Men kept in cages like laboratory animals; caged and experimented upon.
Barry was the first one I found. An Inquisitor scientist, Barry emerged from a laboratory accident with a great gift. The gift of incredible speed. There was so much he could have done, so much good he might have accomplished. And, with God as my witness, Barry was a good man. It's true I only knew him for a short while, less than two hours all told, really, before he died; murdered, as surely as I live and breathe, by that demon Erdel.
With my aid, Barry escaped his 'hamster cage', as he called it. But there were others. Using the basics of the electrified chemicals that granted Barry his abilities, Doctor Saul Erdel, the Chief of the Project, was directed by the State to try and create others like Barry. He was never successful. But that did not stop him for repeatedly trying. The waste, the human wreckage he left in the wake of his diligent efforts was appalling.
A young woman whose brain was the only part of her body to be affected by the chemical bath...who couldn't slow down her thought processes, whose mind raced at the speed of sound, trapped in a body a thousand times slower...
A three year old boy who was aging at the rate of three years for every week of life...who was dead within six months of his immersion in the chemical bath. And who never really understood what was happening to him.
And then there was Arthur...
Barry was the one who led me to Arthur, but he knew almost nothing about him. Arthur is "an amphibious humanoid with limited telepathic abilities", according to the records. What he truly is ... is a tragedy. A living breathing tragedy. Barry was one of Erdel's "pets" before the doctor killed him. He did not know where Arthur came from, but he did know that he grieved for him. They studied Arthur, like Barry; like Barry, they tried to break him to their will, to use him. He...broke. Into myriad tiny pieces. I shall never forget my first sight of Arthur, floating in his glass tank, staring sightlessly out of unfocused eyes as blue as the sea which was meant to be his home, his knees clutched to his chest in a tight fetal position, like an unborn child in the womb.
"Arthur? Arthur, can you hear me?" The pain in Barry's whispered voice will also stay with me for a very long time. Like many things I saw and heard in the Project. In his tank, Arthur floated, drifting aimlessly, lost in his own impenetrable world of torment.
"Damn it, Arthur, say something..." Barry whispered, and I saw tears spilling down his cheeks, "...say something..."
But Arthur remained silent.
No, Barry did not know Arthur's story. It was left to Barbara, surreptitiously hacking deep into the Project's datafiles, to learn the truth about Arthur. A secluded light house keeper in Baffin Bay named Tom Curry found Arthur, living with a pod of dolphins and befriended him. And then he turned him over to the State. Arthur cost the government many more than the traditional thirty pieces of silver that is a traitor's reward.
Arthur was the only one I was able to save. And had it not been for Garth, I should have failed at that, too. Garth is Arthur's son. Barry never knew about Garth. Erdel had special plans for Garth, you see. Garth was a *sucesssful* experiment. Arthur was not the only mer-folk the serendipitous light house keeper Tom Curry encountered, it seems. Her name was Lori, and Curry dallied with her for a time. And then, when he tired of her, he turned her over to the Project, like Arthur. In point of fact, Arthur and Lori have several children. Erdel mated them more than once. Oh, not in the traditional sense, to be sure. Arthur was catatonic and...incapable. It's amazing what can be done in a laboratory these days, though. Garth, however, was ultimately the only survivor.
Garth does not much resemble the blond haired, blue eyed Arthur. He is quite a handsome young man with his dark hair and vivid purple eyes. Even the scars over his right eye, the result of an "unencouraging experiment", only make him look rakish, vaguely piratical. He must look like his mother, Lori. I cannot say. I never met her. Like so many, many others, God alone knows *how* many, she was dead before I ever knew about the Project. In fact, she died giving birth to Garth. But Garth is very much alive.
And angry. So very, very angry...
With Garth's help, I managed to smuggle both he and his father Arthur from the clutches of the State. But not before Barry was dead. Erdel was genuinely sad about that, I think. In his twisted way he was very fond of Barry. It didn't stop him from killing him, of course.
"Even though his usefulness as a test subject ended months ago, I *had* become rather fond of him," Erdel observed dispassionately as he pressed a certain button on his remote computer link. "Still," he smiled, "I did discover something worthwhile from studying him, after all." I will forever remember the sight of the fiery blaze that sprang up around Barry's body as he hurtled forward, moving at superspeed, racing for Erdel's throat. That...and the smell of burning flesh. I'm going to take that smell to my gave, I fear.
