Monday, September 29, 2008

Attack by Fire: Three in the Morning

Vasilissa stepped out onto her balcony, and took a deep breath of the cool, fresh air. It was the beginning of autumn, and, while the days were still warm and sunny, in the evenings it cooled off dramatically, with fresh air blowing in from the north. By this time, well after midnight, it could be quite chilly.

She thought back to her days as a girl in the country – back before her innocence was taken from her, before she was forced into a life of prostitution.

In recent months, she was permitting herself to think more and more about her childhood.

It was as if she could sense that soon she would be back there, a kid again, and not here, as a high-class call girl in Gotham City.

A small rustle could be heard on the balcony behind her.

She smiled.

"Aren't you taking a chance? How many times have they tried to kill you, right outside my apartment?"

She turned around, and saw the giant, looming figure, towering over her, and smiled a little more.

"They're pretty busy right now," he answered matter-of-factly.

His low, raspy voice had a way of getting her attention.

"Your attack last night hurt Falcone."

She thought about it, and smiled some more. Somehow, he had broken into that place where girls were being introduced to their lives as prostitutes.

The new girls had been brought in from all over the globe, and from all over Gotham City and Gotham's suburbs. She knew the drill – they were beaten, forced to take drugs, raped – all to get them compliant, all to get them dependent on drugs and ready to do anything to pay for them, all to get them used to sex with strange men – all to break their will.

But last night was different. A giant man dressed in flowing black broke into this one place, released the girls, turning them out into the streets with clothes, blankets -- and the money from the establishment. The men who ran the place were found beaten, tied and hung on the wall outside, with the drugs they use on the girls – mostly narcotics – stuffed in their pockets and in the alleyway at their feet. The computers in which they kept the records of the establishment, as well as assorted files and incriminating paperwork, were there in the alleyway, too. The inside of the building was burning furiously, and the rats and cockroaches were climbing out of the building, some of them scurrying over the beaten and bruised men who had run the place. It was quite a scene the Gotham police and firefighters found when they arrived.

The paperwork implicated Mr. Falcone in narcotics- and arms-trafficking, trafficking of women for forced prostitution... the paperwork tied in several of Gotham's elected officials to the prostitution network, with some surprising names on the list of clients seeking the newest, most beautiful girls Falcone had to offer.

Of course, Falcone's men in the Gotham Police Department were keeping the lid on it, for the most part, but word was leaking out.

"I think he does business with Falcone, because he came here today to ask what I know about you," she commented, turning back to look at the Gotham City skyline, the smile disappearing from her face.

"It is because of your father that you're here," the low, raspy whisper answered from behind her. "He does business with the same cartel that trafficked you – they also traffic in heroin. They are also instrumental in paying off Gotham's politicians. In fact, Councilman McMullen and Councilman Lidden are both on their payroll." He paused, imaging the recognition in her eyes of the names – one a candidate for mayor, the other a candidate for vice-mayor, the running mate of the first man's opponent – both promising change, each blaming the politics of the other's faction for Gotham City's problems.

"The cartel that trafficked you is key to supplying Falcone with the heroin he distributes here in Gotham," he continued, "and Falcone supplies them with cocaine, marijuana and synthetic drugs, which they traffic in the eastern suburbs. Your father does business with all of them."


"His stated goal is to allow Gotham City to become so corrupt that it collapses of its own weight."

"And what about what happened to me?"

"As far as I can tell, he is not happy about that, but he writes you off as a casualty of his version of a war on crime – a war that is very profitable for him, since he has become a criminal himself."

Vasilissa – Nyssa – thought of her father, Ra's al Ghul. She had only the vaguest of memories of him, from when she was very young. "How convenient," she commented disgustedly. "I know about the mayor's 'War on Crime', but what about his?"

"He was misled, and has become part of the problem, and now he makes money by furthering the problem, justifying his actions as necessary to end the problem – just as he justifies what happened to you as martyrdom for his cause."

"Just like Aladdin," she added.

"Just like Aladdin," he repeated.

She turned to him. "So what is your story?" she asked.

He looked at her, as she stepped closer.

