine, no infringement, etcetera
Warnings: Villainy which grantees dark themes, some violence; maybe some slash—haven't decided
Author's Note: I suppose this is a sequel. It's mostly self-contained, though.
The last phase of the synthesis involved resuspending the purified crystals into the inert solvent. Crane carefully tilted the folded filter paper and let the crystals spill into a flask. The flask itself was simmering on a tripod over a Bunsen burner. Fumes were not an issue. He wouldn't be making an aerosol version of this compound until he could test its effects empirically.
A scream rang out close by. It was a hoarse sound that suggested that the throat it originated from was raw. The scream was followed by a few whimpers that trailed off into a broken sob. Despite the potential distraction, Crane's eyes were fixed on the fine powder as it fell into the solvent.
How can you work with delightful background sounds like that in the next room? Scarecrow enquired.
There was no reply from the doctor.
Still no reply. Crane was now stirring the solution with a glass rod.
Crane turned off the gas to the Bunsen burner, set the flask aside and covered it with plastic wrap. 'Pardon?'
Never mind. I think you just answered the question.
'You're usually content to let me work uninterrupted.'
Usually there isn't a 'test subject' waiting in the next room.
Crane pushed his glasses up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He was nearing the point of exhaustion. This particular compound had been the focus of his attention for…well it was an indeterminate length of time. His sleeping patterns had become erratic and it was hard to mark the passage of days without a constant sleep/wake cycle. The doctor took short naps whenever his fatigued body forced him to, but mostly he'd been consumed by his latest formula.
Crane turned his attention back to his other self. 'You've already had time to torment him, Scarecrow. From the sound of things, he still hasn't fully recovered from the last dose.'
And that was fun, but really, it's been a while since you've worked with a target. I miss your brand of clinical nastiness. You know I love to watch you play.
'I don't "play", I experiment.'
Scarecrow snorted. My point stands.
'Perhaps later. I'm going to let this sample cool. I could also use some sleep and maybe something to eat.'
Crane couldn't remember when he ate his last meal, though he was reasonably sure it had been a cheese sandwich. Scarecrow fell silent. He wasn't good at remembering those details either, but he was reasonably sure that it would be a good idea if they got some food and sleep.
Crane left his chemistry equipment and proceeded to the next room where he had left his latest test subject. The man was tied to a heavy chair in the centre of the floor-space. His eyes were glazed and unfocused from the toxin that was still acting in his system.
The subject had been acquired off the street. He was some petty criminal from one of Gotham's more shadowy areas just outside the Narrows. Crane didn't recall the specifics of the thug's activities—petty theft, drugs, muggings, it hardly mattered. What did matter was that he had no pre-existing heart conditions or respiratory problems. His baseline blood pressure was almost right on the average at 122/80 and he was not taking any medication. Perhaps most importantly, he would not be missed.
Crane circled closer to the test subject. He stopped a few paces from the chair, just close enough to see the sweat beading on the man's forehead. After a moment of quiet observation, Crane reluctantly stepped back. As fascinating as the results of Scarecrow's interventions were, the doctor was in no condition to make a proper study of this case. There would be time later. That new compound needed to be tested and the subject wasn't going anywhere. Physically, the restraints were medical grade and psychologically speaking, he was hardly capable of taking initiative by this point.
The current location that was serving as Crane's research base was an abandoned warehouse. The basement of Arkham was no longer a viable option and Crane was not going to use his apartment for the more practical side of his research. Causing frequent screams of blind terror, in a populated area of Gotham, would attract the wrong sort of attention. A warehouse in an abandoned industrial district seemed like a much better idea. Crane could work in his makeshift lab at his residence and use the more remote location for test subjects, as needed.
Unfortunately, the doctor found himself working out of the warehouse more often than not. He soon found that he was spending extended stretches of time away from such comforts as a bed and a refrigerator. There was a stock of non-perishables like crackers, protein bars and even a few apples for the warehouse, but it was not ideal. Crane had also transferred most of his chemistry equipment by this time. He had even considered acquiring something to sleep on, but had decided against it. It would only encourage him to stay away from his apartment and exacerbate his negligent attitude toward his wellbeing.
