The Defender is given impossible choices
Chapter 18 - Chess
After Matthew reached Misty's house, he went into the garage and closed the door. He was going to let Misty know of Joe's decision and his plans. She will be crushed because she loved him like a real uncle. She grew up with Joe and Erin always being there. She would take this pretty hard.
When he entered the house, Misty was in the living room alone as the girls had gone to bed earlier.
"Good, you got cleaned up. You look great in the new clothes. You need to give your delivery man a raise."
"His name is Jim Brown. He is a good guy. He is the one that got me started on being a hero. You should date him. I can set you up if you want." Matthew stated with a smile.
"Uh, no thanks, dad. I am taking a needed break from relationships and focusing on my family and my photography career. So, what did Joe have to say? What does he think of your recent exploits?"
"Not much, he wanted to talk about some other things." Here it comes.
"He wanted me to heal him. His cancer, gall bladder, and restore his leg."
"Really? Do you mean he will be finally cured of cancer and be able to walk again? That would be great! When will he be over or when can we go see him? The girls will be delighted to be able to play with uncle Joe outside."
"Wait, I'm not done. He wanted to start new, fresh. He knew if I healed his leg, he couldn't stay around here without lots of questions. He decided that because Erin is gone, he has no ties here. He is moving to Alaska. He was packing tonight and is selling his boat, the 'Beloved'."
"Alaska? No ties? We're his family. You've known him longer than anybody. He practically raised me, after you and mom. The girls adore him. How could he say that?"
"I think it has something to do with Erin. He has never gotten over her death. I believe, and I may be wrong, that he blames himself. I think he feels he could have done more to keep her here. I know when your mother died, that's how I felt. It took a while for me to come to terms with her death. I don't think Joe ever has."
"Is that why he is leaving? Because he can't deal with it so he wants to leave the place that reminds him of her? That's sad. Poor Joe."
"Tomorrow, I will be going over about eleven o'clock or so. I need to check and see how he is doing. I am not sure if it is even possible to grow a leg back. I also want to talk with him more about his decision to push us away. To be very honest, I agree with him not staying around. People would question his brand new leg. It's just that it sounds like he wants to be left alone. As you said, we're family. He's closer to me than my own brother."
Misty thought for a moment and then offered, "Dad, maybe he just needs time to himself to get his life back together. He might think the best way to do that is to leave. Did he say he didn't want to see us anymore?"
"No, but he did make it clear he wanted to start over."
"Speaking of changes, I am changing my alter-ego's name. It is now just Defender. I rather not explain why, just that it has been changed."
Misty knew by the tone of her dad's voice that this was something he would not discuss. Secretly, she was glad he dropped the "In Green" part. Easier to say and more mysterious.
Later, after Misty went to bed, Matthew felt restless. He wasn't in the mood to watch television and he wasn't yet tired. He halfheartedly decided to go and patrol.
Once outside the garage, because it was dark, he decided to walk. Most houses were dark, so he didn't turn invisible. He began listening for any trouble nearby. He didn't hear anything so he used his superhearing. He immediately heard snoring, televisions, people talking about their day, a cat, someone at the laundromat, and countless other night noises. He tried to sort through the noise to determine if anything was happening illegally. Nothing was happening and no conversations about illegal activity. He needed something to get his mind off of the day's events.
He soon found himself on the main street downtown. At this time, because of the lighting, he turned invisible. He kept walking until he came to a bench. He decided to sit down and think about being a hero and, more directly, why this change happened to him.
While he has done good things, he didn't feel as fulfilled as he initially thought he would be. While his body was near perfect, his mind was still a seventy-five-year-old man from a different period.
Maybe Joe had it right. Go somewhere and start over. While Joe could do that, Matthew couldn't. He would never fit in anymore. He would be seen as an outsider. All because of that window and the strange beams of light that hit him. Where did that window come from and where did it lead? He decided to do something that should have been done right after he left the hospital.
Using super speed, he arrived at the park. He easily found the tree that he was flung into. He examined the damage he made when thrown against the tree. How could he have lived? It had to have broken his back and caused fatal internal damage. He remembered he was advised by a nurse at the hospital that the paramedics had stated his back was broken; however, after an MRI scan was completed, they found no damage.
Matthew tried to remember where he saw the window or doorway in the air. After searching for twenty minutes, he believed he found where it was. There was a slight scorch line on the ground about three feet long and a quarter of an inch in width. He lined up the scorch mark with the tree and it made a straight line.
As he stood where the window had been, he begins to remember that day. He had the feeling of being cool, as if a cold wind in winter blew on him. He then heard a sound resembling a crackling noise coming from in front of him with an acrid odor, followed by blue, green, and yellow lights in an air distortion coming from an open window. Within the window-like opening, Matthew saw a red-orange light coming from mid-air, with someone standing in the foreground looking at him. He was not aware of anything else until he woke up in the hospital.
With this renewed memory, he needed to concentrate on who was looking at him and why. Where was the viewer from? Was there any way to trace them? If so, how? What was he missing?
