THE OTHER SIDE
Gotham is HIS city. The unwritten yet oft spoken rule we all understand is that Gotham City is the exclusive playground of the Batman. Lest we ever forget, each and every one of us is reminded the moment we dare set foot inside the city limits. Those of us in the League adhere to this "posture" as Gospel truth, making sure to inform him if we enter His City for any reason.
At least some of us pretend to.
Some things that go on in this city do happen under his nose without his knowledge. In a city of over eight million people, there is no logistical way for him to know everything about everyone—much to his chagrin, I’m sure. And, yes I do exploit this to an extent.
As a Martian, I have the ability to change my form to any shape and I have, on regular occasion, used this ability to "mingle" with humans in their own natural environment. There is a regular cast of characters that I choose from, a menagerie of different identities that I assume from time to time to immerse myself in all levels of humanity. It is a cast of hundreds, varying greatly in ethnicity, race, sex, social status, wealth, and stature. But all of these people that I become have a few common threads.
First of all, they are all based on actual people. They are all real individuals whose lives and identities I assume. Now, before this becomes a discussion of ethics regarding taking over someone’s life, let me point out Similarity Number Two: all of the people in question are dead. None by my hand, although several are a result of my non-involvement. When a person dies and I am present but unable… or unwilling… to stop it due to my desire to keep my true self hidden from humanity, I feel somewhat obligated to continue their life as a kind of penance for my own selfishness. I do not always act upon this personal sense of obligation, but several of my regular identities are a result of this. Mostly, it depends on Similarity Number Three: lack of family or close relatives. Early on in my… tenure here on Earth, I tried taking over the lives of people with families, but my inability to assume one identity for long periods of time caused too many problems. After a few too many "I was working late at the office" excuses which led to a few too many suspicions of unfaithfulness which inevitably led to too many divorce proceedings, I learned my lesson. To that end, I decided that only people for whom a lengthy disappearance would go relatively unnoticed would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Some of this may sound a bit cold or callous, but in truth it is merely my (admittedly vain) attempt to understand humanity. Earth is my adopted home and I choose to spend my time here learning all that I possibly can about its culture and its people. To do that, I assume these various identities in hopes of better understanding all of humanity by experiencing first-hand their trials and tribulations. In effect, I become these individuals, complete with all of their experiences. I become John Jones, the private investigator from Detroit. I become Ali Lotfi, the Pakistani goat farmer. I become Vladimir Popov, former Russian senator and recent American immigrant. I become all of these people and hundreds more, living their everyday lives and spend the majority of my free time just… living.
All of which brings me to here: Gotham City, home of the illustrious Batman. Of my hundreds of identities, there are thirty-seven that live within the Gotham City limits. None of these identities are important enough to garner as much as a blip on the Bat’s city-wide radar, but they mean the world to me. They offer me an insight into this city that precious few, including the Bat himself, are privy to. Gotham City tends to include the best of the best, right alongside the worst of the worst. The richest and most successful of businessmen walking next to the starving musician. The tallest of buildings sharing the block with the tiniest of apartments. The greatest of heroes battling the vilest of villains.
Through these thirty-seven sets of eyes, I can view and experience the incredible microcosm of the world that is Gotham City. Almost every culture, race and creed exist somewhere in this city, and all of their lights shine across these thirty-seven faces. And it is as one of those thirty-seven identities that I have chosen to spend my morning.
Peter Kinney is a happy young man (who was tragically struck down by a drunk driver over on 5th) who likes to spend most of his day reading. A graduate student at Gotham U, Pete is studying English Literature, mostly in the hopes of becoming a professional writer. In his spare time, he enjoys helping his friend’s father at his sidewalk newsstand. At least, he did. Now I do. I enjoy this time in the newsstand: one of the few places where you meet people from every walk of life. I can spend most of the day just "people-watching." Between the regulars, the newbies, the other vendors and the tourists, I get to meet such a wide selection of humanity all from the confines of this little wooden shelter.
This morning, the Vendor Rumor Mill is abuzz with the stories of Raoul from the coffee cart having his daughter, Melanie accompany him at his cart today. She is a pretty young girl who will no doubt grow up to make her father proud, regardless of whether or not she decides to assume responsibility for the "Family Business". But, of course, the vendor-crew can’t help but gossip around about her future and the future of Raoul’s coffee cart. I listen with a modest detachment as I concentrate more on the arriving businessmen and women. It’s 7:45 and the Early Starters are arriving, hustling away to their offices and stores, ready to tackle whatever Corporate Gotham has lined up for them today. I sigh contentedly as I watch them go… so full of life and energy! The anticipation and excitement in the air sends a shiver across my skin. It’s times like these when I truly feel the most… human.
A tall, well-dressed man breaks away from the crowd and heads toward me; his eyes and (obviously) his mind more concerned with something further down the street. As he approaches my newsstand, he flicks his eyes in my direction and asks for a Wall Street Journal. I catch his gaze for a quick second before he looks down the sidewalk again and it hits me…
Well, well, well. Good morning, Bruce.
