The Indigo Rage
Inspired by “City of Heroes”
CHAPTER 1: EDUCATION
It is a cold, dark walk to my car in the dead of a Kings Row night. Work has been a veritable hell. Teaching chemistry to a Sophomore class of druggies, teen-prostitutes, and plain old roughnecks is not a walk in the park. Those students that are willing to learn are intimidated by such scum, and they slink evermore into ambiguity, shining only on their test grades that they hide from the eyes of others, fearing the repercussions of being better.
Someone must teach Paragon City though. Even the children growing like weeds in the topsy-turvy garden of Kings Row deserve a fighting chance in this world. I’ve always been told that one person can make a difference, though I can’t say I believe it myself. Still, the thought lingers. If it is true, perhaps I don’t leave my beautiful wife every morning at 6:30 in vain. Maybe, just maybe, my efforts are not futile. It may not be a waste to punch in every morning as Lark M. Kingston, chemistry teacher, room 209.
I work for ridiculously low wages. Most self-proclaimed sages in this profession say it’s worth it to simply know that you’re making a difference. Thinking of this, I always recall that one scene in the movie Akira in which the classroom full of spawns of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo batters a teacher with their hostility. Some elements of that movie are simply not science fiction. I’ve had knives pulled on me, threats scribbled on tests instead of balanced equations. It’s those days I want to jump into a cold tub with a stick of potassium.
“Shit, there you is,” yells Tyrell Johnson, piercing the silence of the North King’s Row High School parking lot. It’s been done before. All of it is a cliché. Students have hurled beer bottles at me, scratched my car, approached me with baseball bats. All because I’m trying to make them better. Trying to raise them up a notch from punching bags at the mercy of the fists of Heroes.
Tyrell continues to assault me with torrid Ebonics. It’s the vernacular of Kings Row. The subject of this “conversation” is apparent to me without even listening to his dribble, however. Last week, Tyrell failed chemistry’s first semester. He was kicked off of the basketball team, losing the team its starting point guard.
As planned, I continue walking towards my car, driven by the desire to make it home to my beautiful wife Darlene.
“You gon’ turn yo’ back on me? You ain’t gon’ turn yo’ back on me!”
He pulls a semi-automatic pistol from his torn jeans. Its barrel faces me like a perplexed bird of prey. It pecks at me, trying to strike fear in my heart.
“What do you want me to do about it, Mr. Johnson?” I say. “Your grade is in your own hands.”
Clearly, this was not what Tyrell Johnson wanted to hear. If I could go back in time, though, I wouldn’t change what I said. Even with the inevitability of this conflict, Tyrell knew he was trash. Trash that resorted to the last possible resort.
The bullet lodged itself just above my right eye, knocking my body to the ground like a limp rag doll. My body sank into the concrete oblivion, directly next to my dirty-black Toyota. The keys slipped from my hands, and blood seeped from my tender, gaping brain-matter. I would not make it home to dear Darlene that night.
The ambulance did not come for what seemed like an eternity. I kept closing my eyes to the light, unwilling to meet it in bittersweet embrace. Where had the heroes been? Newspapers burst at the seams with stories about dazzling heroics above the sobering twilight of Paragon City, yet there was no Statesman there for me. No psychic controller swooped down from the heavens to deliver me to a hospital. The call was made by a drunken man on his last dime stumbling home from a bar.
“Doctor, he’s not dead yet!”
“Impossible, I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“We have to try an operation!”
“He’s missing part of his skull, Andrea.”
“You’ll give up on this man’s life? Look at him, he’s breathing!”
“I don’t have the ability for this sort of operation!”
“Doctor, a call for you on line 4.”
“Bethany, do you not see what’s happening here? Put them on hold, God damn it!”
“Sir, it’s her. The leader of E.L.I.T.E.”
“Christ. Take a message, Beth.”
“Alright, damn it, give me the phone. … Yes… What? You can’t be serious… T-ten million? Are you jerking my… No… Of course not… I’ll do what I can.”
“We operate on this man. Now.”
Voices leap out from every direction, blurring into a riot of sounds pushing their way through the gangways of my mind. Anesthesia pumps into my nose and mouth, and I grow numb. My eyelids grow heavy, and soon I am kidnapped into the dark.
The sun above Paragon intrudes into my room early in the morning. I awaken a new person, physically and mentally. My head is utterly pulsating in the epitome of pain, the true gray line between life and death. The steel plate that is now holding half of my head together feels nearly frozen under the inspection of my digits. Fury builds within me not singularly at Tyrell Johnson, but at all of Paragon. A bullet that Kings Row bestowed upon its minion has deformed my face and psyche. Yet even the dark orifice of Kings Row has its leash. Paragon City holds it from a distance, unwilling to pick up the refuse of its malevolent pet.
“Oh honey, I was so worried!” cries Darlene from my bedside.
“Darlene… I’m… I’m sorry,” I respond, unable to choke-up anything more meaningful.
