8FOLD/ACRA: The Green Knight # 6
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 11 22:07:29 PST 2006
Heads up: this is a looooong one. I think it really
works best read in one sitting, but if you prefer to
break it up, I suggest taking a breather at "Five a.m.
Dark and clear."
Also: the ACRA label's not just for show. This issue
is decidedly more ACRA than those previous.
EIGHTFOLD COMICS PRESENTS
THE GREEN KNIGHT # 6
BY TOM RUSSELL
Ray and Martin talk for roughly an hour. It is the
last time they will speak to each other.
Martin tells Ray about his run-in with the
Psychopomp earlier this evening.
He had been out on patrol, following a few leads
and scaring off a few muggers. He decided to turn in
for the night, and returned to his hideout-- the one
he had appropriated from Professor Rockhopper. He got
into the elevator and pressed the hidden switch,
causing the elevator to burrow far below the bottom
As he made his descent, he felt suddenly uneasy.
His body became tense, his gullet became tight. He
quickly stripped off his outer clothes and put on his
gloves, his mask. If he had grapples, he would have
flattened himself up against the ceiling. (He doesn't
have grapples.) Martin flattened himself against one
of the walls and held his breath. The elevator doors
He couldn't see the men inside, but he knew that
they were there, and he knew what they were thinking.
What they're always thinking. The elevator just came
down, the doors just opened, I don't see nobody
inside. They're scared. Twitching, waiting.
The element of surprise is important, but only to a
degree. Shock wears off, eventually, and sometimes,
too quickly. But fear... fear gets down into your
bones and you can't shake it for a long time. Fear
and mystery are far more potent weapons than shock and
Martin waited. His brain told him what would
happen: one of the men, shivering and sweating,
heading towards the dark elevator with an electric
torch in hand. Martin doesn't just blend into the
shadows; he is the shadows. By the time the mook
spots him, it'll be too late.
Simple, clean, smooth... but it's taking too long.
It doesn't feel right. His brain says, don't worry,
they're just getting more afraid. But he knows it's
taking too long. It's not a rational knowledge, but
an instinctual one. He doesn't know it in his brain.
He knows it in his arms, in his legs. And then,
before his brain can reassure him that everything's
okay, he hears the voice.
"This isn't your floor, sir."
That voice. That strange voice, the one he'll
never get used to. The one he'll never forget.
Martin's in no shape to fight the Psychopomp. He
hasn't fought a four-colour in years, and it's been at
least a dozen years since the Psychopomp. His first
instinct is to retreat. Without thinking about it, he
presses the button to close the elevator. The minute
he does so, he curses himself. Calls himself a
He hasn't been a coward since he was twelve years
The doors are opening anyway. The Psychopomp is
tearing them open with his claws, his hideous white
face leering. He stabs Martin in the arm with his
fingers and lifts him up into the air, tossing him
into the room. The sharpened points that were once
digits rip through his skin nice and clean, like
scissors through paper.
Martin falls into a heap and the Psychopomp's thugs
are upon him, kicking and thrashing. There's no fear
in their eyes, in their faces. There's no fear in
them. It's easy to fight men when they're afraid,
when you have an edge.
The kicks bruise his shins and his face. When
Martin was the Acro-Bat, he wore armour and padding.
He ended most nights sore but seldom sustained major
injuries. With his current costume, injuries were
more likely and more frequent-- but it was still
fairly seldom. Of course it was. What do you expect
when you spend ten years fighting only mooks?
Martin does not depend on armour, though, or
padding, or protection. He doesn't have grapples or
tools or weapons. His body is his weapon. He can
trust his body and rely on its judgments. His arm
knows where to strike even when Martin's eyes are
stinging and blinded with blood. And, with some
difficulty, he manages to extradite himself from the
situation. To get back on his feet. To fight back.
This is easy, though. He's still fighting mooks.
Unimportant. The real threat-- and the real focus of
his blows-- should be on the Psychopomp.
The Psychopomp is insane and murderous and has the
powers of hell at his disposal. Martin has only his
body-- his weakened, bloodied body. And Martin thinks
that he is going to die. There have been many times
in the course of this career, this life, that he's
thought that these were his last moments. Usually--
and this includes recently-- he thinks of Ray. This
time, he thinks of Ree. (He does not tell Ray this
when recounting these events.)
Martin leaps towards the Psychopomp, somersaulting,
and manages to land a blow on his chin before the
Psychopomp shreds his leg. Martin falls to the
ground, clutching his leg, and rolls backwards to
avoid the Psychopomp's ring of cold fire. Martin
knows his old foe well.
So does the Psychopomp. He recognizes Martin's
body language. "The Acro-Brat." He smiles thinly, as
if he does not enjoy smiling. "It's been ages. Tell
the Knight I want to see him."
