“I have an 11-99. We’re pinned down,” screamed the police officer into his radio. Behind him his partner returned fire, as bullets pinged off the squad car around them. To his right a woman cradled the head of her wounded husband. When the shooting had started the officer had managed to drag her and the wounded man behind the car. It had been a crazy and stupid thing to do while under heavy fire, but that was his job and he did it without complaint.
Meanwhile, the mad man across the street cackled as he unloaded his automatic rifle at the trapped officers and civilians. The red war paint on his face was mirrored by those of his fellow gang members. They all laughed like a pack of hyenas, each firing with glee at the disabled police cruiser, the only barricades between them and their prey. The bullets were endless and each new shot chipped away at what precious little protection the officers had.
“I repeat 11-99. We need of assistance, right now!”
Then it was over. Suddenly, the guns were silent. The storm ended. The officer with the radio stood up, his handgun at the ready, but all he found were four gang members neatly tied, bound in bent steel as if the metal girders of the nearby construction site had come alive and constricted them like some great snake. Their weapons sat discarded near their heavily armored truck. In the middle of the scene stood Symbol.
The leader of the Predators gang was screaming obscenities at him as the crimson and blue clad hero held him aloft like a misbehaving child. The man’s cape ruffled out behind him as the sun reflected the light from the bright “S” that adorned his chest and the golden bracers around his wrists.
“Are you okay, officers?” he asked as he effortlessly bent the last bit of steel around the screaming gangbanger.
“We are now that you’re here.” The lead policeman stepped forward and extended his hand. His name badge read McMillian. ” Thanks, Symbol. What would this city ever do without you.”
“I’m not the one who saved those people,” he said indicating the husband and wife. “With brave men and women like you, I’m sure this city would be fine.” Symbol reached out and took the man’s hand shaking it gently so as not accidently break anything.
“Symbol, please help my Jamal. He’s hurt bad. He needs to get to a hospital,” said the female, her dark eyes looking up at him pleadingly. She was still cradling the wounded man.
“Not a problem, ma’am. Hoplite General is just around the corner. I’ll take your husband and I am sure the officers will give you a ride there.” He bent down and delicately took the limp man in his arms, and then the world became a rush of colors and wind as he shot into the air. It was only seconds before he arrived at the hospital to hand his charge off to a team of nurses and orderlies.
“Good work, Symbol,” said Dr. Lorna Danvers. Her smile was as curvaceous as her hips and just as inviting. Deep eyes, sweet smelling hair, and creamy brown skin.
“Thank you, doctor,” said the hero adjusting his small domino mask and trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism.
“Are you free later, for a hot dinner,” she said.
“Sorry, doctor, but I already have plans.”
“Too bad because I could think of some…” Her face dropped and went from playful to professional in a heartbeat. Then Symbol heard it to.
“Attention all personnel, be prepared for heavy casualties,” said the administrator’s voice over the loudspeaker. “A riot has broken out at the corner of 8th and Herodotus. The police have advised us to prepare for a code red emergency.”
“I need to go,” said Symbol.
“Yeah, me too,” said Dr. Danvers.
When he arrived on the scene Symbol could not believe what he was seeing. The neighborhood of Olympus Heights was a poor income section of the city with a large minority population. He knew it well. Several days before, a teenager had been killed by the police for pulling what was believed to be a weapon. It had turned out to be a cell phone. It was just one more piece of kindling on a fire that had been coming for a long time. Protests and demonstrations had been going on for days, and it looked as if someone had finally lit the match. People were swarming the streets chanting and screaming obscenities. Some were even throwing bricks and rocks.
On the other side the police’s riot division was not exactly doing anything to deescalate the situations. Dressed in full riot gear and with rifles and armored vehicles they looked more like an invading army than a civil peace force. The two groups were beginning to merge and already he could see clouds of tear gas begin to rise up and land among the protestors’ ranks. They clouds did nothing to deter them or their anger.
From high in the sky Symbol used his enhanced senses to watch the scene unfold. Police began arresting rioters, throwing them to the ground, threatening them with their weapons, and moving in lockstep like a Roman Legion. For their part, the rioters were just getting angrier. Shouting became screaming and screaming became hurling whatever came to hand. Then it happened, almost simultaneously. He watched the glowing red Molotov cocktail launch into the air almost at the same moment he heard the shot from the police rifle. The streets were about to turn into a bloodbath.
