A/N: There is a certain set of laws in Chemistry known as the Laws of Thermodynamics, which describe the properties and transport of heat in a thermodynamic process (also known as a chemical reaction to those of use allergic to big words). The first law states that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, the second states that any system that isn't balanced tends to move towards maximum disorder and randomness (entropy), and the third states that entropy reaches a minimum as a system reached absolute zero (which is impossible to reach, by the way). If we were to apply these laws to a social setting, the first law would be irrelevant, since people are created and destroyed every day; the second would indicate some sort of social upstart and the panic that followed, and the third just wouldn't make sense. In fact, with all the violent acts committed in a large city, one might say that we can easily observe the second law of thermodynamics outside of the laboratory just by witnessing a city bombing, a school shooting, or a terrorist attack. Any sort of violent upstart, whether passive-aggressive or blatant, is bound to produce chaos.
If this is the case, then Gotham City is a veritable crucible of entropic 'thermodynamic' changes. As with many chemical reactions, there's a catalyst to jumpstart the reaction and unbalance the system. In Gotham's case, that catalyst is the Joker, whose constant attacks on the city, culminating in his climactic "social experiment" near the end of the film (an example of a phenomenon known as a Prisoner's Dilemma) provides a fast track towards entropy. It's all too apparent that if Batman were not around, the Joker would cause Gotham to spiral into such disorder that the entire city would fall apart. The city would literally be his. Such is the concept behind this short fanfic. I started out with the word entropy – a simple word that simply describes a descent into chaos. There is no Batman to save the city this time. There is only the precariously balanced system, the flawed crucible, and the heat. This is not a Gotham as it is in the film; this is a Gotham in, essentially, a small-scale apocalypse. It's a glimpse through the eyes of an average Gothamite experiencing thermodynamics firsthand. Take it for what it is – an allegory I wrote in the middle of a slow day in Chemistry class. I hope you enjoy it, though it's extremely short – the shortest fanfiction I have written yet, in fact.
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing but the idea for the fanfiction. Please don't let the scientific nerdiness above scare you out of reading this story – I really do like my readers and reviewers…
"It is the natural tendency of a system to move towards increasing chaos and disorder."
- Second Law of Thermodynamics
It's never been peaceful in Gotham.
Hell, you live with that fact since birth. Gotham's always been a hotbed of crime – put a few gang members in uptown; a psychologist who just snapped one day into the Narrows; any number of escaped criminal lunatics from Arkham into the residential areas… Something happens. Usually something bad. Here, it's pretty common that someone isn't gonna see their next birthday. If Gotham were a chemical, it'd be kerosene, hands down.
But nothing big happens. Well, not unless you count the constant gang threats and nightly crime waves that crop up. But nothing like a terrorist attack or a mall shooting, I mean. When it happened one or tiwce, we recovered; when it threatened, we took cover, and nobody got hurt. Oh, people died, but then again people die here every day. Twenty, thirty, forty deaths in one incident isn't enough to even shake the lid of the crucible, let alone blow it off. People got hurt – oh, lots of people – but they lived. Usually. We Gothamites are made of sterner stuff than lead bullets and steel blades… or so we liked to think. The little cracked flask of Gotham stayed precariously whole for the most part – disarranged, but barely holding together.
The glass had to shatter sometime.
I think it first started with the Bat, or whatever he calls himself, though I know other people'll disagree with me on that idea. When most of us first heard of him, we thought it was a joke. It sounded absurd, a huge superhuman bat gliding around the city by night, swooping in on some unsuspecting criminal to deliver justice. It was a fairy-tale , an urban legend, said the whispers – and yet the criminals seemed to believe in it undoubtably. The Batman… when we learned he was real, when a few of us first saw him and found the legend was true, none of us could believe it. This imposing shadow so few of us got a chance to glimpse… I like to think he was Gotham's first taste of Justice; of true balance. He was the base that neutralized the acid; the water that quenched the fire. Even the attack on the Narrows, a night so commonly remembered here as Terror Night, didn't stop him…
I still remember where I was on that night, locked inside and scared half to death something unseen would hurt me. And I happened to glance out the window, and I saw him, gliding wraithlike past my apartment, so blatantly real I couldn't have imagined it, not even with the horrible fear that had me paralyzed. It was incredible, to say the least, being in the presence of a legend, if only for a brief second. And he lived up to the reputation, and the reaction slowly died down as peace finally arrived in Gotham, if only briefly.
