Chapter 1: The Secret
A luminescent stream of crimson flowed behind Solar Man as he soared through the air at full speed, the distinct glittering trail highlighted by an extended sonic boom as he ruptured through the sound barrier. An emergency was afoot in downtown Metro City, and as always he was determined to save as many human lives as possible. Where do all these metahuman maniacs come from? he muses to himself as he continued to push his speed limit. And why do they always have to strike when I'm away from the city visiting my parents? If a single life is lost because I wasn't here to protect my city, I will never forgive myself. These world-weary thoughts are not atypical for the hero called Solar Man…by choice, his life has been one huge responsibility since the bizarre accident of fate a few years earlier that transformed his body into a living solar battery, strong enough to press 70 tons and a nice repertoire of other energy-based powers as well. META magazine declared him perhaps the most powerful metahuman on the face of the planet…and also one with the highest popularity ratings. He won't let down the people whose lives he has vowed to protect. For he has hit the jackpot by acquiring such amazing powers, and he is determined to make his gift worth its weight to the world.
The shimmering spires of Metro City are little more than a blur as he sped past them to reach the busy downtown area in the middle of the afternoon--only to find it a shambles. A huge figure in a suit of gleaming chrome-blue armor with a face plate resembling that of a stylized skull was blasting the subway system to pieces with focused particle beams from his gauntlets, the metal and plastic of the cars sizzling on the ground like melted wax. Solar Man scowled beneath his scarlet mask as a look of extreme horror painted his visage at the carnage wrought upon his beloved city. He could see that the armor-clad maniac was screaming threats at people randomly, his horrid metallic voice barely audible above the many police sirens reverberating throughout the downtown urban canyons. Still, he couldn't tell how many people were injured, despite the high degree of property damage he saw before him. Finally, he noticed the broken body of a young woman laying beside an overturned subway car, her left leg shattered in a pool of blood as three brave souls desperately tried to pull her away from the debris strewn across her body. This was more than Solar Man's usually even-handed temper could tolerate. Nobody takes an innocent life as long as he was around to prevent it.
His face contorting into a vision of rage as fiery as the extraordinary energies that coursed through his body, Solar Man flew downward and slammed into the dense armored being before him, the sheer force knocking the armor-clad malcontent from his feet.
"Enough!" the scarlet clad hero shouted, barely able to control his temper. "Why have you done this? Explain to me the purpose of this rampage so you have something to do while I crush the metal of your armor like tinfoil."
Quickly getting back to his feet, the eight-foot armored being began to laugh a cold, monotone, and metallic guffaw that sounded like something out of a nightmare.
"Well, well, if it isn't the adored hero of the masses. You can call me MetalDeath…it illustrates what I do really well."
Solar Man could almost sense the deranged man smiling beneath the chrome, skull-shaped helmet plate, displaying a degree of malevolence the likes of which he could scarcely imagine.
"I don't care who you are; this stops! It stops now! And you are going to regret every single life you callously snuffed out."
MetalDeath glared at the hovering form of Solar Man before him, a crimson haze surrounding his levitating body as he summoned the powerful plasmic energies within him to enable his person to defy gravity.
"Ha! You just don't get it do you, solar ass? You're a god among men, yet you treat these stupid sheeple like glorified pets, all under your protection. We metas should be ruling this world, not forced into a relationship of compliance with these inferiors!" MetalDeath held up his fist, his perforated gauntlet glowing with yellowish energies indicative of the amazing power flowing within, the steel blue eyes of his skull faceplate glaring upwards without blinking. "What do they ever do but destroy this world in their own petty pursuits of power based upon money and status? They lack what we posses naturally to make them superior, so they need to seek artificial means of superiority! It's quite obvious who is destined to rule. And I will start by taking over this single city."
The look of abject rage on Solar Man's face became palpable.
"You are both arrogant and mad! And you're no different than the 'normals' who seek power over others. You, like them, feel that you're entitled to it due to an accident of fate that gave you tremendous power in your obviously bio-mechanized form. The human race may engage in many petty pursuits and foolish wars, but they have the potential for greatness. As long as a single human being is capable of love and respect for his fellow human, and desires to better the entire world rather than his own personal world alone, hope for all humanity exists. Power-mongers with your attitude sicken me, and do nothing but take the lives and property of others needlessly!"
