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-The Quiet Girl -
Dick Grayson spends his nights being someone else, and sometimes his days as well.
Today, as he has for the last two days, he dons a different mask than what he has worn in his capacity as a superhero in Gotham City. Tonight he wears prosthetics that change the shape of his face, makeup that adds small wrinkles and years to his skin, and colors his hair so that it is grey and appears to be getting greyer. A fake belly adds 40 pounds to his frame, and a slouch loses 4 inches from his height. He puts on the dark blue pants and lighter blue button up shirt that is the uniform of the guards of Arkham Asylum, and heads to the nondescript, beaten Chevy Cavalier he bought for this particular role.
Bruce has solid information that a group of guards in Arkham have been bought. He isn’t sure who has been bought and who did the buying, but a rash of mysterious incidences in the prison involving contraband and fortuitously timed diversions has caught the Batman’s interest. Arkham holds too many dangerous criminals to ignore such anomalies, and Bruce is busy on another case, so instead Dick Grayson wears another mask and slips into another role.
In this mask he is a nobody. Alex Slater is a cop who couldn’t get any promotions in the Gotham City Police Department. Alex Slater was fired, a few years from retirement, for allegedly beating a handcuffed prisoner. Alex Slater is too old to start again, too old to be anything other than a cop. Arkham hires him without any questions, but he starts low and complains about it to anyone who will listen.
Two hours later he is wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest. He watches the lunch room as small groups of prisoners are brought in to eat, the mix carefully decided by Arkham’s psychiatric staff to minimize the risk of violence. He recognizes most of the faces he sees – dangerous men he helped capture. Men that society cannot survive.
He watches the prisoners and the guards, looking for signals or anomalies. He knows the usual suspects – which guards have been on duty during previous suspicious episodes, which prisoners might have enough money to buy off guards. He doesn’t limit himself to those, though. He watches everyone.
It isn’t until the fourth group that he finds an anomaly. The group is an odd mix – men and women, mostly familiar, in orange jumpsuits. The prisoners are loud, boisterous, yelling over each other as they talk about what little news they’re allowed to hear, the inner politics of the asylum hierarchy, and whatever else interests them. Barbara Minerva, known as Cheetah, sits at the end of a table and pokes the woman beside her with a plastic spoon. Cheetah has been depowered, but she is as psychotic as she ever was, and Cheetah is a cannibal when given the chance.
The woman beside Cheetah ignores the spoon pushed against her arm. Neither Alex Slater nor Dick Grayson have ever laid eyes on her before. She’s small, under 5’6”, and her thin build makes her seem even smaller. Her hair is blond, her eyes green and devoid of any emotion. In any other setting and in something other than the standard orange jumpsuit Dick Grayson would call her beautiful. She eats her soup mechanically, gaze focused on the bowl and nowhere else.
When Cheetah pushes a little harder she causes the woman to spill the soup from her spoon, and Dick can see the delayed reaction as the woman follows the spoon with her eyes, up Cheetah’s arm, to stare directly into the villain’s eyes. Dick can’t see what happens next because his vision is blocked by another inmate standing up, but when the inmate has moved the blond is eating her soup, and Cheetah is no longer poking her.
In lieu of her actual name, he labels her the Quiet Girl.
Later in the shift Alex Slater asks another guard about the Quiet Girl.
“The blond? Something Summers.” The guard picks up a clipboard and flips some sheets over, searching.
“Elizabeth Summers. She’s ok – real well behaved. Keeps to herself, doesn’t fraternize with the others. Doesn’t talk, as far as I know.”
“What’s she in here for? I never heard of her before.”
“I’m not sure I ever found out. She’s been here a real long time though - five or six years at least. At least she’s prettier than your average inmate, eh?”
He forces himself to laugh in Alex Slater’s rough voice.
Later that night he sits in front of his computer. Elizabeth Anne Summers is 24 and has been in Arkham Asylum since 18. She is considered dangerously schizophrenic. At 18, in California, she burned down her high school’s gym during the graduation dance, killing eight students including the governor’s son. When questioned by the police she claimed the students had been vampires and that burning the building had saved the others. She was placed in a high security psychiatric care facility in California, but was moved to Arkham Asylum for undisclosed reasons.
Dick suspects the governor was involved in the transfer, but there didn’t appear to be any reason for it in her file.
Arkham psychiatrists noted that she was completely unresponsive to treatment. She refused to talk, sitting silently during sessions and ignoring doctors. They had tried dozens of different drug regimes, but nothing had changed. Her sentencing required her to be held securely until considered safe to release, so she would be in Arkham for as long as it took to be cured.
Dick Grayson looks at the empty green eyes looking out from the picture in her file and considers. He doubts she is related to the original investigation, but a good investigator never lets himself be blinded by assumptions.
The next day Alex Slater is working the evening shift. He patrols the empty hallways alone, against regulation but his lazy partner sits asleep in the break room, so no one argues.
The Quiet Girl is singing to herself, a near tuneless mix of jumbled words and sobs. She is seated on her bed, legs crossed in front of her and arms wrapped around shoulders, rocking. As he passes her cell she stops and looks towards him, eyes no longer vacant but full of anguish, tears on wet cheeks. Her eyes follow him as he walks by.
