(A short story written by me in my sophomore year of college)
Victor walks into an abandoned mine. Darkness covers him, like an infinite space before the existence of the universe, with only coldness and stagnation. Dusty old bricks and decaying wood separate everything inside from the outside world. Feeling some danger, Victor triggers his plasma sword. He blocks a whip attack and squares his body in a defensive position.
In the graphene body armor, Victor Weismann is the superhero Crow. His mission is being the sword of judgement: eliminating evil for a utopia of peace. Through intensive training, Victor is a master of sword fighting, knife throwing, and various forms of martial arts. With the help of advanced equipment on his utility belt and the mechanical wings, Crow makes criminals fear the hazel eyes behind the black titanium mask.
The light from the plasma sword reveals the man who initiated the attack. It is Atom, the man who was behind the mass murder at Metropia University, and he has been hiding in various places ever since.
Crow thrusts his sword toward Atom. Vertical. Horizontal. Forward. His attacks are direct and powerful. Atom slips to the side, and swings his whip. Crow advances. For a brief moment, he can see Atom’s brown eyes. Atom cracks a smile. The whip swings twice. The first one misses, but the second one causes a small wound near Crow’s hip. He runs forwards and strikes his sword. The sword tears Atom’s shirt apart, but misses his body.
“Crow, you demonstrate good skills,” Atom says, “but you are just an immature kid.”
“And you’re a murderer,” Crow loses his temper. He turns off his sword. A sword is not a good weapon for fighting at a far range. He flies up and continuously throws electric-charged knives at Atom. This man is pure evil, he thinks. As Atom is overwhelmed, Crow pounds Atom into the ground.
“You’re making a mistake, Crow. Will killing me make the world a better place?” Atom says.
Crow hesitates for a second, “Yes. For a greater good.” He points his sword at Atom’s chest and turns it on. A beam of purple light cuts through Atom’s body.
Victor’s hands are covered with blood. This is not first time that Victor killed a human being. His body shakes. In the past year, he has killed more than one hundred criminals. After his first mission, he was terrified. In his dream, the criminals he killed appear and scream at him. He doesn’t want to kill at all, but he needs to. It is his destiny to correct this rotten world.
Victor opens his wide black wings and immerses himself into the starry night, heading back to his mansion in West Metropia. From above, Metropia City looks like a sea of light flashing and blinking, flowing continuously in time. Under those vibrant skyscrapers, behind those noisy luxury cars moving on the busy street, is subtle misery, from those cracked side walk, from those back alleys, and from people hiding themselves in a corner with their damaged bodies and damaged mind. The billion-dollar Weismann Company is in the center of everything for its ability to develop of cutting edge technology. Beside his Crow’s identity, Victor is also the CEO of the company. His father, Arnold Weismann, is the founder of the company, and he was also the original Crow. The company and Crow’s identity were Arnold’s legacy to Victor, as Arnold decided to focus on his research at Weismann Research Laboratory on Coral Island.
Victor puts the suit in the wardrobe and looks around his headquarters. In one corner, a supercomputer, Watchman, is searching for new criminals to eradicate. Next to the weapon shelf, which has plasma swords, electric charged knives, and mini missiles, is Crow’s plane. This plane has many impressive features, like transforming into a submarine or disrupting radio frequency. It is controlled by artificial intelligence and is covered with advanced weapons. Crow can summon the plane using the emergency button on the utility belt. However, Victor is not too fond of it. He prefers to fly.
The smell of blood still lingers in Victor’s mind. The moment he thrusts his sword through Atom keeps popping up in his mind. To clear his mind from the traumatic experience, Victor goes to his favorite café, The Intersection, to meet his girlfriend Sophia. She is a talented mathematician, and she is very quirky. Victor loves how she hits her ears with her fingers when she is thinking, her obsession with the number six (she always wipes her hand six times after shaking someone’s hand), and her habit of using “epsilon” to refer to anything that is small.
With excitement, Sophia shares her works in proving the Riemann hypothesis, which is going to be published soon. Victor tries his best to pay attention, but his head is filled with the image of Atom’s dead body.
“Are you OK, Victor? Do you want an apple? I always feel better when I put an apple on my head,” Sophia picks up an apple and puts it on her head.
“I definitely want to try,” Victor laughs. He puts Sophia’s apple on his head, but he doesn’t feel any better.
After the date, Victor comes back home and opens Watchman to talk to Arnold, “Father, I have just killed Atom today, but I feel terrible. Please help me.”
“Breathe,” Arnold says, “and repeat after me: Justice is on my side. I killed Atom, the rotten rat of this world.”
“Father…” Victor hesitates.
“Say it, Victor.”
“Justice is on my side. I killed Atom, the rotten rat of this world, for the greater good.” Victor says. He feels better. His action is righteousness, therefore, he should not feel bad.
“And what is Crow’s purpose?” Arnold asks.
“Construct a new world with only good people by passing judgment on evil,” Victor answers. He has said this thousands of times.
Nothing is more important than achieving their dream, Victor thinks. He has been receiving training from Arnold since he was ten, preparing for his mission of being Crow. Victor always wanted to be a hero of justice, because the utopia that Arnold constantly talks about is so beautiful that he obsesses over that ideal.
It has been one month since Crow killed Atom, and Crow’s journey is still going on. Recently, there is a new villain who is very popular on the news, Zero. Zero killed eight people by forcing them to play lethal games of chance in which losers die. Russian roulette. Baccarat. Poker. No one survives after playing the brutal game. As Watchman determines Zero’s location, Victor leaves the mansion in his Crow’s suit, and heads to the abandoned garage in North Metropia.
The garage looks fragile. Time has weakened concrete poles, torn off the paint and put a thick layer of brown iron oxide on everything. Old cars are distributed randomly around. Water drips down from the roof, creating a hollow noise. Victor hides himself behind one of the poles.
Zero has a red mask which has small black “Zero” engraved on it. Next to her is the victim, who is tied to a pole under her revolver.
“Heads or tails, mister?” Zero says.
“Tails…No, heads,” the victim says.
Zero flips the coin, “It is tail. Too bad, mister. The luck is not with you tonight.”
Zero puts her finger on the trigger. An electric-charged knife comes at her. Zero dodges it, “Look like someone want to join our game. Is that true, Crow?”
“You should pick someone of equal power to play with, Zero,” Crow walks out and starts throwing knives at her. Zero dances under the rain of knives, successfully dodges all of them.
“Crow, what‘s the epsilon, two or one? By that I mean what’s smaller,” