The Mirror is more than just another virtual reality; it is a worldwide phenomenon, with social, political and financial aspects that are deeply entwined with those of the real world. So when a plot is uncovered to destroy The Mirror, it’s serious. It’s a race to save The Mirror, and the real world with it, led by a mild-mannered reporter and his unique reflection: The ultimate Mirror superhero, Zenith!
A virtual reality that allows me to tell superhero stories and stay within the bounds of reality… how can you not love that?
Preview: Saving the Day
The man in blue could not get enough of flight. There was something indescribably magic about it… no wonder Man had dreamt of it, aspired to it, and waxed poetic about it, for as long as Man had existed. The mere thought of soaring with the birds, dancing among the clouds, and riding the wind currents, was as music to his soul. Moving faster than it was possible for any living thing to move… unfettered from the ground, not seated inside a loud, rickety frame of wood and wire, nor encapsulated inside a metal shell with screaming engines… able to go where he wanted, flying above the clouds or swooping through low branches. Knowing that the mere effort was physically impossible. Knowing that, at the very least, his eyes should be watering, and his lungs laboring to catch a breath, from the onrush of air… though, in fact, they were not. It was magic, moving through a dream realm far above the ground. The sky was perfectly blue, the clouds were perfectly white, and the landscape below was not marred by a single column of smoke, scarred acreage, or ugly old building.
And there was music in the air. Quite literally: A soft melody, but noble and strong, hovering in the air around him; his own personal soundtrack, Man In Flight, Opus One.
No question about it… flying was the best thing about his job. The one thing, in fact, better than—
He glanced below, his incredible vision piercing miles to the ground, and like a hawk zeroing in on prey, picked out a commotion in the city. A commotion waiting for him. A problem to solve. The second-best part of his job.
Inclining his head downward, he led his body into an arrow-straight configuration, aimed at the ground far below. The music followed, picking up in volume and pacing, anticipating exciting things to come. He began to fall at an impossible velocity, and within yards of the ground, reversed his descent, pulling G’s that should have caused any human being to literally liquefy on the spot. Almost as good as flying was landing. Not the sensation itself; it was the looks on people’s faces as they saw you landing, marveled at you and envied you the things that they could not do. His booted foot touched the pavement without making a sound, mere yards behind his target.
A group of masked men hurried out of the First National Bank of Miropolis, attracting stares from passersby. Three of them carried sacks, which seemed to be filled with paper money and metal safe deposit boxes, over their shoulders. The bags were grotesquely large, almost thrice the size of their carriers… however, the three men carrying them were easily as grotesque in proportion, having impossibly wide shoulders and thick arms, and impossibly short, thin legs. These cartoon-shaped musclemen were having no trouble carrying their ridiculously large burdens.
The fourth man, who was rather short but otherwise not unusually built for a man, carried a strange box in one hand, and a stranger-looking pistol in the other. The box had a few control buttons on its face, and a short antenna, making it look like something from a cheap sci-fi movie. The gun looked similarly toy-like, with metal rings encircling the muzzle, and a tiny fin mounted on the hammer. He appeared to be the leader of the outfit, and seemed to be primarily concerned with the three men and their burdens, and the black van that they were approaching. It was a strange tableau: It was clear that the bags would never fit into the van; in fact, the three musclemen looked like they would barely fit themselves. The four men did not seem to be particularly perturbed by this proportional conundrum, however, and they did not stop until they were standing by the van.
“Put them down there, boys,” the leader ordered.
“Sure thing, Minimizer,” one of the thugs said. The three musclemen put their huge bags down beside the van, and backed away, watching their leader. The man addressed as Minimizer struck a confident pose, and slowly raised the box in his hand. He pointed the box at the bags, and pressed a large blue stud on its face. Instantly a blue beam of light lanced from the antenna of the box, forming an enveloping energy around the bags, and bathing the entire block in its strange, blue glow. The bags seemed to twitch when the beam touched them; then, incredibly, the bags began to visibly shrink. Within the space of perhaps five seconds, they had been reduced to a tenth their original size. The fourth man turned off his shrinking box, and the blue ray disappeared, revealing three tiny bags that would easily fit into the van beside them.