"Namely," Erdel continued, quite as if he were lecturing to a classroom bursting with eager students, "the electrochemical 'aura' that his body generates to protect him from friction. I learned how to measure it...how to duplicate it..."
Erdel didn't even pause as he pronounced his death sentence.
" ... and how to neutralize it." he said.
Barry's last word, murmured as he burned hideously was a name.
It was easy for Barbara to locate Iris West, Barry's former fiancee. She is a well known reporter for the Central City Picture News. I hesitated for quite some time before I dared approach her, though. How would she react to my terrible news, I wondered? In which direction might her grief push her? Toward *me*? Or toward the State? But, in the end, I had to speak. Surely, I owed Barry that much, at least. As it happens, I needn't have worried. Iris West was as brave as she was lovely. And she was no fool. No stranger to the truth about the Privy Council and its abuses of power. She knew nothing of the Project, I discovered, not very much to my surprise. I watched her eyes widen with horror as I told her that Barry had not died in that laboratory accident as she was told. And then rage consumed her when I told her of his fate at the hands of Erdel. Her hands balled into fists as she wept.
Merciful God...so many, many angry people.
Where does it end? Where?
Barry was already dead when I fought the clay-faced thing Erdel called "Matthew". Fought...and lost. The malleable, speechless creature held me firmly in its grasp, entrapped, as Erdel directed it toward his private lab. To my everlasting horror, I realized that he meant to "examine" me. He thought I was more than human, thanks to my hard learned skill at protecting myself. He was wrong about that. But, stubbornly, he refused to be persuaded otherwise. Defiantly, I swore that there would always be people like me, like Barry; people who resisted both him and the State.
"Perhaps," he admitted with a rueful glance at my stiff back, my determined visage, not entirely hidden by my cowl. "But, if so, then we'll deal with them..." Grandly, with his own pointed show of defiance, he swung open the doors to his lab and "Matthew" pushed me through.
"...like this!" Erdel cried.
The body hanging from its cross of medical equipment was a bright unnatural shade of green. The man, if such he was, lay still and lifeless on his cross like Christ, Our Lord at his crucifixion. A stray curl of unruly dark hair spilled onto his high forehead. My heart clenched at the piteous sight; he looked so very young. Somehow, without being told I knew that something extraordinary had been taken from out of our poor world; ripped untimely from the fabric of Creation.
Something...someone important; perhaps irreplaceable. At the look of utter devastation that seized my face, Saul Erdel tapped his teeth with a sad contemplative finger.
"A God fearing couple in Kansas found him, and turned him over to us. Most powerful specimen I've ever studied," he mused. "An astonishing array of abilities. The older he got, the more powerful he seemed to become..." The light glinted off the lenses of his round, polished glasses under the lab's harsh actinic lighting.
"...and the more rebellious," Erdel stressed, turning his pointed gaze once more upon me. "He became more and more difficult to control until, finally, we had to eliminate the threat by using a bit of radioactive debris we discovered on the spacecraft he was found in."
Sorrow ground me beneath its cruel heel. I swear that tears misted my eyes, burning hot and scalding to my chill cheeks. I did not try to stop them. Tragedies need to be wept over. An unfathomable sense of loss, of hope destroyed and discarded, almost overwhelmed me. With an aching heart I recalled Charles McNider's words of warning not to place my faith in the myth of 'the Green Man'...
I embraced my rage then, all the anger that I had spent half my life denying, struggling against. It felt...glorious...fulfilling...as if I were whole for the first time in my life...
God forgive me...I - I killed that thing Erdel called "Matthew". Deliberately. A laboratory is an odd, useful place; in more ways than one. If a man is clever he never lacks for an appropriate weapon in such surroundings. I used a tank of liquid nitrogen to literally freeze "Matthew" and then I - I picked up a heavy office chair and shattered him. Perhaps God will forgive me. But I cannot forgive myself. Staring in horror at the remains of what must have once been a human soul, I swore yet another oath. Never again. Never again would I take life. That was for God alone to decide. Not me.