He was becoming increasingly frustrated and angry at himself. He wished this never happened to him and the lights never came through the window. Out of frustration, he rubbed his face and eyes with his hands. At the same time, he thought of the opening again. Without consciously willing it, the Third Eye opened. Matthew could see where the original opening was. He could make out the sides, top, and bottom borders. After he opened his other eyes, he discovered he had somehow reopened the window and could see into it.
The scene had changed. The colors in the background remained the same but the view appeared to be within a cave or spacious dwelling as it had walls and a ceiling. As he walked over to the window, now five feet above the ground, he could see a three-dimensional world. He saw strange ferret-like creatures the size of a ten-year-old walking on their hind legs like humans, but faster. They were carrying rudimentary bows and, what looked like, arrows, with them.
As Matthew approached the window, he noticed if he walked behind the opening, he could see in the opposite direction. From this point of view, he saw a cage with black bars. Encaged within was the statue he had seen on the day he was transformed. However, this statue walked around the cage.
Matthew was fascinated with what he was watching. These were alien individuals he was watching. They could not see him as no one reacted toward the window. He focused on the one in the cage, the one he has previously seen. It was made of a hard-looking substance with moveable joints. There were two hands with four fingers each with two large-sized legs. The head was square with a pointed top. There was no mouth or nose he could see. They had two smaller eyes with a much bigger third eye.
The one in the cage seemed distressed and it was crouched in the center of the small cage. It was a dull grey. If it once shown more brightly, it wasn't now.
Matthew felt he needed to help the prisoner. He didn't believe the creature was hostile as it did not look defiant. He tried to whisper to the prisoner through the window. He thought he had been heard because the prisoner looked up toward him and the window, went to the edge of their cage, and tried to put its hand through the bars. The cage must have been electrically charged because the prisoner was thrown backward and appeared to be in pain.
Before Mattew could react, his third eye opened and shot forth a green light toward the prisoner. No, it hit the cage instead and blew it apart. Black shards flew everywhere and the concussion-like force knocked all the ferret creatures down along with the prisoner.
Everyone seemed knocked out. Matthew felt terrible because it was his third eye that did this. He didn't know how it was activated as he did not attempt to focus the power. It must have reacted to his emotions and thoughts.
He noticed the black shards that were scattered everywhere began to glow green. With the glow, they began to change color into a dull, darker green. Soon the glow began to subside until all there were green shards.
Some the further away, some of the ferret-like creatures began to move, along with the prisoner. It regained its feet and closed its eyes. Soon, a soft shimmering light appeared around it and then disappeared.
The prisoner looked at the green shards and tentatively picked them up. After a moment, it dropped them. The prisoner looked directly at Matthew and the window and just stared. Matthew raised his hand and waved at it. The prisoner copied the gesture. While they were staring at each other, the prisoner suddenly looked to its right and began to run in that direction.
"Hey! What are you doing there? What are you looking at?" A flashlight beam shined on Matthew from behind. This startled him and the window disappeared. He turned around to see someone with a small dog standing there.
"Holy cow, you are real. You're really real. I thought the news just made you up, but you're real. Can I have you sign something, Mr. Defender in Green? My name is Ed. Ed Reat."
"I was looking through a window. Call me Defender. I am dropping the Green title. Do you have something I can write on and with? I don't have a pen or paper."
"Yeah, sure. Just sign my newspaper. To Ed, from the Defender. Can you sign it like that?"
"Sure. There you go. Now, I have to go. Crime waits for no man." The Defender then flew away without turning invisible.
After making sure Mr. Reat saw him fly off, the Defender turned invisible and flew to Misty's house. After landing and going into the garage and shutting the door, he entered her home.
Matthew needed some quiet time. He suddenly felt tired and knew he needed to sleep. As he lay on the floor, he replayed what occurred that evening. He felt, though it seemed like he didn't initiate the cage being blown up, that he did something very good that night.
When Matthew arrived at Joe's place around eleven, he landed on the deck and softly knocked on the patio door. When no one answered, he opened it and went in. It was not like Joe to sleep this late. He has always been an early morning riser.
Matthew quietly called for Joe, "Hey, Joe, you awake yet? I can come back later if it works better for you."
"I will be with you in a minute Matt. Just dressing now."
Matthew thought to himself: So, he did sleep late. Not sure if that is a good sign about his healing or not. Joe has been stressed lately. Maybe it is taking its toll on his health. By the looks of the boxes, he hasn't packed any more of his belongings. Maybe I should offer to help. Give us a chance to talk some more.
Out from the bedroom walked a young man of twenty-five or so with blonde, curly hair, lite blue eyes, muscular build, and looked familiar.
"Joe? Joe! Is that you?" Matthew asked in disbelief.