In a plume of smoke, the Psychopomp disappears.
Martin turns to the mooks, wanting to warn them. But
any warning would be pointless, and it's too late now
anyway. Their skin and muscles fall away, melting,
leaving only their bones and dripping wax.
"He didn't say where...?"
"No, Ray, he didn't," Martin says. "I think he
assumes we'll figure it out, track him down."
"Always did," offers Ray, coughing. Martin tries
to hand him a glass of water. Ray can't move his arm
enough to grab ahold of it or make use of it. Martin
brings it to the old man's lips. "The first thing
"Right," says Martin. "If the Psychopomp was in
the old Rockhopper hideout, he was there for a reason.
I doubt he found what he was looking for... I would
have found any of Rockhopper's stuff years ago. So
chances are, he's looking at some of Rockhopper's
other abandoned hideouts, looking for something of
his. The question is, what? What would the
Psychopomp need that Rockhopper could possibly have?"
"Want," corrects Ray. "Doesn't need anything. But
he wants it. What does he want?
"He wants... G. Green Knight."
"You can't be serious, Ray," says Martin.
"I'm not the Green Knight anymore, Martin." Ray
smiles at him. The wrinkles on his face smile with
"The suit's downstairs."
Ray squeezes Martin's hand, hard, and the strength
of his grip is surprising. "Go g. get him, Martin.
Make me proud. Hah... hah... hot...t..."
"Hot-diggity-dog." Martin smiles at the old man
and, a little dazed, heads downstairs.
Ninety-five: the year of the beard. Martin grew it
because Ree asked him to, because it made her tingle.
He rubbed his beard up and down her back, and along
her cheeks, scratching her. He's more gentle along
her belly-- she was ticklish-- and her breasts. Ree
said that Ray was always an animal with her breasts:
pawing at them and gnawing them like bones. Martin,
by contrast, was gentle with them; even when their
lovemaking was aggressive, he was always gentle.
It made Martin uncomfortable to talk about Ray with
Riana (especially about the lovemaking). It only
reinforced the idea that something was wrong here.
When he could block Ray out, Martin and Ree were a man
and a woman: lovers. When the conversation turned to
Ray, Martin was reminded that Ree was cheating. That
he was the other woman.
Ree would pull at Martin's nipples and call them
breasts, she would attack them savagely and call them
melons and tits. She delighted at times in making him
feel feminine. It was exciting, but emasculating.
The costume used to mean something. He used to
feel strong and hard in the guise of the Acro-Bat.
But he was thirty now. Thirty. Every time he put on
the costume, he felt like he was twelve. Like his
balls had refused to drop, like his pubes had just
The beard reminded him that he was a man, but it
was not enough. Neither was Ree: especially when she
When he finished rubbing her with his beard, she
grabbed him by the short hairs on his head and pushed
him down to his knees. She inched over to the edge of
the bed, drew his face close to her thighs, and told
him to lick like a good slut.
Martin Rock and his commanding officer.
A brief encounter, but an important one.
"Rock, you were among the finest marksmen in your
"Sir, yes, sir!"
"And yet Simmons tells me that you've only wounded
the enemy. Shoulder wounds, leg wounds, hands. There
are only two explanations for this. Either you're
missing... or you're missing on purpose.
"This is a war, Rock. And when you go to war, you
have to kill. That's the soldier's business. Every
life of theirs that you fail to take... is another
life of ours that they take from us. Us or them,
Rock. Shoot to kill.
"That's the difference between winning a war and
fighting a war."
Ninety-five: Martin shaves off his beard. He
shaves off Riana. Ray. The Green Knight. And the
Acro-Bat. A pile of hair he leaves on a tile floor.
Martin becomes only Martin, he is boiled down to
his essentials. He does not wear a costume; he wears
a uniform. He is not a superhero; he is a soldier.
He is not going to fight a war on crime.
He is going to winning it.
And there are casualties.
Superheroes don't kill. But soldiers...
He's killed ten men, by his count. Six in Iraq.
Four in Jolt City. Ten lives, taken only when it was
He can live with that, he can look at his face in
broad daylight and live with that. Nights might be
another matter. But it's irrelevant: he doesn't sleep
at night. He fights.
He wages a war.
Seventy-five: Martin's twelve years old. He lives
with his daddy in a shitty apartment. Poor black kid
living in a shitty apartment, bad side of town, single
dad, unemployed, the place smells like booze. The
poverty frustrates young Martin. He knows other
people have it better. Why not him? Why is he
condemned to be the poor angry black kid, to be a
stereotype? He fantasizes that his real father is
rich but poverty has made him cynical; he could never
believe in his fantasy strongly enough for it to
provide any distraction.
Apartment above, one hot summer night: the woman
upstairs is screaming. Saying no over and over.
Martin freezes. Maybe he's not hearing it right.
