Dr. Ryan Choi cowered in the corner of a hamster cage, a mere specimen in his own lab. Above, his captors leered triumphantly.
“You’ll never get away with this!” he screamed, immediately regretting the words.
“My dear Dr. Choi,” said the bearded man in the white lab coat and coke bottle glasses. “Surely you’re too new to this game to be trucking out that hoary old cliché. Our guest seems agitated, Prof. Crane,” he informed his companion. “Give him another dose.”
Ryan could not see the second man’s face, merely the ghoulish burlap mask that obscured it. The mystery figure extended a gloved hand and released a jet of sickly, greenish gas from an unseen device. Instantly, Ryan could feel the terror returning.
“Certainly, Prof. Strange,” the masked man replied. “But I’ll remind you again—when I’m working, it’s ‘Scarecrow.’”
“Yes, of course,” the first man, Strange, answered. He did his best to disguise his contempt. Crane was a useful ally but indulging his delusions was fast becoming tiresome. “Scarecrow. How foolish of me to forget.”
Below, the miniature doctor fought hard to maintain coherence as gas-induced hallucinations clouded his vision. “W-why are you doing this to me? I don’t even know you!”
“Quite so,” Prof. Strange agreed. “Nor we you. But we know your predecessor—The mighty Atom, ‘The World’s Smallest Superhero.’” He chuckled at the rather ludicrous words. These costumed types did enjoy dramatics and press-worthy catchphrases.
“He’s been missing for several months but it was child’s play to deduce the new Atom’s identity, Dr. Choi. You two corresponded for many years. You were like a protégé to him, no doubt,” Strange said mockingly. “I wonder what he would say if he knew his much-vaunted miniaturization technology belonged to us now. I imagine he’d be most disappointed in you. Wouldn’t you agree, Cra—er, Scarecrow?”
“Oh, most assuredly, Professor,” the garish Scarecrow added. “I’d wager such a possibility was one of his greatest…fears.”
Strange suppressed an urge to wince. That had been the third fear reference in the last few minutes. Jonathan Crane was an incurable ham.
“I thank you for the use of your technology, Dr. Choi. Or ‘Atom,’ if you prefer,” Prof. Strange smirked. “Rest assured it will be applied in the name of science. Scarecrow, try not to damage the prisoner. He may prove useful later. I must attend to other business.” The balding scientist removed his white coat and proceeded towards the door of the lab.
The Scarecrow seemed perplexed. “Wait a moment, Strange. Where are you going? Torturing a second-string do-gooder is all well and good. But when you proposed our little ‘team-up,’ I assumed it would involve our mutual enemy, Batman.”
Strange paused in the doorway with a smile. “Trust me, Crane. This is about the Batman,” he said, glancing backwards. “It’s always about the Batman…”