Minimizer nodded smugly at this demonstration of his obvious superiority. “Okay, boys, they’re all yours!” The three musclemen smiled widely, and started forward to pick up the tiny bags and load them into the van. So intent were the musclemen with loading the van, and the leader with his self-indulgent gloating, that none of them noticed the man in blue that had descended from the sky and touched down silently behind them.
The man in blue was taller than the three thugs, and much taller than the toy-gun-carrying Minimizer. And unlike the thugs, his body was in perfect proportion. In fact, “perfect” may have been an incredible understatement in his case… his body was quite literally the epitome of the so-called Herculean Ideal, the ultimate expression of powerful and attractively-proportioned musculature, under a skin-tight blue uniform that displayed every line of his physique. And the face that topped his six-foot-four frame was that of an Adonis, handsome, expressive, and confident.
The moment the man in blue touched the ground, he said: “Good morning!” He said it in much the same tone of voice that a policeman might use as he surprised a group of kids about to spray-paint a wall. It had essentially the same effect on the four men: All four jumped and jerked around quickly, the three musclemen dropping their burdens in shock. Even if the man in blue had not had a stylized “Z” emblazoned across his chest, he would have been instantly recognizable to them.
“Crap!” one muscleman spat. “It’s Zenith!”
Minimizer, however, did not display the shock of the musclemen. Instead, he reacted by swiftly bringing his toy-like gun to bear, pointing it directly at the chest of the man identified as Zenith, and pulling the trigger.
The blast that exited the gun was like a miniature explosion, a searing wave of white-hot energy that sent a shock wave through the air around them. The plasma of the blast struck the man in blue full-on in the chest, making a sound not unlike the crash of thunder a few yards from a lightning strike, and causing the white cape attached to the shoulders of the man in blue to whip violently about. People within a block’s radius were knocked off their feet by the unexpected concussion.
The man in blue, however, did not move an inch.
Minimizer and his thugs simply stood and stared, transfixed. Minimizer dropped his head and looked stupidly at his gun. Then, he looked back at the man in blue, who was now inclining his head sympathetically and smiling.
“New in town?” the man in blue asked.
Minimizer’s eyes went wide, and he gaped at his gun again. “But it was supposed to stop him!”
The man in blue grinned. “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that—”
He didn’t finish his statement, however, because Minimizer immediately brought the box with the shrink-ray to bear. He snapped it up, and pressed the blue button.
But the man in blue was suddenly gone. The blue ray lanced out of the box, struck a rose bush planted near the bank door, and reduced it to the size of a fist.
“Dammit!—” Minimizer swung about quickly, to find the man in blue… and almost bounced his nose on a massive blue chest. He cried out in alarm and pitched backward in fright. The man in blue reached out quickly, and at first it seemed he intended to catch the smaller man. But Minimizer hit the ground anyway, realizing only then that the man in blue had simply plucked the gun and the shrink-ray box out of his hands as he fell.
“Nice toys,” Zenith commented.
Minimizer, still seated on the ground, looked past Zenith’s blue-clad legs to the musclemen. “Get him!—” but he choked off his command, as he realized that his henchmen were already moving as fast as their cartoon-tiny legs could carry them… in the opposite direction.
Zenith noted their rapid departure as well. Without warning, he pitched the gun and shrink-ray box high into the air with a quick flick of his wrists. Then he said to Minimizer: “Excuse me.”
