Thursday, April 17, 2014


You are nice in the way boys and men are told to be nice.  You smile.  You have a fetching, believable smile.  Your voice is pleasant, your manner polite, your hair is always combed, and you don’t smell bad at all.

Body odor is important among people, and each day, you try to be nicest and cleanest and very best person possible. 

Decent Christian boys are expected to do good acts, and you never question anyone’s worthiness.  Not the first time, at least.  But if he or she proves unworthy of decency, then you can ration your help.  In small, polite ways, you tell them, “No.”  You say, "I really can't today," or "Good luck with that," and then you walk on. Maybe the bullies hit you.  Maybe the pretty girl in algebra talks badly about you.  It doesn't matter. You're tougher than anybody, which can be a blessing. But the greater blessing--the unlikely magnificent power of all powers--is how you are able to vanish seamlessly into this strange little world.

Boys grow, and you also grow.  You transform into a fine young man with dark hair and European skin, broad shoulders and a strong, testosterone-enriched chin.  Which is funny, because there is no testosterone inside your body.  Nor do you have blood, or at least any human blood.  Your bones, visible and invisible, mirror a human skeleton.  Except not even the tip of your little finger can be broken. Which is sharp evidence that your talent for camouflage is just as remarkable as any of your other extraordinary powers.

Your adoptive father is destined to die suddenly. That's going to be the critical moment in your upbringing.  But nearly as important is the summer vacation to Yellowstone.  You are twelve. You are standing with your parents, gazing down at a deep pool of scalding water and brightly colored stone.  When nobody is looking, you are bad.  You slip your hand into the hot spring. Being swift, you can get away with quite a lot.  In and out goes the fingers, and then you walk on, smelling the sulfurous residues under what look like fingernails.  A younger boy happens to be standing at the next hot spring. His destiny is to become your nemesis and arch rival.  But not today.  Today he is a geeky stranger who loves science and the power that comes from deep, thorough knowledge.  He lectures to the other tourists, his confident voice describing the bacteria that thrive in water hot enough to cook normal life. Extremophiles thrive in the harshest environments, and they might be the first life to have evolved on a much younger earth, and with a flair for drama, this other boy claims that there is no way to know what beasts are lurking miles beneath the cold crust and cold oceans of this little, little planet.

Then and there, you decide that you are an extremophile.  You come from the deepest regions of earth, which explains your fantastic strength as well as your heightened, ground-piercing senses.

It’s a nice story.  Utterly wrong, but soothing.

Odd as you are, you're desperate to believe that you belong to this world.


Except you aren't one of the earth’s children.  A spaceship brought you here.  Of course.  You eventually find the derelict ship and ghost waiting inside, a ghost.  The ghost is some kind of recording. A human face and a warm, wise human voice have been spliced into this alien file, and that human voice uses the local American tongue. A distant world is mentioned. Without details, enemies are mentioned. Then the ghost confesses that its home world has been destroyed but it managed to save one small child, and that's when the ghost claims to be your true father.

The story feels true. Your physiology is obviously suited for somewhere else, presumably a violent, swift world.  That’s why you can fly.  That’s why you have never been injured.  And camouflage must be very important in this other realm, which is why you can hide so well among the apes.  This body of yours was grown as a reflex.  Each unbreakable hair is as long or short as necessary.  You breathe and sing and laugh like anyone, although you don't fart as often as most young men. This world is full of dogs, and every dog has an extraordinary nose. Yet none of them have ever smelled anything odd about you.  Your disguise is so complete that you feel like most young males. To you, young earth women have fascinating faces, wondrous bodies.  Which is absurd.  The loneliest human male would never, ever lust after a bird or butterfly or an orange slime of extremophiles.  Yet each of those organisms is more closely related to humanity, in their genetics and in their history, than you are to any of these frail, beautiful creatures.


Your adopted father dies and you grow up, and then you migrate to one of the world’s great cities.  Being good and decent remains important.  So you help people.  But now you start doing your goodness in a public fashion, wearing a colorful suit and other disguising elements that leave millions of people unable to ignore you, yet also unable to attach their hero to your alter ego.

This new life proves easy enough.

Really, what can burglars and the mob do against a superquick entity that sees through walls and notices every whisper?

Crime collapses inside the city.  You are the savior, the common man's champion.  But champions need foes, and there are always new wrongs to right. Your skills are applied to a different sort of criminal, resulting in a lot of big names in the financial district sweating inside their well-tailored uniforms. But before any of them are sent to jail--before virtue can be assured in the wonderful world--an alien arrives.


Certain facts are inarguable: A good man's enemies will become his son's enemies.  And this alien arrives in your solar system carrying with the same impressive set of powers that you wield.  Perhaps he isn't accustomed to the earth, and maybe being older means that he's past that vigorous point in life that you seem to inhabit.  But he is a military creature and something of a politician, and he he has a fierce need to avenge old crimes.  And like you, he can make a place for himself fit among the watery, weak humans.  Except this creature is quite a bit shrewder than you, and he took the trouble of studying human society before finding the perfect form to present.

The city that you made peaceful and kind receives a sudden visitor.

The enemy arrives wearing the guise of Christ.

