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By Dennis O'Neil
Del ReyCopyright © 2005 Dennis O'Neil
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Chapter OneFrom the Journals of Ra's al Ghul
I remain committed to my goal of saving humanity from itself, but my latest efforts are meeting with mixed results.
The Austrian madman is intoxicated with his successes in North Africa and thus he agreed with our suggestion that he invade Russia. It will be folly, and he will fail as the Frenchman before him failed. The war will end soon. Not this year, certainly, nor the next, but soon, and when it does, Hitler will suffer defeat.
Once, I thought he would be a useful tool. I was mistaken. His hatred is too narrow and narcissistic to accommodate a large vision.
In the meantime, we have managed to divert the energies of his munitions scientists into fruitless efforts. They will not succeed in making a nuclear bomb in the foreseeable future. In America, by way of contrast, our men in New Mexico report that progress on the Americans' atomic weaponry goes well. I will be interested to see against which enemy the Allies will deploy it.
After the end of hostilities I will initiate a new kind of attack. I will use economics as a weapon and attempt to debilitate the despoilers with their own favorite instrument.
That is in the future. For the next several years we will remain in Switzerland. The Austrian is not likely to violate this nation's neutrality, which means my retinue and I will remain in these mountains for the duration. We are undisturbed here and the place pleases me. It is clean and pure and when I breathe the chill, bracing air I am reminded of what a paradise the earth once was and will be again, and I am prompted to redouble my efforts.
Last night, the woman who is my current consort gave birth to a female. I am a methodical man and I keep records. Thus, I know that I have now sired four hundred and fourteen children, all of them except two, female. The two who were male, Hector and Claudius, both died before their first birthdays.
It is a source of the greatest vexation to me that I have been unable to produce a healthy male child. I am a man of rationality and science. I do not believe in curses. But at times I think I am cursed.
I must have a son.
Later, Bruce would come to understand the power of myth: how those ancient stories could deepen and amplify-and distort and falsify-human experience. It was to be one of many lessons he learned from Ra's al Ghul. But that was later. At the moment, though, he slouched in a desk chair in a midwestern classroom, staring out the window and wondering if the bald stick of a professor, who was wearing a tweed jacket even though it was July and this hundred-year-old university could not afford to air-condition its buildings, would ever finish his drone. On and on went the professor, about Jungian archetypes and monomyths and other stuff that Bruce considered absolutely nonessential to any conceivable life he might want to lead, if not plain stupid. Today's topic, the prof had announced in a voice that even he had to know was somniferous, was loss of innocence as exemplified by the biblical Adam and Eve tale and the Buddhist legend of Siddhartha's first exit from his father's estate.
Ho hum, Bruce thought. He had read the material the prof had assigned and several other books on the subject, too; all of which presented the material more cogently than the prof, and none of which interested him.
He vowed to himself that he would never, never waste his time in a liberal arts course again. He had signed up for this one as an experiment and the experiment was a colossal bust. He dropped his gaze to the gold Rolex on his wrist. Would this purgatory ever end?
Twenty minutes later, it had, and Bruce was walking across a quadrangle toward the clock tower in the center of the campus where he had promised to meet the cute girl from his advanced calculus class. He would lend her his notes and she would buy him coffee-that was their deal. To his surprise, he found that his mind kept returning to the class he had just finished enduring and specifically to the Siddhartha story. There were several versions: the simplest of them related how a prince, scion of a wealthy Nepalese family, had been sheltered from the harshness of re- ality until one day he had left his father's grounds and encountered a sick man, an old man, and a corpse. These encounters so upset the young prince that he vowed to live a life of denial until he could make sense of them.
Suddenly Bruce stopped in midstride as he realized, astonished, that he identified with Siddhartha.
And then he remembered the garden behind his parents' mansion. Of course, he did not know it was a "mansion," not until years later, after his parents had died. It was just "indoors" as the garden was "outdoors," and they were all he had ever known, apart from Mother, Father, and funny old Alfred. During his fourth birthday party, Mother, Father, and Alfred brought other children into the house, a lot of other children, who yelled and ran around and gave him presents. He knew he was supposed to like them, but he couldn't. Except for one. She was a little taller than Bruce and she wore a yellow dress and white shoes and in her hair, a yellow ribbon. She didn't yell and run like the others. Her name was Rachel and she was nice.
Rachel, his mother explained, lived in the staff housing near the manor, wherever that was, and Rachel's mother was the Waynes' housekeeper. Mother said that if Bruce wanted to play with her, she could come and visit him often. That was okay with Bruce.
Over the next three years, Bruce had what his mother called "play dates" with other kids, including some he secretly wished would stay away, but Rachel was the friend he saw the most. Sometimes, they would go to where she lived, which seemed very strange to Bruce, full of different smells and old furniture, but mostly they played at Bruce's. Together, they explored every room and then ventured outside. Once, they asked if they could play in the guesthouse, near the front gate, where Mother and Father sometimes entertained friends over weekends, but Mother thought that was not such a good idea. But they could pretty much go anywhere else on the grounds, as long as they stayed within the high fences.
The garden, which Bruce had once thought stretched to the ends of the earth, now seemed quite negotiable, and when he and Rachel dared to venture beyond the gate, they discovered that the big, silvery thing they had seen from afar was actually a small building made of glass. Alfred said it was a "greenhouse," where his mother and father grew plants. Usually, the greenhouse door was locked but today, this bright warm, breezy day in mid-June, Alfred had left it ajar. Cautiously, hand in hand, Bruce and Rachel entered. Bruce stopped just inside the door, released Rachel's hand, and looked around at rows of tables covered with potted plants and tools he had never seen before. There were more plants hanging from the sloping ceiling and lumpy bags on the floor. Bruce was hot and sweaty and a thick, heavy odor clogged his nostrils. He didn't like this "greenhouse" at all.