"'Fellow humans?' Hah! We are not human, we are above human! We are more highly evolved! It's the destiny of metas like ourselves to control this world, to save it from the inferior race that is polluting it, creating nuclear weapons, and destroying the very biosphere itself!"
"My humanity is measured not by my biological status, but by what lies within my heart and soul! I don't see this world improved in any way by those with your attitude--metas or otherwise--controlling it! You blame the entire human race for what the handful that control it wreaks upon the world. Right now, the only blame I see stems from your own revolting actions. Let us see what the melting point of that armor is!"
Concentrating and focusing the awesome solar energies within him, the crimson-clad hero began projecting two concentrated beams of scarlet-hued plasma from his ocular cells, his eye beams forming two thin but powerful streams of sizzling energy that cut deep into MetalDeath's bio-metallic armor.
"Aw, shit! You bleeding heart fool! I'll kill you first if that's what it takes to leave the world safe for metahumans!"
The alloy of MetalDeath's armor proved impressively strong, as it was slow to melt under Solar Man's plasmic deluge. Raising both of his gauntlets, the armored malcontent projected two golden particle beams from each one, the impact sufficient to knock even Solar Man's quasi-invulnerable form painfully out of the sky. The crimson hero groaned in pain as his body was flung clear through a nearby building. He thanked the gods of fire that no human was in his path. But the fact that a person easily could have been seriously injured or killed only reinforced his already inflamed temper.
"You…bastard! You are going down!"
Grabbing a huge, 800 pound slab of what was left of the building wall and lifting it as if it were Styrofoam, Solar Man hurled it with all his might at the gleaming form of MetalDeath. The bio-armored madman simply smashed it aside with one of his fists.
"It would seem you're not the most powerful meta in this city any longer, solar ass."
"We'll see, won't we?"
The police resumed firing on MetalDeath, but their bullets bounced off of his dense metallic shell like ineffectual pebbles. Solar Man flew towards his armored foe at top speed, determined to keep his attention off of the police. The solar-powered hero slammed into MetalDeath with tremendous force, but this time the bio-metallic being had sufficiently braced himself, and he weathered the impact with only a few dents in his armor. Even so, the pain of these dents rattled him thoroughly. He returned a blow with his huge armored hand at full force upon Solar Man's jaw, knocking him clear to the ground. MetalDeath is a force to be reckoned with, the crimson hero observed to himself. I'm too used to holding back from all of my time battling human criminals, too over confidant of my power without accounting for how relative my invulnerability is. I have to unleash more of my power with less inhibition, or I may actually be rendered unconscious.
MetalDeath proceeded to raise his fist with the obvious intention of bringing it down solidly upon Solar Man's head, with the further intent of attempting to fracture his skull. But the crimson man's reflexes proved as adept as his resilience to harm, and he caught his opponent's jackhammer fist before it connected. He then focused his full strength into crushing the metal surrounding his adversary's hand. MetalDeath bellowed with pain and rage.
"You asshole! You son of a bitch! I'll kill you! Kill you!"
He just might at that, so I have to take advantage of the fact that he's angry by getting him off-balance and unable to concentrate.
"You will kill no one else today!"
Struggling to pull back every single inhibition about using his full power, Solar Man delivered a powerful haymaker into the huge armored villain's torso, leaving a large fist-shaped indentation in his body armor. Wailing in further rage and agony, MetalDeath pummeled him back, and the Man of the Sun swore that he actually felt one of his teeth breaking. Undaunted, and moving as fast as he could, he unleashed a further fusillade of blows that reduced his opponent's armor to a mass of dents and distortions. Now beginning to wobble in tumult, Solar Man quickly levitated into the air a few feet, braced himself with his own molecular energy, and struck MetalDeath directly in the face as hard as he could. The armored villain's face plate shattered, and MetalDeath fell. He lay there unmoving, his smashed eye lenses flashing a dull orange light. Finally…I thought he would never go down.
With this task completed, Solar Man next looked around to make sure all of the police officers were alive and well. The numerous helmeted heads who popped up from behind their vehicles with a smile and a thumb's up sign showed him that they were indeed okay, and another metahuman foe had been vanquished.
"Way to go, solar dude!" one of the officers exclaimed with much enthusiasm.