But he does hear it. No, no, please, no.
His father hears it too. Martin looks at him.
Aren't you going to do something, daddy? He doesn't
speak the words but he doesn't have to.
"Not our business, Martin."
His father leaves the room. Martin sits on the
sofa and hugs his knees. He should do something. But
what can he do? He's just a kid.
Just a kid...
I'd do something if I could, but I'm just a kid!
He could call the police, but he doesn't. He just
sits there and listens to his neighbor get beat up.
He sees her a few days later. She smiles at him,
asks him if he's excited about school starting next
week. She smiles like nothing happened. Martin does
not look her in the eye.
The only person Martin ever tells about this is
"You never told Ray?"
"He'd probably have fired me. Called me a coward."
"You were just a kid."
"I was a coward."
"You're too hard on yourself. It's been, what,
"You can't unmake the past," Martin says. "And you
can't forget it. Or else it will unmake you. Come
back and bite you in the ass."
Seventy-five, autumn: the upstairs neighbors have
Martin used to spend most of his time at the gym,
with his trainer. He's been a gymnast since he was
four. It was his mother's dream that he go to the
Olympics. She died when he was eight. The dream died
last year, when his father lost his job. The trainer
went first. Then the gym. And slowly, but inevitably,
Now he spends his time in the park, jogging,
playing on monkey bars, kicking up the gravel. Being
a kid, basically. Funny. Not as much fun as being a
Martin goes to the park bathroom to take a piss.
He uses a urinal. When he's done, he starts the sink.
The water's cold and trickles out. There's no soap.
No paper towels, either. Martin dries his hands on
There's a man standing at the door. Tall, wide.
White. He has a gun. He presses it against Martin's
head and tells him what to do.
This is my fault, Martin thinks. If I had helped
her, if I had called the police, this wouldn't be
happening. God is punishing me.
The monster leaves. Martin washes his mouth out
with the cold trickling water.
This is my fault.
The first and only person he tells is Ree.
She holds him in the dark.
Martin's walking home from the grocery store. He
sees a woman walking towards him. He blinks, and
she's gone. A blur of colour, and she's gone.
Martin drops his groceries and runs into the
alleyway. A couple of men with knives. One of them
grabs her purse.
"Please. Please, don't take it," she asks. "It's
all the money I have in the world. I just got paid,
I'm so behind on my rent..."
"So am I, darling," says one of the muggers.
Martin screams with righteous anger. It startles
the muggers, but only for a moment.
"Hey, shorty. What're you going to do?"
"Yeah, midget." They smirk, and their bodies
become limp and loose with laughter. Martin knows
that they are, at this moment and for a few precious
seconds, unable to defend themselves. He doesn't know
it with his brain; he knows it with his arm. With his
He leaps towards them, his hands outstretched. He
shifts his weight down and his hands touch the
pavement, propelling him feet first at one of the
muggers. He hits him in the belly, knocks the wind
out of him.
He knows the other one is going to try and stick
him. He knows it without seeing the knife, without
seeing the mugger, he knows it without knowing it.
Martin falls to the ground and kicks the mugger's feet
out from under him.
The first is getting up now. Martin, fresh out of
ideas, kicks him in the nuts. He turns to the other,
still on the ground, and stomps on his groin for
"I'll take it from here, lad." Martin turns his
head towards the strange new voice.
The woman has disappeared. In her place, stands
someone infinitely more beautiful.
The Green Knight.
"You did a fine job, young sir," he says. "You did
a good thing." He pats Martin on the shoulder in a
way that is both congratulatory and dismissive. He
pulls out some cuffs from one of the pouches in his
belt. "Well, boys?"
The muggers stand up and present their wrists. The
Green Knight cuffs them without resistance.
Cool, thinks Martin. Very cool.
And then, the Green Knight is gone.
You did a good thing.
It's late that night when Martin hears a tap at his
window. Standing in front of the apartment building
is the Green Knight.
"Good evening, Martin," he says.
"You know my name."
"I was thinking," says the Green Knight. "I could
sure use a sidekick."
Twenty aught five.
Martin strips off his flimsy night-black tights and
holds them, wadded, in his fist. He stands in front
of the costume and stares at it. He is naked and
bleeding. He stands naked before the Green Knight and
uncoils his fist. The nameless mask falls to the
He pulls on the suit. It's huge, hulking,
paternal. Fat like Ray. A whole other body. A whole
By the time Martin leaves the Cradle estate, it is
snowing. The mask informs him that it is thirty
degrees outside, feels like twenty-two. Martin
doesn't know because the suit is insulated; he's
sweating like a hog. It makes him uncomfortable.
Ray seldom showered. He liked to sweat.
"The Green Knight, braving a furious flurry of snow
to hunt down his diabolical arch-foe, the Psychopomp."
Martin smirks under the mask.
