The shards of the stained glass window that stuck in my body now rest on a plate within my pit--one more curiosity among curiosities. When I crawled back to America in the back of a shipping container, I left the shards untouched in my wounds. Only when I was back home in my pit did I start digging them out. Ram and Lorna offered to help with my wounds as they always do, but I felt that I and I alone held the responsibility of tending to them this time. I had been impulsive and stupid in my interactions with a great man--a better man. Even though Dr. Stone was far beyond my ability to harm, I had no right to attack him. My wounds were justly received and their suffering was justly mine to endure alone.
One by one, I plucked the shards from my skin and washed my dull, dried blood from their bright surfaces. I placed them on a black saucer situated between Silver Peter’s machine gun and the first pocket watch George Douglas ever made for me.
What else could I have done with them? Send them back to the cathedral? They swept the rest of the shards off the street and into the garbage. I could not bear to forsake the shards that tasted my blood. They still had light, still had color, and still had beauty even with their edges jagged like an animal’s claws.
I found a place for those shards. And a use.
When I brood in my pit, surrounded by the grim tools of my hunt and trophies of my prey, I often stare at those shards and think. They have the appearance of garbage, of something shattered beyond repair. But theirs is the beauty of the tiger. Their jagged sharpness is the sharpness of a tiger’s fangs. Their bright color is the warning color of a tiger’s pelt.
The shards are shattered glass in a bowl. But when I stare at them, I feel as if I am staring at glimpses of something primal and powerful, something that is lesser only to God’s mercy in power.
I feel as if I am staring at violence itself burning bright in its own dark world.
When I stare at the shards I know that I have found a place and a use for the shattered life that is the Trespasser.
But will Philip accept this?
Every one of my agents has accepted this. Every one of them has accepted that I exist and I hunt and I will not stop until I am dead. They have accepted that I am a predator whose prey is evil men. They have accepted that I have a place and purpose in Mainline City just as the tiger has a place and purpose in the jungle.
For Philip to be one of my agents, he must accept this in its totality. He cannot believe me one of his idealized knights or superheroes. He cannot believe me a threat to innocents.
He must recognize the tiger, know the tiger, and accept the tiger.
Philip begins to pace back and forth as if he’s on a stage and giving a speech not only to me but to the gargoyle collection. It’s clear that he’s been energized by our conversation--and perhaps the alcohol.
“...And what do my friends say when I tell them “Covet their character, not their power.”? They say I’m a pagan savage kneeling before idols of flesh and blood and freakish power. Oh, but it's different when I tell them how jumbled-up the world is. They agree with me then! When I tell them “The world’s gone crazy and needs men like the knights of old to set things right again.” they tell me “Ah! Yes Philip, yes, you’re absolutely right. When will Galahad come riding to our rescue?”. But when I tell them that the Blue Defender is the modern Galahad they say that I’m a sycophant! A race-traitor! Great God in heaven Mr. Walker, am I ever glad to have gotten the chance to talk to you tonight! Sanity is a precious commodity these days but you sir have it in spades!”
Philip finishes his drink in one last swallow and flags down George Douglas for another. Tonight, George is playing the part of a servant to get close enough to the socialites to apply his pickpocketing. There’s more than Philip here tonight at Childe manor who have ties to Highborn Banking. I want the greatest pickpocket in America to take a survey of their wallets and purses and see if he finds anything interesting.
Even with my superhuman eyesight, I barely catch George sticking his hand in Philip’s pocket. And that is with me knowing exactly where to look.
Philip sips his fresh drink. “My that’s good rum!”
“Thank you. It came from a friend of ours.” That friend being one of Mal Gideon’s lieutenants, Silver Peter. Silver Peter was a notorious miser among the underworld. Whatever he could steal, he stole, and some say that included even his clothes. He smuggled alcohol in the 1920’s as a way to turn a buck on prohibition and continued to do so even after Gold Star led the repeal of prohibition and all federal drug legislation. Silver Peter simply couldn’t stand the thought of paying for his own drinks.
When I raided Silver Peter’s mansion, I found that he had amassed quite the private collection of alcohol. He was a connoisseur with everything from Blakeland rum to Japanese sake. It seemed a shame for it all to go to waste and the manor did need fancy drinks for the parties. So I took it all along with Silver Peter’s silver plated machine gun which gave him his name.