A formerly skittish crowd suddenly appeared out of nowhere and surrounded him. Smiling at the group of people whom he had vowed to protect, the hero in red quietly acquiesced to the numerous requests to sign an autograph or to shake hands. One member of the crowd who approached him was a girl of about 12 or 13 years of age, wearing a blue tank top and having her lovely red hair held up in a butterfly clip, and much of her soft, milky white skin was clearly visible in that top. As was often the case, Solar Man felt his heart flutter at the sight before him, which somehow appeared more amazing in his eyes than the numerous adoring female fans in their 20s and 30s who likewise approached him.
"You really kicked ass," the girl said.
Solar Man smiled. "I did what I had to do. I'm glad you're okay."
"Oh, we're all okay…thanks to you. Can I give you a hug?"
"I see no harm in that…"
Before he could say anything further, the young girl threw her arms around Solar Man's crimson-clad shoulders, touching the side of her face against his own facial skin, enabling him to smell her sweet-scented perfume and candy-scented lip gloss, her small breasts pushing up against his chest simultaneously. Again, his heart fluttered.
"Stop hogging him!" one of the older women in the crowd yelled at the girl.
Solar Man simply smiled, though he was nervous that he would stammer when next he addressed the girl, so great was that fluttering sensation in his chest.
"Would you like my autograph?"
"Oh, I would love it!" Her smile revealed steel-colored braces, which appeared to somehow enhance her beauty in some evanescent manner rather than detract from it.
Solar Man looked at the crowd, smiled again, and asked, "May I borrow a pen from one of you fine folks?"
"Damn," one of the older women in the small crowd whispered. "Why is he going out of his way for her like that? He must feel sorry for her or somethin'."
Looking at the girl and smiling politely, he asked, "So, miss, what's your name?"
"That's a very pretty name." He again felt his heart flutter for a brief second, and he shrugged involuntarily.
Elise then smiled herself, exposing her braces and pearly white teeth beneath them. "Thank you. Thank you very much."
Solar Man quickly wrote, To Elise, with much love…the solar guy.
Taking the note in her hand as if being given a prized possession, Elise once again smiled and quickly turned and walked away to make room for the other adoring fans who wanted some of Solar Man's attention. As she did so, the red-and-blue clad hero noticed that the back of her top had criss-crossing straps, showing off much of her creamy skin, and he realized how perfect it was. He quietly gulped involuntarily when her hand touched his as he gave her the autographed note, and as she cheerily skipped away, an inexplicable sense of regret pervaded him as she departed. He again quickly shrugged and dismissed this as concern for her welfare. What else could it be? he asked himself.
"Solar Man? Solar Man? Um, can I have your autograph too?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, I wanted to make sure the girl was okay. That MetalDeath was quite dangerous."
"He so was!" the woman, roughly in her early 30s, replied in agreement. "But you handled him!"
Solar Man smiled again, the fluttering sensation no longer present, his voice confidant and assured once more.
"I only did what I had to do, ma'am." He promptly signed her autograph and allowed her to give him a hug.
"Okay, okay, people, back off and give the guy some breathing room," Captain Emil Krueger of the MCPD said, approaching the crowd. "He did his job, he don't need to get mobbed like this."
"It's okay, Captain, I really don't mind. If not for these people's trust, my job wouldn't be nearly as easy, and every one of them is worth the time to simply sign an autograph and say 'hi.'" He smiled again.
"You tell 'im, man!" a young boy with a yellow and white shirt exclaimed.
Captain Krueger scowled. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Anyway, like I said, nice job. We have no idea who that MetalDeath was or where he obtained the bio-armor, but we're thinking S.H.E.A.R., or one of those other terrorist groups of overachieving metahumans."
"As you can see by my example, Captain, not all metahumans think we should be controlling the world, but rather doing our part to make life better for all human beings, meta or normal."
"Yeah, yeah, I know that, too, and you know I don't have it in for all metas. You and the rest of your peers in the Liberty League make that clear all the time. But still, we may need some special laws, requiring all of you to register with the government, just to be on the safe side, and I can't say I oppose the lobbying group pushin' for that."
"That's bullshit!" one of the people in the crowd shouted.
"Yea, people shouldn't be punished for accidents that make them different from others!" a young woman lamented.
