Aphelion Issue 216, Volume 21
April 2017
 
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Silver Age

by J. E. Cammon


1: Changing Times

"Well, when people talk about the Silver Age, they're usually talking about when the capes and tights first started showing up. Like before that was Bronze, you know, like the Olympics. Like life was good, but only third place good, or like we were all walking around scratching our knuckles and falling off cliffs like lemmings. We got the golden age now, or whatever it's called, then before that was silver. Don't ask me what's next. It's all so ridiculous, heh, I blame the media... but in the beginning, it was silver. And for the people who really know, when you talk about the Silver Age, you're mostly talking about Galena, the Silver City."

When the prison guard made himself known, laconically waving from his side of the steel mesh and glass, Smith stood while setting down his newspaper and picking up his fedora; he buttoned his suit jacket closed. As he moved away from the bench, he made sure he had nothing telling that was visible on his person, about current events or the climate outside the walls. When he put his hand on the inner door, the guard buzzed him in from his booth.

Beyond the portal, another guard was waiting to escort him to his destination. He didn't say anything, which was as expected as the sideways looks he gave Smith as they silently walked along, not quite side by side but close enough.

As they slowed, Smith smoothed his tie and removed his hat again.

The guard opened the door somewhat clumsily, and nodded as Smith stepped past him into the cell.

“If you could give us some privacy," Smith told the guard, who straightened.

The guard reached up to close the door.

"You can leave it open," Smith commanded. "He isn't going anywhere."

The guard stiffened and turned on a heel. As Smith watched him walk away, Smith mentally recalled recent events.

"Agent Smith, how nice it is to be seeing you again," the prisoner said from his cot. Smith turned to face the man, not quickly, but verifying the guard was gone was pivotal, and with his head turned it put him at a disadvantage. Still, his primary goal was to give off an air of confident control.

"Karl," Smith replied, nodding.

"Tzis name your government gives me, do you know what it means?" The prisoner stood from his cot, bringing him to his full and unimpressive height, but his size wasn't what made him dangerous. Nothing on the outside of him did, though there were indicators: keen, steady eyes and still, weathered hands.

"Can't say that I do. We have a problem. We need to talk about what you did, Karl," Smith began.

"Smitz. Do you know what it is to be smitz? Smithed, ja? I am here only for three days and tzee people offer me to read all number of books. I haf been reading, you can tell?"

"I can" and it was a bit unsettling. Four months ago he didn't speak a word of English, but he had insisted all of their correspondences and conversations be in his new native tongue. "Look, Karl, for your cover to work, you can't go around talking to people, especially students, about the benefits of communism. Especially sounding like you do, with who you're supposed to be," Smith tried forcing the conversation back on its rails.

"Yes, tzis football leader," Karl stared at Smith; the only thing moving was his mouth.

"Soccer Coach, Karl. You're a soccer coach. A quiet one that doesn't get arrested, at that. Now, I have some instructions for you. I've tried to keep your real identity away from my superiors for as long as I could, but I think you're going to have to hide up in Canada for a while because of all of this."

"I am sorry to be saying tzese things, but I will not be leaving."

"What?" He breathed normally, and paused only briefly. "I don't think you understand the severity of this. If they find out, both of us are going to end up somewhere many times worse than this," he broke agreement temporarily, and spoke German.

"No, I have been understanding many tzings, recently, comrade. Your Americans and their bomb have avakened something in the rest of the world, old and poverful. In tzis place, in your books and papers, I haf discovered the nature of the Fuhrer's revenge." Smith half expected the prisoner to organize a coupe right then. Certainly, he thought twice about the guard leaving the door open. Who had given him newspapers?

"Karl. Listen to me. What do you expect to accomplish if they find you here behind these bars, and you're not contrite. You signed that pardon-"

"A small tzing to dirty a name tzat was not mine" the prisoner stepped closer, almost daring Smith to flinch, which he didn't. The man grabbed his shoulders with sincere strength. "You tzink tzis place could contain me? No, comrade. There was more education here than in the safe house. I stayed because I choose. And I will leave so, too." Smith's stomach turned.

"At least let me help. Tell me where you're going," he insisted like a friend.

"Ja. You will meet me tomorrow on the road east of here, at the sun set" The crazed intensity had left Karl.

"And then what?"

"And tzen I will make you unconscious," Karl said. Smith frowned noticeably. The prisoner chuckled. He reached a hand up and knocked on Smith's forehead. "Plausible deniability. You remember tzis? Tzese were the first words you teach me," and then he smiled. Smith's only play then was to trust, and nod. He completed the embrace, hugging the man. After he leaned his head out of the cell and gestured for the guard, as he reversed all his actions to reach his car in the parking lot, he checked all of his pockets. Part of him was afraid that Karl might see him from his cell, through the mortar and stone, so he stuck to the speed limit until he was two miles away from the prison, then he floored it to headquarters.

Smith paused briefly while running to his department. Workers were moving all the equipment and files and disassembling up the microfiche. Intuition that had saved his life before put a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"Chief," he said, bursting into his commander's office.

"Smith," the man had his back turned, staring at the two maps he kept side by side behind his chair, one of the German state before the war, and one towards the end. "Glad you're here." Smith took a moment to catch his breath.

"I think the German might be ready to crack," he said, massaging the truth. The chief sighed.

"We're shutting it down, Smith." There followed the slight noise of ice cubes mingling in a tumbler.

"What? Why? I know it's taking longer than we thought, but I'm close. He's planning something. Soon." Smith thought a moment about stepping around the man's desk; his superior still hadn't turned around.

"No, not your project, the whole operation, damn near whole division is being transferred, has been transferred. The Director's science boys cooked up something that have his undergarments all a-quiver," the Chief said, nonchalantly. Smith understood why he hadn't turned around, why he kept looking at the maps. Smith crunched a thousand different numbers.

"Am I being called off?"

"All field resources for this department have been re-committed to a separate project," he talked like he was quoting. "That includes you. You'll be reporting to upstairs."

"Wait, what? You're not," Smith stopped himself. Damn near all wasn't all. It was to be expected, he realized. The Chief and the Director hadn't seen eye to eye in a good long time. It made sense that he'd be left supervising a derelict operation. No, an abandoned one. Smith closed his fists. "Effective immediately?" he asked through clenched teeth. The Chief's shoulders shrugged quickly like he had chuckled once. His head tilted backwards like he had gone back to taking in his maps. He mumbled something that was just for him.

"Effective Monday, Agent Smith," The Chief lied. Smith had failed to say goodbye to a dozen different fellow agents, never knowing if they could have grown to have been friends. He had a running tally of worthless last words and phrases. Bad jokes and pointless quips, not a sincere thing, which was fitting for a career of lying. There was so much uncertainty; the key seemed to be to work as hard as he could towards a honorable goal, and hope everything else worked out.

"Thanks, Chief," Smith said, and then ran to his desk, hoping it was still there. He had reports to file, even though he wasn't sure if they'd ever be read. There was a dangerous fascist plotting against the United States, and he was the only person who knew. He had the knowledge, and he had the training, and what's more the wherewithal. It was the work he was born to do; it was why he had changed his name.

Watching Karl sprint across the field of knee-high grass away from the setting sun, Smith gripped the steering wheel in anticipation. He licked his lips, feeling the mass of his sidearm at his ribs. If the project was being scrapped, then shooting the man was still an option, though technically he was off the grid, disobeying orders. He punctuated the thought by throwing his shoulder into the door as he disembarked. Remarkably, Karl wasn't even slightly short of breath. Light perspiration was visible at his temples, and that was all. He was carrying a bundle in his hands, wrapped in cloth.

"You made it. I'm not surprised," Smith said, finding a momentary strangeness to his voice, the way he was standing. "What you got there?" He had been relatively alone before, for months, but never truly isolated.

"Ja," Karl replied happily. In reply to the question, he unwrapped a short stack of books. The top volume he opened to reveal a hole in the pages cut to the form of a switchblade. Smith grinned at the crazy German, who removed the knife and dropped the books on the road. Glancing down at the tumbling pile, he heard a strange noise. His head tilted down like it was, he could see the very end of the naked blade sticking out of his chest. Karl, still smiling, was holding the handle; a bit of smoke was visible, exiting the empty device. "Something I made. Your prisons, they are so lax here in America," the man replied. As Smith reached for his gun, his knees gave out and the world began dimming. Distantly, he could feel his hands fumbling with his holster, and Karl's hands pawing at him. "Lie still, comrade. Your suffering is at an end. You have been kind, so I will spare you the terror I will bring to your government and its people. That is my only gift to you, not sincerity or friendship, but that. You and your bomb. You made the world's fear awaken, like in a dog that hates the leash. That is what I will bring to your people, but not to you." His English was near to perfect. Smith could vaguely feel the ends of his mouth turn up.

Before the car that abandoned the nameless dead man in the road outside the prison sped off, there was the briefest of pops, and the quickest of muzzle flashes.

2: Dreaming

"Defendant Anthony Moran's case was thrown out today because of a lack of witness testimony. In a bizarre turn of events, three eye-witnesses that were to identify Moran, accused of two cases of murder in the first degree, all failed to show in court. Captain Robert Wells was more incensed than confused, however, 'Today our justice system has failed in its duty to protect the public from monstrousness of it's lawless side. Anthony Moran is one two-bit criminal who was stupid enough to kill to innocent people, but there are others out there, smarter and more clever, and I am afraid that they will see this as a victory for all their kind.' The eye-witnesses were believed to have entered into some sort of agreement with police that they would testify. Little is known what repercussions they will face as a result of this turn of events." 

They had come to him in his dreams, so the first solution Neil could think of was to avoid sleeping. It wouldn't last, of course. But he had wrapped himself around the notion that he still had a choice for however long; he still had control, despite all evidence to the contrary.

"Neil, we've had to make some tough decisions," his boss had said. He was sitting behind his wide desk in his long office, looking at Neil's file. "You don't have any complaints on your record. And when you turn in numbers, they're always good, in the higher percentile" there was a but coming. The but. "I'm sorry, Neil."

"I can do better," he had leaned forward enough to accidentally put his hands on the man's desk.

"It's not about that. We've moved you three times. Your machines, all of them, report more data loss than the rest of your department. Do you know how much money that costs the company?" Neil did know, and so did his boss; the other man had the number probably circled somewhere in his file. Neil knew less specifically, but it was more than he was worth, much more; he'd been told before. But like the last time, and the time before that, Neil fought for his job, and in the end, he was given by the end of the day to clean out his desk. Then, to make matters worse, that was the night he had dreamed.

The door to the gas station shop with the little bell on top was becoming familiar. Behind the corner, the older man looked up, then went back to reading his paper. The little place was near his apartment, and it was open past dark. The owner wasn't the friendliest man in the world, but Neil imagined it was just how he had been born. That was fair, not everyone was cheery and happy. He imagined himself working for twenty years at a gas station, serving the same people who didn't know his name. Fetching a couple sodas from the cooler, he imagined that that would be the sort of work he'd have to get. Something menial that included a jumpsuit and a name tag. That job he had just been fired from was the last data entry company in Galena.

For just a moment, Neil gave in to remembering the dream, whose logic and details had not fallen away when he had woken, as the hours had passed by. The vivid message was easily at the ready. Neil looked down at the glass bottles he was carrying, felt the fragile structures too small to see at his fingertips. Then the little bell rang to the tiny place as the door opened. Two men stumbled in, one of them knocking over a display of candy.

"Hey," the owner stood up then. His expression went from angry to concerned as the front of his vision was filled with the barrel of a gun. The first man stepped forward like he was hard of hearing. Neil sagged to his knees. He heard more than saw the second man trying to stand up.

"I'm sorry, hey what, paps? Hey what?" the first man said. "Mooney, get the hell up," he said to his friend, who might have been drunk.

"I-I'm sorry," the old man stammered. His sentence was interrupted by his own screaming. Neil peeked around one of the displays and saw that he had fallen, maybe after being struck.

"Damn right you're sorry," the first man said. "Now get the hell up and give me and my friend two bags filled with your priciest stuff. I got the hankering for cheap soda and candy," he chuckled. Mooney giggled behind his friend as he swayed on his feet. When the old man came into view again, he was bleeding from a head wound. He was shaking, afraid, and looked right at Neil. It was a slight, brief adjustment of the eyes, but the plea was apparent. Neil didn't move, holding his soda bottles, trying to be small.

Everyone in the tiny shop stopped moving when they heard the engine. It could have been thunder, or maybe a growl. It started soft and then fiercely grew into the certainty that the rider was in the parking lot. For a moment, it revved down into a deep gargle, then it barked twice in anticipation. Finally, it stopped, and left a bit of an echo. Released, the man with the gun grabbed the old man by the collar and dragged him on his feet around the counter.

