Catharsis Alfred

Catharsis
Alfred's cure for the holiday blues

The weeks leading up to Christmas always brought a shift in the amount of time Bruce Wayne spent as Bruce Wayne rather than Batman.

It was then that the Wayne Foundation made many large and well-publicized awards to various charitable causes - the timing was important because the organization received not just the money but a boost in visibility at this crucial time of year. It was then that the social season kicked into high gear as well. Bruce discovered an unexpected bonus in that actually being Bruce Wayne all day took a terrible strain out of making chit-chat at these parties - he could talk about where he had actually been last night, who he had seen, what they had talked about. It was much simpler than remembering the cover stories invented to conceal Batman's activities.

The crime at this time of year was, unfortunately, mostly the petty theft of desperate people. These, he knew, were best left to the real police. Even his closest ally on the force, Jim Gordon, admitted it was best if Batman stayed out of the way and let the system handle these non-career-criminals in its own way. On those rare occasions the costumed crooks mounted Christmas-themed crime sprees, they did so on the day itself.

So it was better for everybody if he gave Batman these weeks off and devoted himself to just being Bruce. It was better for everybody - except for Bruce. Nothing was worse than holiday merry-making for reminding him of why he became Batman in the first place. Nothing was worse than Christmas for pouring salt in the wounds of loneliness and loss. The very time when he most needed the Joker's smug puss to personify all that was selfish and hateful and criminal in one perfectly fist-size target, he was surrounded by street corner Santas, Dickensian carolers, and happy families shopping for presents.

It was enough to make him purchase an item he despised more than any other except a gun: Batman the Video Game. It was an abomination – it was a mockery of his life's work that ran on PC, Macintosh, and PlayStation. Bruce had created the persona of Batman to frighten criminals – terror, after all, was a powerful weapon. But somehow in protecting his city he'd become an icon of it – like Times Square or the Empire State Building his image appeared on tourism brochures, T-shirts and souvenir music boxes. There were websites too, and fan clubs– and there was this miserable game for which he had just paid $49.95 on the off-chance that punching digital thugs with a mouseclick might give him some small satisfaction until he could pummel the real thing.

It didn't work. He felt silly. The game's twittering music was absurd, and the animated thugs grunted when hit in a way that reminded him of Saturday Morning cartoons.

"Alfred, can we wrap up this game and add it to the Toys for Tots donation?"

"They specify new toys only, Sir; unwrapped. Might I suggest passing it along to Master Dick as, if you'll pardon the expression sir, a kind of gag gift."

"You think he'd enjoy it?" asked Bruce skeptically.

"I believe he will find it most diverting, Sir."

Bruce nodded acquiescence. "So what are you up to this afternoon, Alfred?"

It was a formula of words Alfred recognized from Bruce's youth. It meant he was looking for activity. Bruce looking for activity in the midst of Alfred's holiday baking, tree trimming and sundry chores was a surefire recipe for disaster, so he decided to give his employer his true Christmas gift a few days early: "I was hoping to tackle the backlog of internet downloads sir. The filtering algorithms must need adjusting for there seems to be many more pages than usual."

"Let me take that off your hands" Bruce said eagerly as he turned toward the Batcave entrance with a spring in his step.

Every evening between one and two in the morning the Batcave computers downloaded massive amounts of information from public bulletin boards, internet search engines, police blotters, newspapers, and government networks, then ran the data through a complex series of filtering and sorting routines Bruce had designed to tag the information Batman might require. He had to tweak these algorithms periodically: The emergence of a new costumed criminal obviously meant a host of new search terms had to be added, but other non-criminal events could also require adjustments. Once a soccer team called DEMONS had formed in a country where Ra's al Guhl was active, resulting in 15,000 pages of sports clippings before Bruce realized the problem. The lawsuit between Lark, a Welch soft drink company, and Cobblepot Ltd, the importer that supplied their sugar generated 4,000 pages of useless data.

Bruce could see this backlog wasn't nearly that serious, it consisted of, at most, a few hundred pages.

The Words "Gordon's Casebook" caught his eye. As he speed-read the first few paragraphs he realized it was an account of one of his earliest appearances in the city told from James Gordon's point of view. It was a fake of course, the text spoke as if Gordon was then Police Commissioner, but it was fascinating all the same. The analytical part of Bruce's brain realized he had stopped skimming the lines and was now reading at a normal pace.

"The Joke's on Who ?" was next – the tone and point of view changed entirely – Bruce realized with a start that this was not a fraudulent "casebook" but a work of fiction. The first was a short story written from Jim Gordon's point of view, this second was a murder mystery involving the Joker. He leafed through the pages below and saw the title: "Love on the Roof" the first paragraph began "Meow…"

Unconsciously Bruce settled back in his chair and began reading through the stack with relish.

On the last page he found, not a computer printout, but a handwritten note:

Sir,

As you have no doubt deduced many hours ago, the recent increase in the search output results from a curious new Internet phenomenon. Ordinary people are writing these tales of Gotham City, of you and of the criminals you battle. I imagine you will be tempted to dismiss these works as another example of the popular commercialization of your crusade, which I know you abhor. You should not. These stories are not engaged in for profit; they are a celebration of the characters within.

Some are quite silly, to be sure, some quite erotic, some oddly insightful, and some are escapist romps.

I selected a few of each type for you to find in this backlog because, frankly sir, you are frightfully difficult to shop for. It isn't merely that you can afford anything you wish. You simply refuse to do anything enjoyable for the sake of enjoying it. In sifting through these stories as you must in order to adjust your filtering algorithms, you will have been able to rationalize all the vicarious thrills, the puzzles the mystery, the forbidden romance and the escapist intrigue as a painstaking crime-fighting chore.

Merry Christmas, Sir.

Alfred.