Though science took precedence, it was all too easy to get carried away by the search for knowledge. Still, this latest obsessive drive served a purpose. Up until this breakthrough in his research, Crane had been getting restless. After the laborious synthesis and with a trial phase in sight, he no longer felt the need for something more…elaborate. Pure science was the way. He would leave headline-grabbing projects to those who appreciated the attention.
Crane decided that he'd go back to his apartment for some much needed recuperation. While sleep and food were obvious priorities for survival, what Crane really felt like, at that moment, was a shower. So when he arrived at his residence, he tended to his hygiene first, despite Scarecrow's complaints about being hungry. Fatigue set in while the doctor ate and he hardly noticed his meal. His eyelids were drooping as he half stumbled toward his bed. He barely managed to remove his glasses before he crashed.
Initially, Crane had planned to sleep for only a couple of hours and give himself just enough rest to fool his body into cooperating. However, when he woke after twelve hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep, he was unsurprised. Perhaps it was for the best. He knew the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive function. This way, his focus would be optimal when he worked with his test subject. Also, his prolonged absence would likely be creating a delightful level of apprehension in said test subject.
A long sleep, a large breakfast and a fresh set of clothes did wonders for the doctor's disposition. His enthusiasm for the upcoming trial was rivalling Scarecrow's. He wasted no time in returning to the warehouse
Crane kept a measured pace as he crossed the floor-space in the warehouse and made his way to his temporary laboratory set-up. He didn't spare a glance to the bound test subject. A faint smile played across the doctor's lips as he considered the imminent experimental procedure. Scarecrow was right. It had been far too long since he had involved himself in the practical side of his research.
Once in the lab, Crane prepared a moderate dose of the new formula and placed it in his briefcase. The compound had probably finished cooling several hours ago and the doctor appreciated his foresight at having covered the flask in plastic to prevent dust settling in the solution. He left his burlap mask in the briefcase. This was for science rather than Scarecrow's amusement and intravenous delivery meant that filters were unnecessary. Still, the doctor's gaze flicked over to the rough-stiched mask once or twice as he prepared the solution.
So what does the new variant do? Scarecrow asked as he observed Crane's meticulous preparations.
'It binds irreversibly to receptors in the brain, causing a constitutive triggering of certain late factors involved in the fear pathway,' Crane explained. 'In short, it completely floods the system with fear. The terror should be quite extreme, though non-specific.'
Scarecrow grinned. Sounds good.
Crane allowed himself a small smile. 'Indeed.'
Scarecrow was still grinning in the periphery as Crane emerged from the makeshift lab and approached his test subject. The thug tracked the doctor's movements with clear apprehension, his eyes now focused and unclouded. It was a significant indication of what Scarecrow had put him through that he didn't bother to beg for mercy.
"Try to relax," Crane soothed. "The dosage is only moderate and I will appreciate any cooperation that you can extend. This is a new compound and while I doubt you can summon up the enthusiasm that I'm currently feeling, try to think of the valuable contribution that you're making to the scientific process."
The thug eyed his tormentor warily. Even through the fear and resignation, his brow was furrowed as if he were trying to work through a complex equation.
"Is something the matter, beyond the obvious, that is?" Crane enquired.
The thug swallowed a couple of times before speaking. "No mask, you're not wearing it and…your voice it's…" the thug trailed off and then cringed as Crane took another step forward.
"Ah, I see. Well let's just say that you might find this stage of the experiment less…brutal. Or perhaps not, it really depends on your perspective. Now try to control the impulse to struggle. This will only take a moment."
Strangely enough, the thug did remain still as Crane delivered the injection. The ex-psychiatrist still had a way with patients, especially those who had been exposed to Scarecrow's games. The needle slid in cleanly and Crane took a step back as the compound began to take effect.