Abruptly, he was gone. The cries of his henchmen were Minimizer’s first indication that Zenith had just crossed scores of yards in an instant. The blue-clad Hercules scooped up all three musclemen at once, and bore them into the air. Then he swung back, carrying his charges, and headed straight for the getaway van that had been waiting for them. When they reached the van, Zenith yanked a door open, thrust the musclemen into the van, and slammed the door behind them. He then seemed to dash all the way around the van in the space of a split-second, and returned to stand in front of Minimizer. He casually tossed the van’s door handles, and its engine, onto the pavement.
Then Zenith reached out his hands in time to catch the gun and shrink-ray box.
“So,” Zenith smiled down at the man on the pavement, “Mister—Minimizer, was it?—I’m sure you’d be glad to take your ill-gotten booty right back into the bank where you got it, now.” He leaned down close to Minimizer’s face, causing the smaller man to flinch. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Ah, shit,” Minimizer muttered. Without warning, he reached up with one hand and tapped his temple with a finger, twice. Slowly, Minimizer’s face changed, becoming impassive, and losing color, until it was almost gray. His position on the ground changed as well, becoming more rigid. In seconds, the man called Minimizer resembled a strange store mannequin tipped onto the ground.
Zenith looked down at the man-turned-mannequin with a mix of amusement and disgust. “Chicken,” he sneered. Then he turned and recovered the miniaturized bags of loot, and strode up to the bank to return them to the vaults.
“I believe everything will be okay,” Zenith announced as he entered the bank, “assuming this shrink ray has a reverse setting…” He stopped, as he realized he did not see anyone in the bank. After a moment, though, he heard what sounded like voices. Cautiously, he approached the teller windows, and effortlessly floated above them and to the other side. He cocked his head, listening closely, and turned in the direction of the sounds.
There, in a corner near the vaults, he found the staff and customers of the bank, all reduced to an inch in height, imploring Zenith in tiny cartoon voices not to accidentally step on them.
“Okay,” Zenith whispered, “we’ll worry about the money later.”
Once the bank staff, the customers and the money were all restored to their normal size, thanks to the shrink-ray box’s clever red “restore” button, Zenith politely waited while everyone took their turns thanking him. It was all right to take the time… he had a sixth sense that assured him there were no other crises needing his attention at that moment. As usual, there were quite a few gorgeous and voluptuous young women, some of whom had come into the bank once they’d seen him outside, and who were all but disrobing in front of him, right there in the lobby, to get his attention and, maybe, an invitation from the superhero… and as was his habit, Zenith did his best to discourage them without stepping on their feelings, while simultaneously thanking them all for thinking so highly of him.
Then, when it was time, Zenith took two steps back, and with a friendly saluting wave, vaulted straight up into the sky at just below Mach one. A powerful musical score instantly erupted out of the air and trailed behind him, his signature Heroic March designed to bathe the crowd in a positive muse. He could still hear their cheers, even when they could no longer see him.
As large as Miropolis was, Zenith could fly across it in a matter of seconds, and reach many other cities in minutes. He spent time crisscrossing the skies, making appearances in cities like Demo, Tronton, Getaway, Electra City and Hologria… occasionally lending a hand with a vehicle that insisted on traveling sideways, a building that kept detaching from its foundations, or a group of pedestrians that could not circumvent a badly-corrupted fire hydrant. He seemed to have a way of sensing these odd happenings—part of the same “sixth sense” that had alerted him to the robbery earlier—and very often, he could fix the problem when no one else could, or, at least, help people to get past it. Therefore, Zenith liked to make the effort to be there when things crashed.
As he flew over Macroville, his sixth sense kicked in, and he started scanning about. Within a split-second, he’d found the problem, evaluated the situation, and veered in that direction to help.
The holes in the side of the building were fresh. They were so fresh, in fact, that pieces of brick dust were still breaking off of the edges of the holes and raining lightly on the ground in the alley, creating a hiss like steam escaping. An occasional concussion from inside the building served to jar even more brick pieces loose, as well as pumping clouds of dust out of the holes in the wall and into the outside air.