"Mooney," he said. "Mooney, what the hell, get your piece," he tried to be commanding without being loud. But he wasn't looking at his friend; he was staring at the door. Mooney, impressively had straightened up and sobered drastically. He was already reaching for his gun and managed it with moderate success, so that when the rider walked into the tiny shop, he had two guns pointing at him. Neil, still crouched, had gained enough courage to move about slightly so that he could see everything. From his vantage point, the man in the leather jacket was gigantic, his head and shoulders almost touching the frame of the door. He had a somewhat confused expression on his face, like he was mulling over something he had seen outside. And his face didn't change at all when he saw the guns.

"Alright, alright now," Mooney's friend said, pointing his gun at the old man, then the stranger, then the old man again. "We're walking out of here, and there aren't going to be any problems. Alright?" The rider brought a hand up for inspection, and found something unsatisfactory about his glove. He unbuttoned the garment and refastened it. Then, addressing the captive of the two gangsters, he thumbed towards the gas pump.

"I didn't see any signs or anything out there. Is this self-serve or something?" he asked. The two criminals blinked at him, a little deflated. Neil, more impressed, let his mouth hinge open in awe.

"What the hell," the gunman said again, clearly rattled. "Funny man. How about I shoot the old man, huh? What you got to say to that?" he fumbled around with his words, still constantly changing who he was pointing the gun at. For the first time, the Corsair looked at the two men, their clothes, and guns.

"Well, since his being alive is the only reason this conversation has remained civil, I'd say that would be a very bad idea for you," the rider said, and he was serious. Neil stared and stared, unable to look away. This was the kind of man that saved people, and didn't get fired from his job, and didn't have inexplicably bad endings to all his relationships. He was a winner, and he knew it. And the thugs knew it, too, except one of them at least had the bolstered confidence of alcohol.

"To hell with you," Mooney shouted and set to open fire. And from there, things happened extremely fast. In retrospect, Neil realized it was because he was screaming and closing his eyes for most of it, but however it happened, Mooney's first volley of shots went wide. And as the Corsair sprinted forward, his tough friend became petrified, incapable of shooting at all. Mooney's shooting wrist was grabbed and forced upward. The next bullet exploded the light. The display Neil was using to hide behind buckled and tipped over as bodies were thrown around the room. And in the end, Neil was on his back, his front and back cold with soda, his hands cut.

"Thanks, Mister," Neil heard the old man say. "I don't know what I would've done had you not come along."

"No sweat. Put a soda on my tab, will ya?" the rider asked.

"Tab? It's on the house!" the old man replied excitedly. Crunching his way to the back of the shop, Neil watched his silhouette come. After he retrieved his prize, he stood there for a while, maybe looking down at Neil.

"You know there's a guy back here?" he asked, before screwing the cap off.

"Oh, oh yeah, he was in here before," the old man said, like he was just remembering. The Corsair made a sound halfway between grunting and humming. It came with a slight shake of the shoulders. Then, he crunched his way to the front of the shop and out into the parking lot.

"I'll pump it myself. You should probably call the cops" was the last thing he said.

Over the next few days, that night remained fresh in Neil's memory. From fatigue, he had ventured back to sleep, but the dream did not come back. He was happy, and that fact, the idea that the best he could wish for was not to be tortured by dreams, solidified a theory that he had been developing: some people were extraordinary, some people were ordinary, and some were even worse. Steadily, he took his resume and references around Galena, and worked his way down the social ladder. He couldn't get even get work as a garbage collector, so he had to settle for being a janitor. He had found a small service that cleaned office buildings at night; the work required late hours and thumbs. Neil handed over his references, but they weren't necessary, just like his resume. Neil settled in easily enough to the solitary work, and as the days eked by, he thought less and less of the dream. The work was numbing affirmation of his place in the natural order. But it was still a place.

On the train home one evening that started off like all the others, Neil nodded off. It wasn't the dream from before; peculiarly, he was dreaming about that dream: of going to bed thinking of his girlfriend, how things were going, was it too soon to say love, to think about their lives together, resembling the ideal of his parents, of finishing his first year at the new company, turning things around, making a new and better name for himself despite his past, of his mind being opened as he slept, against his will, to a different story of those years of youth that everyone forgot, and how it illuminated why everything fell to ruin around him. You don't belong here, they had said. Resistant, Neil had shaken himself awake in the stiff train car seat.

"I said, 'You shouldn't be doing that' " Neil's mouth was dry, and he was sweating like when he had woken up that night.

"Lady, you must be either stupid or blind" He could feel his heart beat, tapping against the back of his breast bone.

"I'm... I'm not scared of you. You're just a bunch of hooligans, thugs" His scalp felt tight against his skull , like his head was in a vice. His vision focused, and he could see people standing in the aisle: a woman and three men wearing the smiles of jackals. Then the lights of the train car flickered, almost in warning. The low moan of groaning steel crept up through the floor. First they could only feel it in their ankles, then it was in all of their ears. Everyone put their hands to their ears and screamed, then they tumbled and tilted as their entire world leaned off the tracks and began falling. Neil didn't have a single thought save for all of his regrets.

The seat in front of him lunged forward and crushed into his face, but there was no other impact, and no death. Looking up, his vision was blurred again, but he could see that the others were also alive, their crumpled forms straightening in curiosity. In the next moment, the groan returned again as their world was set to rights, not pointing down, or twisted to the side but staring right down the track again, and still.

Over the next hour, things were explained. It was being called a transit incident. For some reason, vital parts of the train car had simply disassembled. They had also crushed a city bus. But the Forever Man had saved everyone. That's what the fireman and paramedics said, and what the reporter wrote down. And everyone believed except for the people who were saved. The woman went off with the medics, but the men, the jackals, still smiling, shrugged off their injuries and walked away.

Like the others present, Neil said nothing. He entertained belief for only a moment, trusting in the truth of the words from the dream. If he didn't belong, then maybe it didn't make him as bad as he felt. Or as worthless.

3: The Forever Man

"Police reported today that crimes of the felony degree in the Galena metropolitan area have risen 13% since last year. Commissioner Robert Wells had little to say except to comment that the numbers could account for the larger amount of firearms available to the population. Mayor Francis Carmine had this to say, 'These numbers, although relatively minute, are a red flag that may indicate that our fair city is headed in the wrong direction. I want to ensure all citizens that authorities are looking into this very closely.' The mayor would not comment on the supposedly growing federal presence in and around Galena. Commissioner Wells insists that if such an event is occurring, it is not related to the increase in crime rate, which he again downplayed the severity of."

Garrison Geis didn't know why, but whenever his mother called from home, he lied about his situation at the Galena Covenant. He wasn't so ambitious as to claim to have a big office with his name on the door, but in his version of the way things were, he at least had a desk. It was a funny story, the way he told it: the desks in the cubicles were longer, even wider, than the entrance to the cubicles, which made them seem immortal in scope, like they built the cubicles, the offices, the building around them. It was a huge mystery how they got the desks in the cubicles that belonged to the up and coming reporters. In reality, Garrison Geis didn't have a desk, or a cubicle, or a locker; he didn't even have a place to stand in the huge news room at the GC after they put the water cooler in.

In high school, he had been somebody because of his family, his name, with his father, the captain of industry, and his mother, the queen of socialites. In college, he had been somebody because of all that, but he had also made a name for himself as a football star. There was talk of retiring his number; he had all sort of trophies and awards. Initially, he had left them at home, then when he had realized what life in Galena would mean for him, he had sent for them. He needed the confidence holding them gave him. They cramped his tiny north side apartment, but he had told his mother that he hadn't accounted for all the extra shelf space. Playfully, his mother had fought him over the trifle things, which held no importance in the world he had left. She had jokingly commented that if he wanted those trophies from boyhood, it really meant he was determined to stay in the big city and be a reporter, not follow in his father's footsteps and go to law school. In, truth, a small piece of Garrison was hoping he would wake up, too, and just give up and go home.

"Alright, alright, alright people." Slade, Mr. Slade, always entered a room like he was roller skating. He was in motion, and he wasn't stopping. The Editor in Chief walked to the center of the room while talking, getting attention that he already had. "Who's got a story for me? Photo-boy, you got any pictures for me?" Garrison swallowed while thinking of an excuse. "Well, can it, put it all on hold, ya hear me? All Corsair stories go on the back burner until somebody gets me some definitive information on the flying man," he said, while spinning and looking at every face.

"Flying man?" Someone asked. Garrison remembered what it was like to have been that voice. He had been that voice last year when the stories about the Corsair started popping up. He had made that mistake once, but never again.

"What? What was that?" Slade was like a hammer. "What do I pay you people for? You should be telling me! Why would I have the scoop, I don't even write anymore. Go find some answers," he thundered, getting red in the face. "Now," Garrison knew he said, but wasn't there to hear, because he was already running down the stairs. Lessons he learned working at the GC, you never waited until Slade was completely done speaking, and you never waited for the elevator.

The rain was just heavy enough to make everything damp, but light enough to make an umbrella extraneous. Garrison settled for a toboggan, scarf and a jacket. Galena winters were brutal, and nights following overcast days were chilly even in the summer. Garrison had become accustomed to the stake outs; it had been hell covering the Corsair, who's only preamble was the sound of his motorcycle. Garrison had actually become so familiar that half the time he could pick out the specific sound the engine made. He suspected it had been tampered, tweaked in some way, but never said anything. Talking too much had gotten him snubbed before.

"I think I saw him," he had said. In his mind, he already had a desk with a name plate, and he and this woman would be colleagues. Garrison had thought because she was one of the few women working for GC, and he was so undervalued, they had something in common.

"Saw who?" she had seemed only mildly curious.

"The Corsair. I got some pictures of him rescuing this family from an apartment fire," he dangled the sentence like a friend would.

"What? Where? Let me see them!" she had promised by-line credits. He had given the photographs to her, and pointed out the letters on the back of his jacket. When the story ran, the only place his name was visible was in tiny print beneath the pictures.

"What, the paper never arrived? That's strange; I sent it on Monday," he had told his mother. That week, he had stopped talking to reporters, and he had stopped riding the elevator. Objectively, it was an honor to have his name in the paper at all, but that wasn't his goal. Photography was the only way he could get a job at all. The written word was how people were moved, at least, the written word was a close second to action. People didn't cheer for photographers just like they didn't cheer for trainers, or lawyers.

Garrison was careful about opening his peanut butter sandwich so it didn't get wet. He was still, and quiet, perched next to a water tower on the tallest roof he could get to without getting arrested. Slade might have been crazy, or worse joking, but even if it was a hoax or a stunt, he had a good vantage point in case something did happen. Maybe there'd be a police chase and the Corsair would zoom by on his Enfield. Garrison must have taken a thousand pictures of the man, and he had never once seen his face full on. The man was always running through a fire or jumping over things and under bullets, and Garrison had never been all that close. And the man never took a day off. Before Garrison's discovery, the Samaritan story had come about organically, because it was so fitting. If someone was in trouble, and he was around, he saved them. Simple as that. The man was a hero; people would be writing stories about him for a good long while. Even after he got killed in one of his selfless rescues. Garrison chewed quickly, careful not to waste any food. In the beginning, he had worked jelly into his routine, but in the end he realized it was less about taste and more about not being fatigued from all the running, or distracted by hunger.

Looking down, he saw a light in a window across the street. It waved like a small child, and then flared restlessly in its little silent space. Using his camera lens, he zoomed in, and realized the fire was bigger than normal, spreading through the room. Suddenly, the window burst and through the eyepiece, Garrison could see the room begin to blacken. He stood up and let the camera fall back to his chest. He had to call the police. Unfortunately, there were no convenient phone booths nearby. He put a foot on the edge of the rooftop and peeked over, scanning the sidewalk below. He didn't see anyone to yell down to. Garrison diverted his attention back to the building for a moment to note the growth of the blaze. He didn't see any people inside, but his angle was poor. When he looked down and again, he didn't see anyone on the opposite sidewalk either. Then he began scanning around him, at eye level, a bit in desperation.

That's when he saw it. Rather, that's when he saw him. Slade's flying man was wearing a long, modest wool overcoat with gloves and a pilot's mask with goggles. He was just streaking along, like it was typical, and then glanced at the growing fire casually, almost like he might not have stopped. Then he picked Garrison's rooftop to perch on, like he was being held up by invisible strings. Garrison's mouth was dry, and open. Something of the new him remained though, and was lifting his right arm gently, slowly, to the capture button of his camera around his neck. The flying man didn't seem to notice, or care; his posture was one that Garrison was familiar with. He looked like his father, or one of his his golf buddies in costume.