The drug's effects manifested rapidly. In a matter of heartbeats, the subject's pupils dilated excessively. The breathing patterns were gasping and erratic, a thin whine escaped the thug's throat and then…stillness.
Crane frowned. This was unusual. It wasn't an allergic response. Nothing indicated that the subject couldn't cope with his regular toxin. Besides, failed trials usually ended with myocardial infarctions and death. This subject was alive, but unresponsive. The doctor picked up a pen-light and tested for autonomic responses. He longed for an fMRI scanner or at least an EEG. He was beginning to suspect that this particular toxin variant had a rather unique side-effect.
What's wrong with him? Scarecrow demanded. A subject that wasn't screaming was hardly entertaining.
Crane pondered his answer for a moment. 'I would have to run further tests, but I think that it's reasonable to hypothesis that I've created something that is essentially lethal.'
Even I can see that he's breathing, Jonathan.
'Yes, but if there's no longer a mind behind those eyes, can one really call him alive?'
What? You think he's…gone?
'Once again, I would need to run more tests, but he's comatose. He is simply not responding to stimuli. Observe.'
Here Crane retrieved the small knife he kept in his briefcase. He had acquired the blade from the Joker and generally kept it with his most personal supplies. Practically speaking, a blade was useful, but Crane kept it close for a few reasons. Now the doctor slid the sharp knife edge across the lax palm of his subject. The man didn't even register the pain.
Scarecrow seemed a little dubious. Shouldn't his eyes be closed if he's in a coma?
'Indeed. I think the fear response created tension in some of his muscles, but this is akin to a chemical lobotomy. I didn't even know I could synthesise something like this. I am fairly certain it's irreversible.' Crane sounded somewhat perturbed.
Conversely, Scarecrow seemed pleased. This is interesting. You're saying it completely destroys a mind—overloads it with fear so quickly that there's nothing left at all, even with a moderate dose. This is a real weapon.
Crane frowned. 'I don't go out of my way to kill. Our usual toxin is informative and while it can be deadly, that is not its primary purpose. I question the scientific validity of ever using this variant again.'
I don't mean that we use it to wipe out half of Gotham. But it could be something like a last resort. Think about it…anyone who fights us would have no way of knowing which compound we're using. We'd only need to use it once or twice for the threat to always be there—for the fear to always be there.
Crane paused for a moment as he considered the tone of Scarecrow's thoughts.
'You seem more brutal, Scarecrow. I've noticed this in you ever since your exposure to the Joker.'
A succession of thoughts flashed across Scarecrow's consciousness at the mention of the Joker. It was over too quickly for Crane to analyses and Scarecrow made an effort to keep his reactions private.
Maybe. But you're changing the subject. The situation in Gotham has escalated and the game's become more dangerous. I think that fact needs to be acknowledged. Besides, the Bat is going to try and take us down regardless of how we damage his precious citizens. This new toxin is useful.
Crane paused again. 'I won't dismiss your suggestion, but this whole matter merits in-depth consideration. That being said, I understand your restlessness. I have recently felt the desire for something more far-reaching than individual trials. I have given thought to a large scale project.' It was true. Before embarking on this line of research, the doctor had devoted significant time to such plans. The research had dampened these desires, but now that his latest compound was an apparent dead-end, the impulse for something greater returned tenfold.
The change in Scarecrow's internal demeanour was instantaneous. There was the impression of a malicious smile from him. Oh yes? Fear Night was glorious, even if it wasn't your original intent.
Crane's tone became wintry. 'No, it wasn't my intent. I am a scientist, not some anarchic lunatic. However, since that is the way I am now perceived, I would just hate to disappoint.'
You're fun when you're feeling vindictive.
Crane didn't really have an answer to that.
But are you sure I'm the only one who got influenced by 'exposure to the Joker'? Scarecrow continued.
Crane ignored the insinuation. 'I have been considering likely targets, but there's one in particular that I think will suit our purpose.'
Scarecrow gave the impression of a slow smirk. And what target would that be?
'Simple, we shall strike at the heart of Gotham: Wayne Enterprises.'