"I want to leave this life, I want to escape..." she began. She paused, and for the first time in many years, she felt like a little girl, and was at a loss for words speaking to a man – for the first time since she had been a teenager, she found a man thoroughly attractive. "I would like to help you, and I know you don't spend all your time in that outfit," she explained, eyeing the Batsuit. "I...."

She stopped, and turned away, covering her face.

"You probably wouldn't want anything to do with a prostitute, would you?"

There was a pause as Vasilissa – Nyssa – turned back and looked, not at the giant figure, but into the eyes of the man who was Batman.

"Nyssa, what you have gone through is terrible, it is more than anyone should ever have to go through..." he began.

"Oh, spare me," she interrupted with a smile.

"You have received 'three in the morning'," he continued, undeterred.

Again there was a pause.

"'Three in the morning' – what's that?"

Bruce Wayne looked at the master.

"Yes," the master commented. "It must have been very traumatic. Far more than a little boy should have to face."

"I can still see it all, like it was yesterday – every detail, in slow motion: how he shot my mom, and she fell to the ground, her blood pouring out into the gutter; how the pearl necklace that my father and I had given her that day broke, and the pearls fell into the gutter beside her; how he leveled the gun at my forehead, and would have shot me, too, had his partner not called him away. When I turned around, I saw that my father had been shot, too, but he was still alive...."

The master turned away, as Bruce Wayne wiped his eyes.

"You have received 'three in the morning'."

"What does that mean?" Wayne asked, clearing his throat.

"A man kept monkeys," began the master. "On the morning of the first day that he had them, he went to their cage, and said to them: 'You each get three bananas in the morning, and four in the afternoon.' Of course, this made the monkeys irate, and they protested loudly. The man then said, 'Okay, okay, you get four bananas in the morning, and three in the afternoon.' Hearing this the monkeys quieted down, and were quite content again as the man gave them their four bananas."

"I don't get it," Wayne commented, intrigued by the story.

"Don't you? Three plus four, or four plus three – either way, each monkey gets seven bananas each day, but one arrangement made them very angry, while the other arrangement made them content."

"Well, they're monkeys, what do you expect? But, we are people, not monkeys, and we don't think like that."

"I would hope not, Mr. Wayne," the master smiled.

"That's an interesting way of looking at things, Mr. Batman," Nyssa commented thoughtfully, turning back to him.

"It's not at all that you were forced into a life as a prostitute, Nyssa," he said, stepping closer to her. "Even if you had chosen this life, that wouldn't be it," he continued. "Everyone knows how beautiful you are on the outside, but what is a secret is how beautiful you are on the inside." He paused. "You have had to experience some things that no one should ever have to experience, and this has left you a little cynical, but inside, you have never given up hope, and the experience in a way has made you a very warm, tender, caring person. On top of that, you are intelligent and witty, you have educated yourself, you are polite and have excellent manners.... You have the best part of your life ahead of you – you will get five, or maybe even six bananas in the afternoon," he added with a smile, as she smiled, and even blushed a little. "In so many ways, you're so very special...."

"But..." she continued his thought.

"But there are more girls like you out there right now, and there is still time to save many of them from having to go through what you went through. And beyond that, all of Gotham City is in danger now because of Aladdin and your father, and their mutual desire to destroy it."

She nodded, her smile disappearing slowly. "And you can't let anything – or anyone – distract you."

"Situation reversed, would you?"

She turned back to look at Gotham City, thinking about it for a moment, then, mustering a renewed smile, she answered, "No, I don't suppose I would." Turning back to him, she added, "But I still want out of this prison I am in."

He smiled. "The prison bars, the prison walls – it's all an illusion. You can walk away any time you want to."

She thought about that, then looked at him. "And what about the prison you are in? Is that an illusion, too?"

The smile disappeared from his face for a moment, and more than ever, his face seemed to be the mask of the dark outfit he wore.

"I, like you, have received three in the morning," he answered slowly.

It was quiet for a moment, then, suddenly, he ran and jumped off the balcony, his cape opening wide as he began his descent.

She stepped over to the rail and looked down, but already Batman had vanished.

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