It was far, far too good to last.
The heat returned too fast, and cracks began to appear in the crucible. The first I remember hearing of it was the broadcast. God, that report… it was absolutely brutal – A man dressed as Batman, He who had been our Savior, bound to a chair and pleading for his life. And the assailant… his voice was awful enough, but dear Lord, his laughter… I'll never forget that laugh as long as I live. Never. He was an explosive, chaotic, psychotic nightmare, precisely the kind of unstable isotope Gotham didn't need. He indiscriminately sliced through his victims with a laugh and a flash of his blade, leaving bloody grimaces wherever he walked. Abruptly, the crucible heated to a white-hot glow, threatening to explode, shattering and claiming yet more victims.
And the worst part? The Batman could do nothing. He tried, and failed, and tried and failed again – and for his failure, the grinning monster that calls himself the Joker mocked him. Oh, Batman locked the threat in Arkham eventually, long enough that the illusion of absolute zero became a very real-looking possibility. But it was, of course, temporary. A month later, the Joker escaped, leaving a bloody trail of madness in his wake.
He… he claimed he had an unfinished message to give us. He claimed we were all sheep; mere savages in civilized clothing. He still claims, and he'll claim it until the day he dies, that we'd all be better off in chaos, in entropy without limits or rules. His is a madness to destroy matter and create energy from nothing, and by God, did he use it to crack the crucible to utter disuse. Explosions, gunfire, twisted metal debris hitting asphalt, the horrible laughter of a smiling killer… such sounds of madness are commonplace now, pervading Gotham like a hideous aura.
And the truly terrifying part? The Batman isn't here. He… he left, abandoning all of us, and we've got no damn clue where he is. One night, he didn't answer the signal. He didn't come. People were dying by the minute, survivors were hiding in whatever meager shelter they could find, and he didn't come. Hours and hours of waiting proved fruitless, an experiment ruined in the final steps after painstaking tests. Meanwhile, the Joker destroyed us from the inside out, first by killing most of our town hall and taking the mayor's place and then by turning us against each other. He manipulated us all at some point – hell, none of the police can be trusted nowadays; they're all under his control now. People die right in front of those who would save them if they weren't so corrupted. Orphaned children cry from abandoned houses; half our buildings are nothing but rubble, and the other half explode before our very eyes. Gotham City is a living Hell.
And Arkham? The institute is rubble and ashes now; only the skeleton of the iron, gated fence remains. All its inmates run free – and many of them are extremely violent. You can't even tell who's safe, stable, and sane anymore, because they blend in. And the scary thing is that most of them work for the Joker.
Sometimes, I envy them. They don't know better, they don't understand. All they have is their own little demented world they live in, some private escape. Even those with a mental Hell have it better – it's gotta be better than Gotham. Anything's better than this hellhole. I think it's a miracle we haven't all gone insane by now. We're not on his demented, base level yet. But still, still the few rebels aren't enough. You see people going his way, taking that oh-so-easy emergency exit into lunacy every day. Another passenger on the crazy train, another trainable minion for his cause. You see people break down in panic in the streets, people who just snap and attack their fellows for no reason, people found laughing uncontrollably and mumbling unintelligible mantras in alleyways, almost always covered in knife wounds. But they never have the Smile. No, nobody with the Smile survives. Nobody. Those marked with it will die, if they aren't dead already.
I… I think it's how he marks his kills. It's a demented points system to him. This is all one big, long, bad joke to him, and he's the only one laughing. God damn you, we've reached maximum entropy already, so why won't the heat stop increasing? Why won't the reaction cease?
If you wind up with the Smile, you're one of the lucky ones. Here, death is a blessing that few ever get. Those seeking it often find themselves tortured; those avoiding it receive it. All you can pray for here is a swift, relatively painless death, a death with no suffering.
A brand of death the Joker never deals.
The Gotham crucible's been cracked for years. It's shattered now; building rubble is its ceramic shards, the spilled blood is the spilled, sizzling, overheated chemical, still scalding and still painful to see. And all it took to break it was the right reagent; the right amount of heat. For all our struggles, we have only one prize; one conclusion: he won. And as I look out over the warzone that Gotham has become, I have no choice but to admit that he was right. Good Lord, he was right. He may have started the fire, but we caused this mess. We perpetuated it, not him. We're the horrible beasts that tore the city to shreds. Us, not him. Dear Lord, we're all savages, all of us.
God help us all.