From outside, came a voice: “All right, buddy, if you stand down right now, I promise I won’t hit you.”
From out of the empty air, a stadium organ began to play the first notes from Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
The concussion noises in the building ceased… and for a moment, the only thing to be heard was the light hiss of raining brick dust and the organ music. Then, a figure stepped outside through one of the larger holes. The figure was that of a man, built lean and athletic. He wore a body-covering leotard, which was bright white at the top of his head, and progressively darker going down, until it was jet black at his feet. The light-to-dark effect made it appear as if his upper body was being illuminated by an unseen spotlight. The leotard-wearing man peered through the clouds of dust he’d kicked up, looking for the source of the voice.
What he found was a baseball player.
The baseball player stood about ten yards distant, facing the man in the leotard. He wore what was clearly a regulation baseball uniform, as white as the top of the other’s leotard, with blue pinstripes. His white cap sported matching blue pinstripes, the same blue of his socks, and included the letters L and S embroidered about the bill. In fact, the only two things about the player’s uniform that were not regulation were the cleat-less white sneakers on his feet, and the blue domino mask on his face. The baseball player was slightly crouched, ready to move, and he held a baseball bat, one hand choked high as if ready to bunt.
The man in the leotard looked at him, and his shoulders fell visibly. “You’re kidding. Right?”
The baseball player shook his head. “I’m not kidding. Stop kicking the crap outta this building, and stand down.”
“You’re threatening me. With a baseball bat.” The leotard-wearer folded his hands across his chest. “You’re threatening me—you’re threatening Pulse—with a baseball bat!”
“No, I’m telling you—‘Pulse,’—to stop tearing up this building,” the baseball player replied calmly. “Or I’m gonna have to take you d—”
Before the baseball player could finish his sentence, the man in the leotard threw out his hands. A blinding bolt of light shot across the alley at the baseball player, and he raised his bat defensively. The bolt of light struck the bat, and the baseball player was knocked off his feet. He flew a good fifteen yards through the air, tumbling head over heels, and landed in a heap in the alley. The baseball player did not seem too badly injured by the blast, but he crouched warily where he landed, re-evaluating his adversary.
The man who identified himself as Pulse, in the meantime, stood and laughed heartily. “That’s what you get,” he cried, “when you send a weekend warrior to do a man’s job!” Still laughing, he turned and pointed his hands at the building. Another bolt of energy arched from his hands, and an explosion of bricks resulted. Pulse dusted his gloved hands dramatically, and started inside the building through his newly-made hole.
Before he had taken three steps, a staccato of footsteps caused Pulse to turn. He was immediately bowled over by the baseball player, who had covered over twenty yards faster than any eager rookie stealing second, gripping his bat at either end across his chest to ram Pulse. The leotard-wearing vandal flew backwards, tumbled, and quickly tried to regain his feet. But the baseball player was still with him, and had brought his bat around to a more traditional swinging stance. He swung, connected, and Pulse went flying, landing in a heap on the ground.
Pulse responded by rolling upright and pointing a hand at the baseball player. Blinding bolts of light shot out, and the baseball player deftly used his bat to intercept each blast. This time, he was not knocked off his feet. However, the blasts were too powerful for him to advance.
“Dammit,” Pulse bellowed, “I’m gonna par-broil you!—”
Suddenly, a voice called down from the heavens. “Broiling and baseball don’t mix. You should be grilling.”
Pulse craned his neck upwards, and saw Zenith hovering above him. Pulse immediately smiled. “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Then he raised his arms, and unleashed a furious volley of energy bolts at Zenith. The volley exploded, filling the alley with light, and causing Zenith to buck about in the air somewhat, but he did not seem to be particularly perturbed by the attack.
Pulse, realizing how little effect he was having, lost his smile. “Jesus! What does it take to drop you?”
Zenith merely said, “I think you’re worried about dropping the wrong guy.”