The cocktail exploded against a golden shield of light and burned harmlessly off just as the bullet from the rifle impacted the same wall and ricocheted harmlessly into the sky. The glowing barricade was taller than the buildings and as wide as the street. Almost instantly the world grew silent. Everyone seemed to come to their senses as if waking up from a stupor. The police lowered their rifles and the protestors grew quiet as one of the most power heroes in the world descended from the sky.
He lowered the energy wall, his glowing gauntlets taking the light back into them as he effortlessly manipulated their energy. Symbol knew that to many he was more than just a man, more than just a hero. He never liked the way some people viewed him, like a divine being, but for the moment it worked. His mere presence seemed enough to end the violence before it got out of hand. He also knew that the spell would not last for long, so he did the only thing he could think of, he spoke:
“I am sick of it,” he said starting quietly before getting louder. His powers allowing him to project his voice farther than any loudspeaker. He knew he had their attention.
“I am sick of the violence, the hatred, but mostly I am sick of the fear. That’s what all this is, fear. And fear means silence, it means assumptions, it means anger, it means stereotypes and generalizations, and most of all it means seeing the world in terms of “us” versus “them.” It means seeing a threat in every black face, or in every blue uniform. Worst of all, when you try to solve your fears through violence, they only grow and breed more fear. Soon everybody is afraid, and that makes some people feel weak. So they lash out to prove their strength, but that again just feeds into fear.
“No, we can only conquer fear by working together, by letting go of it and the hatred it creates. We can only defeat the ills and tensions of society by taking a look at ourselves and taking responsibility for the part we have played in creating the world we live in.” He took in every face, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, police officer and civilian. “Only then can we see the truth of it all and the truth of the things and people we fear the most.
“Yes, the system is broken, but we will never fix it by resorting to more violence and more hatred. In the end it should never be “us” versus “them,” or “you” versus “him,” or even “me” against the world, because those ideas just pull apart. We all have to let go of our old prejudices if we ever want to step forward and create a truly fair and just world, and we have to do it together.
“I am not saying we should forget the wrongs of the past. In fact, we need to remember them so that we can learn from them, but we also need to be able to forgive. We all have our part to play and at least some blame to share, but in the end that means we all have a lot more in common than we have differences, and that gives me hope. It means we’re all human and that we all need each other. Alone, no race, no religion, no creed, no one person is perfect, but together we are something greater.
“So I ask you to please end this now. Put yourselves in the shoes of those across from you. Try to see the world as they see it, not as you think they see it. We’re all fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, and we all have those we love and care about, but if we don’t find a better solution now than we will all lose more loved ones before this is over.”
The streets were silent. Than something unexpected happen. A single protestor dropped his bat, it clanged against the pavement as he turned around and walked away. He was followed by another and then another, until a stream of people began disappearing back toward their homes. The police remained only a little longer as if in disbelief that it was actually over. Neither side looked toward Symbol or even acknowledged his words, but he was not looking for a parade or even a thank you. It was enough that he had stopped the potential disaster before it began. It was enough for a good day’s work.
Hours later a tired James Malcolm returned to his apartment, carrying two bags of groceries. To most of his neighbors in Olympus Heights, James was just a typical guy, if not a bit of a loner. He worked his job at the bank, kept mostly to himself, and dutifully brought up the mail to the elderly Mrs. Warner in the apartment on the second floor. Little did they know that concealed within one of his grocery bags were two alien bracers. When James put them on his wrist he gained the phenomenal powers that made him into one of the strongest and most beloved heroes in the city. He had found the bracers locked away in a strange craft that had impacted near his apartment block. No one knew his secret, except for his long time girlfriend.
James whistled as he cooked dinner. He was exhausted from the day’s work, but happier than he had been in a long time. For once it wasn’t just about stopping some plutonium powered bank robber or punching a giant robot so hard it escaped the pull of the Earth’s gravity. For once he felt as if he had made a difference. With the stir fry cooking in the pan he took his bracers out of the grocery bag and walked them into his bedroom to lock away in his night stand, but before he could open the drawer the fire alarm started sounding.