The Psychopomp is looking for something, something
he thought would be laying around this old hideout of
Rockhopper's. Something of Rockhopper's.
Rockhopper had other hideouts, other labs. And the
Green Knight will check them.
It doesn't take long to locate the hidden button in
the elevator. Rockhopper liked his hideouts to have
some degree of symmetry. Martin wonders if the
Psychopomp is here, if he's going to get the shit
kicked out of him again when the elevator opens.
There's nothing that feels wrong about this, but
nothing that feels right, either. With the suit on,
it's hard to feel anything at all.
From the pouches in his belt, he procures a taser
and several gas capsules; clumsily, two of them drop
to the floor and explode. The mask will prevent the
gas from getting into his lungs, and the mask
automatically switches to infra-red mode so that he
can see through the gas.
The doors open.
The room is empty. The Psychopomp was here,
though. The place has been torn apart. The question
is, did he find what he was looking for?
The gas dissipates and Martin pushes a button on
the side of the mask to turn off the infra-red.
Instead, it activates the macro lens, zooms in on the
wall. Martin take a step forward and it feels like
his entire head in shaking inside the mask. He
searches for another button and, pressing it, manages
to turn off the infra-red.
He pushes the macro button again, hoping it will
return to its default. Instead, it zooms in even
further, specks of dust becoming monstrous spores,
floating through the air, preparing to attack.
He finds another button, and finds himself watching
television. With an exhalation that's as much an
exasperated sigh as it is a scream of rage, he removes
the mask. The air in the room hits him like cold
water. The sweat on his face begins to evaporate
He goes to his belt to grab a cloth so he can wipe
his face. Instead, he finds another gas pellet. He
tries to return it, but the thick gloves greatly
diminish his dexterity. It drops on the floor. It
explodes at his feet.
Martin covers his face with one hand and coughs;
with the other hand, he cuts through the air, through
the smoke, trying to break up its black, thick
concentration. He removes a glove before he tries to
find the pouch with the miniature supply of drinking
The water does little to soothe his throat, but
it'll have to do.
Martin wonders if Ray moved things around in the
belt. His first instinct is, yes. Ray moved things,
Martin's not used to it. That also goes to explain
the problems with the mask.
But the more he thinks about it, the more he
suspects that the mask and the pouch are the same as
they've always been. Ray had spent years getting them
right; by the time Martin was twenty, things had
become static. They probably stayed that way.
Martin's just been away from this for so long that he
forgets how everything's set up.
Either way, he's out of his element. He does not
have control over the belt, over the mask. And if he
does not have control over it, it has control over
He takes a moment to familiarize himself with the
belt and its layout. To try and memorize how it is
set up. He tries to use a mnemonic, but it proves
ineffective. Oh, forget it.
This is a waste of time! Let's get back to work,
back to investigating...
The lights go out. Martin assumes it's a bulb.
But he knows better than to put stock in his
assumptions. He pulls the mask over his face. It has
gone back to its defaults, which saves him the hassle
of playing with buttons. He reaches into his belt and
retrieves an electric torch...
As he flicks it on, he muses: I knew where that
He wands the torch back and forth, bobbing along,
looking... looking for something, but what? Chairs
are overturned, the television is busted, the cabinet
open and its contents spilled out. But which of these
things is important? Probably the cabinet...
Martin, listen to me now: when something is wrong
with the world, when something is out of place, it
wants to be put right again. And it will ask you for
help if you're listening.
Martin takes off the mask and tucks it into the
lining of the cape. He takes his cloth from his pouch
and wipes his face. He wands the torch back and
forth, slowly this time, his eyes open, but not
looking, not concentrating. He pivots around, quietly
so as not to scare his query. Unassumingly, he waits
for it to come to him.
On his second pass, something in the corner catches
his eye. Well, no, nothing in the corner. The corner
itself. Martin doesn't know what's wrong with it. He
only knows that something is wrong. He knows it with
He crouches down near the corner, staring in the
pool of light from his electric torch. Straining.
But it's just a corner. He's trying too hard.
There's nothing for him to find here...
He gets back up and pulls on his mask before
heading towards the elevator... wait. He turns back
to the corner. He switches the mask to infra-red and
turns off the torch.
The corner is not there at all. It's just the sort
of optical illusion that Rockhopper delighted in. And
just the sort of thing the Psychopomp would see right
Torch gripped firmly in hand, the Green Knight
passes through the faux corner and into a secret lair
within the secret lair. His old nemesis was clever
This room, however, has not been ransacked like the
first. In fact, Martin's first impulse is to wonder
if the Psychopomp had missed it, after all.
So many gadgets line the walls, each perfectly
centered on small wooden mantle places of the same
size. Each wall has ten rows and six columns of
Martin turns off the infra-red and turns on his
torch. Martin wands the electric torch until he finds
a mantle place without an invention. The label reads,
He starts to back away, lowering the torch, and
spots something on the floor. It's an employee ID
badge for a convalescence center.
