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O C T O B E R 2 0 0 0
Y mother and Lex want privacy, so tonight I'm a bedroom shut-in. But I can still hear them laughing, dancing clumsily around the front room to old Motown love songs. Luckily, I have the ability to phase out any and all distractions, to teleport my thoughts, even my senses, elsewhere. I believe this is another of my mutant abilities, the active residue of my father's genetic imprint. It's the power he used on Mom and me.
I use that power tonight. I have homework to do.
I research, going through issue after old issue of Green Lantern. Already I feel like the Green Lantern's biographer. I recognize the earnestness of the early years, when he is made up of simple, clean strokes of a pen, when the green of his costume is bright and the black is bold, and the villains are easy to tell from the heroes. In the sixties he is more weathered, and in the seventies the battle scars are painfully obvious in the inking of his musculature: the mementos of victories are also the reminders of loved ones lost. I feel sad for him, for all the time he's been forced to see.
And now I'm at that difficult point in my project where his status as a hero comes into question. "It's where history stops becoming fact," Mr. Cosgrove would say, "and you have to choose what's true and what isn't."
Brought to Oa, he stands before a jury of Guardians, on trial for abusing his power, for attempting to alter history to save his city and the woman he loved. "Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of sector 2814, for misuse of the power of Oa, you are hereby asked to surrender the ring to us," they say. Half of Hal Jordan's face fills the next panel, and his rage is clear even behind the mask. Next is a Guardian's bony, blue-skinned hand reaching out, palm open. "You will surrender the ring, Hal Jordan," he says.
"THE RING!" five voices echo through the same voice bubble.
And then Hal Jordan's face, the mask, one eye, and nothing. Only a frightening flash of green.
I take the bottom corner of the page between my fingers. I turn the page slowly, knowing what comes next: an exploding sky, fallen emerald towers, the lifeless bodies of Guardians long thought to be immortal scattered among the debris. "Traitor!" one accuses with his dying breath. But Hal Jordan admits nothing, denies nothing. He takes their rings, all of them, and explodes into space, Earthbound, a furious green light trailing behind him.
History is to be interpreted; that's the rule. What makes me so angry is that the decision has already been made for us. The cover's depiction of Hal Jordan proves the bias: his eyebrows are sharp-pointed arches, his lips stretch in a sinister grin, and behind the mask his eyes are vacant, blank with madness and power. It's the face of a villain, the kind I've seen a million times.
But consider what Hal Jordan has seen. Consider the burden he bears: he got there too late. He got there in time only to see his city wiped out by an enemy he couldn't defeat. You don't recover from that; you fix it. If I could rewrite the comic, I'd do the same.
The following pages are panels of green: he wipes out a building in the background, KRAZAAKK!, one in the foreground, BLAZAAAM! He destroys another, and another. Then -- crash! -- something made of glass falls to the floor in the living room. I hear my mother and Lex whirling around to the music, bumping into bookshelves and walls, causing fragile things to fall. They laugh through loud kisses.
"Could you please be quiet out there?" They don't answer. "Would you be quiet, please?" Still nothing, only the soft sounds of my mother being taken yet again. "Be quiet."
T 2:43 A.M. I wake from weird dreams. Dehydrated and dizzy, I get a glass of milk. On the way back to my room I peek through my mother's half-closed door. She's curled up in Lex's arms; the sheets are wrapped around their bodies, binding them together. In her sleep her hands still clamp around his neck.
I walk toward them, silent in bare feet, invisible in the blue glow of the digital clock. I stand at the foot of the bed, watching their bodies just barely rise from breath. If I wanted to, I could crawl in between them, my head in the circle of my mother's arms, my knee rammed into Lex's balls.
My mother mumbles something in her sleep, taking quick breaths, and slowly she turns away from Lex. I go to her. I can feel her pupils shift side to side beneath the skin of her eyelids, and I press down on them just enough until the panic in her head subsides. I move a strand of black hair away from her face, looping it slowly around my finger.