He came running back into the kitchen to a column of smoke, and then just as the food began to burn the front buzzer rang. He turned down the flame and did his best to kick the intercom with his foot. After his third attempt he heard the sound that indicated that whoever it was had entered the building. He knew who it was and she was early.
When Dr. Lorna Danvers walked into the apartment she found her boyfriend sweeping black smoke out an open window as the kitchen’s old fire alarm continued to beep for attention. “I swear to God, James, I don’t know why I ever let you cook.”
“Maybe it’s because of my boyish charm?” he said holding the smoking pot toward the window.
“Don’t you have super-breath or something to blow that out,” she teased putting down a bottle of wine.
“You know I don’t have my powers when not wearing the bracers, and even if I did…”
“… the power comes with a responsibility. You can’t abuse it. I know.” She walked over and deftly unscrewed the fire alarm, silencing it, as she had done a dozen times before. “You know when I said a ‘hot’ dinner before, this wasn’t what I meant, right?”
James put the pan in the sink to extinguish the last of the smoke. “Yeah, well I did say I had other plans, didn’t I?” He took her in his arms and kissed her. The embrace felt good and right. “Besides I thought you wouldn’t be here for another hour.”
“Yeah, well the code red got canceled. It seems as if some idiot in a cape stopped the riots before they even began.” She kissed him on the forehead, gently and lovingly. “Good job, babe.”
James opened his mouth to suggest pizza, but there was a loud knock on the apartment door. “Who could that be?”
The knock came again, louder and more insistent. “I’m coming.” James reluctantly broke from Lorna’s embrace and rushed to the knob, thinking something might have happened to Mrs. Warner.
“It’s the police. Open up.”
James opened the door and sure enough two officers were standing their and they didn’t look happy. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“We had a report of smoke coming from this apartment,” said the lead officer, his name badge read McMillian.
“Oh, I was just burning the stir-fry, officer. You wouldn’t happen to know any good pizza places would you?” He asked with a stupid grin.
“Are you trying to get cute with me, boy?” Suddenly the big Irish man had his giant paws on James’ door as if he intended to barge his way inside. “Maybe we should come in and see if you’re really telling the truth about this ‘stir-fry’ business.
“That’s quite alright, sir,” he said. His mind was suddenly on the bracers that he had left on top of his night stand. If the police discovered them they might figure out he was actually Symbol. His secret identity would be blown.
“You look awfully guilty, my brother,” said the second officer. “What might you be hiding in there?”
“I’m not hiding anything, officer,” said James.
“Really?” said McMillian, “You sure it was just ‘stir-fry’ smoke that was coming out of this apartment? Since when do you people even eat ‘stir-fry’ anyway? Maybe you’re cooking up something a little more back there.” He started forcing open the door.
“No, I’m not.” James fought back, and tried to keep the man from getting inside. He knew it was stupid. He had grown up in Olympus Heights. He had seen what happens when people who looked like him resisted people who looked and dressed like Officer McMillian, but all he could think of were the bracers on the night stand.
“Get back,” screamed the officer.
“Get back, now,” screamed his partner. His hand went to his sidearm.
James finally let go of the door and McMillian went with it. He came charging in,and the world was suddenly a jumble of sounds and colors. He heard Lorna scream and the world went black for a moment. When he opened his eyes his head was pressed against the wood paneling of his floor. The weight of the man on top of his was crushing. When his ears finally stopped ringing he heard Lorna yelling the world “warrant” between every curse word she must have known.
The world was getting fuzzy and his head was feeling light, but out of his blurring vision he saw Lorna move to block the bedroom door. She must have guessed what he had been worried about. The second officer threw her out of the way, his weapon now fully drawn. “Get out of the way, ghetto trash.”
Something inside James grew desperate. McMillian was still trying to cuff him but he managed to get one of his arms free and reached out toward the bedroom. With all his might and power he took mental control of the bracers and willed them to come flying to their master. They shared a symbiotic relationship with him and would come when needed. Secret identity be damned, James needed them. He was going to show the police who he really was. Maybe then they could talk out the misunderstanding, rationally.
“Gun, gun, gun,” he heard somebody yell. Then there was a loud bang. It sounded so close, like the world was exploding next to his ear. Then everything went silent again, just like before. Except this time it all began to grow dark. What was it he had said to them. We all have our part to play and at least some blame to share, but in the end that means we all have a lot more in common than we have differences, and that gives me… hope.