During the struggle, Erdel drew a gun. When "Matthew" was dead, he threatened me with it, promising to run his tests on my corpse if need be. Lashing out, I struck his arm, throwing off his aim. Dropping to the safety of the floor, I heard several shots ring out, saw the bullets strike the Green Man on his cross...
And ricochet off.
Erdel was hit high in the chest, in the heart, by one of the ricocheting shots. He must have died almost instantly. The poetic irony struck me hard, almost like a physical blow. Erdel had not stripped The Green man of all his power along with his life, after all. Instead, he had found his own sudden death. God's justice, if you will.
I looked upon the man hanging on his cross and a small, soft smile blossomed at the corners of my mouth. Somehow, though, without being told, I knew that this was not the way he would have wanted it. To be the death of another person, I suspected, even adventently like this, would have shamed and horrifed, him, I think.
Gently, as if I feared to cause him further pain, I lifted him down from his cross of sorrow and woe. He was still warm to my touch. Death could not have come for him, taken him in her fierce embrace, very long ago.
If only I'd come sooner...I might have saved him. Oh, God...
I had no sacraments to offer, and my only vestment was the dark costume I wore to conceal my identity; the one my father had once worn when he portrayed a demon in a local passion play. But still...still, I found my lips moving, whispering the sacred words, administering the Last Rites, Extreme Unction. I am, after all, God's priest.
"O God, please send down from Heaven the Holy Spirit into this rich oil...may all who are anointed with this heavenly medicine be protected in soul and body..."
I did not even know his name as I commended his soul unto the care of Almighty God. Since I did not have a name to call him, I named him from my heart. I called him, "my brother". And he was. I touched his forehead as if my fingers had been immersed in Holy Oil, as, indeed, they should have been for this heartrending task. My hands shook as I made the sign of the Cross upon his bared breast and my eyes burned with unshed tears. God forgive me...grief is a selfish thing. Death need not be a time of loss and sorrow. Indeed, it should be a joy. My brother was Home; in a better place than this veil of tears. How could he not be happy? It was only those left behind who mourn.
I stumbled upon Garth in his watery prison not long after that. He was pounding on the transparent steel of his cage, face distorted in fury, screaming soundless wrath. It didn't take me long to hack my way into Erdel's computer, disengage the access ports and free the amphibious youngster. Together with Arthur, we managed to elude our would be captors.
That was more than two years ago. Many things have changed since then.
As I took my leave of the Project, I swore one last vow to myself: I would return and free as many of those poor, trapped souls as I could. God's mercy...if only I'd known...if only...
But, once again, it took Barbara's massive skills with a computer keyboard to reveal to me the true depths of my folly. And my failure.
With Erdel's death, the Privy Council availed itself of the God-sent opportunity to review the Project. For all his ruthlessness, Erdel had few actual successes. Barry was dead. Likewise for "Matthew" and the Green Man. Arthur was catatonic. Garth was...gone. Whereabouts unknown. Most of the rest of them were detritus...mere human wreckage; failures to be...discarded. Which is precisely what happened to them.
I was too late. By the time I was in any position to help them...most of them were already dead. Put to death by the State as "useless".
The new Chief of the Project, Doctor Hugo Strange, took over with a vengeance. A psychologist, Strange seems to have concentrated on the psi-subjects. His methods, less brutal, more sophisticated than Erdel's clumsy machinations, have resulted in no more "broken" subjects like Arthur. Once he has created a subject, Strange does not waste them as Erdel did. But he, not being the physical scientist that Erdel was, has had only limited success in creating subjects, according to Barbara.
Limited, yes...but he has been successful.
Strange calls him "Adam". He is, in Strange's words, "The first of a new breed of men..." Oddly enough, that appears to be his real name; Adam Blake. Gifted with massive psionic abilities ranging from telepathy to telekinesis, Adam Blake is a mutant; born "100,000 years before his time..." if Strange is to be believed. His mother was a "volunteer" and the only thing she remembers about Adam's birth is the unusual comet that passed overhead as she delivered her child into Strange's greedy, waiting hands.
Oh, yes; I'm still going back to the Project. There is yet work to be done there. Soon. I've learned my lesson the hard way. No more waiting.