As Lorna said, all men--and their spirits--serve the Trespasser.
Philip drinks the rum of a dead gangster happily. “Anyway, I would like to have your opinion on the challenge of duty--or rather, my own interpretation of the challenge of duty.”
“And what is your interpretation Philip?”
“That, with all due respect to Dr. Stone, there is an overlooked psychological element related to it I call the challenge of death.”
“The challenge of death?”
Philip grins. “Quite the title isn’t it? It sounds like the name of a pulp magazine, right? That’s probably one of the reasons why Dr. Stone will never write about it. He has enough trouble trying to disassociate himself from all those lurid magazines and their unofficial “reports” of his adventures.”
I skimmed a couple “True Reports of Dr. Hercules Stone” magazines by Star Publications and I have to say that they’re much more accurate than their “True Encounters with the Mainline Trespasser” magazines. Dr. Stone’s pulps all agree that he’s a man, but mine tend to differ on what I am issue to issue--vampire, ghost, virulent thought-form, space alien--their writers don’t seem to understand that men make the scariest monsters.
“The challenge of death is an idea that’s been going around in my head for awhile.” Philip says. “Let me construct it for you and you can tell me what you think.”
“Alright. Go on then.”
“ First of all, as an expert on warrior cultures what would you say is their chief commonality? What ties the hoplite to the samurai to the knight?”
“We’re talking about warriors now?”
“Yes. I firmly believe superhumans are our modern warriors.”
“Are you sure you aren’t secretly on the anti-superhumans' side?” I joke. “I could have sworn that one of their beliefs was that superhumans made natural warriors. Wasn’t it Senator Wagner who said that violence was as natural to superhumans as government was to basics?”
“Oh, but you should know better than that Mr. Walker. You of all people should know that warriors do not seek to use violence per se but master it and direct it towards a noble purpose.”
“Yes. The channeling of violence--I’d even go as far as to call it the sanctification of violence--is the commonality of all warrior cultures. Before becoming a knight, a squire had to hold vigil in a church for an entire night while he prayed and meditated on the meaning and purpose of chivalry.”
“Good! We’re on the same page then!”
“But what does this have to do with superhumans Philip? Why are they warriors?”
“Because it’s not just the tension between personal desire and social acceptance that superhumans must face. They have to face their inherent potential for violence--the challenge of death. Stop me if I’m wrong, but fate made warriors just like it makes superhumans. No boy ever chose to be born into a warrior caste. And for all our modern science, we don’t have the faintest idea how a hyperstatis is reached--only that epiphanies and trauma make it more likely to happen. We know that hyperstasis much have something to do with the brain, but that’s all we know. Effectively, fate decides who gets superpowers just as fate decides who is born. Fate’s mastery of superpowers is demonstrated every time some poor fool burns his brains out with bottled miracles.
Bottled miracles is one of the underworld’s most reliable industries alongside protection rackets and assassination. I’ve sent more than a few bottled miracle pushers to Hell for profiting on pure human misery.
Bottled miracles are snake oil. Their pushers promise that the highly-addictive chemical cocktails will grant a “temporary hyperstasis” as if such a thing were possible. The cocktails are a blend of psychoactives and anesthetics that produce feelings of superpowers--but only feelings. Unfortunately for some people that’s enough to sell their soul.
There is great wisdom to what Philip says about men coveting the power of superhumans instead of their character.
“Fate burdens warriors and superhumans both with the potential to cause death--that’s the challenge.” Philip continues. “The formation of a warrior code is the answer.”
“Interesting. But how do you account for total pacifists?” I ask. “Superhero vigilantes are a violent lot, but not all superhumans are superheroes. Wilbur Jameson up in New York only wants to use his powers to dig mines so basic men won’t have to hurt themselves. Scott Fowler in Louisiana only wants to use his powers to drain swamps and make arable land.”
“They are still warriors one and all. A warrior code is formed through the understanding and mastery of violent potential and not necessarily its use, correct?”