Solar Man smiled. "I don't support any law requiring people to register their intrinsic nature to the government, Captain."
"Yeah, yeah, liberal prick that you are," the Captain scowled once more, provoking a few moans of disapproval from the crowd, who were now being actively held back by his men, along with an ironic smile from Solar Man.
"Hey, you're okay, solar dude!" a young man hollered.
The solar-powered hero smiled again, modest but adoring his fellow human as much as they adored him.
"Thank you, people. Every smile from each of you, every one of you going home safe today, makes what I do well worth the effort."
"But, solar dude…" the young man in a polyester jacket continued. "You're gonna go after the pedophiles next, right?"
"Yea!" a woman in the crowd declared. "When are you going to go after those sickos? You are, aren't you?"
Solar Man gulped involuntarily, for despite his clear knowledge of that term, he also knew how broadly…and capriciously…it's applied by the media and the public alike.
"I'll always strive to keep you people safe from any threat that rears its head. But only those who actually harm another."
"Yea, but um, don't the pedos do that with the way they kidnap kids and molest them and shit like that?"
Solar Man sighed, not fully understanding why. "Okay, people, I have to depart now. Thank you for your well wishes, stay away from the crime scene here…and I'll see you all later!"
The crowd began cheering once more as Solar Man rose off the ground while surrounded by a nimbus of glowing crimson as the plasmic energies permeating his cellular structure gave him the means of self-propulsion through the sky. Though this was another job well done, and a large number of people saved, he didn't understand why he was sulking without conscious motivation as he flew away.
The next day found Solar Man, in his civilian guise of blonde-haired Simon Teffler, sitting in his small office at THE DAILY VOICE, a small newspaper where he wrote and illustrated political cartoons. Sitting at his desk lost in thought, he doodled away on a piece of paper while planning his next cartoon. He found himself drawing a young girl, wearing the same type of sleeveless and backless outfit that Elise did the day before. He sighed, only barely paying attention to what he was doing.
"Yo, Simon! What-is-up, dude?"
The voice came from Larry Alton, copy boy and close friend of Teffler since his earliest days at the magazine.
"Huh? Oh, what's up, Larry? I'm just sipping some coffee, trying to wake myself up as I plan my next cartoon. I think I'm going to be protesting the proposed Metahuman Registration law."
"Really? Then who is the babe you're drawing there? You can't tell me that she is gonna go in the cartoon, huh?"
"And hey man, don't that chick you're drawing look kinda young?"
"She does? Well, she is supposed to resemble Gwyneth Paltrow."
Larry looked again, trying to see past Simon's hand that was now partially obscuring the drawing.
"Don't look like her to me. The way her hair is clipped up kinda reminds me even more of the way those teeny boppers wear their hair to school every day. Not that I was ever looking too close, mind you! But it's hard not to notice when there is a middle and high school right down the street from here."
Simon began scribbling ink over his picture, now completely obfuscating the image.
"You're right, Lare. I started drawing the picture before I had my morning coffee, so I wasn't fully woken up. I need to redraw her so she looks more like Gwyneth, if I'm going to use her in the cartoon."
"I'll say you do! You don't want people thinking you're a freakin' pedophile or nothing, now do ya?"
Simon looked up, almost as if startled. Larry simply laughed and gently punched his friend on the shoulder.
"I was kiddin', dude! Relax, relax."
Simon forced himself to smile. "I know, I know. So, are we doing lunch today?"
"Yeah, of course we are doin' lunch, as usual. Are you buying?"
As 3 PM came around, Simon offered to walk down to the local deli to pick up some sandwiches for Larry and the rest of the crew at the small but fairly popular little paper. His solar-enhanced body no longer needed to eat, but he savored the pleasure of doing so, and enjoyed taking a repast in the company of his friends and colleagues. He never had a problem volunteering to take the walk to get the sandwiches, a stroll that took him past the local middle/high school as the students disembarked to return home. He always told himself that the reason for walking there was for the purpose of admiring the buildings of this city he protected with his own metahuman life. He never seriously considered whether he might have had an ulterior motive for always being on hand to walk and get the sandwiches and potato chips. Was it because he knew he had nearly limitless stamina since his metabolism was powered by solar radiation? He certainly never needed to exercise, and a mere walk couldn't do for him what his training sessions in the Liberty League's specialized gymnasium did.