Belief is always painted with shades of gray. As a boy, you would sit in church listening to parables about the Son of God. There were Sundays when you believed in His divinity, and other Sundays when He was just a prophet and a man. But now He has apparently come back to His birth world again, as promised.  Jesus is back. But He doesn't appear in the Holy Land, no. He comes to your city, doing a few spectacular miracles, and afterwards he declares paradise and smiles, and smiles…

This is not the Christ.

You tell yourself, but no one else.

You know these sleight-of-hands. This creature is definitely alien, probably one of your own kind.  And soon as you feel certain, you confront your enemy.

He smiles at the fresh-faced youngster wearing that gaudy costume. And with a voice that nobody else can hear, the creature reveals two pieces of hard truth:  He was your father's nemesis, and his plan is to slaughter millions of these vile creatures, and then enslave the survivors.

Good men always fight evil.

You tell him to leave this world, and he refuses. You offer clear threats and opaque threats. He laughs them off. Then you grab him, intending to carry him into space, and too fast for any human eye, he slugs you.

You've been hit many times, and shot, and bombed, and struck by trucks and trains. But this is the first blow that ever made your head pop backwards, and react like any young human male. Within moments, a terrific battle is being waged.  The city and the world watch two aliens battering one another. The drama culminates with a supersonic crash of fists, and one the warriors seems to die.  By all appearances, you have won.  The world watches while their hero stands over the corpse.  There are no textbooks for the problem of deity disposal.  You’re try to decide what to do next. While unbeknownst to you, the world has begun to wonder if you're worthy of any praise.

Never suspecting the trap, you bury the corpse at the earth’s core.

Three days later, the crust splits, and using heat vision, a red monster rises from Hell. Then with a furious voice, he roars at the world, assuring his audience that everyone is flawed and weak, and everyone should now prepare to die.


The next battle has to be ugly.  Perhaps your enemy isn't as powerful as you, but on the earth he can do whatever he wants. Rules don't have any hold on him. Since you have affection for these watery little beasts, he stomps on them.  He burns people and crushes them under the skyscrapers, and none of this carnage matters.  A boy stomping on ants would show more decency, and a boy would grow bored.

Nothing about this world matters to your enemy.  To him, all that matters is you--you and your ties to a lost planet and a dead father.

Because you are good, you fight to protect the watery beasts.

But your enemy slaughters thousands more of them.

You try to defeat him with body blows and trickery.

But he has tricks of his own, and his incandescent body is just as invulnerable as yours.

The only tactic left is to find some way to kill yourself. If you die, maybe he'll give up on this slaughter. Or maybe you can kill the both of you, at the same time. Which is a somewhat better but still awful solution.

What did you learn as a boy?

No good man hesitates to do what is right.

But you do hesitate, at least for a few seconds. Dozens more die while you find the simple resolve to let this plan play out.

Again you attack, and he slams you with his unbreakable fists. You let him smash away, and between one blow and the next, you change form.  This skill used unconsciously for nearly thirty years, with endless success, is turned in a fresh direction.  The body change can be as simple as your legs becoming powerful arms.  Really, why even bother using legs when you can fly wherever you want?  And before he can react, you have him in your grasp, using all four arms, and like you have never flown before, you leap into the sun.

Stars are plasma and radiation and mass and crushing, relentless pressures.

Every organism has limits. Even you.  After all, if your species was true invincible, then they would have survived the demolition of your home world.

No, you guess that the sun can kill you and it will kill him too.  Together, you plunge past the bright surface, diving into the black meat of that nuclear firestorm. And that's when your enemy dies. He dies in your arms, turning into plasma and nothingness, and then you come home.

You come home slowly, injured as you are, weak as you are.  But the pause seems like a blessing. You have time for second guesses. You make plans for the kind of help you’ll deliver to those who survived this mass slaughter.  But let's agree that you are not the brightest soul, certainly not when it comes to the nature of your adopted species.

You have been gone, and a series of photographs have become famous in your absence.

These images were taken during that final battle.  Your enemy would grab you and throw you, usually aiming for the tall buildings. And you did the same, except you always flung his body into the soft pavement and stone. People didn't know where to hide. A group of innocents were standing together inside one skyscraper, holding hands. This was an office for the local newspaper. The staff were watching two colorful specks battering each other. And that’s when you were thrown again, launched like a cannonball, but faster, and your spinning body shattered glass before passing through the onlookers.

You were unharmed, of course.

Your first impulse was to fly back into the open air, trying again to kill what refused to die.

A young photographer with sharp instincts and an excellent camera managed to catch you before you flew off again.

Your fabulous body had tumbled through the unlucky ones, your colorful uniform left covered with gore, blood and brains as well as telltale bits of clothing.

The images were clean, sharp:  You standing inside the ruined office.  You covered with the dead. Slaughter always happens in any war.  This was war, and people would accept that.  At least they would try to. But that sequence of images shows your body dripping with guts and shredded fabric and real blood and the rest of the mess.

Standing there, you felt wet, you felt sloppy.

Boys should not be sloppy.

Like a dozen times before, you stood on the silly feet that you grew for no reason except to vanish into this world, and at a supersonic speed, you shook yourself clean.

One flinch, and the uniform was bright again.

That’s the sequence that every human has seen during the days it took you to return home.

They saw the carnage, and then they saw how easily you escaped that carnage.

You shook like a dog, and all the while your pretend face flashed what might be a smile, or might be nothing but teeth and lips obeying a very old habit.

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