“Doctor Johnson… He… He saved you.” Her glance moves from me up to the PhD, looking down at me with both pity and satisfaction.
“Doctor, I don’t know how I can ever thank you. Y’know, you share the last name of one of my students. Any relation?”
“Afraid not,” he responds, “I don’t have any children.”
“I’m glad… For your sake.”
“Mr. Kingston, let me explain what happened to you last night. I’m sure you have many questions.”
“Not really. I got shot and your people saved me. That’s all that matters.”
“Well, there’s something more to it, Lark. I can’t really explain what, however. I’m sure you can appreciate how rare your case is. I’m not really aware of anyone who could survive a bullet shot to the head, let alone surviving it in the condition you’re in. You’re suffering from no amnesia, no paralysis. Apart from a splitting headache – which will subside – and that plate in your head that I had to install, you’re just as well as you were 24 hours ago. Forgive me for asking, but you’re not one of… Them, are you?”
“A hero, Doctor?”
“Yes, a super hero.”
“No. I don’t care much for super heroes.”
“Well, then I can’t fathom how you survived this in such a way. Religious man?”
“Not for some years now.”
The doctor releases a bewildered sigh and drops the issue.
“Doctor, when can we leave?” my wife asks.
“Well, to be honest, Mrs. Kingston, I don’t see why I should keep you here beyond today. Your husband is in no need of any physical or mental therapy. I’m dumbfounded to be quite honest.”
Neither my wife nor I know how to respond to the doctor anymore. After a few moments of silence, he leaves the room. Tears begin to fall from Darlene’s eyes, and we fold into each other’s arms.
Six days pass. My fists find home in the punching bags at the Atlas Park Gym, as they have been for 10 years. Today I hit harder. Harder than I ever have before. Every single platelet lining my bone and sinew cry out for punishment, fueling my martial arts to new heights. My kicks slam into the bag, hurling it from side to side.
Old man Dennis Allen calls out from the shadows, “Hitting it pretty hard tonight, eh, Lark?”
I respond with a huff of hot air.
“Hope you aren’t still mad at that punk who popped you.”
I stop my assault on the punching bag and turn to face Dennis, his grin flaunting his utter lack of teeth. “No, Dennis, why would I still be mad about getting shot in the face and being forced into having a metal plate in my head to hold all the pieces together?”
“Aw, Lark, you know I didn’t mean it like that. You were just never the one to get mad, that’s all. Not like this, anyway.”
“I’ve realized something, Dennis.”
“Apparently so. Even caused you to quit your job. I thought you liked teaching.”
“Shows how much you know.”
“You always told me that those kids have to learn, Kingston. That you had to teach them.”
“That’s right, Dennis. I’m just going to teach them a new lesson.” I go back to attacking the punching bag, every limb of my firm, slightly tanned body getting a workout in the process. The buzz-cut I got yesterday was specifically for this purpose: My shoulder-length hair didn’t allow for a very vigorous session as half of my energy was spent getting it out of my eyes.
“You’re not a super hero, Lark, and you’ll get killed if you try to be some wild and crazy vigilante. Do you even have a plan?”
Stutters escape my throat, though I have no real answer. It’s true that I hold a bit of contempt for the famous super heroes of Paragon City, and yet even as I have this discussion, I wonder how I could shape the city if I became one. No mutations or act of science have shaped my body into anything unique: I’m human through and through. No zany chemistry experiments to curse me with violent powers, no magical rituals.
“You can’t give up, Lark, not on the kids.”
“I haven’t given up on them, Dennis. They’ve given up on me. We’ve given up on this city.”
“Are you really blind to all that Paragon has blessed us with?”
“Dennis, how is it that a city with so many heroes has stolen the highest murder rate from Chicago? Has one of the lowest ratings for standardized tests? Has so little justice?”
“Imagine the city without these heroes, Lark. You can’t look at everything so pessimistically.”
“I’ve tried optimism, Dennis. It has a terrible aftertaste.”
“Now you’re just being poetic.”
My white t-shirt clings to my damp body as I prepare to leave the gym. It’s the last week of January and it’s a bizarre 54 degrees outside. Most scientists blame the powers of certain heroes for raping the portion of Ozone layer that graces the skies above Paragon. Our summers are brutal, but it’s hard for one to resent a mild day in winter.
The walk to the Yellow Line train station is no more than a mile, allowing me to bask in the pleasant weather. Young and old alike cannot resist staring at the metal plate on my head, its external appearance necessitated by the immense damage the bullet did to my face. It’s a cruel fate to be sure, yet I cannot help but look at it as inevitable damage of Paragon City’s recklessness.
Just as I am truly about to bask in my deep pool of resentment, a thug approaches me from behind and smacks me in the back with the butt of his gun. It’s a populated street in broad daylight, and this Hellion is so bold as to attack me. Yet no one helps. A few business men scoot past briskly, pretending to be oblivious to our presence. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a law-enforcement officer cowering, waiting for the interjection of a hero to be my savior.
