One week a Cape, and it’s all come crashing down on him.
One week is all it took, and now Solomon was about to die.
He and Blithe lay in twin craters of rubble, the dust starting to settle. They fell out the sky.
People approach, silhouettes wrapped in smoke. It’s easy for them to tell which is the hero. It’s easier to tell which one is not.
Where’d they come from? Are they dead?
Are you kidding me? Those people never die.
Solomon stirs, and as if by entanglement so does Blithe. But they don’t get up. They’re both broken, like principles in a shaky world. The thunder that brought them is now a dull rumble slowly losing its resonance.
Good God! They’re still alive?
Should we be here? Should we call someone?
One week, Solomon thinks. He didn’t even have time to pass the test. To become a real hero. He turns his neck, the only thing that works. His hearing tells him Blithe does the same. Gurgling. He’s another newbie, all power and no rep, but on the wrong side of the fight. They’re separated by ideology and ten feet of rubble; they’re conjoined by a youthful spite that would continue this on hands and knees if they could.
Don’t go there!
Baby, come back!
A girl suddenly appears above. She looks at him and then in the direction of the adjacent crater. The wind sways, the light cotton of her dress unsure of which way to cling. Solomon’s sage-vision shows him the tendrils of energy snaking her, feeding itself tail to mouth like a band of infinity. A caduceus.
An older woman of sweaty nervousness tries to reach for her, but the girl slips her, dismisses her with a look that says ‘For once, let me be me’.
She drops into Solomon’s crater, her ankles wobbly against the rubble, and kneels beside him. He’s surprised at how ordinary she looks. How emaciated and plain.
“My name is Keisha. You’re on Prudence Street. I think you’re gonna die if I don’t do something.” She strokes his cheek, and it momentarily feels tight. He remembers his mother and the smell of vapor rub. He tastes penicillin.
“I can heal you, but only one of you,” she says, lifting a delicate brown arm. “I’m not that strong.”
Yells from above. Just let ’em both die and let’s get outta here. Nobody will know.
“What abou…what about him?” Solomon nudges his head towards the barrier separating black from white. “Is he going to…”
“I…I can’t…he’ll die. I told you I’m not strong enough!” her ashy lip quivers. “Please don’t make me think about that. I just wanna think about the good.” It’s a plea. For her it’s not black and white, but a choice of one or the other. Monochromism in a world that can’t afford the rest of the spectrum.
Solomon sees the world blur. He doesn’t have long.
Fuck him, Keisha! Let him die.
Save the other one! I don’t see the heroes taking care of any of us!
Keisha hand reaches, then wobbles and hesitates, either fighting her nature or trying to embrace it. “What will the bad guys to us do if the other one dies?”
They’ll come here and kill us! Fuck him!
Even in the haze she looks so thin, calories burned from the weight of her gift. He knows her kind, a local Talent. Take her away from here and she’s probably just another girl. Homely. Simple. But here, on Prudence, she’s transformed, a lifeline for its people who live in complex times, die simple deaths.
“I’ll..I’ll protect you,” Solomon says, not even sure what he means, but knowing it’s something better than blurting ‘I want to live. I deserve it more than him!’.
Nobody even has to know. It’ll be he secret of Prudence Street. The other Capes, they’ll pat him on his back and congratulate him. His colleagues. Any league, any society…he’ll have his pick. This will be a learning experience, the first test of Solomon, which he passed with flying colors.
Keisha reaches again. This time her hand is steady.
He’ll grow older, get stronger. Be wiser. He’ll advice other heroes. They’ll look up to him, the prodigy who beat an Alpha baddie the first time out. You don’t have to be a sacrificial lamb like those other Capes with funerals on tv, with pyres burning in the orbit of Mars. Being right doesn’t have to mean being dead. There’s always another way, a way that looks better in the spectre of hindsight.
Heroes live on. They pass the test.
Her hand almost at his forehead, he speaks. There’s a smile on his face.
She stares blankly for a moment and then nods. As she climbs away he thinks about his name inscribed on the Wall of Champions, along with other great heroes. Brava. Samson. Heracles. Gilgamesh. His colleague.
And Blithe? He’ll live. He’ll have to live with the miracle on Prudence Street, how a green hero and a little girl gave him his life. He’ll have to live with that, and imprisonment, and the bloody beatings from other heroes. Cape-killer!
Solomon smiles. His eyes are tired even though his vision’s suddenly clear. He closes them.
Oh shit, they’re here!
Mommy, they’re so pretty…
He’s draped in blackness as he hears their arrival. His colleagues. A gruff voice, resonant and strong, like fire stolen from the gods, whispers to him. “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. You’ll be alright.
“You passed the test.”