The flying man had made up his mind by the time Garrison's camera began quickly working. The masked man gestured like he was doing something. Inexplicably, the support struts of the water tower bent and whined, twisting themselves loose. Then, the entire thing lifted from the rooftop, tipped over, and lunged towards the burst window. At the last moment, the entire structure stopped in midair, its contents shooting like a wide-mouth hydrant into the window and against the building. The fire in that room, and the adjacent ones were extinguished like candles. Then, the water tower was placed back where it was, somewhat casually. All the while, the flying man was waving his arms and his head. Garrison's camera had stopped taking pictures, and began making the noise that meant the film needed to be changed. Without all the grinding metal and splashing water, it was the only noise on the rooftop besides Garrison's heartbeat.

Slade's flying man turned his attention to Garrison Geis then, his expression hidden. He didn't move a step closer, just stood there staring, listening to the camera. For Garrison, it was a long time, and eventually, the flying man flew off. He had shared some words though, however they didn't register until moments later, at which point Garrison Geis left the roof at the safest sprint he could manage. He took the train home, as usual, and found his type writer. He carried it to the table where he ate his breakfast and stared at his trophies and used the heavy machine to wipe the table clean.

He wrote for the remainder of that night and most of the next day. When the pictures were done developing in his closet, he went to the Covenant, and he used the elevator. Appropriately, Slade was in his office, yelling at someone who had probably asked a mistimed question. Garrison Geis smiled, like when he had gained insight into the inner workings of things. He handed Mr. Slade the folder.

"Mr. Slade, you may not remember me, but I came in for a job last year. I was denied, but you were nice enough to make me a photographer. Now, if you wouldn't mind, I'd very much like a promotion."

4: Codename: Far-Child

"I am writing this letter to the editor as a concerned, tax-paying citizen of Galena. My neighbor, Mr. Frank Morris, was abducted from his apartment last night. What's worse, I fear that it wasn't even by criminals. I know I sound crazy, but I know that Mr. Morris was a nice man that didn't bother anyone, and one day he was there, and the next day he was gone. I went to the police and they told me not to worry! What does that even mean? I am not as smart as some people, I know that. But I went to school. I heard on the radio that this type of thing is why we went to war. What was it? To stop abusive practices and evil men, tyranny. And the next day his apartment was just as empty as the day before he moved in! I just can't help but remember the stories of those poor people taken out of their homes and were never heard from again. I am very confused, and I do not know what's going on, but you've gotten to the bottom of things before. I trust you will bring out the truth of this. My neighbors and I are scared over what has happened, and we just don't think it's right."

During the day shift, they wrote the huge figures of numbers in and around the city with the doctors' little device sitting between them. The noises it made came in three varieties: barely nothing, moderately annoying, and ape shit. During the night shift, they used it inside buildings, walking up and down hallways and stairwells, taking turns between carrying the clunky box and counting the minutes. Tonight was one of those nights that had followed a long day.

Walker paused a moment to change which hand was carrying the click-box, that's what they called it. Behind him, Brown inspected the way they had come through the aging apartment building.

"You really think everything in here is necessary?" Walker asked as he went back to walking in front.

"Maybe. Maybe not," Brown replied, "Seems to me a stupid idea to put anything in there that wasn't strictly necessary." Walker pushed himself flat against the wall to let Brown past, who opened the door to the stairwell for his partner after glancing up and then down. Walker shuffled past with the device.

"I don't think any of the brains have been out in the field before, though. I bet we got them to come out on assignment one night, they'd put some thinking into lightening this thing," Walker replied, looking with chagrin up the stairs. "Is it your turn yet?" In response, Brown lengthened his arm to make space between his glove and coat sleeve for his watch face. After inspecting the hour, he grinned with only one side of his face and shook his head. Walker cursed and started up the stairs.

During the day shift, cruising by buildings the click-box was much more fidgety. The teams did their best to mark on maps which places made it go all crazy. Opposite sides of the same building were enough to get the address notated for whichever night teams. But the gizmo's range wasn't fantastic, so if a building was tall enough, it had to be checked regardless. Readings at ground level were much less reliable if it was even moderately tall, so every building that had an elevator basically had to be checked out. And because of what the egg heads called technological transparency, they couldn't use the elevators, lest some bystander see it. And the real kicker was that at no point were they ever really told even what the click-box was reading, what they were looking for.

Eventually, Brown cleared his throat to announce the time, and put his pistol away, then accepted the burden from his partner. They were a few floors from the roof, which also had to be checked. Silently, the two agents grieved for themselves and each other. Since they had plenty of time to do nothing and muse about the assignment, they had personally put together a few of the pieces. And it wasn't a what that they were looking for; it was a who. Or likely a who. It wasn't stationary, because with the handful of ape shit readings they'd come across, they would have found it for sure if it wasn't mobile. And people around those hot spots they did find were thoroughly questioned and tested. Walker and Brown hadn't been any of the teams to bring in the people, but they knew it was dangerous, too, because those agents that did do the finding had also needed to be tested and questioned. And from some technically illegal snooping on Walker' part, they knew it all stemmed back from something that had happened decades before, a strange phenomenon that had occurred only once. Back then, they apparently had no way of knowing what it was, except for some hastily documented after effects. Now, they were looking for what amounted to echoes, which were much more faint, but with the click box, apparently someone had developed a way to record or trace those dimmer reflections.

Walker went through the door on the roof casually. It was a cold night, and anyone liable to be up on the roof at three in the morning was likely to be more crazy than lucid anyway. He glanced a couple different directions and nodded to Brown, who completed the last few steps with little difficulty. The two of them had known of one another since the previous assignment in the basement. It was hush-hush work, too, but it was organic. There were people and lies and secrets. All they had, really, were maps, and files, and their hunches. Since moving upstairs, their superiors were clearly taking their orders at least partially from the scientists. Big machines with gauges and diagrams were everywhere. It was extremely foreign, and Walker and Brown were in agreement about disliking the work.

"I say we take the elevator back downstairs," Walker said, peering over the edge of the roof, surprised to see even a couple people walking to and fro.

"Doesn't seem like anyone's awake," Brown said. Half of that was agreement, and the other half was his thinking out loud. Of the two of them, Walker was much more likely to break convention.

The shriek of screeching tires in the distance interrupted their conversation. Without the click box, Brown joined Walker at the edge of the roof and both of them watched two cars speed into sight, the pair of them making left turns onto the street below. The roar of the engines could be most clearly made out, with the rapid pop of fired shots and the muzzle flares less detectable. Just as they were passing directly below, the click box went ape shit. Almost as a reflexive reaction, both Walker and Brown freed their sidearms. The front car exploded into the air, flipping oddly end over end. It slid noisily down the street on its roof; the trailing car slowed, its front grill illuminated by the sparking. Brown elbowed Walker in the side. When his partner looked up, they were both looking at Galena's resident mystery man hovering in mid air. The Forever Man floated leisurely to the opposite rooftop. He seemed to mostly be watching but the click box was still going crazy.

"That's just our luck," Walker said. Both the agents watched as the masked man did nothing as the trailing car pulled up along side the front car and waited momentarily, then rolled its windows down and opened fired on the wrecked car. And he continued to spectate as the car sped off. The click box quieted down considerably, too, to its moderately annoying range. After another moment, the Forever Man also took to the air again and stepped across the street in his strange way. The gizmo didn't kick up its chatter again, but it was loud enough to draw the attention. Thirty feet above the agents' heads, the masked man inspected the two men and their chattering device.

"I stand corrected," Walker said. Before Brown could respond, before either of them could conjure up any sort of response, he was gone. In his absence, the click box didn't become louder or quieter, just tapped rapidly along. They both peeked over the edge again.

Getting down to the car in a hurry was difficult. Ultimately, they used the stairs because it was faster. Still, when they got to the bottom a fire had already started with no way of knowing how long it had been burning. And sprinting across the foyer did nothing to stop the ensuing explosion of the gas tank. The glass in the front doors of the building shattered. Walker took the worst of it, being in front; he cried out more from frustration than pain, though. When Brown finally caught up, he could tell the other man's face was bleeding. The click box was slowly growing in volume, too. They worked their way slowly outside, and with a little testing they somewhat easily determined that whatever it was had been in the car. It was probably identifiable before it had been exploded.

"People are probably awake now," Brown said, panting. Walker put his hands on his knees and looked at the wreckage for a handful of seconds before nodding tiredly.

"Yeah, let's go," he agreed.

Walker left Brown in charge of filing the device in with the egg heads that were responsible for that sort of thing. His destination was who he assumed to be the chief liaison between the project and Washington. They had never been formally introduced but the man was always around for the meetings and briefings, then he tucked himself back away into a far corner of the building. When he knocked on the door, the voice behind it seemed marginally surprised, but when he opened it, his face was sobered.

"Agent Walker," the man said, taking a step backwards. "You've got a little something on your face."

"Yeah, well, maybe almost getting my face blown off tonight spurred a sense of daring in me, but I suddenly lost the fear of getting canned or bagged over all this. And I know that agents that report incidents take a while coming back anyway, so I figured I'd ask my questions now," Walker said, reaching a hand up to gingerly inspect his face; there was glass in several of the cuts. The man, who he was positive outranked him by several degrees, actually pondered for a moment.

"You work with Agent Brown, correct?"

"That's right," Walker squinted his eyes.

"Well. You get yourself cleaned up, and come back here, let's say noon?" the man put his hands behind his back. "No funny business. I can't answer all of your questions, but some, I am at liberty to" stunned a bit into compliance, Walker could do little as the man closed the door in his face. Suddenly, he felt foolish for thinking that the man would be in his office at that hour, and a bit apprehensive because he actually was. Still, his path, and Brown's, was set. He told his partner before getting his face looked at. Like a good agent, he made it seem like the choice had been taken out of his hands. Likewise, Brown was suspicious but didn't say anything. and said that he'd be there at midday.

Ultimately, one side of his face only required bandages, but the side that had caught it the worst had needed stitches. With a big white gauze taped to his face, he showed up to meet his partner for the meeting that would likely change his entire career, or end it. In any event, it was time to get some answers. Brown did the knocking. The man with no name and no title opened the door, in the same suit and tie from before, and welcomed them inside. With the three of them and the desk, it was a bit cramped.

"Huh," Walker said, sitting down. "I would've thought the the way you acted, that,"

"I do out rank you," the man said, straightening a pencil on his desk calendar. "Vastly," he punctuated the statement, then folded his hands together. "Now, I believe the two of you had questions," he addressed Brown first, ignoring Walker almost completely after their initial exchange.

"What is Project Far-Child?" Brown asked. Walker looked over at his partner, then back at the man at the desk.

"Project Far-Child is the U. S. government's attempt to locate and capture a member of the population that we believe was placed here approximately twenty years ago by an alien civilization for unknown, but believed to be nefarious, purposes," he said, like Brown had asked him directions to the bathroom. Walker opened his mouth, then he closed it. He decided to listen. Brown asked the man behind the desk to explain, and he did.

At times, he left things out on purpose, but in general he outlined their operations in the Galena area, which is where this person, the Far-Child, was believed to be. The click boxes responded to a specific kind of energy the individual apparently emanated. It was sort of like water, and hung around before dissipating which is why they got readings all over the place. The man behind the desk believed all of these areas were indications of the execution of some plot. He didn't know what a random car chase had to do with it, and he didn't say anything new when he explained the gang wars that were beginning to reach what would likely be a gruesome tipping point. It was believed, though, that around the individual in question, the gizmo, which had an extremely long and complex name, would react most strongly.

"What do you know about the Forever Man?" Walker interjected. He was patient, but to a fault. The man behind the desk didn't look put out; he looked almost like he had been expecting the question.

"I know that he isn't the individual you're looking for. We checked him out first, of course, but he was a bit too obvious a candidate," he had kept his fingers crossed for the entire conversation. Walker waited, as if he'd say more, but he didn't. "As I've told you, this is a fact-finding mission. You and your fellows are the ones getting the facts," he was speaking directly to Walker now, "so if you are completely done asking questions, maybe we could get on with it?" Brown stood up, followed quickly by Walker. He let Brown open the door. Before stepping through it and closing it behind him, he turned around again.

"So what do we call,"

"I'm the man behind the desk, Agent Walker. I'd think that would be enough. However, if you like, you can call me Mr. White," the man behind the desk interrupted him. And again, the door had closed before Walker was fully ready. Brown was staring at him in the hallway. Slowly at first, they walked away from the door and the man and his desk.

"So, you had been snooping around, too?" Walker asked.

"I wouldn't call it snooping," Brown replied, staring straight ahead.

"Okay, but you had doubts," Walker inferred. Brown stopped in mid stride and wheeled on his partner.

"No, I never had doubts. You have doubts about what we do, and you're in the wrong business. That's what happened to Smith," he said, with resolution. Then he went back to walking down the hall, this time alone; Walker watched him go.

