“There were those who were even more than warriors during the war, Philip.” I say.
There were heroes. There are always heroes even in the deepest and darkest of Hells.”
Philip flashes a relieved smile. “You really believe that, don’t you?” He points at me. “I can tell that you do!”
“Philip, how can I not believe in heroes when I have seen them with my own eyes? There were nurses who cared for me...after I was shot down…they were without a doubt heroes.”
“Good lord man! You were shot down?”
“Yes. I have a purple heart because of it.”
“You crashed in a gabriel armor--and lived?”
“A miraculous survival, I know. I’m one of the blessed elect to walk out of a “coffin comet” as they called it.”
“I should say! How ever did you pull it off?”
“Philip, I suppose the same force that decides that this man dies of trench foot and this man charges a landship without a single scratch just decided in its own mercurial fashion that I was to be immortal that day.”
“I think the force that saved you was of a more benevolent sort.”
“God mistook me for one of his angels that day, is that it?” I ask sarcastically. “He saw me falling and rescued one of his own?”
“Mr. Walker, I respect you as a scholar and yes, as a warrior. But I find that you hold yourself with an undeserved amount of contempt.”
“Perhaps that contempt is just part of the trauma. A scab on my soul as Lorna calls it...anyway, I thank you for your kind words Philip.”
“They’re true words.”
“If we may, I would like to return to the topic of your challenge of death.”
“Philip. I respect your theory. I believe it holds true insight into the superhuman condition. But us talking about soldiers and warriors, it's put an idea in my mind. I think I’ve uncovered a flaw in your theory.”
“Well what is it? Don’t keep it to yourself!”
“You do not account for the element of compulsion.”
“Yes. Some men have a compulsion toward violence. It’s what ultimately separates the soldier from the warrior.”
I killed under compulsion when I was a soldier--first because I was ordered by men, then because I was ordered by my own bloodlust. Now, I maintain the compulsion of my bloodlust, but I have shackled it with the code of the Shivan. But that cannot make me a warrior. I direct my compulsion, I do not control it.
Then what does that make me?
What am I?
“The soldier is drafted, and kills those that are drafted. The soldier is compelled” I continue. “The warrior chooses to be what he is, and likewise seeks to fight those that choose to be what they are. The warrior is not compelled.”
Philip gives me a quizzical look. “I’m not sure what your point is Mr. Walker. Are you talking about a superhuman compelled to violence by his hyperstasis? In that case he would have a metapathogen, not a superpower. Metapathogens are beyond the scope of my theory.”
I thought, once, that my compulsion was external rather than internal. I thought that my hyperstasis was responsible for the old screams.
Now I know better.
“No.” I reply. “I’m talking about someone with a superpower whose compulsion comes from himself.”
“So wouldn’t that be a...madman? An axe-murderer that had the misfortune of developing a hyperstasis like the er, Axeman of New Orleans. You’re familiar with him, correct?”
“Yes. He terrorized New Orleans until Laughing Mask and Radio King of the CID put him out of his misery. We actually have one of his axe handles somewhere in the manor.”
“It’s somewhere on the third floor I think. It’s merely reputed to be one of his though, so don’t be too excited if you find it.”
“Anyway, our superpowered compulsive is a madman, correct?” Philip asks. “In that case, he has no place in my schema. The mad can’t construct or grasp codes of conduct.”
Am I mad?
Perhaps. Maybe. I do take a sadist’s delight in brutalizing my prey. I love what I do.
But no. I can’t be. Not after Ram, my ascension as a Shivan, Lorna...no.
There is the pull of madness, yes. But there is the stronger pull of the Shivan code.
I am not mad. And if I am, the code is not mad.
“We aren’t talking about a madman.” I explain. “Madness is by definition irrational. The compulsion is rational. The soldier is rationally compelled towards violence through orders, patriotism, threats, and what have you.”
The Shivan code is bloody, but it is rational. My bloodlust under it is a rational bloodlust.
Philip screws up his features in thought. “I’m not following. So this would be someone...drafted into superpowers? Ah, I get it! You’re talking about those super-soldiers that show up in scientific romances and pulps! People that are artificially given superpowers but have to meet some sort of test first. Well, we probably have a few more decades before that makes the jump to reality.”
I shake my head. “No. I’m not talking about super-soldiers. I’m sorry Philip. I’m afraid I’m not being very clear.”
