There were, at least, a dozen ways to handle the situation: super speed, super strength, sun vision, and so on. Paragon stood on the rooftop in readiness. His hands weren’t on his hips, his chest wasn’t sticking out. He was hunching forward slightly, ready to make his move at a moment’s notice.
Other superheroes may have delighted in the challenge of a madman using one hand to hold a gun to a woman’s head while the second hand held a doomsday trigger to some unknown and immeasurable threat; a bomb maybe, or a toxic nerve gas. The scenarios ran through Paragon’s head at lightning speed.
Other heroes may have been able to tune out the cries for help on the streets; from survivors pinned under debris and the rescue teams who couldn’t physically get around the wreckage to help. Paragon couldn’t. He heard every cry, every siren and every agitated chief demanding that his firemen/policemen/construction workers do more to clear a path.
Paragon heard all of that. His body shivered with the anticipation of getting off this roof; with the yearning to get out there and help these people. But this man, Gavin Godfried, had to be stopped. Not for the woman. Paragon knew that Godfried would avoid hurting her if he could. She was there for the hero. There to buy Godfried that split second he’d need to push the trigger button if Paragon decided to move. Still, there were, at least, a dozen ways for Paragon to handle the situation. But the doomsday trigger kept him at bay. For in the face of an unknown weapon, even super powers were useless.
“I didn’t want it to come to this,” Gavin said. There was a slight quaver in his voice.
“What did you want?” Paragon asked, keeping his tone level.
“I wanted it to work this time!” Gavin screamed. Not a scream of anger, or rage. Rather it felt to Paragon like one of desperation. “I swear to god, I just wanted to live…quietly. Read a book, watch TV, maybe get into sports…” he trailed off into a mumble.
“Why didn’t you then?” Paragon asked sternly, trying to keep Godfried focused. There were a lot of people who needed help, and he wasn’t about to allow Godfried a soliloquy.
“Don’t condescend to me! You know perfectly well why. Because it’s mundane! Pedestrian! Boring!” Godfried began to rail. “Every few months I would tell myself that I wanted boring; that I was sick of the death traps and giant robots and plans for world domination. And I really was. I’d give it all up for a while. But then, slowly, inspiration would strike. I’d start getting ideas about how to do things better than I had before. A stronger robot, a more lethal laser…and I would get excited. I mean, it’s engineering for god’s sake!”
“Maybe. But what you do hurts people,” Paragon said softly. “It kills them.”
Godfried bent his head into the back of his hostage’s shoulder. Paragon’s slight quiver turned into a shudder. He was afraid the woman might try something, like an elbow to Gavin’s gut or pivoting out of his grip. But she didn’t. She stayed still.
“I don’t like being passionate about weapons,” Godfried said. “But I don’t see them that way. They’re my creations. My art.”
“It doesn’t matter Gavin,” Paragon said. “They’re still dangerous. And you use them. People have died because of you, and no amount of rationalizing can wipe that blood off your hands.”
“You think I don’t know that?!” Godfried shouted as he waved his gun in the air. Again, Paragon shuddered. But again, the woman stayed still. “It’s so easy for you to moralize, isn’t it? So god damned easy for you to be good and lord it over us normal people?”
“Excuse me?” Paragon asked heatedly. In the ether of the air around him, he heard people begging for their lives. But he was here.
“Look at you!” Godfried’s words poured out of him like a river that had been damned up for years and finally, finally, the damn had burst. “Standing there in your skin tight silver suit. Your blue cape billowing behind you. Like an angel come from heaven. Who are you, with all your power, to tell me about right and wrong like they actually exist? As if there’s no gray?”
“There IS no gray!” Paragon shouted. He quickly composed himself as he saw Godfried’s eyes widen; though in fear, panic, or sheer defiance, he had no way of knowing. “You think my power means making the right choice is easy for me? You think because I can lift a car or run really fast suddenly cutting someone off in traffic or losing my temper just don’t happen anymore? The right choices are always the harder choices to make. The more you can do: the more gifts you have: the more options are available to you for doing right or wrong. It’s no different for a super man than a mortal one. What is different is that a super man has to be super. In every way,” Paragon exhaled. He had gone on a little rant himself.
“That’s an awfully high standard to hold yourself to,” Gavin said.
“It is. Probably too high. But it’s what I have to strive for. Every day. Even if the rest of the world sees me fail,” Paragon said. But after he said it, his eyes lit up with the light of epiphany. “Actually, because the rest of the world will see me fail. So they can see a superhero, with all the power in the world, fail at being the man he is supposed to be. The man they expect him to be. And then try again; and again; and again. So that they know there is no super power that keeps me going. It’s just conviction. The same conviction we all have. That’s when they’ll finally understand that the path to the right choice has no short cuts. Not even for super men.”
“And what do you do with the people who don’t want to walk the path of the right choice?” Godfried asked. “Kill them?”
“I do what anyone can do. My best,” Paragon said sadly.
In his ears rang the distant screams and cries of the victims in the wreckage. Some were hurt, a few were dying. But still, Paragon could not leave to help them. Not until he knew exactly how big a threat Godfried posed.
“That’s all I want to do,” Gavin pleaded. “But your best makes you a hero, and mine makes me a villain. So my only choice, it seems, is to stop doing what I love.”
“No Gavin. There may be no moral gray between right and wrong. But the greatest gift humanity has is creativity. You called this your art before. Well, your art as it is now hurts people. So find a way for it not to,” Paragon finished.
“It’s not that simple,” Godfried spat.
“Of course not,” Paragon agreed. “But the joy of creativity does not come from what is simple. It comes from what is hard.”
“Interesting,” Godfried replied. He looked up then, at some invisible point above and behind Paragon. As though he were looking at an incomplete puzzle, trying to see where this new piece fit in. His eyes were wrinkled in thought. Then Paragon noticed a spark. Godfried’s brow lifted a little, and a small smile came to the genius’s face. This was not a gesture of epiphany; not the light of realization. Rather, it seemed to Paragon, it was the beginning of an idea.
Godfried looked at Paragon then. Paragon looked back, but his ears and mind were with the city. Calls for help were finally being answered. Rescue workers were clearing paths to the most ruined and dangerous parts of the wreckage. People were finding a way.
But there were still those that needed help. Help only a superhero could offer. Paragon had been dealing with Godfried long enough. It was time to end this.
“I’m needed,” Paragon said flatly. “What do you say Gavin? Will you take up the challenge? Will you solve this riddle?”
Immediately after saying it, Paragon was struck with an idea. All this time, he had thought there were, at least, a dozen ways to handle the situation of Gavin Godfried. But he had been wrong. There was only one way; this way.
“I will,” Godfried replied as he released his hostage. She ran to Paragon. Gavin then threw the ominous doomsday trigger to the superhero standing only a few feet away. Paragon caught it and quickly crushed it into dust.
“Thank you,” Paragon said.
“I don’t know if you are a hero really,” Godfried said. “But you’re good at what you do.”
Gavin Godfried turned around then, and walked away. He did not turn; did not give a final gloat or oath of being seen again one day. Instead, he approached the nearest door, opened it, and entered the building.
“Aren’t you going after him?” the woman asked concernedly.
“I’m sorry he scared you,” Paragon said sympathetically. “But you’re safe now. Stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Paragon took to the sky in a blur of blue and silver. With all his speed, he raced off to the fallen building. He was ready to help; rejuvenated at the idea that maybe he already had; and hopeful that in the never-ending battle between good and evil, one brilliant man was convinced to at least try doing something different for the simple puzzle of finding out if the right thing to do was also the worthwhile thing to do.