5: Jon Doe

"I remember when it started. I remember. And none of it had to do with the flying one, that Forever Man. I mean, don't get me wrong, I liked the guy. He probably saved my life more than once. But in the beginning, in the very beginning, it was the Corsair. Guy pulls a lady out of her car before it explodes. She wakes up to see her dry cleaning roasting, firemen are everywhere, and the police tell her later it must have been a stranger. Good Samaritan, the papers said. Then, this guy runs into a burning apartment building, five-alarm blaze down on 32nd, comes out with two kids, an old sick lady, and a frightened cat. Unknown hero, that was the tag line. No one knows, really, but I like to believe it was the same guy that walked out of that bank with that old timer whose ticker had gone bad. Police rushed inside, confused, looking for the crooks that had the place locked down. No one talked to him, no one asked. That girl, the reporter woman, she was the one who saw the back of his jacket as he rode off. Said Thee Corsairs. The Corsair. Just put the guy on the empty stretcher and casually rode off on that bike of his. Like it was Sunday."

People were having conversations about him in earshot, doctors, nurses, and the occasional curious onlooker:

"Christ, what happened to that guy?"

"Is he going to make it?"

"Where did they find him again?" He had all the answers, but couldn't speak. His jaw was broken, along with all the rest of him. He had rods and screws everywhere; they had made him look like a person again, sewn him up and covered him in a full body cast. He felt like a museum exhibit. He looked like a museum exhibit. Some nurse had hung his brother's jacket directly in his view, which was straight forward, with the doorway and the window just at the edge of his peripheral vision. So he had to stare at the damned jacket, and remember his brother who had died in the war from much more minor wounds.

"Luckiest son of a bitch I ever saw," someone out of sight said. The man in the bed resisted snorting; someone nearby was on the job, though.

"How do you figure that?" The next volley of painkillers finally kicked in, and he went from staring at the jacket to the fuzzy ceiling to the backs of his eyelids.

"He should've died."

He was on the road again, riding along leisurely if a bit too quickly. The wind was pushing against his front, whipping around him, over him, through his hair. The handlebars positioned his arms like he was trying to hug the horizon. It wasn't so far from the truth, his foot flexing at the ankle, his hand bending at the wrist. Then the dream took the turn it always did: time slowed and the sky darkened as if it might rain. A voice like a siren made him turn his head to see her. And of course he did. He always did, because stories that ended with a guy in traction always began with a pretty face and the turn of a nice calf. Her hair was equal parts red and orange, the front tied with a dull scarf, and she waved like she was a queen on holiday, slumming in the American Midwest. A blue and white checkerboard shirt and blue jeans rolled up to the knees hugged her smiling frame. Snugly. Then the blaring of the truck horn, or maybe the scream of the train whistle, the bellow of the hurricane. The sad part was that whatever it was, he never saw it, even during, even after it had hit him.

The doctor had looked ridiculous with that silver disc on his forehead, the mask in front of his mouth moving strangely, like he was talking. They had removed red scraps of his clothes with those funny bent scissors. All of their eyes were big and panicky.

Then he woke up again, warm and a little numb and frozen. The jacket came into focus, and his brother's voice.

"Sir, are you awake?" No, not his brother. The light in the room had changed. Was it the next day? A man wearing a white doctor's coat and holding a clip board tilted into view. "Yes, good," he grinned. "Well, we couldn't decipher your identification from what was recovered," he paused and reworked what was clearly a rehearsed speech. Ultimately, he decided to skip ahead, "In any event, law requires that if possible, the first of kin, or the patient themselves be notified of sustained injuries and the proposed treatment, so we waited some days, what with the drugs and," again he paused. The man in the bed wished he could speak. He knew his name. His name was... his name was... "So, we'll begin" and after clearing his throat, he did. The list was not short. "In summation, you've been injured in an extremely bad way, and at this juncture, we've really done everything we can. Now, we have little to do but wait." That brought him back to bleak focus. He had heard those words before, in a hospital room much like this one. That, he remembered.

After they stopped administering the drugs, he got a grip on the date and time and didn't let go. The routine became regular after the healing started and week by week, month by month, they removed piece by piece of his body cast. When his head piece had come off, the nurse had braced herself for what was underneath, but what she saw had pushed the trepidation up out of her with a sigh. She smiled and it was genuine; he could remember like a script what would normally have happened before. Instead, he tried his voice.

"I'm going to get out of this bed, and ride out of this town," is what he said. He couldn't use his arms yet, or his fingers, so he had to hold her with his eyes. When his arms were free, they hung little triangles from the frame above his bed to help him move around. In the beginning, he couldn't lift his arms, but by the end he could lift his whole body with one arm.

When people heard about his recovery, people came to see, and when they heard about he had said, one of them came with a plan. The junk man that had hauled away what was left of his bike showed up with a pencil, a pad, and less than half of his teeth. He didn't introduce himself; his overalls and oily hands, his dirty shirt and worn hat, they marked him. At least, little was reported to have been exchanged from outside the room, but the old man came with an empty pad and left with a few sheets of filled paper.

"You still can't remember your name?" the nurse from before asked. His back was turned, but he didn't grimace at the hot water scrubbing away the old skin on his back. She was trying to be gentle.

"No," he replied. He wasn't sure how she always ended up on sponge duty; for more purchase, she put a naked left hand on his shoulder.

"I told everybody round town what you said," she continued, like neither of them knew. At the end of his blocky legs, he flexed his toes and feet. With his ankles, he wrote cursive letters in the air.

"Yeah," he replied. For yet more purchase, she gently snaked a hand under his arm and put it against his chest. Now he could see she didn't have a ring, again with the scrubbing.

"The doctors say you're making a full recovery. It's amazing; they sent off your X-rays to some journal," she spoke softly in his ear. She always left in silence, though, took her empty tub and nodded and smiled and closed the door slowly. He could look anywhere he wanted, out of the window, at the ceiling, but his eyes always followed her.

The day the old junk man came back, he brought with him some clothes and a single key. He borrowed a chair from the waiting room and put the items in the far corner of the room in a pile. Again, he had words with the man, but seemed to have come and gone in silence. That was the day before they exposed his legs, which were atrophied, dirty things, but otherwise healthy. The doctor didn't gasp, but his breath caught a little in his throat. "Now," he tried his voice. "What's important is that you take this slowly, your strength will be affected, but also your balance. A bad fall and you could re-injure yourself," he said.

That night the man was up silently teetering next to his bed. He put his hands out for balance. He didn't know his name but he could remember his first bicycle, and his first bike, how to lean, how to turn. The first night he only fell half a dozen times. Over the next month he cut that number down considerably, bruises and nicks notwithstanding.

"You still plan on leaving?" she said. Their routine had extended down to his thighs. He glanced from her face, resting on his shoulder, to the stack of items in the chair that the old man had left. He swallowed. When he blinked he could still see her, and what always happened after didn't seem that bad anymore.

"Yeah," he said finally, and she didn't react at all. The sponge didn't hurt any more than it had before.

More people started showing up when he began taking walks around the hospital, even more when he began using the stairs. Clutching his robe closed, eating in the cafeteria, he began collecting all sorts of names and faces. And among none of those discoveries did he find his own. Even in mirrors, he looked differently than he thought he would. The bones in his face had healed into that of a stranger's. Sometimes he could feel additions to his bones, or see little bits of metal beneath the skin.

He plucked the jacket gingerly from where it had hung for months. He grunted a little at bending his arms backwards to put it on. Almost instantly he could feel other hands helping him.

"It's Anne, by the way," she said. "You never asked," she finished. He brought his arms forward and turned to face her, apologetically. She cinched his jacket and flipped down his collar. "It's okay," she continued, looking up into his face. "I never seen somebody wanting to do anything as bad as you. You don't even know your name, but that don't mean you have any less to do. I figure you were on your way to somewhere, and... and I guess it's high time you were on your way," her bottom lip quivered like in the stories. He couldn't kiss her, so he hugged her, which was the least dangerous thing.

When he left the hospital, people were there to watch him walk down the steps to the motorcycle that, curiously, had been sitting off to the side for weeks. But the conclusion to the story that was theirs as much as his wouldn't occur for decades. At least one of them assumed it ended much like it had began, with him riding away.

6: That Poor Blessed Girl

"Today, the disease ward of Galena's Beloved Saints Hospital has exceeded its capacity as the fiftieth child was admitted with a case of what doctors have dubbed Red Fever. Private contractors of all sorts have been called in to attempt to synthesize a cure and to diagnose a cause. Police believe there is a strong likelihood of these cases being some form of attack because thus far no adult has succumbed to the sickness. Just in case, the entire 13th floor has been closed off and the spillover has necessitated cots to be placed in the halls, monitoring equipment plugged into sockets set into the walls. While the situation cannot be called an epidemic, at this rate, Galena will soon be a city only of the adult and the elderly, with no future, and no hope. As usual, the Forever Man and the Corsair did not make themselves available for questioning. However in this case, there is likely precious little even they could have done. The first child to die, passing on last Friday, was a son of the Carmine family, Thaddeus. The mayor, understandably, did not make himself available for comment, likely busy making funeral arrangements for his youngest child."

The ambulance driver chose a slow, perhaps stunned, pace. His eyes split time between being round like saucers and triangular, like in consternation. His partner was less conflicted, and much more obvious about his curiosity. She was sitting up, sideways on the gurney, and when the ambulance turned or hit a bump their knees almost touched. He was staring at her clothes, the cuts, the gashes, the holes, and the burns.

"This isn't necessary. I feel fine," she said again. The medic looked up into her eyes, apologetically. He shook his head.

"No. I mean, it's standard procedure," he replied. He wanted to say more; she could tell. What she was less sure about was whether or not she was actually okay.

She had been halfway through her jaunt downtown for art supplies before she finally figured out why there were so many people walking around with cameras, pointing up. Initially, she had imagined they were doing construction on the rail overhead. Then she had learned about what had transpired in that same intersection two weeks previous: apparently the train had run off its own wheels, and had smashed into a bus that was turning at the light below. Right before it crunched the transport flat, though, killing everyone inside, and half the people in the rail car, the Forever Man had swooped in and saved everyone. The driver of the bus, the people in the train, and a dozen or so onlookers had watched the rail car hover in midair, then lift itself back onto the track. It had damaged the street some, and of course completely ruined the bus, but no one had died. And today was the first day the system was working again, after the engineers had come through and checked and re-checked everything. A rail car was on its way, and when it went trundling by, that would be a memorable photograph. And for people who couldn't afford the luxury of a camera, they were settled for organic memory.

Mara was done shopping for what she needed, but decided to stay and see the train go by. She picked a spot like a painter, to see the train coming from a moderate distance but ensuring a good angle on the curve of the track above. There was even a bench there for sitting, so she sat. A few moments before it arrived, a shadow took its place on the vacant end of the bench. Standing up and looking behind her, she could make out the top of his head. The Forever Man. Mara had smiled; he had heard about it, too, and was there to make sure everything went smoothly. She would not have said to her mother that she was on her feet proper, more like her hands and knees, in the big city, so she couldn't afford a radio. But the man was on the lips of people wherever she went. Public opinion seemed split, or at least dependent on which part of the city an opinionated person was in. Mara had chosen to believe that he was a good soul, blessed with mind-boggling ability. And there he was, standing on top of a bakery in downtown, finishing his work when he could have been somewhere else. Doing whatever someone like him did.

People had started shouting; the train was coming. She glanced back just the once, and thought that maybe he saw her watching him, and hadn't moved away. The approach was smooth; the rail car didn't slow or jostle at all. It banked on the turn without slowing too much and went along on its way. People cheered and took pictures, of the train, of each other. Mara started to cross the street again, on her way back uptown. And, as the paramedics told her later, a gas main beneath the street and the bakery above it exploded, along with several cars.

From what the doctors told her, the injuries came in two varieties. The ones she sustained let her ride leisurely to the hospital for a preventative checkup. The other people present called for a different vehicle altogether, but it drove just as casually. Everyone who survived the explosion would be put in the same part of the hospital, something about keeping everyone with like injuries together. The two medics had brought her in, and then they had quickly left, but no others had come. Halfway through the evening, she realized all of her art supplies had disintegrated along with those poor people. Like they had been blown onto the side of a building somewhere in Hiroshima in pastels and charcoal. Mara cried, and then she slept.

In her dreams, the day repeated itself, except sometimes the people were ducks with tap shoes or cats with top hats. The sun shone, or maybe it rained, but it was only sad when it had to be, which was never. But she couldn't make it end right. She couldn't make the Forever Man save all the people, or help him save all the people, or ask him to save all the people. With every iteration there was less of him and more of her, throwing a fistful of colored pencils at the people in warning. They turned, but too slowly, and the flames shot past her, and her pencils, and the people went flat like on a canvas: still, not like death, but not enough like life, either.