When he disappears past her view she resumes, and the broken melody haunts him as he continues on his rounds.
In her cell, the Quiet Girl weeps.
That night, as he is telling another guard about the money he lost betting on horses the week before, Alex Slater is offered cash to buy himself out of debt for doing a small job in the prison. All he would need to do is pass a few packages along to certain inmates at certain times. He agrees.
The next morning Dick Grayson pours over the transfer documents and psychiatric assessments from California, trying to determine who had ordered the Quiet Girl to Arkham and why. He find nothing. Complaints were lodged weekly by the girl’s mother and subsequently ignored. 2 years later the girl’s mother dies from an aneurism, a complication from removing a tumor in her brain, and no more complaints are lodged. The girl’s father moves to Spain with his secretary and the Quiet Girl’s younger sister. The last recorded visit is from the girl’s mother, years earlier.
The Quiet Girl is left alone in Arkham Asylum.
In the yard at Arkham, Alex Slater passes a package to an inmate. He has already checked the contents – porno magazines, cigarettes, and a phone. He confirms with Bruce before passing it along. They don’t know enough yet to catch those responsible, so he must bide his time.
Across the yard the Quiet Girl sits against a wall, her eyes unfocused. As if she can feel his gaze she looks towards him, and he drops his eyes casually. There are two mysteries in Arkham Asylum, and he wants to solve them both. He thinks the Quiet Girl is the more complicated of the two.
A few days later Alex Slater is asked to pick up a package from a private address in Gotham. He does. The package contains more phones, some cocaine, and cash. He delivers it to a different inmate. Now they have an address, two inmates, and a guard. Bruce tells him it isn’t enough. He must wait longer. Dick Grayson thinks about the Quiet Girl and agrees.
The next day, his eighth day working at Arkham Asylum, there is a riot. Ten prisoners succeed in freeing almost half the prison’s population from their cells, and somehow jam the security system to leave all the security doors open. There is chaos.
He is fighting, his police stick lost long ago, and winning until a prisoner smashes something into his head from behind. He falls forwards, expecting to be lynched by the fifteen prisoners in front of him. He has already radioed for help, both from other guards and from Bruce, but doesn’t expect there to be any help in time.
He hears a high-pitched yell, and turns his throbbing head towards the sound. The Quiet Girl is there, two pieces of steel bar in her hands and violence in her normally empty eyes. She charges the group of inmates, dealing out disabling blows to legs and arms. She loses one of the bars, which are shiny and slippery, and Dick Grayson recognizes them as the bars that make up the cell partitions. In seconds, the hallway is clear, prisoners either falling or running from the small yet obviously dangerous girl. She has saved his life, perhaps.
She offers him a hand to help him up, and he takes it. He recognizes the grip – the grip of someone superhumanly strong being careful to not crush the thing she holds. It is unyielding and precise, and she helps him up effortlessly despite him weighing at least twice what she does, if not more. She hands him her remaining bar, and then takes off down the hallway towards the sound of the riot. He can feel the deep indentations her fingers have left in the steel.
Whatever else she is, the Quiet Girl is metahuman.
Alex Slater survives the riot, which is contained by the GCPD, the Arkham guards, and several of the city’s heroes. 23 inmates are killed, eighty wounded. Fourteen of Arkham’s guards are killed, most of the bodies too mutilated to be shown to family. It isn’t the first time this has happened, and when he is honest with himself he admits that it probably won’t be the last time either.
Eleven inmates are missing. The list only contains a few who are truly dangerous. Batman will catch those that remain in Gotham quickly.
The Quiet Girl has been moved to a different cell. Sometime during the riot someone had torn the bars out of the floor from her previous cell. It is no longer secure, although Dick Grayson laughs at the idea that it is the bars that keep her in the cell.
After the riot half a dozen guards describe being saved by the Quiet Girl. The guards as a whole are appreciative. Her new cell has a window, and the Quiet Girl gets her pick of anything the guards can offer. The Quiet Girl is unmoved and remains distant and unfocused.
On his eleventh day at Arkham, his last day, the Quiet Girl escapes. The bars on her window have been bent, giving the slim girl enough room to slip out from between them. No camera or guard sees her leave and no alarm rings. One hourly check-in she is there, and the next she is not. Arkham Asylum goes into lockdown and is searched from top to bottom but she is nowhere to be found.
The dogs refuse to track her scent, whimpering.
Alex Slater takes the opportunity to hand in his resignation, muttering “I’ve had enough of this shit” loud enough for anyone to hear. Like most new hires, he didn’t last two weeks. In Arkham Asylum only the insane thrive. Everyone else just endures or quits.
A week later police arrest seven guards for taking bribes from inmates and passing contraband material into the prison.
On a stretch of highway leading towards California the Quiet Girl holds her thumb out to passing cars. She has changed into stolen jeans and a tank top and burned the orange jumpsuit in the forest. Her hair is now black. A small gym bag holds all of her possessions.
A semi-trailer slows, and then stops. She climbs into the cab, closing the door behind her.
The Quiet Girl smiles.