Occupation of Gotham City: Day 20
So nice of the people still running GCN to provide that count at the bottom of the screen so you never forget how long it has been, Bruce thought bitterly. Ever since Selina took Barsad's knife from him, Barsad refused to come inside the cage and brought an automatic rifle with him when he delivered their meal for the day. Bruce had no doubt that the man trusted by Bane to guard them would shoot Selina if she escaped. Selina must have thought so too, even though she didn't say why she stopped fiddling with the door lock and focused on the pile of rocks instead. They established a routine of sorts: sleep until Barsad delivered the MREs and water, taking care of Bruce's needs, followed by Selina's game of Tetris rocks, and exercising to stay strong enough to drag Bruce around. Since neither of them could escape the blaring television, watching it was unavoidable.
Selina used the knife to pry on a football-shaped rock about head level in the rock slide. Bruce didn't have the heart to tell her Barsad would thwart an exit through that mess as quickly as he would the clear tunnel, so he dropped his head and turned back to the television.
Mike Engle stood outside the Stock Exchange building. "Disturbing rumors have been swirling around Gotham City Stock Exchange," Engle explained to the camera. "People Bane's Army took are held as prisoners in the basement and their fates are being decided by tribunals held on the floor. We have been invited to bear witness to the truth."
The camera followed Engle and a rowdy crowd into the building and down the polished halls. They passed the main corridor and stairs leading to the main floor of the Exchange now blocked with barbed wire, chain-link fencing, and armed men. The crowd headed up the stairs and into a long room only lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows evenly spaced. Bleachers had been dragged to the outer wall. The crowd pushed onto these seats while the camera panned over the rest of the room. A much-abused, gold-upholstered chair sat at the end closest to the stairwells and the camera. The crowd unable to sit on the bleachers or holding guns lined up beside the camera and created a corridor between the chair and an arched alcove at the end of the room. The alcove was filled by a mountain built out of desks and stacks of paper.
A man in a tattered black robe with a fur-lined collar clambered up the desks and sat down at the apex desk. The camera focused on the figure. "Crane!" Bruce exclaimed at the same time Engle's voice confirmed, "That is Jonathan Crane, who took on the moniker Scarecrow when he pushed hallucinogenic drugs on the street."
Selina stopped chipping with the knife. "Wasn't he the guy in charge of Arkham who went nuts?"
"He was hired by the League of Shadows to create the fear toxin and put it in Gotham's water supply. No wonder they tapped him for this sideshow."
"At least he isn't wearing the burlap," Selina said. The chipping sound resumed.
Men with automatic rifles dragged a man from the second stairwell to the gold chair. They shoved him into it and stepped away. The camera panned and zoomed on Crane again, who looked up from the stack of papers on the desk. "Richard Daniel, this is your sentencing hearing."
The camera focused on Daniel sweating where he sat. "What's going on? You're not a judge!" Selina stopped chiseling again and padded closer on her sock-clad feet.
"And this isn't a trial because you are already guilty, Richard Daniel, vice-president of Gotham First National Bank. Guilty of hoarding money and repackaging debt as a commodity to be bought and sold. Guilty of foreclosing on people's homes when they could no longer afford the inflated prices you created." The crowd jeered and Crane banged a gavel until they quieted themselves. "This is your sentencing hearing. The choice is yours, exile or death?"
The crowd chanted for death while Daniel gaped. "What!" he yelled.
"Death then," Crane answered cheerfully. "Next!"
Engle pulled the camera to him while armed men dragged Daniel from the chair. "Summer, back to you."
The studio reappeared with Summer Gleeson talking to someone off camera. "We won't go to Vicky until Mike is out of there!"
"Exile?" Selina asked. "Bane giving people a way out of Gotham doesn't make any sense."
"He's having Crane lie to people to make them think they have hope." Bruce scowled.
Selina sighed and turned back to the rocks. She grunted as the football-shaped rock scraped the stone it rested amid and popped free. She caught it against her body.
"Okay, Vicky, you're live now."
The screen shifted to the petite brunette on the roof of a building. "Following a tip that something is happening in West Chelsea Park, my cameraman and I approached it this morning. Armed guards at the gate turned us away. We found this vantage point that allows up to see into the park."
The camera moved from Vicky Vale's face and focused on the green space across the street. A yellow excavator was parked next to a long pit dug into the outfield of a baseball diamond. "As you can see, they dug a trench inside the park--wait. A truck is approaching."
A drab green transport truck they must have stolen from the National Guard armory parked next to the excavator. Armed men jumped out and encouraged their prisoners out of the truck.
"They're making them line up along the edge of the pit," Vicky narrated. "I see two uniformed police officers. Most everyone else looks like normal citizens." Bruce gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. The rest of the dozen looked like people dragged out of their homes on East Park Side.