Super-soldier pulps are quite popular these days. The randomness of hyperstasis is an injustice, and many authors wonder what it would be like if people had to pass a test to prove they were worthy of superpowers. There’s a popular super-soldier series that George Douglas loves called Sultans of the Gold about an organization of men that are granted mystic golden lamps by the secret philosophers of the cosmos. Each lamp contains a servant jinn that grants each Sultan the power of fifty Gold Stars--which is rather impressive considering some theorize there’s no limit to Gold Star’s strength. Some jinn are hideous brutes with several heads and claws. Some are beautiful nymphs with eyes like the sun. Some serve willingly, others as punishment, but they all allow the Sultans to travel to the furthest reaches of the known universe and to worlds beyond that exist only in the mind of the author, Hugo Smith, on an endless crusade of goodwill righting wrongs and saving lives.
Hugo Smith said he wanted to depict the ideal relationship between man and superpowers. The jinn represent hyperstasis. The ugly, evil ones are metapathogens. The beautiful, kind ones are superpowers. And the men that control them are perfect men who can force even the most demonic jinn to serve the cause of good. In the setting of Sultans of the Gold, the Sultans have transformed Earth into a paradise without crime or want. It is only the fantastic places they journey to that have needs--and only until the Sultans visit them.
George loves the series and once drew me as a Sultan. The Sultan was humble Lee Walker, and his jinn was the clawed and fanged Trespasser.
It is ridiculous that I would be worthy to join the Sultans of the Gold, or any other fictional group of super-soldiers. But I think I could be a jinn.
What does that make me?
“I mean a superhuman with a rationalized compulsion toward violence.” I explain. “I mean someone who has a compulsion toward violence before their empowerment who tempers that compulsion afterwards.”
“Ahh...I think I see. So we are talking about a madman.”
“...Of a sort., I suppose”
That’s the best way I can describe it--a madman “of a sort.”
There must be a better description...
“Alright, a not-quite-a-madman. I suppose a hyperstasis could have a therapeutic effort on this not-quite-a-madman’s behavior. Perhaps…”
“That’s the thing!” I exclaim. “That’s the thing right there! Perhaps. Perhaps he, like typical superhumans that confront the challenge of death, forms a warrior code when confronted with the psychological weight of committing violence with a superpower. But he could also fail. He could fail completely and be nothing more than a madman with power. Or he could fail partially and form a code that is not the code of a warrior but the code of something else, something we need to name.”
When I was a gabriel operator feeding men to my bloodlust, I was one who failed. I was one who was a madman with power. When I died in a Shanghai opium den and was reborn under the ministrations of Ram as a Shivan, I was one who partially succeeded. I was not noble, not a warrior, not a hero, but what was I?
What do I continue to be?”
“Interesting! Interesting!” Philip cheers. “But wouldn’t we call this the soldier code? Soldiers aren’t madmen obviously, but your soldier vs warrior comparison on compulsion and violence holds up to me. A non-compulsive superhuman encounters the challenge of death and forms a code like a warrior who voluntarily chooses violence. A compulsive superhuman encounters the challenge of death and forms a code like a soldier who is compelled toward violence. Yes, I think “soldier code” about sums it up.”
Is that what I am?
Am I, after all this time, still a soldier fighting a war?
Has the battlefield never left me just as the old screams have never left me?
Has this all just been one long, endless war?
No I refuse to believe that.
When I was a soldier I killed men whose only crime was being a German male of enlistment age. Now I wet my claws on the blood of evil men. That is a difference. That is an important difference.
I am not a soldier.
I shake my head. “It sounds right. It makes sense. But I don’t think soldier is the right name for it. “Soldier” implies a lack of will.”
“Yes, but our theoretical superhuman lacks the will to overcome his compulsion.”
“But not the will to direct and manage his compulsion in some capacity. Otherwise he wouldn’t have a code at all.”
“Hmmm…Well, it’s awfully difficult to debate the classification of a purely theoretical man. I don’t suppose you have an example of a superhuman that would fit our “rationalized compulsion” scenario?”
“The Trespasser.” I say simply.
Philip’s eyes go wide. He nearly drops his glass.
“You want to talk about him? But why? What on Earth for?”
“Because he fits the category we’re discussing.”
“But he defies all categorization! Surely you know that! In all the world there’s no one like him!”