I wear many hats these days. To my parishioners in Gotham's downtrodden South Side parish, I am "Father Bruce", the minister of their souls, devout young priest, always willing to extend the hand of mercy in their time of need or sorrow. Always willing to lend an ear when I cannot help them in any other, more concrete way. They are good people, for the most part, my parishioners. Truly the "salt of the Earth". It is my joy, my privilege to care for them. It takes so little, so heartbreakingly little to make them happy. Sometimes a smile, a warm touch from another human being is all it requires. And they tell me things. Many, sometimes useful things.
"Oh, Father Bruce!" whispered Rene Montoya in my confessional less than a week ago. She was a very angry Inquisitor, indeed. "The word's come down from the Council...there's to be a pogrom against suspected Jews within the month! My neighbor...old Mrs. Levy...oh, Father! She's a good woman! When I was hurt last year, she brought me chicken soup by the gallon for weeks until I was better. She visited me in the hospital. They'll...they'll expect me to arrest her! What - what am I going to do, Father?"
"We must all follow our conscience, child," I remember telling her carefully. "You must do as God wills."
When the pogrom came...there were no Jews in all of Gotham's Southside to be swept up in the insanity. We got them all to the safety of Common Europe and freedom.
Including Mrs. Levy. Renee did indeed "follow her conscience".
Yes, they tell me things. And I tell them things...
The Greenberg family have been Christians for more than a generation. They converted at gunpoint during the Nauvoo Massacre after the fall of Zion State around the Great Salt Lake far to the West. Like many Jews, the Greenberg's followed their great spiritual leader Lewis "Moses" Brandeis when he tried to lead them away from oppression. Of Brandeis they still say, "From Moses to Moses...there was no one like Moses..." They wandered for years, chased by dogged hatred and the Church from place to place until they settled in their Zion State and tried to make a home for themselves. At best, Zion State was a poor, frantic attempt at escaping their misery for many Americans of Jewish descent. They had no hope of succeeding, resisting the Army of the Commonwealth that descended upon them almost instantly. They fought valiantly. But they lost. When the Greenberg's moved back to Gotham in the aftermath of that horror, they put their Hebrew roots aside for the sake of survival. They had been loyal citizens ever since...
Not that this would have saved them. The loyalty of "converted" Jews is always suspect. The Greenbergs, all ten of them, might have been killed. Imprisoned at the very least. The Batman woke them from their beds in the middle of a hot, stifling Gotham Summer night, falling in among them like Moses' pillar of fire. Standing before his wife to protect her, I heard Isaac Greenberg mutter hastily beneath his breath the words of the "Shema Yisrael", and I smiled.
I could give them no time to gather any but the most rudimentary of their possessions. A few clothes, a pitiful toy or two for the youngest children, that was all. Isaac Greenberg was a hardworking man, quite successful for a Jew. He and his family would be leaving behind them a cozy home, all their friends, everything; all the security they had ever known. Little as that was. But Isaac Greenberg actually smiled as he faced me, small suitcase in hand.
"Eretz Israel!" he exclaimed, clutching his wife's hand with joy. "If we can make it to Common Europe, then we can go from there to Eretz Israel! Just think of it, Hava! 'Next year in Jerusalem'!"
I pray they made it.
Yes, many things have changed. Not least of all me. Thank God for Barbara. Barbara Gordon has been a Godsend beyond words. I grew up with Barbara, Jim Gordon's daughter. She's like my younger sister. When Jim came to me, broken and grieving, after the "accident" that shattered her spine and nearly took her life, I was horrified. I spent hours talking to her or simply holding her hand as she slowly - so slowly! - recovered from her terrible injuries.
Jim Gordon is still convinced that Barbara was not mugged and raped by gangbangers, then shot and left for dead. Another "tragic accident"? Jim and I think not. Hot tears cascaded as tough veteran Inquisitor Jim Gordon's choked voice whispered to me of the many warnings, official and unofficial, that he'd too blithely ignored.
"...my little girl..." he wept, "...my poor little girl...my fault...all my fault..." In the end, he gave her like a precious gift into my hands.