After the last time, she shot out of her sleep, maybe groaning, maybe screaming. Her eyes hurt and her throat and stomach. The colors on the outside of her window sagged under the weight of a steady rain. Looking towards the door of her room she could make out the tiny silhouette of a child.

"Hey," she said hoarsely, turning in her bed. The child didn't respond except to hug the side of the doorway. Mara cleared her throat and stood up from her bed. "Hey, what's your name?" she crouched so she could be at eye level.

"Peter," the boy replied.

"Peter," Mara said, creeping closer. "I'm Mara. Are you here with your family?" Peter shook his head and shuffled his feet. When she got halfway, he took a step backward into the hall.

"Why are you alone?" he asked. Mara paused at his strange emphasis. She was also ambivalent about explaining to the boy about all the reasons she had left home, not because he wouldn't understand them, but because he would.

"I'm not sick," she thought out loud. "I won't hurt you," she stood up but stayed hunched over a bit and stepped forward.

"That's not it," Peter said, stepping back into the low illumination of the night time lights along the floor. Even in the poor lighting she could see that the boy was red, blood red like all of him was inflamed, his lips swollen and dehydrated, his eyes glassy and droopy. Mara dropped to her knees again, and reached forward earnestly. Peter stepped backward, his eyes tearing up. "No," he said sternly. "I heard the doctors talking. They can't... I'm... like the other kids that wouldn't wake up," his voice dropped almost into an inaudible range. Mara could feel her tears pushing at the backs of her eyes. She stood up, sniffling only a little, and reached for the door handle. She retrieved the house coat the staff had hung there in case she got cold, and put it on, and closed the door after her. Peter watched her close the door with her in the hallway, then toss her hair up and over the back of her thin coat. She stepped over to him, faster than he could retreat, and shot her hand out with her palm facing the floor, right in front of his face. He looked at the ends of her fingers, her knuckles and wrist then up to her waiting smile. It was pure. He knew because he had seen all the different ways that smiles could be fake over the past month. Peter reached up and grabbed her hand, at first timidly, then he clung, and wouldn't let go.

"Show me the others," Mara said to him. He walked ahead of her, never letting go of her hand. He and the others had become industrious in their time in the hospital. They had their own floor, and except for a few daily tests, were generally left to their own devices. Some churches had come by with toys for them to play with, but those had been abandoned after a few days, like they collectively understood that they had to learn about every phase of life in however many days or weeks they had left. Peter was a news peddler and had discovered how to leave the floor at night. He grabbed on the door and pulled like an adult with the strength of a child, and when they finally accessed the place, Mara held in her gasp. They had found flashlights and candles, and not an eye was asleep.

Mara made sure she went around and touched each one, on their back, on their cheeks and foreheads. She made sure she listened to all their stories, and for those that asked, she told them hers, about how colors made her feel and how she wondered what clouds felt like, and what love looked like. Mara told them about how she had brought her passion to the largest city she could bus to and show her work to anyone who would look at it. She showed it to the children of the 13th floor.

By morning, she had fallen asleep again in a chair in the corner of one of the rooms. Before she left, she made sure to kiss each of them, even the boys old enough to believe in cooties. She was burdened with all of their worry and the regrets they'd never have. Mara had trouble paying attention to what the doctors told her past her having a clean bill of health. She rode the train home, and was oblivious to its magnificent new functionality. She went home, and slept, forgetting about her trip out for art supplies and remembering all the promises she had made to visit the children the next day. She slept for three straight days.

When she woke up, she was refreshed physically, but ferociously hungry. She showered and ate breakfast, made another to-do list and marked off items of several others. When she finally opened the door to her tiny apartment to leave, there was a family of people standing there to knock: two women, two men, wives and husbands, with two anxious children at their wastes.

"Mara!" Peter's voice shouted from one of the children. One of the mothers jumped forward and hugged her before she could respond, and before she knew it there were hands all over her, grasping and hugging. She was showered with kisses and tears and many, many thanks. Mara hugged them all back, happy that the children were better. She asked if all of the children were well, and Peter confirmed that they were. The parents said they had gotten her name from the hospital after Peter told them that she had stayed with them. The papers had inquired as to what had caused the regression and recovery, and she was the only documented catalyst. They didn't know how; they didn't care, which was good because Mara was confused herself.

Eventually, later that evening, they left. She had lost another day, had to make a new list, but it was worth it, she thought. The families had left her with the newspaper they had picked up on their way over to her loft. Miracle Comes to Galena.

7: The Don

"Firemen today, with assistance from the Forever Man, have put out the massive, three-day blaze that threatened to consume all of downtown. Authorities still have not released any information on the origin of the fire, but the destruction was estimated to have stretched from 115th Street almost the entire way across the lower east side. Interim Commissioner of police Wyatt Bishop could not be located to answer questions, however his office did release a statement that had this to say: 'Arson is being considered for the origin of the fire that began on Friday, however equally likely is that it was an accident. In any event, all avenues are being investigated, and we have a list of suspects to bring in and question. If the public would bear with us, and cooperate, we can get through this smoothly and put all the events of the past month behind us.' Bishop was installed on Monday as the interim commissioner after previous Commissioner Robert Wells was found dead in the trunk of an unclaimed car left outside the 13th precinct."

Initially, the mask was an innovation meant to hide his face, mostly his skin, the color of his eyes, and the fullness of his lips. What became equally important was hiding his own terror, then later his shock, and even later than that the indifferent calm that informed his features always, and sometimes the intense sadness. Something he could not define responded to the power of his mind, the will of his desire: metal twisted, cement cracked, men broke. He watched the Corsair slide his motorcycle along the street, through the wet, then dive at the last, perfect moment and pounce into the midst of a crowd of gunmen. It was something he had seen the man do a dozen times; he'd never know what those first articles in the Covenant would mean for the future of everything.

The storm above was a bad one, part of a huge system that was no doubt tearing through the lower Midwest. Galena was only getting the wind and the rain, which made the situation just miserable enough to complain about, but not ruinous enough to discourage people from killing each other. The scene mirrored several others he'd found before it. Somewhere in Galena someone had knocked over the wrong domino, and it had set to tumbling a thousand others that had been randomly but perfectly positioned to set fire to everything. He recognized the aggressors in the scene below his feet, two car fulls of grunts with automatic rifles following instructions, and the defenders, a mix of bad men and innocent bystanders going through the motions in one of several businesses owned by men with bloody hands. Yesterday, they would have bumped shoulders and exchanged threats, maybe even smiled. Today, in the aftermath of who knew what, there was war in the streets of Galena.

The last of them was dispatched almost casually by the Corsair, the strong hands of the motorcyclist straightening a man that was bent double, opening up his face to a single, thunderous impact that sent the back of his head into the fender of a nearby automobile, his inept gun clattering to the ground. Water had soaked into the man's shirt, his hair, even his boots. He looked more disdainful of the heavy rains than the crowd of unconscious men at his feet.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked, craning his neck upward.

"I thought we could ask him," he directed the Corsair's attention with his words to the one assailant still conscious: one of the drivers of the automobiles had been caught while exiting his car, his door bent around him, pinning him to the side of the car. Unable to shield his face from the rain, he looked blind and miserable. The Corsair made short work of the interrogation; the man was willing to do anything for release. He likely had internal injuries.

"Somebody hit Pinks at his mother's," the driver said. The severity of the action was obvious to the two of them that it would elicit exactly the reaction that had finally started the street war everyone had been waiting for. The biker shook the unfortunate gangster.

"Where is Pinks Moran?" He sounded willing to settle that score for good.

"I-I don't know. He sent us all different places, maybe he went after the girl"

"What girl?" they both asked at the same time, and in retrospect of receiving the answer, he should have known. Everyone knew where she was, where she lived. It was her ability to heal that kept her safe. If it weren't for that, in Galena, she'd have been dead twelve times over.

"I'll get her," he yelled through the rain down at the other man. "You'll be fine to do what you do alone," he said, lifting his attention skyward.

"Never a question," the biker responded, neatly adding the eavesdropping man to the pile of unconscious others. "But why won't you be coming?" he was only curious. He was keenly aware of the exploits of the simple man in the leather jacket. He had a stack of the newspaper clippings.

"Because she's the best of us," he answered before leaving the conversation. The mask also allowed him to speak the truth without hesitation. For confirmation, people had little but their own faces to consult, because his was a mute wrap, only in the shape of a man, only insinuating humanity. Getting his bearings was easy enough, despite the darkness, once he was high enough. And he knew where Pinks Moran's mother lived because the man spent so much time there, which is why the would-be assassins probably knew the location as well. The wind and the rain only narrowly tore through the heavy wool and the layers of shirts as he went. He was moving forward even as his mind went backward.

The artifact having been a book was fitting. Somewhat predictably, it stood out in every way possible, except that he had found it tucked away from the world, lost on the top shelf of the derelict repository of books, poised for demolition. He had taken it because he thought that such a thing should never be buried. And that was the great irony. Because after he had discovered what lie within, draped himself in its secrets and taken of the power, after he had written his name on the ancient pages, burying the book was the first thing he had done. He understood why it had been hidden in the first place, so he belonged to an ancient fraternal system. He belonged to it, like he was its slave.

The car he found was traveling too fast for the weather. When it roared across the tracks, almost on a beeline for the mother's house, he enacted his plan, falling from the sky like a raven. He presumed she was inside, hoped with what little hope he had left that she was alright, so finesse was kept firmly in mind. The car was like a toy, and the people inside puppets, but there were even smaller things inside them which if broken or bruised, could result in death.

When the top of the car was torn off, the driver panicked, and the car swerved on the slick street, threatening to turn over and spill its precious cargo. He saw her, and heard her scream, even as he snatched her up just in time for her to witness the end over end crash, and not participate in it. She quieted down, in awe a bit of the tumbling car, which rolled through someone's property and finally came to a stop. The four men, driver included, had not been wearing restraints. Quietly, he set her on the ground, himself too. He didn't want her to risk touching him, so he kept his distance. She turned slowly, shaking a bit.

"Are you alright?" he asked. Two weeks after the Red Fever incident, the paper had featured a full page article about her, with pictures of her and her incomplete art. There, shaking in the rain, she looked like he imagined her mother looked. Sprinkled in with her black locks was the occasional strand of gray. She bobbed her head, and squared her shoulders while sniffling. "I'm sorry this happened. I can take you home," he said, turning away from her. Quickly, she reached out to touch him. He caught her wrist with his gloved hand, but still, her eyes glazed over with tears and her face cringed. He released her and took another step backwards.

"Oh," she moaned, clutching at her stomach. His injuries were with him, and they were not.

"You're weak," he said, being more cautious this time. "You need rest."

"No," she said, standing up again, pained. "They were taking me to someone who needed my help," she said, resolutely. He didn't know the woman's name, the mother that had given birth to Anthony Moran. Likely she was someone worthy of being saved, innocent maybe, and sad. But she wasn't worth the risk of losing someone like Miracle. He thought to say as much, but then he recounted his own travels and travails. His successes, his plans, his vision, and his great failure to perhaps do the one thing great ever asked of him. The mask also hid him from looking into his own face on accident in reflective surfaces or unforeseen mirrors.

"Even if it means dying," he said to her in the rain. She set her shoulders in preparation of something.

"I'm just like you" and she set her chin, as if he'd question her truth. The mask did its job well.

They ended up at Christina Moran's. He imagined what the place would look like, filled with mourners and roses. He wondered what her son would do now that his mother was dead. Galena's Miracle cried for a woman she didn't know, and she never said anything about it being his fault, not once.

By morning, it was over. For his lack of schooling, his flamboyant disregard, and the blinding rage, in one night Anthony Moran had solidified those criminals left standing into a hidden, standing army motivated by their own greed, and fear of their leader, crowned overnight a king. His competitors he had left where they had stood, any police foolish enough to get in his way were never heard from again, and the worst was reserved for the men foolish enough to have shot with the chance of missing. At least, that was the assumption, because the bodies were never found. If you shoot, people said from then on, you better make sure you hit.

That night, he visited a certain cemetery plot. He prayed, having sworn before to never dirty his knees. He promised, where never before had he bartered his name. His mask, gripped tightly in one hand, was the only witness.