The Psychopomp might be insane, but he's not
sloppy. It's not like him to leave clues.
And if he knew what he was looking for, Martin
wonders as he passes back through the optical
illusion, then why cause all the mess in the first
room, why tear it apart?
Before he gets on the elevator, he wands the
flashlight around the room again. That's when he sees
why the corner stood out: it was the only one that was
clean, that was free of disarray.
The Psychopomp wanted him to find the secret room.
He wants him to know that he has the fear ray. He
wanted him to find the ID badge. He wants him to come
And that's when Martin remembers: it's exactly like
the Psychopomp to leave clues... when he wants you to
Ninety-nine, October: another skirmish in the war
for Jolt City.
Martin moves with the night, not through it, his
black battle fatigues tight against his muscles. He
can feel the cold wind. Winter will be here early
Usually, he has some kind of agenda for the night.
A strategy. A heist to bust up. Mobsters to trap.
Not tonight. Tonight's just another patrol. Just
slinking along, rooftop to rooftop, alleyway to
alleyway, looking for trouble to put a stop to.
The Green Knight and the Acro-Bat used to patrol.
They had an itinerary, a method by which they
criss-crossed the bulk of Jolt City. It was useful,
in its way and for its time. But often they would end
up on one side of town and a crime would take place on
another. One can't be everywhere at once... and
Martin's current method is no more efficient... but it
feels like it works, it feels like it places Martin in
the right place at the right time.
Martin just wanders the city. No plan. No method.
He just wanders and listens to his gut until he finds
something. His body becomes a trouble-compass. In
his brain, he knows this is no better than the way he
and Ray patrolled. But in his arm, it feels right.
He lands on a rooftop and he hears something: a
muffled cry. People in an alleyway.
Young girl. Fourteen, maybe fifteen. Man with a
gun. She's on her knees and pleading. The man
laughs. Says she's pretty.
Martin snaps his neck. Clean. Quick.
Martin extends his hand to the girl to help her up.
She screams and recoils. The black faceless night
reaches out again. She gets up on her feet of her own
accord and backs away, sobbing.
Martin speaks. It's been so long since he's spoken
while in costume, he is almost unable to summon the
words. "Miss, I'm here to help you... he can't hurt
you now... he's... he's dead..."
She screams again. Martin retreats and is absorbed
by the shadows.
That never happened before. Not to the Green
Knight and the Acro-Bat.
In the war for Jolt City, Martin has taken four
lives, only when it was necessary. Number four died
in an alleyway, in ninety-nine.
Five a. m.
Dark and clear.
The storm has stopped. The snow is easily a foot
The Green Knight presses on.
He arrives at the convalescence center. The gate
has been blown off the hinges. Never a good sign.
The building is two-stories tall and a rectangle.
It reminds Martin of the high school he attended.
It's still standing, more than twenty years later. As
far as he knows, it hasn't even started to crumble. A
rarity for his old neighborhood, for his Jolt City. A
The building is surprisingly well-preserved. Makes
sense. The crumbling's on the inside. The sick, the
dying, the unwanted, the unloved. Mothers and
Two thugs posted at the front door. They have
Ray would just barge in the front door with his
taser and his gas pellets, fight his way in, cause
chaos and revel in it. Element of surprise and all
Martin's not Ray.
Martin sneaks around to the back.
It's hard. The dark winter night is crisp and
clear. The snow is practically vibrant by comparison.
And he's wearing green tights.
But Martin is a good soldier. He can sneak with
the best of them.
Martin spots a bright yellow light coming from a
window. He smirks. "Like a moth..."
The smirk disappears. He never used to chatter
before. Even when he was the Acro-Bat, he left the
chatter to Ray.
Silent, stealthy, strong.
There are four people in the little room, all of
them wearing pajamas and in wheelchairs. One of them
is a woman, heavy-set, about sixty-five. The others
are men, none of them younger than eighty.
One of the men has his hands folded in his lap.
The other three people in the room all have their arms
hanging limply off the sides of their wheelchairs.
Their heads are pointed upwards, their eyes bulging
and dazed. They look at the ceiling, barely conscious
The door opens. A thug pushes another man into the
room. He situates the chair in the center and leaves,
shutting the door. The man mutters to himself, his
arms hanging at his sides, and stares at his knees.
Suddenly, the woman starts crying hysterically.
She does not move her hands to wipe the tears. She
does not move her head. She just cries.
Martin hears a scream coming from elsewhere in the
center. He heads towards it.
"Like a moth..."
Second floor, east end of the building (grapples
came in handy).
It's very dark, too dark to see. Martin can barely
make out the shapes of three figures. Two are
The seated one speaks. "What, uh, what're you
fellows going to do, there, I wonder?"