As Simon walked past the high school, he was almost bumped by three young girls, each about 14 years of age, who energetically skittered out of the sideway entrance of the building.
"Ooops, sorry, dude," a girl with long brown hair and large blue eyes said apologetically.
Simon smiled cheerfully. "It's not a problem, miss."
He couldn't help noticing that this girl and one of her two friends were wearing tank tops underneath their light spring jackets, each with epithets like "Kewl Grrlz" and "Sweetheart 4 U" on the front. The tops were just short enough that they showed the bottom part of the girls' stomachs when they leapt up and down, as one of them did, joyously stating, "Omg omg, I am sooooo hyper today! Just knowing about that party at the Inn on Friday! Woo hoo!"
"Yea, it's gonna be soooooo dank!" another girl shouted, the bottom of her stomach clearly visible as she lifted her arms in the air, revealing a small silver belly button ring while doing so.
Simon was by now halfway up the block. I hope those girls have fun at the party, he thought to himself. Though why am I even thinking about that party? It's not like Evelyn doesn't invite me to one of the office parties at least once a month. So it's not like this super-hero doesn't have the opportunity for a social life. And I know that Evelyn would like to get to know me better…everyone at the office thinks she is attractive, and very fun and outgoing for an editor of 39 years of age. Why don't I feel the same? Maybe I should stop taking the route past the school on the way to the deli…
After purchasing the culinary items from the deli for his coworkers, Simon found himself still wishing that he could go to the party. Not the latest one Evelyn invited him to, but rather the one those girls were talking about. He imagined himself holding their hands and watching their beautiful smiles as they chatted about all the latest gossip, offering to get them a drink from the punch bowl, planning excursions to the latest cool movies…social opportunities a 40-year-old man like himself no longer had available to him with the younger crowd those girls belonged to. But why was he wishing these things? Was he suffering from the equivalent of a mid-life crisis? If so, it had lasted for the past ten years, because he had felt this way all of his adult life.
He recalled reading a story about ephebophilia written by one of his co-workers a few years ago, demanding that a certain high school teacher no longer be able to teach at the school after "coming out" or something like that; he tried hard not to pay attention to the article for some reason. He was well aware that the public and sometimes the media often use the word 'pedophile' to refer to both adults attracted to pre-pubescents (its proper usage) and also to cover their much more common political cousins, ephebophiles or hebephiles, i.e., those adults who possess a physical, emotional, social, and aesthetic preference for young adolescents rather than pre-pubescent children. But the media typically portrayed those people as unmistakably evil, as shadowy menaces out to destroy the very innocence of the world. And he was out to protect the world, as he harbored a strong love and respect for all of humanity. But is protecting societal notions of 'innocence' the same as protecting the world itself? Does his adored status as a good example for metahumans and normal human beings in general demand that he be contrite with commonly accepted standards of moralism? Why did that request by one of the people in the crowd to harass the 'pedos' unsettle him so much? Why does his heart flutter whenever he comes into contact with young girls? Why does he enjoy drawing them and why does he think they are so incredible, as something akin to goddesses among humanity? Why does their subculture tickle his fancy so much? And why doesn't he find 30-something-year-old women like Evelyn, Gina, and other ladies of similar age at the office's editorial department where he works to be nearly as attractive as others tell him that he should?
Less than a half hour later, Simon found himself sitting in his office eating lunch alone…a rarity, as he usually only eats for show and for the mere pleasure of doing so. He enjoyed the company of his friends while eating, and it isn't likely for him to eat alone. He found himself in a deeply contemplative mood. I need to talk to someone, he decided. I need to talk to someone that I really trust, that I can really confide in about the matter that is now troubling me. And despite what a good friend Larry is, it can't be him. Despite the fact that Evelyn is always more than happy to listen to whatever I have to say, it definitely cannot be her, either.
Suddenly, he found himself thinking about Lilian, a woman who was "out" as a lesbian, who was very involved with social activism…and who appeared to be the wisest human being he had ever met. And also the most open-minded. Would she listen to this and not freak out? Someone had to. Because he just couldn't deal with this alone anymore. He was a hero. He can't be a hebephile. He just can't.
NEXT: Ultra Girl