What is he doing here? Especially this early! Bruce Wayne never makes an appearance in downtown this early. Batman must be on a case: using his "Bruce Wayne, Businessman" persona as a disguise so that he can track some undercover criminal. And yes, Bruce, I’m well aware of who you really are. I know the whole tragic story: the murder of your parents, the years of training and preparation, the millions you've spent—everything that has led up to the "Scourge of the Gotham Underworld." I know because I pay attention. I know because I've seen and known you in both guises, both as the hapless billionaire playboy and as the Bat and despite the best acting job in the world, there are some things that you can never hide. Especially from a telepath.
He keeps looking down the street, eyes continually scanning for… well, something. Or someone. Sometimes, it’s really interesting to watch him work: you can almost see the gears in his head grinding away as he works out plans, contingencies, counterattacks, and options. I've seen it hundreds of times, but usually within the confines of the cowl. Now, sans mask of any kind, it’s intriguing to watch the dials turn and realize that the look is not all that dissimilar. Now I finally understand that, for the Batman, "Bruce Wayne" is just another mask that he wears. Then, suddenly, Batman is gone and the true Bruce Wayne appears. He truly is a remarkable man.
Whatever he’s been waiting for happens. He drops a dollar on the counter without ever looking back my way and heads down the street. As nonchalantly as possible, I keep an eye watching his every move, waiting to see what he’s after. I can justify to myself all day long that I am doing it as a professional courtesy: that I can be there for him if he gets into trouble. In reality, I know that part of me is just unbelievably curious. Well, "curious" may be a bit strong… intrigued! I’m intrigued by this little display and I’d love to see how this pans out. He’s approaching Raoul’s cart, and for the first time I now see the object of his attention: a young statuesque woman chatting it up with Raoul while she buys her latte.
He’s up at what, for him, must be an ungodly hour of the morning after getting probably two hours of sleep all because of a woman?! That’s a little uncharacteristic, Bruce. Even the most intelligent of the women Bruce Wayne tends to date could be handled without needing to resort to a personal appearance. Especially this early in the morning! Something isn’t right here. She must be some criminal or snitch or witness or…
I watch, more intently now, as he walks past her, seemingly oblivious to her existence, all the while reaching out and shoving something into her pocket! It was a brilliantly executed maneuver, worthy of any good pickpocket or slight-of-hand magician. She shoots the back of his head an annoyed look, then pays for her latte and walks off, headed in this direction. As she turns my way, I finally recognize her and my head starts to spin.
Selina Kyle. AKA Catwoman. Cat-burglar, Gotham Rogue and star of Cat-Tales! She is the target of this early morning escapade. What is going on here!? What is Bruce up to? Or Batman, whichever the case may be? Is she aware of any of this? Is she in on it? Is this whole thing some elaborate setup?!?
It is times like these that my telepathic abilities would come in the most handy. I will admit to being a little too curious about human behavior most of the time, but I did use the word "would" for a reason. The truth is, I have serious ethical problems with using my abilities against someone’s wishes or without someone’s knowledge. To that end, as curious as I may get, I will never invade someone’s privacy to that extent. That being said, however, there are times when a person’s own psyche is screaming so loudly that it is impossible not to hear it. Be it pain or joy or anger or sadness, sometimes the human soul cries so loudly that anyone with even the merest of telepathic abilities can hear it.
I have been asked before to explain this phenomenon, and the best description I can come up with is this: a normal human being is sitting in a café and quietly reading a book when suddenly the couple at the table next to them starts having an argument. This person cannot help but overhear the discussion due to the shear volume and relative proximity of the arguers. That is essentially what hearing someone’s psyche is like. For the most part, it is more of an empathic ability than a true telepathic one, but the end result is the same. Truthfully, it usually takes a considerable amount of will power on my part to block these ongoing chattering psyches. It is a practice that I have perfected over my many years here on Earth, but it also affords me the capability to let down these barriers and hear what people are thinking, at least on the surface.
I guess all of this is merely an explanation for my next actions. I make myself a bit more receptive than usual and happen to catch a glimpse at what is going on with Miss Kyle as she approaches my newsstand. I will not delve any further, but on the surface, it appears that she has no idea about the note or that the man who brushed against her was, in fact, Bruce Wayne. As she buys a morning paper, I chat with her politely about the one thing I’m sure everyone else on this block she talks to will talk about: young Melanie and her father, Raoul. While my mouth is blindly chattering away, my mind is racing with the possible meanings of this not-so-chance encounter that evidently Bruce is the only one aware of. She pays for her paper, then thanks me and turns to leave. As she walks away, I notice the letter sticking up out of her pocket slightly. I resist the temptation to rush out and snag it. As curious as I am, this is between Bruce and Miss Kyle. Or possibly Batman and Catwoman. It is really none of my business.