8: Geppetto's Work

"Mayor Carmine confirmed the rumors today of his resignation as mayor of Galena. Speaking despondently at the press conference, he described his dream, unfulfilled and the ideals of civil justice and societal harmony. Clearly a broken man following the death of his son two years ago, the former mayor spoke candidly. 'As mayor, I was supposed to be the captain of this ship Galena. I invested great effort to surround myself with an able and talented crew, so that even if I did not know the way, and my instincts honed over the years failed me, that I would at least have individuals around me who could do what needed to be done. But I am afraid that even this staff, even I, have been ill-equipped to withstand the ravages of territorial conflicts that have left so many dead, and the mystery of strange and potent personalities that do not answer to the laws of this city, state, or nation, or the misfortune of personal loss that threatens my faith in the future. And I am sorry for that.' An emotional Francis Carmine would leave the microphone but moments later. His deputy Mayor, David Fredericks, is set to be installed tomorrow, and claims to

While Karl wasn't his name, it was a comfortable lie. When he had approached the Italian with his proposition, he had understood that when a person asked "Who are you?" they actually meant "What is your name?" at least initially. Karl had just tumbled out; it was almost natural. The man had stared into his eyes, at his clothes, and listened closely when he talked. Karl gave him a word to associate with all of that, to hold it like twine; it made him feel safe in knowing.

And in the beginning, Karl had a mind to eventually correct, one of many things to do on an ever-lengthening list. But a variety of factors had arisen and captured his attention, or rather occupied him in such a way that he would never get around to correcting Anthony Moran on who he should be afraid of in this life. There were secrets in the city called Galena, many more than he had initially read about in the newspapers in prison. The man named Karl mused daily on what would become known next. It seemed as though there were so many that they could be discovered simply by taking a walk around the next corner, but learning about them through the newspaper, The Galena Covenant, was much more efficient.

And that isn't to say that sometimes it would have been better to know in advance. Like the Miracle woman. A young girl who could, by all account, cure any ailment, malady, or injury. It would have been nice to know about her before she uncovered his carefully schemed chemical weapon. It would have been educational to know if her magnificent ability extended to her own injuries. But, on the other hand, sometimes surprises were good.

He removed a glove slowly. The only sound was the cotton sliding against his skin, his breathing, and the barking of a distant hound. It was cold, but he found it best to use his hands, even when he could see. Karl placed his hand against the steel, feeling the roughness of the metal. Had it been filed? It was inconceivable how the task had been accomplished. The measurements had to have been precise with no room for error. Too much, and the car was liable to fall apart at the station, too little and the natural sway of the train would take days to break itself apart.

In his silent war with the people of Galena and their protectors, Karl had enacted a dozen different plans, subtle and cautious that would eat away at the foundations of their society, to expose the tender undersides and naked fear of it all. He was a meticulous planner, by education a scientist, by profession an engineer, and by temperament a philosopher. But the individual that had sabotaged the train car to run off its own wheels at that exact moment. He, or she, was an artist. Karl put his hand on the metal, gripping it and closing his eyes. The police had no idea that it wasn't an accident, which also made the individual the most dangerous kind of artist: the kind that required not the adoration of critics. The only reason Karl knew, or suspected, that it had been a mad-made accident was because it had occurred to him to do the same thing. The train car system was like Galena's skeleton, connecting all parts of the city to each other, making them whole, and strong. Precision instruments placed correctly on timers could disable, even destroy, the entire system. But then the accident had happened. No, someone beat him to it. Karl replaced the glove on his hand while smiling thoughtfully.

And so finding this other creator would move up to the first spot on the list. Working independently, Karl had won some small victories. All the children of Galena were safe, but he had succeeded in bringing the mayor to his knees with the death of his son. That all the other children had survived made the pain that much worse. When people questioned their heroes, and they questioned their leaders, and they questioned their gods, then they could be truly afraid. Somewhat expectedly, the flying man and the motorcyclist were not smart enough to suspect Karl's existence, however much they did assist with the rescue of people, and embody a confidence in the people who believed in them. But really it was akin to chopping wood. No matter how many people they saved, there were always those few that slipped through. And eventually, with enough strikes, any tree could be felled. Even the so-called tree of liberty. With an accomplice, the affects of their goal could be focused, magnified.

Stepping across the empty street, Karl spied a car sitting out of the way in an alley. For a moment, old sentiments crept up into the back of his mind. He inspected the situation like a common thief, and was pleased to find the car empty. He left it alone, and continued along into its alley. Halfway to the intersection he sought, footsteps beyond a side door made him press his back against an adjacent wall. Predictably, the door swung open.

"Still wet and cold. Typical Galena night," a man said. "It's clear."

"What?" another said, grunting. "You don't enjoy schlepping a basket of bricks around lower east side midnight in autumn?" another joked. He stepped out of the doorway and turned in the direction of the car. There was a strange clicking noise in their midst that made Karl frown.

"Oh yeah," the first said, letting the door close. Karl's shield was gone, but so was Karl. "Fun times."

"Can you believe we signed up for this?" the second was trying to get the trunk open without sitting the device down. It looked to have a handle, yet seemed cumbersome and heavy. From the shadow of the building, he watched the two men glance up and down the alley before leaving. All signs indicated their actions to be not only heavily rehearsed but also repetitious. Karl kept on to his destination, steadily adding more things to his list.

The restaurant was owned by a relative of Moran's. It was hard to say who it was specifically; it might have been the cook, or it might have been a long-dead uncle. Moran's people were strong because they kept everything, whether they bought it or stole it or made it. Once a thing was added as a resource, it became a part of the collective forever. Karl was welcomed grudgingly. He went there only because the food was free and good. And if Moran himself was not in attendance, then there was a good chance of avoiding being photographed, as well. But this was not one of those nights; at least, the Italian, Moran, was there.

"Hey, Mark. Karl Mark!" the man shouted. As usual, he was wearing the flamboyant shirt and tie that he was known for. Psychologically, it was somewhat fascinating that he had picked that color, and it was even more interesting to hear the story of why he had picked it. "Pauly, this is the guy I was telling you about. Come on, come on, sit down," he directed. And as he flailed, even inebriated, tables were adjusted and a chair was produced from nowhere, even food materialized. Karl sat. "Tell this guy about that thing you made for me, the starter bomb," he said, gesturing at the man now sitting next to Karl. A large man, and another Italian.

"Uh," he started as if he had trouble finding the words. "An explosive device easily placet benease an automobile and attached to tzee engine's stahtingk mechanism. Eet is incendiary, and it uses tze fuel in tze engine as catalyst," he said in the accent he remembered having. Moran slapped the man, Pauly, on the shoulder, while hopping up and down in his chair. Pauly laughed heavily, too, like in recognition of something they had been discussing earlier. They howled, Karl suspected equally from his accent and their inside joke. After that, except to ask the occasional technical question, or to hear his accent again, they let him dine alone in the group. Moran was a racist, but for most useful intents and purposes, Karl amounted to a member of his consortium, his family, and was thereby off limits for random slight and disrespect. He ate in peace amidst the storm of a meal that came in endless courses.

Karl ate to his fill, and drank some, while contemplating how he would find his contemporary. And he meditated on the idea that the technique he decided on had once been used to find him. A profile had to be constructed about the person based on target, frequency and location. Karl sat back in his chair, fed, and partially sated.

"I tell you, we get that frickin guy out the way, and it'll be done," the fat one, Pauly, was saying.

"Pauly, look at me. It's one guy. Don't worry about it. So your nephew got pinched. Let it go," Moran replied, carefully spinning noodles around a fork, using a spoon as a stopper.

"All I'm sayin is that it's just him. The other one, Mr. Forever or whatever it is, he's got nothin. I heard he was at the heist over on 22nd and didn't even bust it up. We take care of the biker guy," he stopped when he saw something in Moran's face, and put up his hands and cleaned his mouth, saying no more. Karl had overheard some of the others talking before. Moran was apprehensive about going after the motorcyclist, the Corsair, because he was the person who had originally severely beaten Moran and left him for the police. There was a word for that, a superstition, or a jinx. Moran was afraid.

"You haf notsingk to fear from tze motorradfahrer," Karl said, also cleaning his mouth. "Eet is tze ots-ur who ees uhf concern," his statements went over about as expected. Everyone within earshot laughed. Moran looked especially pleased. One of his hirelings had taken up for him, and in doing so had defused the situation between him and a friend of comparable influence. Karl was looking for an inkling of wisdom, though, in Moran. He was speaking the dialect of jest, but his words were serious. Karl had also heard that the Forever Man had been present for one of the various bank robberies. He had also heard that the masked man had taken some of the money for himself, and that the robbers had no qualms with it. There were several other stories, too, which all indicated a hidden intellect was at work behind the already impressive strengths the man possessed. Who would use villains as a shield, if not an even greater villain?

He watched only for a moment, though. And in it, he found only Anthony Moran's deaf mirth.

9: The Death of a Shoe Maker

"If you are reading this letter, it means that your father has died and you are in position to control the power and influence he wielded in life. I say to you, too, that you have the ability to surpass that power and influence, if you will only heed my warning. Your father was molded by an older, less inter-connected world of selfish, individual effort and success. But organizations, groups, and consortium will rule the age that you will help shape. No matter his power, no individual can fight a collective. I will make no promises and no other predictions save one: if you do not imbibe this warning, you will perish before your time just like your father. Face the future with whatever strength you possess, fight alone and it will cut you down, no matter your fortitude. Stand with others, and you may weather what is to come."

Jon saw him as he rounded the corner, leaning leisurely into the turn. He had seen the paper from yesterday. Jon eased his grip on the throttle and let the engine throttle down gently as he coasted into the dirt lot just off the road. There were only a few reasons the strange man would track him down, and he didn't like any of them. Then there was the issue of how. After he had silenced the engine, the other man came walking over. Respecting the context, he made sure to walk somewhat directly into the light, which Jon hadn't turned off. He squinted; the suit jacket and tie visible beneath the wool coat were familiar from the picture from yesterday.

"You slept at all?" Jon asked. The Forever Man, as they called him, stayed still for a moment, like he was thinking, or sleeping while standing up.

"Not an adequate amount," he replied. At least the guy still sounded like himself, Jon said.

"You went to the funeral. I saw in the paper," Jon tried to sound apologetic. The other man just nodded. Sometimes, you could almost make out his eyes through the goggles. "I couldn't make it," Jon said, honestly.

"No, you were right," the masked man said. "We aren't really connected. But, I had to go" under his mask, he didn't sound like a man that could get choked up, but he didn't finish his statement. "Over all the years, I never asked, but why do you do it?" Jon didn't know how to explain what he didn't much understand himself.

"I dunno. You see a car go off a bridge in front of you, little hands beating against the back window as it goes under. Bubbles come up, and nothing else," he paused, remembering the one little girl he couldn't save. "I guess I'm just the type to jump without thinking much about what it all means," he finished, trying to find the other man's eyes again. Over the years he had known him, of him, the press had pumped out a lot of theories. The leading two were that he was either a government experiment, or some type of talking robot. Talking on the side of the road about a dead lady neither of them really knew, this was the most human he had ever seemed. And they had both seen more than a few people die. "You want to ask me something?" Jon questioned. Again, the man didn't respond for a few seconds.

"I did, but, I think I have my answer. Enjoy your evening," he said, and then, in that strange way, he listed skyward slowly as gravity lost its hold on him.

"Hey wait," Jon called after him. Just as curiously, the Forever Man stopped in mid air, and hovered, then looked down. "How'd you know where to find me?" he had considered just letting him go.

"We're different, you and I," the other man said. "You never ask, and I always do," he finished. Always, when he lifted off, the first few feet into the air were gentle, but after that he was more like a bullet. When he wanted to get somewhere, he went, and there was little arguing. And so he was gone; Jon was left alone, a few scant miles from the roadhouse where he spent most of his free time. It was a little out of the way place on the outskirts of the city, by all accounts in the middle of nowhere that before tonight, Jon figured no one knew about.

Garrison could still remember what it was like for people not to know who he was, but it had become a feeling that he had to reach down for. It wasn't natural anymore. He leaned against the side of the van, staring at his camera man's shoes, Felix, as the man moved heavy equipment in the back around, in preparation for the shot work. Police and fireman nodded as they walked past, to which Garrison would nod, sometimes wave with a hand.

"First the fire and now this," Felix grunted. "You know, I was reading this book, about the government spying on us and technology becoming a prison, or a tomb" Garrison frowned. The man needed more mentally taxing work, to occupy his insanity. He glanced over at the ruined restaurant that had been shot through like a big brick block of swiss cheese. He frowned again.

"Keep setting up. I'll be right back," he said, and pushed himself from the side of the van. Felix gave some indication of the affirmative, or he assumed he did. The journalistic instinct had taken over, at least that's what he'd be calling it in his autobiography. He ducked under the line and put on his best smile for the officer standing there, whose job it was to keep people out. The man was already putting a hand up and hitching up his belt.