Rachel had gone ahead of him and was crawling under one of the long tables. She crawled back out and peered up at Bruce, her small hand held over her head and closed around something. Bruce knew that she had found something, some kind of treasure, maybe.
"Can I see?" he asked.
"Finder's keepers," Rachel said, smiling. "I found it."
"In my greenhouse."
Rachel's smile changed to a frown and for a second or two she seemed to be thinking. She smiled again and opened her hand. A stone arrowhead lay on her palm. Bruce wondered how it had gotten there, under the table, but not for long. He grabbed it, stuffed it into a pocket, and ran out the nearest door to hide.
Bruce ran onto a small patch of ground enclosed by a low fence. In the center was a low, round well.
Knowing that Rachel was following him and wanting to impress her-he didn't know why-Bruce climbed up onto the top of the well. The hole inside was covered with green-painted boards that had splinters of yellow showing: old boards. Slowly, Bruce climbed on top of the wood.
Then he heard a creaking sound and the world seemed to tilt and the stone wall of the well was rushing past his eyes.
He just had time to realize he was falling before he stopped so suddenly that his teeth clicked and for a moment he could not breathe. Then he gasped and filled his lungs with air. From somewhere above him, he heard Rachel screaming: "Mister Alfred!"
He looked up and saw the opening of the well, a circle of light far, far above. Glancing back down, he saw that he had landed on a pile of dirt and rubble. He put his palms on the cold stone wall and slowly, wondering if he had broken anything, he stood. He was trembling and aware of a nasty scrape on one knee, but his body felt basically all right.
I can really show Rachel how brave I am, he thought. I can find a way out of here and-
He heard a sound like a door with very rusty hinges being opened. It seemed to be coming from a gap in the stones. He put his face to the black opening, hoping to see the source of the sound-
Something stiff and scratchy rasped across his forehead and in an instant he realized-he did not know how-that the thing was alive.
The thing, the dark, horrible thing, flew from the gap and spiraled upward and was followed by other things, a swarm of them, hundreds of them, flapping and screeching, tearing at Bruce's clothing and hair. Bats, he realized, and Bruce felt himself, his personality, his very being, shrink and vanish and only a voice that shrieked and shrieked remained ...
Then the bats were gone. The shrieking stopped. Bruce lay atop the dirt, gasping and sobbing.
He heard someone call his name, and when he looked up, he saw his father, wearing a long black coat, climbing down a rope.
Strong arms enveloped him and he felt himself being lifted, and raised, and then his father was carrying him past the greenhouse, toward the mansion, with Alfred trotting alongside. Rachel walked next to them, crying. Her mother put her arms around Rachel to comfort her.
"Will you be needing an ambulance, Master Wayne?" Alfred asked.
"We have everything we need," Bruce's father replied. "I'll take X-rays later."
"Very good, sir."
Smiling, Bruce held his hand out to Rachel. When she moved next to him, he gently placed the arrowhead in her open palm. Looking up at Bruce, a small smile appeared on Rachel's tearstained face.
A few minutes later Bruce was in the room his father called "the office," being cradled in Mother's soft arms while Father, his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened, examined Bruce's scrapes and bruises. Bruce was still crying, but only a little.
"There, there," Mother cooed. "Everything is all right, Bruce. Everything is fine. Nothing like that will ever happen to you again, I promise."
Father finished his ministrations and Mother led Bruce up to his room.
The next morning he awoke to see his father standing over him.
"You were getting kind of noisy in your sleep," Father said. "Bad dream?"
"The bats?" Father sat on the side of the bed. "You know why they attacked you? They were afraid of you."
"Afraid of me?"
"You're a lot bigger than a bat, aren't you? All creatures feel fear."
"Even the scary ones?"
"Especially the scary ones."
Standing under the clock tower on the midwestern campus, waiting for the cute girl from advanced calculus, Bruce understood his identification with Siddhartha. Falling down the well, Bruce had, like Siddhartha, passed through a gate, albeit a metaphorical one. Before his tumble, he had heard the word "fear" and similar words like "scared" and "afraid" and "dread" ... but they were only words. Afterward, despite his mother's comforting and his father's deft attentions, Bruce knew, to the marrow of his being, what "fear" was. Within a week, he was to add "hate" and "grief" to his lexicon.
From the Journals of Ra's al Ghul
My daughter, who is uncommonly mature for her age, last night told me that I am a "self-appointed messiah." She meant it as an affront. I startled her by choosing to accept it as a compliment. Actually, it is neither affront nor compliment, but something far greater. It is the simple truth.
We have prosecuted our newest experiment for two and three-quarters years using Gotham City in the United States as our place of experimentation. Our results are inconclusive. We have destabilized the business life of the city but have not destroyed it. A savior, in the form of a wealthy doctor, has come to the rescue. Would similar saviors appear elsewhere? I cannot discount the possibility.
I have begun to conclude that economics is not the weapon I hoped it would be and that I must seek another. I do not know where to search.
Excerpted from Batman Begins by Dennis O'Neil Copyright © 2005 by Dennis O'Neil. Excerpted by permission.
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