Though it may warrant a little further investigation.
JLAComm: Communicator Message Log
SAT47/REL09/STELSAV -- 20010715::21:02:42
::21:02:42.56 - ComReq from MONWMB(UID:JJonzz): PCD-FLSH
::21:03:13.02 - PCD-FLSH Respond
::21:03:13.35 - Begin Transcript - VocTransRecorder
PCD-FLSH: Flash here.
MON(JJ): Wally? It’s J'onn.
PCD-FLSH: Hey, man. Whassup?
MON(JJ): We've got a situation in the Czech Republic. We just received word of an old Soviet nuke being traded on the black market to a crew of Czech Nationalists. We need a Stop and Recovery. I’d call in Superman, but he’s off-planet at the moment. We need someone there fast.
PCD-FLSH: No problemo, mon ami. Give me a sec to change and I’m on my way.
MON(JJ): Ok. Thanks. I’m transmitting GPS coordinates of the missile’s last known whereabouts to your Comm Unit.
::21:03:37.25 - MONWMB(UID:JJonzz) Trans GPSSig: PCD-FLSH
::21:03:37.48 - PCD-FLSH Rcvd GPSSig
::21:03:38.54 - PCD-FLSH Personal Earpiece Removed/Activated
PCD-FLSH: Ok, got it. En route.
PCD-FLSH: No, J'onn. It’s Wally! *laughter*
MON(JJ): *incoherent mumbling*
PCD-FLSH: Oh, c'mon J'onn! That was a good one!
MON(JJ): If you say so.
PCD-FLSH: Well.. thbbbbbbbth on you, then. *laughter*
PCD-FLSH: So J'onn, how’s things in the Womb tonight?
MON(JJ): Mostly quiet, except for this. Things appear to be relatively stable planetside.
PCD-FLSH: Well, probably not for long. I see the Kurdistan thing is picking up again.
MON(JJ): Yes. So far, nothing too major but I’m keeping an eye on it, just in case.
PCD-FLSH: Cool. Yeah, I’m actually taking the westerly route at this point. I just want to avoid that whole section of the world right now.
MON(JJ): Understandable, I suppose. We'll probably end up getting involved eventually, but not until it crosses the border. The JLA doesn’t get involved in individual nation’s internal conflicts…
PCD-FLSH (In unison): The JLA doesn’t get involved in individual nation’s internal conflicts…
MON(JJ): *chuckle* Yes, I suppose we all know that one by heart now.
PCD-FLSH: I swear, Diana and her "Affairs of the State" rules…
MON(JJ): Now Wally, you know they're there for a reason.
PCD-FLSH: I know, J'onn, but… Ugh! JESUS!
MON(JJ): Wally?! Are you okay? Come in please..
PCD-FLSH: I’m fine, J'onn. Sorry 'bout that. Bering Strait… It’s friggin' cold this time of year!
PCD-FLSH: Anyway, I understand that the rules are there for a reason. I even understand why we have them. My quibble isn’t with the rules, it’s with Diana. Does she have to brow-beat the rules into us every chance that she gets?
MON(JJ): Wally, Diana is just trying her best to watch out for our best interests…
PCD-FLSH: Oh, c'mon, J'onn. Don’t feed me that crap! She’s been worse than ever over the last couple'a weeks, and you know it!
MON(JJ): I will agree that she has been a bit more… harsh than usual. I’m sure she’s just going through a rough time.
PCD-FLSH: Oooo! That sounds like someone who knows what they're talking about! Have you been holding out on the rest of us, J'onzz?
MON(JJ): *pause* I’m sure I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
MON(JJ): I assure you I know nothing… much. Anyway, in reality, what business is it of ours?
PCD-FLSH: What business is it?! Look, if she continues this way much longer, there’s gonna be some Leaguers who just won’t stand for it anymore! She’s making it difficult for us to work with her. I mean, just look at the way Arthur’s been acting toward her!
MON(JJ): Arthur’s… issues with Diana may be more involved than that…
PCD-FLSH: A-HA! I knew you were holding out on us! Gimme the scoop!
MON(JJ): *pause* I’m sure I have no idea what you're talking about…
PCD-FLSH: Hrmph. Again, I say "thbbbbbbth!" to you! Anyway, you're lucky! I just got here. Hang on a second.
::21:04:54.14 - PCD-FLSH Muted.
::21:06:27.34 - PCD-FLSH Re-initialized.
PCD-FLSH: OK J'onn, all wrapped up here. I’m headed back to the States. I’ll drop this core off by STAR Labs on my way.
MON(JJ): Roger that, Wally. I’ll call ahead and let them know you're coming.
PCD-FLSH: Thanks. And we'll continue this conversation later…
MON(JJ): *pause* I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about…
PCD-FLSH: Ugh. Whatever.