"You'll see," says the first.
"Yeah, you'll see," says the second. "Hey, old
man. What's the matter? You scared of the dark?"
"No," says the old man. He means it.
"Defiant old codger, aren't we?" says the second.
"Bet you lived through worse than the likes of us,
"Damn right I have."
"Yeah, you lived through Double-ya Double-ya Two,"
says the second. "Am I right? I bet I'm right. Tell
me, which was it? The Huns or the Japs?"
"Time's a wasting," says the first. "We got a
whole load left to do yet."
"I bet you're afraid of the dark," says the second.
He's moving, grabbing something from a table. An
electronic hum fills the air. A sickly orange light
baths over the old man.
He screams. "They're dead... they're dead... oh,
my hair's turned white... F... Fritz... I'll get you,
"Huns, then," says his tormentor. He laughs as he
flips a switch. The orange light grows brighter,
And the screams grow louder.
The fear ray.
Martin watches, hanging onto his grapples. The
screams start to fade. So does the light of the fear
The old man is muttering to himself now. The more
sadistic of his two captors speaks. "You put Private
Coma here with the others. I'll get the next one."
He leaves, the fear ray in hand. The other one
grabs the old man's wheelchair and maneuvers him out
Martin reaches into his belt and begins to cut the
Something sinks inside him. Back in the old days,
he and Ray would have jumped through that window as
soon as the fear ray had been turned on. Would have
saved the old man.
Tactically, that would have been a bad move. While
they would have gotten the drop on the two in that
room, chances are the others in the compound would
have gotten the drop on them. Actually, the chances
were pretty damn good: Martin had lost count of how
many times the Green Knight and the Acro-Bat ended up
being knocked out and finding themselves tied up and
suspended over a vat of boiling toxic waste.
It would have been foolish to just jump in there.
Chances are the fear ray would have worked on Martin.
What use would Martin be to anyone if he was a
vegetable? (Or suspended over boiling toxic waste,
for that matter.) Everyone would have fallen victim
to the ray.
At least this way, Martin has a chance of saving
whoever's left. By waiting, biding his time, striking
when the moment is ripe. He couldn't have saved the
old man. It was for the greater good.
Martin knew all this. And if Ray was here, Ray
would know all this, too.
He still would have jumped in head first.
Glass is cut. No time for this shit now. Get
Martin knows the men will be back any moment now.
The important thing is to disarm them and subdue them
without allowing them to cause a sound. To hide in
the shadows and strike with speed and precision.
He flattens himself up against a corner near the
door and readies the taser. He grabs a gas pellet
from his belt. Almost as an after-thought, he finally
activates the infra-red.
The door opens. The two men enter with a third in
a wheelchair. The old man snivels, whimpering. They
close the door. It takes about four seconds for one
of them to notice the hole in the window. He turns
towards his partner.
The Green Knight leaps from the corner, plunging
his taser at the man's gullet, paralyzing his vocal
chords. In the same motion, and without turning to
look back, his other arm flies straight and swift
behind him, depositing the gas pellet into the mouth
of the second mook.
The first man falls, his body quivering softly with
electricity, lulling him painfully to sleep. The
Green Knight covers the second man's mouth. The gas
capsule releases its load inside. The man tries to
cough. His lungs beg for fresh air. The Green Knight
gives him neither. The man falls, unconscious,
slumping against the wall.
Martin turns towards the captive. "It's okay, sir,
you're okay..." He reaches out with his hand to touch
him. The old man does not respond. Martin feels for
The old man is dead. A heart attack.
Fifteen year old girl in an alleyway, running away
from her saviour. From the shadows. From the
Martin bends over the body of the first man to
retrieve the fear ray. He picks it up and looks it
over. No buttons, no switches...? This can't be the
same ray he saw them use. He pulls the trigger.
The gun spews out a plastic card.
Martin grabs his electric torch and finds the card
on the floor.
It's a visitor's pass.
For the Green Knight.
The Green Knight comes to the front door. The
guards look at him skeptically before pointing their
guns at his chest. He holds up his visitor's pass.
The two guards look at each other and wonder what
to make of it. Shrugging, they withdraw their rifles
and let the man pass.
There are several mooks standing around, all of
them dressed as attendants. A couple dozen elderly
men and women are scattered about the room, talking
quietly amongst themselves.
And in the center of the room stands the
The Green Knight enters and all the chatter stops.
All eyes turn towards him.
He stands in the doorway, fists clenched, legs
straight, cape draped over his back. His stance is
relaxed but his body is tight, taut, alive. His mask
reveals nothing of his face, nor makes any pretense at
one. But his head in fixed in such a way that there
is no mistaking what expression he bears underneath
that dark and lovely green. There is no mistaking
where his eyes are looking, staring, burning. There
is no mistaking what he has come here to do.
