It’s been twenty-five years since Genesis Jones. He was the first. For me anyway. I’m not one for sentimentality, but once a year I find myself wandering over to this place by the docks called Harry’s, a dark, lonely little bar, where a man and his ghosts can drink the night away in peace. A good place for remembrance, although technically it all went down about three blocks away, under the street, in the sewers. I prefer Harry’s though, on account of there’s whiskey. And a few less rats.
The door creaks open like a coffin lid. Nobody notices. Darker than sin in here. I stumble for the bar like a blind man, trying hard to maneuver through the maze of mismatched tables and zombie-like patrons. I don’t recognize the barkeep, but that’s half the charm. Different barkeep every year. Harry’s been dead for a decade. Not by my hand of course. Liver disease.
Barkeep doesn’t wait for an order, just slops me a shot of whiskey. Guess if you’re not drinking whiskey, you’re in the wrong place. I gesture for him to the leave the bottle.
Twenty-five years. Damn. I was fresh out of the service. Signed up with the Security Council right off the transport. Lotta guys did that. Apparently, if you had a knack for not ending up dead, they thought you’d make an okay detective.
Spent my first year bored senseless. Mostly cleaned up for the real hero types. They’d make the messes, get the glory, and leave all the dirty details for us civil servants. Don’t need a cape or a cowl to push a pencil, I guess.
One day, out of nowhere, this tall man with a narrow face and dark hollow eyes steps into my office and sits down in front of me. He puts his fingertips together and stares across at me for an uncomfortably long time. “Do you know who Genesis Jones is?” he asks.
“The hero?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “The hero.” He says it like he doesn’t have the patience to choose a better term.
“I read the papers,” I say.
“Of course you do.” He smiles. Not a happy smile. Just a joyless twisting around the corners of his thin little mouth. “Hypothetically speaking…” Again, like he’s avoiding a longer explanation. “If you had to kill Genesis Jones, how would do it?”
I blink at him, then mull it over.
“I knew this guy, back in the War,” I say. “Wasn’t much of a soldier, but he was handy in a machine shop.”
The man raises a slinky eyebrow.
“One time, he takes this hollow spike, ’bout a foot long, and rigs it to a handle with a pressurized tank of liquid nitrogen inside. Then he fixes up a trigger, so when you stick a guy… Pfft! Shatters him into ice-cubes.”
I shrug. “He never got to use the thing. Took a slug in the face at Anzio. In any case, Jones has that super-fast healing thing, right? Papers say his body eats bullets. Freezing him good on the inside might slow things down. Enough to do some damage anyway.”
The man nods and rubs his chin. “I like it. Subtle, effective, and cheap. A single man could do it with minimal trouble.”
“A single man?” I lean back and fold my hands behind my head. “Any reason you wouldn’t get a Cape to do it? Or an army? We’re speakin’ hypothetically, right?”
He chooses his words carefully, like a man trying to dance a waltz through a minefield. “This society… is made up of many… interconnected elements. Actions made by some… cause… equal and opposite reactions by those inverse of them. Balance… is maintained through the actions and reactions of opposing forces.”
I frown at him. “The hell are you talking about? The world ‘aint a seesaw, it’s a food chain. We’re on the bottom, and people like Jones are at the top. Problems way up there get solved way up there.” I pull the morning paper out from my desk and toss it over to him. “You show me anything in there other than gods at war with gods. The only time us mortals make the news is when we get killed in the crossfire.”
He smiles, his sad little smile. “Making the news is exactly what we wish to avoid.” He slips to his feet and turns to go. “You’re quick,” he says, looking back. “Answers should come easy for you. Provided you’re asking the right questions.” And then he was gone.
That’s how it started. Honestly, I don’t remember much of what happened after our first conversation. None of it seemed significant. Until a few nights later, there I was, standing face to face with Genesis Jones, staring into his wild eyes, freshly rigged nitro-spike clenched tight in my sweaty hand. As soon as I saw him, I knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t look like the pictures I saw in the papers. He was clutching the broken body of a little girl close to him, like a kid clinging to a rag doll. I don’t know, some guys have a bad reaction to the Victus Serum after prolonged use. They never told me what made him like that.
I lunged at him, but he didn’t flinch, didn’t let her go. I stuck him low in the gut and the liquid nitrogen instantly froze a good sized chunk out of his inner organs. Death was slow and painful, but he didn’t make a sound. Didn’t move. Held that kid close until the end.
That’s what I remember down here at Harry’s. I remember why they need me to do what I do. That the world needs to keep looking up in the sky for heroes, so nobody sees what dirty things are happening below its feet. And I remember how mortal it makes you feel when a man takes down a god.
Moriah Geer-Hardwick is an illustrator and designer. His interests include cinema, sequential narrative art, and robots. Mostly robots. He writes things sometimes.