“Yes. As Europe modernized knights gradually fell out of martial use and turned toward more peaceful pursuits. They became the gentleman class and noblesse oblige replaced chivalry. A similar thing happened in Japan to the samurai. But even so Philip, a gentleman is expected to know how to defend himself if the need arises. Samurai disarmed by the shogun invented the martial art of jiu jitsu and I’m sure you’ve seen the bartitsu cane with the concealed blade upstairs. How does your challenge of death square with total pacifists? Would you consider even a Quaker a warrior? Because the masked Pennsylvanian superhuman that calls himself the Friend is a self professed Quaker and all he does is travel around repairing neighborhoods with his bare hands. And many superhumans support not only the NRA and further superhuman legislation believing that not even self-imposed pacifism on their behalf is sufficient to protect basics from their powers.”
“If they have given true thought to their potential for violence and absolute pacifism is truly the solution they believe than yes, logically following my terms they are warriors. I admit it does sound awfully strange to think of a Quaker as a warrior, but consider how in Princes Dr. Stone writes that the challenge of duty can very well end with the superhuman rejecting social responsibility all together and withdrawing from society completely. Hugo Danner did that. The Great War in the Air scarred him so much that he retired from human contact to raise a forest as his own personal garden in the Sonoran. A superhuman completely giving up on violence under the challenge of death is the equivalent of Hugo Danner giving up on society under the challenge of duty. There are many ways to face and understand death. There are many ways to be a warrior. Are you following me Mr. Walker?”
“I follow you.”
“Under my terms, even you are a warrior Mr. Walker.”
I raise an eyebrow. “I’m a warrior?”
“Yes you are. I’m not sure where you stand on the issue of self-defense, but you are a Galahad among modern warriors Mr. Walker. Just look around you! You live surrounded in death and violence. You immerse yourself in it, you contemplate it, and you even share it with the world. Other men, they go through life thinking shadows contain only darkness and nothing of substance. But not you. You’re different. It is as if you can’t help but explore violence. It’s as if you’re compelled to face it just as a superhuman is!”
I smile. “Just remember whose name is on the manor Philip.”
“Are you implying that Lorna is a warrior woman Mr. Walker? A regular Deborah?”
“Well, she does know a little judo.”
“Does she now?”
“Yes. And a little chinese boxing taught to her by a friend.”
“Chinese boxing? How on Earth?”
“Does that really surprise you? You’d be amazed what company a person keeps when they’re trying their best to squander daddy’s fortune on macabre mementos. “
“And I take it you know some of these things as well?”
“A few techniques.”
That’s a lie. I’ve never had the patience for the martial arts. Routines and techniques just slow down my natural instincts. But Lorna has learned oriental martial arts from the Liu siblings--brother and sister acrobats and magicians who became my agents after I saved them from Mal Gideon’s thugs who wanted to extort their theatre company.
“Ah!” Philip exclaims. “You’re even more warrior than a thought! Anyway, what do you think about my idea? What do you think about the challenge of death? Do you think it's any good?”
“Well, it seems to me that it's a very dangerous idea.”
“Of course it's a dangerous idea. I wouldn’t dare share it with just anyone.”
“Dr. Stone’s challenge of duty is...far more palatable for the general man. Few will be able to find something objectionable with the idea that superhumans are forced to strike a psychological balance between their powers and their peers. But a challenge of death and a warrior code...that has implications that many might find disturbing.”
Philip scoffs. “The anti-superhumans find bright capes and domino masks disturbing.”
“I do not mean just the anti-superhumans Philip. You should know how hard superhumans have to work to defend themselves against allegations that they destroy more than they create. And here you go saying that they’re natural warriors who cannot help but think about death and violence.”
“But the purpose of a warrior code is to direct violence towards--!”
“I know Philip, I know. But it's not what it is, its how it looks.”
Philip makes a face. “Oh rot! To hell with what other people think! Is it true or not? Is the challenge of death true?”
I cannot help but make a slight smile. “Oh yes Philip, it's absolutely true. I don’t believe there’s a single superhuman who hasn’t thought about violence.”
Philip beams. “Good! I was hoping you would agree!”
“But you should be careful about treating your challenge of death as something universally positive.”
Philip blinks. “It’s not? What makes you think that? Confronting death, accepting it, mastering it--how could that be anything but positive compared to its opposite?”