“He’s an aberration to be sure. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a superhuman. It doesn’t mean there’s no place for him in your schema.”
I have a place. I must belong to a place. Too many forces pull me in too many directions for there to not be a place where I am at rest and whole.
“Er...well, are we even sure he counts as a superhuman?” Philip asks.
“What else could be possibly be?”
“Surely you’ve heard the rumors. People think he’s a ghost, vampire, quasimorph, virulent thought-form--he prowls like the Invisible Man, announces himself like Dracula, and kills like the Wolfman. A nightmare is what he is, if he is anything at all!”
It is amazing what a theatrical presence and a few props can do for one’s reputation provided one knows how to use them. When I am in costume...it's like I peel off this old, wrinkled skin and I’m...something else, something made of darkness and metal. It’s not just the costume, it’s what the costume draws out of me. The way I stand, the way I talk, the way I move...oh, I am a nightmare in motion when I get going...
“Let’s just assume he’s human enough. I reply.
Philip nervously spins his glass in his hand. “Where’s the butler when you need another drink...Mr. Walker, do you really want to talk about the Trespasser?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?
“Well...no. I guess not. But...everyone knows how you feel about him. You think he’s a monster.”
“I hate him.”
“Yes.” Philip sighs. “Yes, that to, that to…”
“I hate anyone that would dare bring danger to Lorna.”
And I do hate myself for having done just that.
It was back in the days when my existence was debated by newspapers and Mal Gideon ran the city from above rather than from the shadows. Lorna, fearless Lorna, took an ad in the paper requesting an audience with the Trespasser. She was not the first to do so. But where others offered money, information, confession, or psychiatric opinion, she offered conversation. “I am a student of death, sir.” She wrote. “I study how men prepare for death, how they meet death, and how they deal death. I believe we could learn a lot from each other if you and I were to meet.”
The very night I read it, I came calling in unusual fashion. I rang her doorbell.
I shared with her everything--the war, Shanghai, Ram--everything. I unburdened my soul upon her. And in exchange, she told me about the first time she encountered death.
We had, unfortunately, found our soulmates in each other that night.
The next night I visited I was pursued by Mal Gideon’s men. I was giddy from the emotions warring within me and I did not catch their tail. They burst in, machine guns pock-marking the dining room, and abducted Lorna guessing correctly that she meant a great deal to me.
Now, Lorna makes a game out of what to other women would have been a soul-searing night of terror. She challenges new guests to number the amount of bullet holes in the dining room. The winner receives a bottle of 1910 gunshot whiskey from Silver Peter’s collection.
Pursuing Lorna’s kidnappers to an abandoned boathouse, I allowed myself to fall into an ambush which I dealt with in the usual fashion.
I eviscerated them all. And Lorna saw me do it.
I thought certainly, certainly this would terminate what little bond had developed between us. But I was wrong. With a surgeon’s impassivity, she helped me prepare the bodies with my mark for the police. Her stoicism was due to her having taken up , like Ram, the Buddhist practice of maranasati in her girlhood. She had viewed corpses of all ages in all stages of decomposition until death had lost its terror for her. Having no fear of death, she had no fear of me. And in the absence of fear, strange and unexpected emotions grew between us.
To avoid a repetition of that night, we agreed to terminate any public association between us. Given that we were the only survivors, it was easy for Lorna to create a story that she was kidnapped to be used as a ransom. The Childe fortune was of a considerable amount--and still is. The press believed the story which was given veracity by a manufactured ransom letter and correspondence between the kidnappers and a certain high-ranking member of Mal Gideon’s inner circle. George Douglas’ dexterity is useful in more than pickpocketing and watchmaking.
The ruse had the effect of making Mal paranoid that his men were running operations without his knowledge.
I make use of all men in the end, even dead ones.
Following the ordeal, Lorna told the press that her kidnapping had shaken her considerably and that she had asked the Trespasser to never again intrude into her life. As far as the world knew, she and the Trespasser had parted ways. She wrote and published a heavily redacted version of our early conversations as The Ash-Covered Phoenix: My Experience with the Trespasser and the book’s vague statements on the Trespasser’s origin added to his mystery along with those in the later Princes of Dawn by Dr. Stone.
She hung a painting of the Trespasser in the 3rd floor library where she had her conversations with him right between the stuffed cobra and the 14th century knight armor.
And that was that... as far as the world knew.