"Glad you could make it," says the Psychopomp. He
begins to walk towards the door. Towards Martin.
Martin stands. He does not flinch. Does not move.
"Though I must admit it's not like you to be
sneaking around like that," adds the Psychopomp,
Martin does not speak.
"You're being more careful," posits the Psychopomp.
"Must be because you're old. You must be old now.
Been doing this a long time. You and I. Dancing."
Martin stands. It is enough.
The Psychopomp stops advancing. "I suspect you'll
want to know what I'm up to, hmm? If you haven't
figured it out already...?"
"You have Rockhopper's fear ray," says Martin.
"You're using it on these people. Putting them in
some kind of vegetative state. Brain damaging them."
"That's the gist of it, yes," says the Psychopomp.
"Though I must confess the name fear ray is a wee bit
inaccurate. It's really more of a guilt ray, a memory
ray. Of course, the devil we fear most is the one
staring at us in the mirror, isn't it?"
A woman screams in an apartment building. Martin's
daddy tells him it's not their business.
"The only thing I can't figure out," says Martin,
"Why?" The Psychopomp laughs. It's more a shriek.
It's always unnerved Martin, and for the first time
since he entered the room, the Green Knight quivers.
"Why? What an absolutely ridiculous question, my
"There's no gain in it for you," says Martin,
trying to regain his composure.
"I do it," says the Psychopomp, his white lips
smiling, "because I can. Because I want to."
The fear ray materializes in his hand. He flips
the switch. Full blast.
The orange light
The costume becomes rigid, like stone, and Martin
shrinks within it, trapped inside, getting smaller,
younger, weaker. This is a dream, Martin tells
himself. Not a dream. An illusion. It's been many,
many years since he's had his head fucked with, but he
remembers what it feels like and he knows that if
things start to go seriously wonky all around him,
chances are it's an illusion. The best thing to do in
this sort of situation is to remind yourself that it's
None of it is real. So let's get through this,
break through it, and move on.
The suit is gone. Martin's ten years old again,
living in his shithole apartment with his father. His
father is easily ten feet tall in this world. He
looms over Martin, his head touching the ceiling.
Martin wears a dress and washes dishes.
He hears a scream. His neighbor, of course. No,
not his neighbor. A little boy. A little him.
Martin hears his own voice pleading, and he hears a
man laughing. The man from the park. The man with
Martin's father stands still in the center of the
room, like a pillar, not moving, only speaking, over
and over again: it's not our business, not our
Martin races up the stairs to the other apartment.
A sign on the door: no girls allowed. He tries to get
it open but can't. The sign gets bigger: no girls
allowed. Martin pulls off the dress. Underneath is
his uniform, the black night he borrowed when he was
at war. Martin puts on his mask and opens the door.
The man with the gun is on the floor, quite dead,
his neck snapped. The other Martin stands over him,
his fists clenched, sobbing no not sobbing.
The mask with no name puts his hand on his
doppelganger's shoulder. The laughter mutates.
Becomes something nasty and inhuman. A shriek. The
face becomes chalk white.
Martin rushes towards him but the Psychopomp only
laughs. Martin shrinks again, and the uniform
Getting smaller getting smaller
a toddler, a baby, helpless
(I was never in Nam this isn't real)
An American, a soldier, a gun
a man holds a gun to Martin's head and tells him
what to do
and then pulls the trigger
they die, they die, they all die
the whole village
Martin sees the Psychopomp, watching, refusing to
Martin sees the Psychopomp selling his soul
Martin sees the Psychopomp swearing vengeance
The apes, straggling people
One of them snaps a neck in an alleyway
scares the girl
this isn't real
The Acro-Bat (an infant: the Acro-Brat) in Ree's
left arm. Anders in the other. Both of them,
infants. She pulls them to her breasts.
"Suck, baby, suck. Suck mommy's tits," she says.
"Lick mommy's pussy." She puts a gun to his head.
(He does what she tells him to do)
Ray was like a father to him.
No, not Ray. It was never about Ray and Martin.
It was about the mask
The Green Knight was like a father to him
Martin, in an alleyway, he snaps a man's neck. The
girl screams (Martin in a dress).
The Green Knight, ten feet tall and glowing:
"This isn't justice, Martin. You are not my son!"
He grabs Martin (an infant again, helpless) and
throws him, dashes him across jagged rocks on a beach
The orange is gone. Martin stops screaming. He
must have been doing so for quite a while; his throat
is dry and scratched. He's on the floor.
It's a simple feat to stand up again.
The Psychopomp stands fifteen feet away from him,
the smoking remains of the fear ray held in both his
hands. "I'm surprised. I shouldn't be, but I am."
He tosses the hunk of useless metal to the floor.