He demands my wallet and shiny possessions, and I have no choice but to concede, as I’m none too eager to have another bullet in my face. Just as I begin to pull my wallet out, a man donned in medieval armor leaps from beneath the bridge serving as the foundation for this whole ordeal. Spines shoot out from all corners of his body, and with a few sharp movements, the Hellion is down. I stand up, brushing various forms of filth from my body.
“Don’t you have something to say, commoner?” The hero inquires.
“Commoner? Is that what I am to you?” I growl.
“And what should you be?”
“Your fellow man.”
“I have evolved past mere manhood, commoner. You are beneath me.”
My life was saved by this being, yet I could only resent him. I swung at him with a right hook and bashed him right on the right side of his helmet. It shattered my right hand, of course, and did minimal damage to him.
“Is that anyway to thank your guardian angel, punk?” he slithers before shoving me off of the bridge. My body limbers towards the water beneath, and I shatter its tranquility with a belly-flop. It stings me across every centimeter of flesh, but I manage to come up for air. Paragon’s denizens have certainly been treating me with vile intentions, ripping at my spirit with cruel coincidences. Thousands of heroes in Paragon City, and I had to be saved by one, probably of many, with a deep-rooted superiority disorder mixed with the need for anger management. And we call these titans our heroes.
As I pull my aching body up from the slimy pool in which I was hurled, I notice a brilliant flash of light approaching from my left. I know her face, her costume, her slender and desirable body, her fiery red hair cut to a sassy short length. It is the hero known only as The Starlight Wonder, named by the newspapers several times over for being one of the city’s top 10 saviors. People eat it up. I think it’s ludicrous that we have need for such a statistic.
“Lark M. Kingston, correct?” she chirps.
“We have need for you at Paragon City Hall. Come with me, please.”
“Oh? What need is this?”
“Susan Davies of E.L.I.T.E. wishes to meet with you. Apparently, you’re hero material.”
“Is that so? And just what is ‘Elite?’”
“Enhanced Logistics for Insight and Tactical Excellence. It’s the place for all natural-born heroes, those without special mutations or magical powers.”
“What if I don’t go?”
“It’s really up to you, I suppose, though I would question that choice. Paragon could use more heroes.”
“Every man, woman, and child can make a difference, Kingston. So please, if you would make your way to City Hall…”
“You want me to walk all the way over there? Can’t you fly me?”
She looks at me blankly, or at least I assume so. The Starlight Wonder wears sunglasses that emanate a brilliant light, presumably due to some sort of powerful glow from her eyes. She picks me up, holding me close, and flies me to Paragon City Hall. I enjoy the ride and the view, and I’m not talking about the view of the city.
The solid marble floor reflects the grandeur of the building’s interior, creating a unique and visceral aura. Every tap of my feet can be heard as I walk beneath the large wooden sign, “New Hero Assignment.” Every hero finds his, her, or its way to this hall at some point. It’s where they find work and up-to-date news on the city’s most nefarious villains.
Susan Davies peers at me from behind her newspaper as I stand awkwardly in her office. She lets a few minutes pass, seemingly inspecting me for something, her eyes squirming around every nook of my body.
“Lark M. Kingston, you have a deep wealth of power. I think you know this,” she says flatly, devoid of all emotion.
“I workout and I know how to fight,” I reply, “That’s the extent of it. I am no super hero.”
“True. Not yet, anyway. I know what happened six nights ago, Mr. Kingston. I know about your wound. One that should’ve been fatal. I know about your recovery. Super human, I’d say.”
“Some would say it’s a miracle, Ms. Davies.”
“Miracles are merely extensions of one man’s gifts to benefit another, Lark.”
“That’s not true at all, Ms. Davies.”
“You can believe what you want, Kingston, and I’ll believe what I want. Regardless, I believe that Paragon City might benefit from having you on its streets. It could benefit from your strength and your spirit. You’re something special, Lark.”
“I don’t care much for heroes, Ms. Davies. They see criminals and us as one of the same. The only difference is how they deal with us. We’re all beneath them. All subject to their scrutiny. It’s almost the Nazi ideal – the superior race.”
“My, my, I didn’t realize you were such the little extremist.”
“And yet, I feel they have the potential to do good. They just… don’t. Our crime rate only grows. The most powerful of villains are never truly defeated. It’s a never ending cycle.”
“Perhaps this is why you should join our cause, Lark. If our numbers grow…”
“But you know it doesn’t work like that, Ms. Davies. Not if everyone is to be the typical hero that saves the woman getting her purse stolen, or the one that busts up a drug deal. Paragon City doesn’t benefit from that. It needs to educate the criminals, or wipe its alleys clean of them.”
“So why don’t you join us, Mr. Kingston? You have such vivid ideals, we could use you.”
She’s right. I pause at this slight revelation, mulling over the possibilities. I have the potential, the strength, the courage. But most of all, I have the will. The will to purge the city of its malicious inhabitants. The will to do good. I may not have much love for heroes, and yet, would my best option for changing the city be to become one?
“Ms. Davies… Where can I get a costume?”
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