I float to the other side of the bed, over to Lex. In the moonlight he is even paler, and the stubble on his chin is like metallic bristles against my knuckles. I kneel next to him and set my head down beside his. I can see my mother's lipstick smeared along his neck, trailing down to the center of his chest. It's the residue of what she thinks is love, and I can imagine my mother kissing him, just inches above the spot where the heart should be. I lay my palm flat on that spot, just barely touching skin. I can feel the life beating inside him. Maybe this is how my father felt. "What do you want from us?" I whisper to him. "Who sent you here?" But like my mother, he is drowned in sleep or just passed out.
So I test him. I tip my almost-empty glass, letting a tiny drop of milk fall onto his ear. The white liquid dot slides from the outer edge and vanishes into the black hole of his ear canal. His neck and shoulders jerk, lightning-quick. Then he is still again. "Assassin," I say. I return to the kitchen to wash my glass.
E have not seen The Gas for almost two weeks since the battle. At lunch Luc and I split up, eavesdropping on conversations, trying to piece together the fate of our nemesis.
After school we regroup on the library roof. "I heard Suzy Cheerleader talking to one of the vice-principals," Luc says. "Brandon's in the hospital."
"The Gas will be fine," I tell him, staring out onto the campus quad. We stay low, speaking in whispers.
"Did you hear me? He's in the hospital now. His arm needs some sort of operation. Skin grafts or something. What did you put in that thing anyway?"
Skin grafts. Then the body of my enemy is mutating as well. Fascinating. "Mercury fulminate, chloride of azode, some other chemicals. The usual."
I keep an eye out until I finally spot Tenzil, blanketing the school with his propaganda. I blame Tenzil, an ally of The Gas, for our corrupt student government. As vice-president, he's the person who rejected my proposal for a school trip to the San Francisco Comic Book Convention, and gave my money to varsity track instead.
I pull the yo-yo from my bag. "What the hell is that?" Luc asks.
"Quiet." This moment requires silence and the utmost precision.
Tenzil comes closer as I loop the string round and round my finger until I've cut off circulation. I raise my hand over the edge. But suddenly Luc grabs my wrist. "Don't," he says, trying to bring me back.
I take a quick foot to his stomach, freeing myself from his clutches. "If we don't get him, he'll get us."
"What are you talking about?" Luc asks, as if he doesn't already know. He rises from the ground and reaches for my wrist again, but he's too slow: I snap my hand forward, letting go the yo-yo for its spectacular debut.
Marble-heavy, the double disk drops straight to the ground. But Tenzil is gone, and the yo-yo dangles at the string's end, lifeless, refusing to wind its way back up to me. "Where is he?" I say. "Where the fuck did he go?" I crane my neck over the edge, scanning the quad, the locker bay, anywhere someone might hide from me. But Tenzil is nowhere to be found. "Traitor," I accuse Luc. "This is your fault." But when I turn, he, too, is gone. I take a quick inventory of the rooftop. No traces.
I run through the campus, taking down Tenzil's posters and flyers. I return to the roof, where I tear them into a pile of tiny pieces. Then I scoop them up and throw them to the sky, letting them fall like ashes on the spot where the chalk outline of Tenzil Jones's body should have been. I want to mourn today's loss.
KEEP no school ID, have no driver's permit. I tossed my Social Security card once I had committed the number to memory. If I have no money, then there's nothing in my wallet. I have my anonymity to keep me safe.
Today my wallet is empty but I'm hungry, so I stop by Ollie's Market on the way home. Ollie stands behind the counter, a sixty-something grump in a dirty undershirt, venting his frustrations on his customers. At his side is Sasha the Amputee, Ollie's half retriever, half something else. Sasha's right hind leg was the only casualty of the last holdup, which Ollie swears, despite the ski masks, was done by Filipino gangsters. "Filipinos!" he curses to the air. "Stealing this and stealing that!"
He makes this so easy.
My mutant biology hides that part of me he would fear. It is, after all, layered with the skin of my father, fused with that of my mother, and it gives me chameleonic powers. Ollie continues complaining and accusing, unaware that a shapeshifter stands before him. I tell him I know exactly how he feels, that they really can't be trusted, that they're a dangerous and deadly breed, and I keep Ollie in my eye, drowning out his sound as my hand fingers its way to the mini-rack of candy bars at my side.