Even at the distance they were at, the camera and Vicky's microphone picked up the gunfire as the line of bodies fell into the grave pit. The rock hit the concrete floor inside their cage.
"Oh my God, oh my God," Vicky stuttered into her microphone. "They shot them. They shot them!"
Selina sat beside him. Bruce plucked the knife from her trembling hands and hid it under the blanket. "They murdered those people?" Her face paled as she stared at the television.
She needed to focus on anything else. If Barsad came down the tunnel now, he would attack her. "How do you like your storm?" he blurted.
Her brown eyes looked down at his face. "What I wanted was the poor and hungry to demand that everyone get the same rules, not the Reign of Terror minus the guillotine!" Her cheeks flamed. "Who is still getting screwed in this farce? The poor who don't own a gun. All that has happened in the thugs Bane prefers are gorging themselves instead of the trust fund brigade." She jumped off the cot and marched to the table.
GCN had turned back to the studio and a pale Summer Gleeson. He looked at Selina instead. "Gotham's turning on itself. Even the Joker didn't manage that."
"Are you giving up on them?" She set the water bottle back on the table next to the unopened MRE. "The cops that stuck their necks out were killed. The mayor and the rest of the City Council are dead. For those who don't know how to fight, the safest thing to do is hide until someone tells them what to do."
"And they have no leader. The reactor is a time bomb, and I can't do anything!" He stopped himself from hitting the cot, but left his fingers curled up.
She sauntered back to the cot. "Do you think it's any better for me?" She pressed her lips together.
He uncurled his fist and held his hand out to her. She sat down beside him. He pulled her down against his chest. She tucked her head into his neck and didn't complain about his stubble. He rubbed her back.
Selina jerked up and Bruce rolled his head back. A dirty brown hand extended out of the hole Selina had made in the rock pile. They both looked down the tunnel. No Barsad.
"I heard you talking. No need to clam up now."
Selina moved to the rock pile. "Keep it down. We have a guard. We don't need to spook his trigger-happy ass."
The woman withdrew her arm. "I'm Officer Renee Montoya out of the Fifty-Second Precinct with Officers Jensen and Kelly. Who are you and where are we?"
"We're prisoners of Bane left behind when he moved on up," Selina answered. A voice further behind the rocks said something Bruce couldn't make out. "We're in a cage. By the time we made a hole big enough to get through, he'll shoot us all."
"We have guns," Montoya's voice retorted.
"You could have the rest of the police force that's stuck under Downtown and it would still be too big of a risk." Selina took the MRE they hadn't eaten yet and stuffed the plastic bag through the hole. "Here, you guys probably need this."
Montoya pulled the MRE through. "I'd rather escape."
Selina rolled her eyes and looked back at Bruce. "I'd rather have a back doctor than a bunch of cops if we're playing if wishes were horses."
There was a scuffle behind the rocks, and then a young man's voice spoke. "What's wrong with your back?"
"It's not my back; it's my cellmate's. He can't move his legs or toes, but he feels touch and pressure."
"Sounds like one of his lumbar vertebrae is dislocated and putting enough pressure on the spinal cord to cause partial paralysis."
"Bane's medic said it was L3," Selina said. "How do you fix it?"
"Traction for eight weeks after you put the disc back in place."
Bruce looked up at the ceiling and let his neck muscles relax. The top bar of this cage would support his weight, but they needed a rope. He squeezed the blanket in his hands.
"How do you know this?" Selina asked.
You could hear the embarrassment from the other side. "My father is a chiropractor," he answered.
Bruce sliced the blanket with the knife. He ripped a thin strip from it.
"Keep heckling the rookie quietly, okay?" Selina walked back to the cot. "What are you doing?"
"Making rope." He tore another strip off the blanket. He glanced up at her raised eyebrows. "You can't hold me up for eight weeks of traction."
"I'm not a medical professional. Hell, I've never even pretending to be one for a con."
He tore off a third strip. "People are dying. I'm the out clause, the unexpected, the one who can do what must be done that no one else can. Gotham needs me." He tied the three strips together at one end and braided them. "Bane wants us to stew down here in helplessness. That stops now."
Selina hugged herself. "I hate it when you're right."
"That's the part of all this you hate?" He tied off the end of the braid.
"No, it just jumped up to first on the list." She walked back to the hole in the rock slide. "My cellmate wants to take the medical gamble and that will make our guard shit a brick. Can you guys behave so he doesn't shove a grenade in there with you?"
"He won't know we're here," Montoya said.
Selina rejoined Bruce at the cot and took the three new strips. He tore the rest of the blanket without commenting on her pinched expression. They finished braiding in silence and ended up with a rope about fifteen feet long.