"Mr. Geis, I'm sorry but-"

"Hey, is the examiner in there? I just need a quick statement, then you won't even see me, it's the last part of my write up then I'm gone man, gone," the key was to keep walking while throwing rapid fire statements that altogether would disorient and placate. If he agreed with the words then he would also agree with letting him through. It was hard to say yes and no at the same time, and it was almost twice as likely for a person to say yes than no. After a minute he was inside the building, and the officer was easing through his guilty feelings. It didn't work on all the cops, but the officer they put at the tape line really didn't want to be there, and was often inexperienced with dealing with the media.

The place looked even worse on the inside. Garrison knew of the establishment by reputation, and he really only needed a few seconds. Bodies, as expected, were everywhere, some criminals, some not. The examiner was talking to the police chief, both of them were staring down at the same body. Garrison inched into the doorway, careful of broken glass and shell casings. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but eventually the iconic pink shirt came into view. He couldn't make out the man's face because it had been ruined by gunfire. It was mostly conclusive though, the henchmen, the cars outside, the locale, the shirt.

"Hey, you there," someone called. Garrison Geis skipped out the door in a comfortable jog and sprinted under the line.

"Thanks, guy, see ya round. I think somebody inside there wants a word," he called behind him to the suddenly policeman from before.

"Aw, come on!" Felix said dejectedly when he saw Garrison come running.

"Yup, fleeing a night in for obstruction," the man replied, and hopped into the passenger side. Felix's eyes were wide as saucers and he picked up the camera, tripod and all and chucked it into the back of the van. They were driving away 45 seconds later. Garrison had a bit of panic in his stomach, but then he usually did when he was doing his job. He adjusted the mirror outside his window. They almost never chased.

"Whereto now, boss?" Felix asked.

"Actually, we're packing it in early tonight, Felix. I got plans," Garrison Geis sat back in his seat. Felix glanced over, he even asked, but the other man would say no more. That night, he didn't find him in any of the usual places. The next night, Garrison reported in front of a nightclub about the mysterious disappearance of the acquitted mobster Anthony "Pinks" Moran. He used the other network's reporting of the destroyed restaurant, riddled with bullets, as a spring board to launch into a story about the violent murder of the supposedly untouchable criminal, who was turning into somewhat of a history figure around Galena; much was made of the shoe-maker's son that turned into a media darling, in and out of court more than a judge. So long as the man didn't surface suddenly, alive and laughing, Garrison Geis would be in the running for another Pulitzer. He'd have broken the story a week before anyone else was prepared to say anything. Investigative journalism was another phrase he was going to coin.

On the fourth night, he did find the Forever Man at one of his typical places. The man was smart, and it wasn't just evident by the way he spoke. Reporters and police both had come to similar conclusions about where there'd be the most criminal activity, and they patrolled those locations religiously, but when a man could fly, it expanded his options quite a bit. It had taken Geis months to figure out the pattern, but the man also didn't seem to change his habits. The place was on top of a four story loft across the street from a major train station and around the corner from a downtown bank.

"I'd warn you about this sort of thing, being so easy to find," Geis said from his edge of the roof. He still wasn't sure what the man was capable of if spooked, if what he did worked like a gun or something. "But somehow I imagine there will be less guns pointed at you after last week," he finished, walking over somewhat cautiously. Again, there was the nervousness tickling the bottom of his stomach.

"Have you ever been told that you presume too much, Mr. Geis?" the masked man asked, without turning. Eventually, he got at an angle where he could see the side of the man's profile.

"I'm just playing the odds. The whole city read about the funeral, saw the pictures. She had how many thousand willing pallbearers? You showed up, and you put her in the ground yourself. I'm not the only guy who figured you were fairly pissed off" Geis contemplated taking a step forward, then decided against it.

"She wouldn't press charges for kidnapping. He was absolved," the other man said.

"Yeah, sick mother. I was there" Who would have figured a villain like Pinks to have a soft side? Garrison glanced over at the train station. The people were small, and didn't bother looking up; they had no idea the two of them were there.

"I absolved him, as well, Mr. Geis," the masked man stated. That whipped Geis' head back around.

"Well, good," he replied, slowly. "That's good," he peeked over the side, down to the street. "Not that killing him would have been so bad. The guy was a rat bastard" The Forever Man didn't move a hair. After a moment, he turned his head toward the reporter.

"Did you want something, Mr. Geis?" he asked. Garrison Geis took a step backwards and away from the edge of the roof.

"No, I guess not," he said, somewhat quietly. "Just, looking for," he paused, suddenly at a loss for the word, "something, I dunno," he finished, turning to leave.

"Miracles are dead, Mr. Geis," The Forever Man called to his retreating back. He had slaughtered Pinks Moran and everyone else in the vicinity. But he would never say why.

10: A Kind of Beginning

"This is the truth your government doesn't want you to know, the reasons they're taking people in the night who never come back, and those cars, you know the ones, the cars that come into your neighborhood and never stay for long, except they're not postmen. They wear hats and ties and sometimes sunglasses. They don't have names or fingerprints or childhoods. They're grown in labs! And what are they looking for? What is the truth? The truth is that we've been infiltrated, the people of Galena, the people of America, infiltrated by people from space. That's right, space. From Mars. Did you know their planet is bigger and older than ours? And here's the kicker, those agents, those government spooks, they aren't here to protect us, because the people they're working for are also aliens. They infiltrated us from the top down! President Truman, for instance. Look out your windows people! Read the newspaper! Everything is all a plot. There is no hope! THE END IS NEAR!"

Manifesting, as it turned out, was about as easy as holding his breath. Directing and focusing were the difficult parts for Neil. Ironically, being a janitor had been the best thing for him. The work was solitary and none too stressful. The halls were long, even, made of smooth linoleum. He had a ways to go, the mop cleaning just an 8 x 8 square at a time, but if he just put his head down, maybe hummed a little, used efficient movements he would be done before he knew it. Not too slow, not too fast.

On Fridays, he worked at his friend's. He'd never met the man, or woman maybe, but in Neil's mind, they were going through sort of the same thing. Those Fridays, Neil would always find a single donut with sprinkles sitting on a napkin on the person's desk. They didn't have a door, just a cubicle, and not even a name plate for their tiny desk. But Neil imagined that they were doing was important none the less. He imagined that they were fighting a habit, maybe trying to eat less sweets on a dentist's orders. Leaving the donut out in clear view, then getting up and walking away from it was sort of a ritual, then. Neil's friend was exerting will power on his situation, and using a strong focus of temptation to do it. In the beginning it had been half eaten, and as the weeks went on, the pastry had slowly regenerated to be complete, a soft zero covered in a rainbow of tiny, hard candies. And it had taken Neil all that time to be properly inspired to work on his own exertions.

Neil carried the napkin with the precious cargo gently in his hands to one of the long hallways, feeling the fragility through his finger tips. Sitting the napkin and donut on the floor he took a step backwards, taking a moment to concentrate on the end of the hallway. It was smooth, and clean; the vanishing point was a window staring out into the endless darkness of another Galena night. All of it was forever, the hallway's vanishing point, the darkness covering the world, the limitless stars. He was just a drop in the well. Looking down at the pastry on the napkin, he held his breath and pressed down on the part of him that the dream had spoken to. Like watching a flower bloom, darkness spread from the inside of the donut to the outside, the edges of the paper beneath retracting like for protection. It was beautiful in the same way something natural was beautiful, but when it was done, Neil swept the remains into a dust pan and did not admire them. The feeling was not imagined, and that left him cold. But that was the beginning.

Time and effort brought new challenges, that of direction, and that of focus. But whatever he had done, the frustration never returned, the angst and the sadness. Aside from the exultation and the productivity, there was only the afterwards of a chill that what he was doing was wrong. That he was wrong. And yet all of his revelations told him otherwise.

He looked down on his friend's desk, at the sprinkled donut and its napkin. First the sprinkles evaporated, some with little pops, others disintegrating into colored dust. Then the donut itself, from the inner ring out. For added difficulty, he kept the napkin completely whole so when it was done, he could ball it up in his hand and toss it in the nearest bin like he was shooting baskets. Looking between his elbows across the office he could see the black windows and imagined what was outside, who was outside, and the questions all of them might ask. More than a few were valid, and he had a couple on top of them that came from within himself. However much he practiced, and however much he cleaned, the answers weren't there.

Neil double-checked his handiwork once before going back to the dispatch facility. People usually came and went at all hours depending on their work load and speed; sometimes there were people there who noticed Neil becoming more upright and happy, who thought his name was Benjamin. Sometimes there were just the mute lockers and quiet showers, the punch cards and their clock. It was never anything different.

When he entered the area with the lockers, light from beneath the boss' office door caught his eye. It wasn't anything that affected him, changed how he would go about dressing into his street clothes or punching his time card, and yet there was a curiousness about the timing of everything. On his way down the social ladder, Neil knew that the managers and owners never suffered the conditions of their workers. And again, there was no point in wondering, yet he knocked on the man's door. An unfamiliar voice told him to enter. Neil put his hand on the door knob, not understanding why, turned and push the door in, confused.

A man with an unknown face, unknown eyes, was staring at him from the desk, his hands on an opened file. He was wearing a suit, a tie; a fedora was slightly obscuring a map of the city.

"Good evening" and he looked at Neil's jump suit. "Benjamin," he finished. There was something odd about his voice, but he was out of place in every other way, also.

"It's Neil," came the automatic reply. He hadn't bothered in the beginning, but a few months previous, he had suddenly decided to correct people. He pointed at the name tag. "Benjamin is my last name." The man in the suit smiled widely.

"Neil Benjamin. Of course," the man said, standing up.

"You don't belong here," Neil blurted out. He hadn't thought about finding someone other than his boss in the man's office, and yet he wasn't surprised. Did that mean he was prepared to do something?

"True," the man acknowledged. Scooping up his hat revealed there were notations marked in pencil. "But then, neither do you," he said. He busied himself with desk work. He closed the file, one which Neil did not recognize, and put it neatly back into the cabinet. The map he scooped up and put in an inside jacket pocket, then he took a step towards the doorway Neil was filling. Neil turned to let him past, almost as a reflex, but then he followed him. He reached a hand out, then put it down. The question all the janitorial work couldn't answer occurred to him again, written on the man's back.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, watching the man put on his fedora.

"You work at night. Your job keeps you moving, but something's changed, something that has exposed you. Even your night to night circuit still leads back here," the man said, turning slowly, as if he was trying to remember the room. Neil realized the man was shorter only when he could see the brim of his hat clearly. "I found you, which means they'll find you. Maybe tonight, maybe next week," the man said, smirking at Neil's shoes.

"What are you talking about?" Neil tried to be forceful with a question that only confirmed his ignorance.

"And when they come, what will you do?" the man asked. From his coat pockets he retrieved a pair of gloves. They were black leather, but were a little too big for the man's hands. Neil didn't have an answer. He didn't have any of the answers.

"What were you doing in Mr. O'Boyle's office?" Neil hesitated in motion, but finally committed to stepping between the stranger and the exit. Again the man in the suit and tie smiled, impressed.

"Alright. Your company cleans the buildings of businesses that cannot pay to have it done in-house. Your company is not the only one of its kind. And likewise, it keeps detailed documentation of who it has contracts with, and who its competitors have contracts with. Might you know what sort of situation could entail a company not among those that can afford in house cleaning services and is not serviced by you or your competitors?" he checked his watch after a moment while Neil thought. After he had grown impatient, he took a step to walk around Neil; that broke the janitor's concentration. Neil retreated several paces, into the next doorway which lead around a corner to the exit. The stranger in the suit shook his head, smiling.

"Yours is an existence of a lack of planning, comrade" Neil thought to respond, but was interrupted by a rapid, distant clicking that was beyond the exit at the end of the hallway. He turned to glance, just as the door opened. Stepping through it was a man not unlike the first stranger, brandishing a pistol. Another, behind him was carrying something that looked heavy. When the door opened, the clicking became louder, and faster. "No, please stop," Neil heard the smiling man call out, his voice filled with awe and terror. His eyes though, were still grinning. Time slowed, but not as sluggishly as it had at times before.

"You, hey you! Stop!" the pair of strangers called, the foremost raising his pistol. Neil pushed himself forward out of view. As he crossed the threshold of the doorway, something inside him gave way. The last shred of doubt that he could ever go backwards vanished. Something dense went clattering to the floor in the hallway behind him, and as he was sprinting forward he realized he had lost sight of the first man. He found him again as he turned around, though. The stranger was pressed flat on their side of the doorway, like he was a broom or a light switch. Neil's eyes went wide as his brain began to more rapidly make connections.

When the man with the gun came around the corner, his arm out in front of him, he was unprepared for the pipe sweeping up to meet his elbow. He screamed in pain, but then the other man, who had looked so much like his counter part, brought the pipe laterally into his face. His body had a strange all over reaction, not tilting backwards or even flipping. The man stayed perfectly still, and then crumpled like his legs were jelly.