But Sasha sees. The mutt snarls, her snout pointed at me, accusing me. Go ahead, I dare her. Hobble after me and you'll lose another, you damaged bitch. Mission accomplished, I tell Ollie good-bye, and press my heel onto Sasha's front paw as I walk out the door. She lets out a pathetic yelp. "Sorry." I smile at Ollie, petting the dog's head.
I exit the store and make a sharp right into an alleyway. I walk through and cross a four-way intersection diagonally, dodging cars and buses. I make a left, a right, and another right. I round corner after corner until the geometry of the city swallows me whole and it's safe for me to eat.
HE shades are drawn when I enter our apartment. I hear movement from the bedroom. "Mom?"
I open her door. "Mom." She's on the floor, lying on her side. Laid out beside her is my father's uniform, still wrapped in plastic on a wire hanger. She reaches out to it, moving her thumb back and forth over a shiny gold button.
I give her a shot of whisky. I pour her another and then another, and she goes on about how Lex doesn't love her, that the evil in men will always kill her, more and more slowly each time. "All the time. All the time this happens. Tell your father to stop it, please." She weeps into my chest, clinging to my shirt. Streaks of blood stain her hands. She's been cutting herself again.
An orphaned boy sees a bat flying through a window. The last son of Krypton dreams of the afterglow of his dead home world. All heroes have their omens; this blood will be mine.
"I will," I tell her. "I swear it." But she cannot hear my oath.
IN CONCLUSION, he is no longer the Green Lantern. With a final surge of power, Hal Jordan transforms himself into Parallax, a master of space and dimension, wielder of the greatest power ever known. His only agenda: to destroy time, to interrupt for good the linearity of history. With one hand he will knock past, present, and future out of order; he will be the judge of who may live, who will die, and who will never have existed at all. Time will move forward, time will move back, until it collides with itself, until what is left is the Zero Hour, and all that has gone wrong can finally be set right.
ILLAINS and heroes don't ask for the power they're given: Destiny, Fate, and Luck drop it on us like a star, and we have no choice but to use it.
It's due tomorrow, but fuck the paper. Tonight I must enter the fray.
PAINT black around my eyes, like a domino mask, erasing the traces of who I am.
Mother's future slips into Mother's past as I don my father's uniform jacket. It fits perfectly; I never knew our bodies were the same. Gold buttons sparkle on my chest, badges adorn my arms. To the collar I attach a cape, a long piece of cloth light enough that it does not impede my speed, dark enough that it keeps me wrapped in night shadows. All superassassins rely on the darkness.
I place my ammunition -- segments of aluminum pipe filled with impact-sensitive explosives -- in a tiny suede pouch attached to my belt. I secure the slingshot in my front belt loop; the yo-yo I keep in an oversized pocket on my pant leg.
Midnight strikes. I climb out the window, descend the fire escape, and run through the city, staying in back alleys and unlit streets. I keep an eye out for any and all enemies who dare to venture into the night. Though they are many and I am one, I will fight this battle alone. I have no need for Luc anymore. Sidekicks are extraneous; they give up the fight too easily. Robin was killed off for a reason after all.
I make my way to the abandoned projects. I enter through the back, and blast open the door to the stairwell. I fly up seven, eight, nine flights. I need to go higher.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen flights. I must go higher.
I reach the roof. I walk along its perimeter, to be sure I am alone. Night wind howls all around, blowing my cape behind me like a black ghost in tow.
I peer over the edge; the city itself has become a grid. Black streets and white sidewalks crisscross, framing city blocks like tiny pictures, a page of panels with too many scenes. But somewhere in all of this I know my enemy lurks, waiting for me to strike, daring me to cross the white borders and enter the battle. I will wait for him every night if I have to.
I take out the slingshot. I load the ammunition and pull back the sling. I aim, ready at any moment to let go.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.