"Take care of her, Bruce," he pleaded with me, not really daring to hope that I would do as he asked. It hurt me to hear such a proud man, my friend despite all that lay between us, beg for a boon he did not expect to receive. How could I refuse him?
And all the while that I struggled with her through the torturous physical therapy that followed, I grew angrier and angrier as I watched her pain and suffering. I myself despaired many, many times, but I could not let her see that.
But Barbara herself never gave up. Never. Her spirit overcame the frailty of her poor, shattered body. She is strong, now. Very strong. No, she cannot walk. God has taken that from her. No longer do her racing feet fly about her daily business, her lithe, strong muscles carry her to gymnastic victory. But she has survived; and her wheelchair has no handles in the back because she needs, nor accepts no help from anyone.
Yes, survived...and found new purpose in her life.
Barbara can no longer be the superb athlete she once was. But she has brought her many years of experience as a librarian and researcher into the forefront. From the moment she first sat down before a computer keyboard, it was a match made in Heaven. The Oracle is as well known in many circles as the Batman. Surreptitiously sliding unknown and with effortless ease into one database after another, Oracle gathers and disseminates information, the lifeblood of freedom. "Knowledge is power," Francis Bacon says, and Barbara is living proof of that. I cannot imagine what I would do without her. Gone are the days of misusing Judson's pilfered access code, and I am glad of that. In the beginning, I lived in mortal terror of the possibility that Bishop Caspian might be made to suffer for my "crimes".
Wayne Manor is a home again. Not my home, I fear. The Church, my parish, is my home, now. But a home, nonetheless. After I escaped from the Project, I was in desperate need of a place to shelter Arthur and Garth. What, after all, was I to do with them? My first thought was to encourage them to return to the sea, their home. There they would be safe there from the State, I thought. As safe as anyone ever is. But Arthur was in no condition to fend for himself, and Garth, though he has strength enough to bend steel in those frail looking hands of his, knows nothing of life in the sea. He was held captive all his life until now. How would they survive? But Garth is very intelligent and determined. He WILL be free. Day by day he learns and prepares to make his home in his natural element.
Somewhere out there in the vast ocean depths, there must be others. Others like Arthur and Garth and Lori. Garth has vowed to find them.
In the meantime, he and Arthur have made themselves comfortable in the pool in the basement of Wayne Manor. Garth's telepathic abilities seem to be limited to sea creatures...but then, Arthur is a gift of "Father Poseidon", Garth points out. The boy's telepathy has been invaluable in assisting Alfred and Doctor Thompkins to care for and even help Arthur. Arthur has yet to speak aloud. But he no longer simply floats in aimless catatonia, and Garth says that Arthur is beginning to speak to him telepathically. There is yet hope for Arthur. I remember the tears in Barry's eyes, and for the thousandth time, I find myself wishing that he were here to see this. It would have made him so happy to see Arthur smile.
It wasn't hard to find Alfred, and persuade him to return to Wayne Manor. And with him he brought Doctor Leslie Thompkins. Leslie is a marvel. Of an age with Alfred, she has the same calm, tireless energy as Alfred when it comes to serving her patients. Officially, Wayne Manor is a clinic, now. The Thomas and Martha Wayne Memorial Clinic. By day, Leslie and Alfred see to the needs of the Holy Elite and Gotham's wealthiest citizens, charging them outrageously for the privilege.
By night, Leslie Thompkins is Doctor Midnight, the midnight doctor, who treats society's outcasts, those poor souls who have no other place to turn; victims of the State's many abuses and excesses. She wanders ghostlike wherever she is most needed, treating her suffering patients where she may find them. And she is not alone. Always, Alfred is at her side.
It was, without question, the happiest day of my life when Alfred and Leslie stood before me. Blessing their marriage was the single most joyous thing I have ever done. Alfred...so tall and dignified in his tuxedo...and Leslie...so radiant in her bridal finery, every seam meticulously sewn for her by her doting groom's own hands...
Thanks to them, Wayne Manor is a home again, as it was always meant to be. The lower levels have been taken over by the finest, most modern, up to date, medical equipment and even a small surgery, but the upper levels, the upper levels are a home, a place for family. And the family keeps expanding, a growing organic thing.
End, Part Two