Pulse seemed to be confused by his statement for a second. Then it dawned upon him what Zenith was alluding to, and he groaned softly. He spun around quickly, but the baseball player was directly behind him, in a batter’s stance, his bat already coming around from its fully-cocked position. He connected with Pulse’s head, causing Pulse to flip end-over-end twice and fall limply to the ground. This time, the man in the white-to-black leotard did not move.
Zenith immediately called out, “And that’s another home run for Lucky Strike!”
The baseball player smiled casually, tipped his hat and replied, “The crowd goes wild.” Then he approached his unconscious foe, prodding him with the bat to make sure he was out. “Thanks for the assist, Zenith,” he said.
“Oh, you had ‘im, Lucky,” Zenith replied. “I just distracted him. You good from here?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Lucky Strike replied. “I’ll make him sit on his hands.”
“Sounds good. Later!” And with that, Zenith shot up into the air, triumphant music trailing behind.
The baseball player casually pulled out a cellphone from his hip pocket, and hit a speed-dial number. “Hello, this is Lucky Strike. Making a citizen’s arrest of a male reflection identifying himself as ‘Pulse,’ at 4400 Edwardo, in the alley.” Pulse abruptly groaned, and Lucky Strike looked down at him. He quickly bent down, put Pulse’s hands behind his back, rolled him onto his back, and sat on his chest, effectively pinning his hands under himself. Then he resumed speaking into his phone. “Subject severely damaged 4400 Edwardo building with meta powers. Use extreme caution.”
He closed and pocketed his phone. “Now then,” he said to Pulse, “you just sit tight and wait for the police to pick you up.”
To his surprise, Pulse merely smiled. “You got me, hot shot. I won’t make no trouble.”
“You seem awful calm about this,” Lucky Strike told him. “Your reflection’s likely to be locked up for quite a while.”
Pulse shrugged. “I did my job. It was easy money.”
Lucky Strike could hear the sirens of the police approaching. “How easy?”
“Easy enough. This reflection can rot, for all I care.”
The police arrived, and Lucky Strike waited until they had reached them in the alley before moving. “Morning, boys. One of you want to get his hands first? He shoots some kind of energy bolts out of ‘em.” Once one of the officers had themselves positioned behind Pulse, Lucky Strike got up.
Pulse immediately brought one hand up, but the officer behind him grabbed it, pulled it back down and behind his back, and slapped on a strange-looking set of handcuffs. Pulse struggled against the cuffs, straining and flexing his hands, but he seemed unable to fire off any more energy bolts. “Aw, damn…” he muttered, as the cop started to lead him to the car.
As he passed Lucky Strike, Pulse said, “They’ll be taking these cuffs off eventually.”
“Or maybe they’ll just leave ‘em on in the jail cell,” Lucky Strike responded.
Pulse seemed to consider that, and a moment later, his face became panicked. “Hey… hey, you wouldn’t do that!” he said to the nearest cop. “You… you can’t do that! I got rights! Hey!…”
“Well, that seemed to put the fear of God in him,” Lucky Strike commented to a nearby cop. “It’s a shame you can’t leave ‘em on.”
“You know we couldn’t do that,” the cop replied casually. “Against the law.”
“Yeah,” the baseball player nodded. “Still…” He leaned on his bat, like a player waiting for his turn at home plate, while the police carted the vandal away.
Zenith continued upward, until the sky around him began to shift from blue to black, and the stars could be seen clearly above him. He changed his direction, veering about and covering hundreds of miles in seconds, specifically to make sure no one could follow or observe him. He remained orbiting the planet for a few more minutes, to make sure he was not required anywhere. Then, when he was sure his job was done, he reached up, and tapped a spot on his temple, twice. A moment later, Zenith began to change from a blue-clad superhero to a slightly-flushed blue-clad mannequin floating in orbit above Miropolis…
…and in his apartment in New York, Tom Calavero revived from his lucid dreamstate, reached up with his hand, and switched off his halo.