"Still. Victory would ring hollow indeed if it was so
easily won from my greatest opponent."
"Let these people alone," says the Green Knight.
"This is sick. These people have done nothing wrong."
"Nothing wrong? Nothing wrong?" The Psychopomp
smirks. "My dear Knight, everyone's done something
wrong. True, once I centered my special attentions on
those souls who are particularly corrupt, but I'm done
playing favourites. I have embraced that which I
truly am: a psychopomp, one of the legion of beings
that escorts the newly-dead to the underworld!"
"These people don't look dead to me," says the
"Close enough," says the Psychopomp. With a flick
of his wrist, he sends a fireball hurtling towards a
cluster of his captives.
Martin has two options: option one is to ignore the
fireball and knock out the Psychopomp. That cluster
would be lost, casualties of war, but he would save
the rest of the lives here, including his own.
Option two is to jump into the path of the
fireball, which would surely make things a tad bit
more difficult. It would, however, prevent the loss
of more innocent life. It's what the Psychopomp
expects him to do, and the Psychopomp is always two
moves ahead. It would, effectively, give the villain
the upper-hand and could result in the loss of all
lives in the center.
Not to mention the fact that Martin would be
The strange thing is, none of this enters into
Martin's mind. He does not weigh one option against
another. He doesn't even realize that there are two
ways to deal with this. He doesn't hesitate, he
The layer of spandex goes first, that beautiful
dark green is kissed away by hot orange and red.
There's a layer of black rubber and a layer of
insulation about four inches thick between the flames
and Martin's actual person. It's a window of about
The Psychopomp is running up the stairs. It's the
last thing Martin sees before the camera melts and
The Green Knight follows, engulfed by the flames of
The insulation burns up by the time Martin hears
the Psychopomp heading up a second flight of stairs.
In a matter of seconds, the flames should be melting
the rubber. And Martin, for that matter.
Martin doesn't smell burning rubber, doesn't feel
it boiling and warping around his body. Instead, the
flames are starting to die down.
"What's going... oh. Ray, you son of a bitch."
He has no body armour. He has no belt. No tools.
Martin takes off his mask. He will need his eyes.
He follows the Psychopomp up the second flight of
stairs. To the roof.
"No!" the Psychopomp shrieks. "You should be dead.
I should be leading you even now to the depths of
"Sorry to disappoint," says Martin.
The Psychopomp rushes towards him, claws
Martin digs his feet into the snow and clenches his
He makes contact with the jaw even as the
Psychopomp digs his claw in between Martin's ribs.
Martin punches him again, in the belly. With a kick
he propels the Psychopomp a good three meters.
The Psychopomp lands on his feet.
Martin rushes towards him.
He leaps in the air, foot outstretched.
The Psychopomp sees it, prepares for it.
Martin shifts his weight back into his arm. He
touches the rooftop, fights against his own momentum,
brings his leg back a hundred eighty degrees. His
hand can't take the weight, he hands on his shoulder,
on his back (it hurts), he's spinning in the snow, leg
still outstretched. In a clean quick motion, he kicks
the Psychopomp's feet out from under him.
Martin pins the pomp's arms down with his legs and
closes his fist around the throat.
He could end it now. Squeeze the life out of the
Psychopomp. His crimes far outnumber those he claimed
to be avenging. Free the city, and Martin, of the
death-grip the Psychopomp held over them. It would be
a decisive victory in the war for Jolt City. A
turning of the tide.
It's been a long night. Talking with Ray. Putting
on the costume. The fear ray. The fire. The fire...
It burned him down to the asbestos and black
rubber. Boiled him down to the essentials. To the
man beneath the suit. To Martin Rock.
He releases the throat.
Superheroes don't kill.
He knocks the Psychopomp unconscious and drags him
down the stairs. He picks up his discarded mask and,
using the claws of his prone opponent, cuts out two
eye holes. He puts the mask back on. It feels right,
to see with his eyes and feel the mask against his
face at the same time.
He drags the Psychopomp down the next flight of
stairs and tosses him dramatically into the center of
the room. The Psychopomp's mooks look at Martin for a
moment, and then they drop their weapons, slowly
raising their arms. Martin smiles. He had forgotten
what this felt like.
"Someone tie him up," commands the Green Knight.
"And someone call the police."
He stays until the police have made their arrests.
He doesn't wait because he wants to ensure that the
villains go into custody. The mooks are too scared to
try and run away. And the Psychopomp will escape the
police anyway. (He always does.)
Martin stays to watch over the survivors. To
ensure their safety.
To protect those that cannot protect themselves.
He shows the police the room that holds the victims
of the fear ray. The officer assures him that someone
will be on the way, and that they will be adequately
cared for. Martin asks for a moment alone with them
and it is granted.
He touches each of them on the shoulder and
The orange dawn approaches.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
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