After she hid the knife, she tied a loop in the rope. "Changed you mind yet?"
"What if I mess up your back even worse?"
He took the loop and pulled it around his chest and under his arms. "Don't worry, I'll still love you." His stomach clenched when he realized what he admitted and how very frozen she went.
Her walled-off face wouldn't betray anything, except he already knew her masks. "You shouldn't joke about that," she said.
He ran his hands up her arms and tugged her down into an embrace. "I wasn't," he said huskily. His mouth latched onto hers.
She returned the kiss just as hard. It ended but she didn't pull back as she stared into his eyes. "I'm here and I'm helping you. You know what that means?"
"Yes." He ran his fingertips down her cheek.
Her body shivered against his. "Let's do this before I change my mind." She pushed the cot against the fencing. She climbed up it to wrap the other end of the rope over the top pole.
Bruce held his breath as she dropped off the fence. The loop tightened under his arms and jerked him upright. Selina hauled on the rope. A cry seeped past his gritted teeth as he grabbed the rope and his legs hung uselessly. She pulled him higher and kicked the cot out of the way. He felt the rough concrete scrape the top of his feet before she inched him higher.
She tied the rope off while he gasped. Her hands slid against his sweaty back. Her lips pressed against his shoulder before she punched his lower back.
Pain ripped up his spine and he howled with it. It continued scrambling into his brain, and gave blackness in return.
Selina stumbled against the cot to look at Bruce's face when his scream died. He had passed out, but his pulse was still strong. She rubbed his stubble-covered jaw. "This better work."
She moved the cot further away when she heard Barsad's running feet. He approached the fencing with his finger on the trigger of his automatic rifle. "What is this?" He gestured at Bruce with the gun barrel.
She resisted the urge to step between Bruce and the gun. Barsad would just love that excuse. "He's pretending to be a piņata."
Barsad scowled. "Why did you tie him up?"
"He wanted me to. I guess his kink is into more equal time than yours."
Barsad's gaze roved over the cage while his scowl deepened. "Digging for a way out?"
"A rock fell out while we were watching the Judge Scarecrow show. I think all your boom-booms ruined the structural integrity--"
"Shut up, Whore." Barsad gestured with his rifle. "Lie down on your stomach."
She ignored the urge to flee and the urge to punch him in the face that followed it so rapidly they were almost the same urge. She followed his directions, but laid down facing the gate, and kept her head up.
He marched to the cot, pressed the gun barrel against her head, and dangled a zip tie in front of her nose. "Tie your arm to the cot's leg."
The cot's collapsible legs formed an X under the fabric mattress. She pressed her left thumb and forearm against the outside of the cot's leg. She wrapped the zip tie around the metal and her wrist and pulled it tight. Barsad tied down her right arm the same way before moving away. His boots crunched on the pebbles. Then his gun opened fire. Selina tried unsuccessfully to cover her ears with her shoulders. She hoped those cops took her warning seriously.
Barsad seized the hem of the T-shirt and ripped upwards. Both halves fluttered down on her sides. He pulled his belt free from his pants. "What is the Traitor planning?"
"It was either tie him up or listen to him bitch. Gee, I wonder why I went with option A."
The leather strap landed across her mid-back. Selina inhaled through her teeth. "What is he planning?" When she didn't answer, his belt hit across her shoulders. "Answer me, Whore!"
The belt stung across her ass. "You can't beat out of me what I don't know, you fanatical bastard! Would you like a dirty limerick?" He lashed across her back again. She gulped down air. "Let's skip to the end. I don't know what he's planning, you storm off in a huff, and then bring back a blanket so I don't catch pneumonia down here and spread it to him and you."
Barsad walked up to the gate and opened it. She watched him disappear down the tunnel. The whelps on her skin burned. Bruce had to stay in traction for eight weeks and he needed food and water. No matter how much she wanted to bash Barsad's face in--she ground her teeth together--she didn't know enough about the other end of the tunnel to risk Bruce's life. And now the lives of the cops, if Barsad hadn't killed them.
She put her feet on the floor so she straddled the cot. With her weight off the fabric and aluminum, she lifted the front legs. The zip tie cut into her forearm, but she pushed her left arm down the slanted leg. The plastic finally slid down the metal and over the rubber foot. She lowered the cot, and straightened her legs on it again. She needed a rest before freeing her right arm.
Barsad returned before she freed her right arm--she expected him to make her sweat for at least an hour over the blanket--carrying a mass of black fabric. He dropped the fabric and it formed a velvety pool on the floor in front of her. He walked behind her again. "You must earn that blanket, Whore." He unzipped his pants.