"Hi, Matt. Recognize me? After you left last night, I did go to bed as I said. I fell right to sleep and slept better than I have in years. I woke up at about four this morning. I must have been sleeping because I was not even fully awake as I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. About halfway there, I suddenly realized I was walking! I looked down and saw two legs. Two. Legs. Well, I about lost my balance and fell. I went to the closet's full-length mirror and stared. I jumped, hopped, did squats, tickled the bottom of my foot, and ran in place. All the while looking at myself. This is what I looked like when we enlisted. I changed last night. I am no longer old. You did it. You healed me and gave me back my youth, my leg, my health, and my hope." As he said this, he outstretched his arms and turned a complete circle. "I feel I could run for miles," he laughed, "and I just might for the sheer joy of moving without the scooter."
"Um, where did you get the clothes?' Matthew inquired, remembering all Joe's old pants had the left pant leg material removed.
"I had some pants and new shoes delivered this morning as soon as the stores were open. They fit perfectly. I think I am in better health than I was at this age originally."
"How else do you feel? I know we would probably need medical tests to determine if your cancer was gone and if your gall bladder was back."
"I feel great. It is like being cured of all ailments or having your life changed for the best, or both. I feel I could do anything."
"You sound like you could. Are you still planning on leaving?" He knew the answer but wanted to hear it from Joe.
"Yeah, I am. I am selling the condominium as furnished so I don't have to move anything except what I can get in the van. I will trade that in once I get to Alaska," Joe paused for a couple of minutes then began again, "Matt, I want to thank you for doing this to me and for me. It is much more than I thought would happen. I literally can make a new start in my life. There are things I am going to do differently and things I just will never do again. Don't worry. I will come and visit Misty and the girls from time to time. You are only a five-minute run from me. We never tested your flying time. Before you say anything, I am leaving how I feel about Erin's death here. I couldn't move on because everything reminded me of her and our life together. That shadow was too much to step out of."
"I think I understand, Joe. Becoming a hero has changed me. I see the worst of people over and over again. I left that behind when we left the Service. I know I am doing good, but is it enough? I don't know. I feel I am in a giant chess match and only one move away from having a checkmate against me."
"You got to do what is best for you, Joe, and it sounds like you are. Yes, you will be missed by me and the girls. With your new youth, you will easily be able to make a fresh start. No one will think of you as an elderly man with one leg. even if you would have stayed here I believe no one would think you are the same man."
"I appreciate your thoughts, Matt."
After a small silence, Joe advised he needed to get going.
Before Matthew had time to leave, the police phone vibrated in his pocket. He didn't want to answer it right then. It rang again and again then stopped. Within a minute it rang again.
Very reluctantly, "This is Defender."
"We need you over at Happy Dale Mall now. There is a hostage situation. The leader is asking for you specifically. Most likely it's a trap."
"I'll be careful then On my way."
"I was wondering when you would show up Defender. By the way, cutting the 'In Green' was a bad choice. It gave you a dimension that you otherwise lack."
"You asked for me by name. What did you want? Money for the hostages? A free ride out of here? Someone released?"
"How common. Did you think of those yourself or is there a hero book you use? No, I wanted you because I wanted to make the deaths of these people your responsibility."
"As you can see, the hostages are wrapped in yellow Primacord, a cord filled with highly explosive material with a detonator attached. If the connection were to be cut or disturbed in any manner, it will explode."
The Defender remembered seeing this before while in the Service. The detonator would need to be deactivated before the hostages could be released.
"I see you are familiar with the little present I have left for you. If you even try to remove the cord, it blows up. If you try to diffuse the detonator, it blows up. If you stop me from leaving, it blows up. The control switch is held in my fist. If I loosen my grip, they blow up. You can either try and save them or let us go. You may be fast, but you aren't that fast to be in two places at once."
"What guarantee do we have that once you leave, you won't kill them?"
"I have seen this before. I know the detonator needs to be near the control switch to activate. I also know the explosion would be big enough to take you out if you are within twenty-five feet of it. The control switch has a range of approximately twenty-five to fifty feet. What is stopping me from taking you past that distance?"
"Because, hero, if you do and I haven't deactivated the control switch, the detonator will activate and then your clever idea goes up with a big bang,"
"Don't get any half bright ideas. If you release us and we go out of range with the switch deactivated, the bomb could still go off. You see, I have five sharpshooters aimed at my little party. If we are stopped, defeated, or even looked at wrong, they will shoot the Primacord and set off the explosion. Go ahead, look around at the buildings surrounding us. Better use your super sight to see them."
The Defender did look at the tops of the surrounding buildings. He saw all five sharpshooters with high-powered rifles with telescopic scopes. There would be no way he could stop all five at one time.
He was puzzled. How did he know his powers? He needed time to think.
"Don't strain the smallest muscle in your body. Your intellect is far inferior to mine. I have thought of all contingencies. I know what you are capable of and planned this with you in mind. You see, I had help from a friend of yours. Remember Mr. Brown? He would be here to see you, but he is at the bottom of the lake."
"So, Defender, what is your choice?"
Matthew thought, 'Checkmate'.