"Brown!" the last man called from the hallway. The smiling man, still standing, grinned, grinned like the jackals from the train in that forever of a life ago. Neil raised a hand as if to stop him from across the room from what he might do, from what he had done, most unknown to Neil. He found the point of calm, stopped breathing and clamped down. As he conspired to contort things, concentrating on the man between his last two fingers, the shouting man entered the scene, as if he were running through water, between his thumb and forefinger. When he closed his hand, they both spasmed in distress. The smile was gone; on both their faces was the image of final agony. Neil let go, as fast and as utterly as he could, and watching in horror as the two men both sagged to their knees and fell into shuddering balls. When the moment had passed, all he could hear was the intense, frantic clicking. He stepped over cautiously to the pile of three bodies.

The man on the bottom, struck in the face, was most certainly dead. His flesh was inert, like he wasn't really a man. The one laying on top of him, his partner, had a livid scar on the side of his face. Had he done that? Neil didn't want to touch him or move him. He could feel his breath though, see his chest rising and falling. Neil did not want to look at the third man, his happy tormentor. He hoped he was dead, but did not want to help him, or hurt him further. And yet he had been right. They, whoever they were, would come for him, had come for him. He chanced a look over at the third fallen man, then. Not only was he alive, but slowly, slowly he was stirring.

"Who are you?" Neil whispered, standing up and stepping away. The jackal's smile returned as the man gingerly pushed himself closer to the pair of still bodies.

"Smitz, comrade," the man slurred into accented speech, more to the fallen man than to Neil. But when he rose, Neil ran. The terror had crept up into his heart, and pumped through the blood into his legs. He forgot about his street clothes, his old life. Neil Benjamin ran out into the Galena night, chased not only be real terrors but imaginary ones. Once he had thought that some people were blessed, and others cursed, some ordinary and others extraordinary. He would not his truth, his answers, for years yet.

12: Into the Sun

"Dear Mom and Dad,

"I know I haven't written to you in a while, years I guess, but I wanted to let you know that I'm doing okay. I didn't want you to worry, and honestly there was a time there that I wasn't doing so great. But it was just like you said. I had to find my own way. A lot of what you said turned out to be true actually, and I wanted to thank you for saying them even though I wasn't ready to listen at the time. I know it won't make sense now, but I wanted to also apologize for all the grief I gave you guys, growing up. I was probably more responsible for the tractor breaking down than even I realized. So Dad, I'm sorry about that. And Mom, it was me that cracked your china. If I had known, I would have said something. That I promise. And lastly, I guess, both of you were right about the office job. That wasn't for me at all. I guess I just wanted something at the time that made me look less like a farmhand. Don't worry, I'll never look down on my heritage again.

With all my love,

Neil"

He might have suspected, but everything that living the life he lived cost didn't hit him until he saw their graves: two expensive but tasteful marble crosses side by side. Garrison knew the expensive was mostly his dad, and the tasteful was mostly his mother, but each also had something to do with the other's contribution. He had some younger family still alive, and the defining moment for all of them, the moment they'd remember was the day of the parents' funeral that the son had missed.

"I'm too old to be told about the mistakes I made in my life," he said to the head stones. The weather was cloudy and breezy, warm for a New England autumn. "But that doesn't mean I don't wish you were here to tell me about them." Retiring from the Covenant had been the most difficult thing he'd ever done. Over thirty years short, his dedication to it had outlasted a dozen romances and two marriages. He really thought he'd gotten it right the second time. No one had ever told him that it wouldn't last.

William, the butler, made himself visible. The man wouldn't wave or speak, but he had a way of standing that announced his presence. Garrison Geis wanted a few more moments; he patted his pockets as if they contained the time he had lost or the flowers he should have brought. He turned and walked towards the man, trying not to squint.

"You have a guest," William said. He waited for Garrison to pass to fall in behind him. "Do you need your glasses?" Geis frowned.

"They haven't made glasses yet for what I've got," he chuckled, shaking his head. "It was Korea, you know. Guy told me not to look into the flare" and he had been looking through a camera lens at that. The house, the grounds, had aged, almost magically. He remembered what they looked like when he left, and now... now they were different. He felt his hand on his own knee as he walked up the stairs to the sidewalk. But he didn't look down. He'd gotten old enough to know the hand was there, and what it looked like with its strange spots and loose skin. Flying from Galena, he thought his first order of business would be to take down all the mirrors, and he had walked over to do the first himself. Up close, when he squinted, he could still see his younger self, the Garrison the new editors hadn't seen when they threw him that retirement party. Jumping in and out of helicopters was a younger man, younger person's game. He'd almost been killed so many times.

"He's in the foyer" at the last minute William, a young hire that had come in while his mother was still alive, stepped forward and opened the door for him. Garrison paused, looking at the man. No, not young, just younger than him.

"Yeah," He said and cleared his throat; he took the steps the same way he took all the steps nowadays, carefully. The inside of the house looked the same, polished wood and carpets everywhere, high ceilings and wide doorways. Things were getting smaller in the 80s. Everything was getting smaller, but at least it turned out that Orwell had been wrong.

"Would you like me to bring him to the sitting room?" William asked, hiding his white gloves and keeping his feet always pointing forward. "I have a kettle on the stove."

"No, no," Garrison shook his head. "Go polish something," he said, trying not to sound grumpy. The man was helpful, but Garrison found him strange. The house, too, he realized, and the cold stone slabs outside that weren't his parents.

Garrison saw the man from behind first, and thought he looked oddly familiar. When his popping knees announced him, the man turned, and Garrison Geis thought he might have a heart attack. He swallowed, or tried swallowing. He tried squinting, then he tried opening his eyes more widely.

"Hello, Mr. Geis," the man said, stepping forward. He didn't offer a hand for shaking, and for Garrison's ridiculous expression, he only smirked a little.

"You," and he brought a hand up the way old men would, to shake a pointing finger in disbelief.

"Me," was the response. The man had rigid shoulders, a straight back, and a proud chin. The same shoulders, back and chin that had made him look so ridiculous in his disguise so many years before. He couldn't have been a butler then, just as now: his eyes were too defiant, his tone could not defer. But that was all the disbelief and surprise Garrison had in his tank. He had, after all, made a living on reporting on the bizarre and the incredible and the surreal. He closed his mouth, wiping his face with a hand. He glanced around quickly then stepped towards the front door, waving the man to follow.

They were halfway to his car before he realized it wasn't his car. It was one of several family vehicles; one had brought him from the airport days previous and William seemed to have exclusive knowledge of the keys' whereabouts. Besides, where would he even go? The office?

"Don't tell me the moment is too big for Garrison Geis," the man said. It was the first joking he'd ever heard the man do. Ever. He turned to face him, his shoulders slumped a little.

"I thought you were dead," he said finally. The other man shrugged casually.

"I did a convincing acting job, then," he replied. Geis squinted, but not for his vision's sake.

"Why are you here?" the old cynical muscles still worked. Where had William gone? The visitor openly contemplated for a moment.

"The Miracle died," he said. Geis nodded.

"Yeah, we were all there," he said slowly. Maybe he wasn't alive; maybe he was a memory.

"And I never knew the Corsair's name. But we had a special place we'd meet sometimes. That last time he had a bag, nothing serious but it was different. He told me he was done, and just drove off," he said, pausing to sigh lightly. "People thought he disappeared, or died. But it was fitting. He came with the dawn, and left with the dusk. He left me with his jacket," he finished.

"You want my files, is that it?" Geis asked. He thought of a defensive pose he might strike. Even in the face of futility, his mind was only mildly convincing that he could climb to the top of the ladder in time, slide to reach the next patch of cover, throw a perfect spiral. The man shook his head in slight movements, his tendency.

"Dead men have little to fear from the media, Mr. Geis," he finally took a few steps forward. "And you aren't even that anymore. You must accept the way of things. You're the last of us, Mr. Geis." Suddenly he was stiff all over, and not in the way he would be every morning for the rest of his life, every evening, and every day.

"No," he heard himself saying. "You can't. You won't get away with this," he said. It was an odd thing to say, and both of them knew it. The smirk returned to the man's face. He shook his head.

"The Covenant doesn't save people like you, Mr. Geis."

"How would you know? You gave up, right? Or quit, or retired, whatever" he had little to do but flail. His spirit was the same, even if everything else was falling to ruin. "Why would you do this? Why me?" the man shook his head.

"You ought to relax, Mr. Geis. You died when they took your column," he said. Garrison realized that he wasn't being held. It was panic, the kind of panic that he had always mocked rookies for having. The kind of panic that got people killed. "You left this place, and you got to be great for a few decades. But now, your unremarkable life has claimed you again. It may be a year from now, ten years from now, twenty. But this is the end, no matter when it comes," he sounded a little sad. Maybe he was getting old, too, even though he didn't look it.

"Okay. So why are you telling me?" He tried to hide the gesture of putting a hand up to his chest.

"Like I said, you're the last of us. And I owed you a little more than I gave you that night on the roof. But I'm sure you found the answers yourself" Geis was already nodding. He had. "There needed to be a balancing," the man said. "She was right, about everything, and I was wrong even in how I thought up to make up for her loss. It's taken time, but I think I've gotten ahead of the problem this time," he finished. Garrison needed to sit down, but he didn't move and he didn't say anything.

"So what did you do?" he asked. That made the man chuckle. Garrison Geis had made the Forever Man chuckle.

"What didn't I do would be a better question, Mr. Geis," he replied. "You may never know, but I've come to realize that's part of the point," he said after another moment. Looking into Geis' eyes he saw something. "But, to make up for times in the past, let's just say that I have made significant contributions to the Covenant, old and new," he finished. Garrison felt his eyes grow wide in realization.

"Starchild's benefactor!" he yelled in understanding. The alien baby turned American hero was the story of the century. He had action dolls and his own comic books. When he had finally taken down the Red Ghost, his legend had been assured. Geis hadn't been fast enough, to the car, to the scene, to the front of the crowd of young reporters, but he had heard the man stumble through his interview like everyone else. There was strong evidence of a mysterious benefactor who funded and trained the Starchild. The alien hero had neither denied or confirmed it. And Geis knew there was more. His mind was alive with all the old urges and hungers. His arthritis spiked into the bones of his hand as it conformed to grip an invisible pen.

"I wanted to say thank you, Mr. Geis," his visitor said, almost in leaving. "Enjoy your retirement. You've earned it," he said, and began walking away. Walking away, in the direction of a car Garrison Geis did not recognize. Had he driven? Garrison Geis watched the man drive around the dogwood tree in the middle of the courtyard and down the lane towards the main gate, remembering what he had said to him that night forever ago. He had completely misquoted the man, and gotten him named. Later he had almost gotten him arrested for all the laws he had broken, for taking things he'd later be given. Slade's flying man; together they had made a lot of history, and no one would ever know the things Garrison Geis knew. And there was so much more not even he knew. The Covenant, new and old. The super hero group had taken the old name as soon as Galena's old newspaper had been disbanded, retooled and renamed. The Herald.

"William," Geis called when he got back inside, working his hand open and closed. He was strangely winded. The butler materialized in that way he did. "Where's my typewriter?" he asked.

"I put it in your upstairs study," the man replied. Garrison Geis took a step towards the stairs with the pop of a knee and stopped.

"Bring it down here to the study on the first floor," he said, and watched the man round the banister and glide up the stairs. "William wait," he said. Again he tried to hide the gesture of gripping his chest. The man turned around on the stair and looked down.

"Yes?"

"How did you get this job again?" William thought for a moment about the time which must have been over a decade ago.

"I was referenced by an agency known by your mother," the man replied. He began to turn slowly back around, in case Garrison wanted something else. He let the man go and fetch his type writer, ordering his thoughts. He walked off in the direction he remembered the downstairs study to be. Halfway there he passed a wooden case with glass doors that had been filled with his awards and plaques and trophies. He never did get that second Pulitzer. In the reflection of his lifetime achievement award he saw his smirk. There was time enough yet.

When William had brought the typewriter down, his trusty Fisher, Garrison had dismissed him again. Already he was becoming his father. It seemed like it wasn't too late after all. Garrison Geis sat down and he wrote.

"Well, when people talk about the Silver Age, they're usually talking about when the capes and tights first started showing up. Like before that was Bronze, you know, like the Olympics. Like life was good, but only third place good, or like we were all walking around scratching our knuckles and falling off cliffs like lemmings. We got the golden age now, or whatever it's called, then before that was gold. Don't ask me what's next. It's all so ridiculous, heh, I blame the media... but in the beginning, it was silver. And for the people who really know, when you talk about the Silver Age, you're mostly talking about Galena, the Silver City."

THE END


© 2010 J. E. Cammon

Bio: J. E. Cammon is a writer of poetry and short and long fiction, living in the Atlanta area.

E-mail: J. E. Cammon

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