There was a moment of stunned silence. "What?" Flash breathed.
"I know what you're capable of," Sawyer stated. "You'd have been out of those cuffs in less than a minute if the serum hadn't already done its job. I injected you both while you were unconscious." He smiled. "And I see it's working, because you're still here."
"Try to overcome it, Flash," Batman advised.
"I wouldn't!" the unchained man warned, holding up a hand as Flash's muscles tightened. "There's another aspect of the serum that I haven't told you about. I'm sure Batman would feel just awful if his recommendation got you killed."
"Yes. Killed." He began to pace. "I didn't spend the whole of the last five years making gas, you know. I used a lot of that time to become very familiar with the human brain and its awesome power over the rest of the body. There's still so little known about it, so many questions about the intricacies…I exploited that. I had ideas and plans and a wealth of homeless and desperate people to experiment on, so I played, gentlemen. Oh, how I played, exploring the physiology of the nervous system to depths I don't imagine any other scientist ever has. And I learned so much. How to control people via remote control, obviously, and how to shut down the sense so quickly you barely have time to realize what's going on…but also how to make sure that anyone who managed to disobey my orders would immediately be disposed of. You break the rules, you die instantly. And I've ordered you to not consciously use your powers while you're under my control."
"Consciously? Why so specific?"
"I had to be. As you're well aware, some of your abilities – your metabolism and the like – are out of your control. I think your brain would have automatically slowed those things to comply with the order, but I didn't want to take the chance. That is the one difficult thing about this, is the specificity one must go to in order to ensure orders can be obeyed without conflicting with previous, unrescinded imperatives. Right now that's especially important, since we're just gearing up. Later, when I have legions, it won't matter so much, but with superheroes, I want to be careful. You're the officers of my advance, and therefore worth far more to me than the peons upstairs." His pocket gave a low, short beep suddenly. "…One of whom has just died, coincidentally, from disobeying an order. Which one, though, I wonder? They all did their job in keeping you distracted long enough for the gas to work…"
Flash and Batman watched as their captor hurried to the opposite wall and turned on a large screen that had been invisible in the shadows. Security cameras, the cowled man thought. Of course. The screen was divided into several blocks; three showed the rooms of the warehouse while the others featured dim, dank-looking halls and rooms that he could only assume were the areas surrounding their current location. A couple of guards stalked the passages, their faces bored. Beside him, he heard Flash gasp. "What?"
"The boys. Upper left panel," he hissed back.
His eyes flew to the corner of the screen. Damn it, Robin! I told you to go back to the cave if we didn't return! Get out of here! He paused, watching as the child moved swiftly among the bodies on the floor. Is that…is the floor opening up on the left? He could just see the edge of a set of stairs at the bottom of the panel. We must be underground, then. It doesn't smell like sewer, though… He thought for a moment. Several years earlier, he recalled, there had been an effort to punch a new tunnel under the river nearby. A station had even been built in preparation for the tunnel's opening, which was touted as guaranteed to bring new life to the warehouse district by providing easier access to the rest of the city. Two days before the first train went through, however, the tunnel collapsed. The city engineers said it must have been sabotage, but Batman knew better. He'd checked it out, suspecting criminal activity, and had found that the riverbed was insufficiently stable to support the weight of the structure. It hadn't been sabotage, just stupidity.
…And now we're inside the station, he realized. It's been abandoned for years, it makes perfect sense for someone like Sawyer to be using it. That explains how he has access to the electricity to run that screen and his cameras. Now that I think about it, I can't believe no one's tried turning it into a base of operations before.
"Ooh, what have we here?" Sawyer cooed, noticing the two small figures holding a discussion at the top of his secret entrance. "Little heroes. How completely adorable is that? Rushing in after their daddies, full no doubt of tales of bravery and friendship. So sweet." He smile turned sharp. "It gives me some very fun ideas, you know…I've never tried the serum on children." Turning, he was confronted by a pair of paternalistic snarls that would have melted half the criminals in Gotham.
The one time I wish I'd left my lenses up, Batman cursed, lips pulled back from his teeth. "Don't even think about it, Sawyer," he growled.
"So protective," the chemist praised him. "I would say excellent parenting, but then again you gave him a costume and brought him here tonight, so…maybe not." He pulled what looked like a homemade walkie-talkie out of his pocket. "Now you get to see how this works," he taunted. "Green team. Two children have infiltrated the facility. You are to capture them and bring them to me." He paused. "Don't hurt them too badly."
"You'll have to catch them first," Flash grinned.
"I assume that this one," he tapped where Kid Flash was just throwing a final glance up the stairs before letting the secret door shut behind him, "has abilities similar to yours. In which case, the little one must belong to Batman. Green team has been trained well, I assure you; they'll take the easy one first, and use him to coerce the other out of hiding. I'm sure you'll be having a touching reunion in just a few short minutes. Then we can get to work. I'm thinking perhaps a little dueling, master versus apprentice. Not to the death, of course, I wouldn't want to waste any of you. Or…oh, and this is even better…I'll just have you beat them for no apparent reason, then give them the serum and order them to believe that they were beaten by the guards. The scars will remain subconsciously – I'll bet they flinch every time you raise your hand near them after that – but they won't know why they're a little afraid of you. You'll remember, though…"
No. I'm not doing that, Flash swore to himself. I will never lay a hand on Wally like that. He's already gotten too much of that from his father, I'll never do it to him. "I won't do," he negated, shaking his head.
"You will do it."
"No. I won't. I don't care if refusing makes my head explode, I won't abuse him."
"Hmm. We'll see." He turned to Batman. "And you? You're the cold, calculating one; surely you realize that a fully trained adult is more likely to be able to stop me than a simple child. You wouldn't kill yourself to keep from hitting him. After all, it's not as if I expect you to kill him. And if something happened and he did die, well…you can always make another. Or isn't he your biological child? If he isn't, I imagine it will be much easier for you to obey."
"On which count, Batman? Enlighten me."
"Ahh, you've grown attached!" He leaned in close. "I can't wait to watch you hurt him. I think you might cry doing it, you know."
"You won't, when the time comes," Sawyer predicted. "Because you know I'm right. Without at least one of you in the world, replete as you now are with the secrets of my project, there's virtually no chance of anyone stopping me. In a way," he pondered, "I suppose I may have planted the seeds of my own downfall. Oh, wait!" He held up the controller and waved it about. "I can just order you not to stop me. Watch, it's easy." He lowered it to his lips. "Batman and Flash, do not stop me," he intoned. "And you didn't even feel it, did you? But you won't stop me now. You can't. You're mine. And, I might add, if you both kill yourselves by disobeying such a simple order, you leave them in my hands, under my control…with no one to even attempt to protect them." Leaning on the edge of the table, he crossed his arms and stared at them giddily. "Let me explain some of the intricacies of my serum while we wait. No one else really gets it, but I'll give you two a spin." With that, he leapt off into jargon and formula, lost in his own brilliance.
Batman listened carefully, absorbing every detail he could. He says he can make us forget, but I doubt the memory will be wiped, he reasoned. It's more likely to just be tucked away. Martian Manhunter may be able to retrieve the information at some point. His eyes, though, stayed riveted to the screens still flashing behind the narcissistic Sawyer. The boys had encountered their first guards in a hallway, and he watched anxiously as they took them down. I wish there was sound. Robin landed a particularly clean uppercut to a man half again his height, and Batman nearly smiled. Nice one, partner. The young duo regrouped and made their way out of sight. He surveyed the other blocks for them, but they seemed to have entered an area where there were no cameras. Whatever you do, Robin, he thought fervently, desperately wishing he were telepathic, don't get caught.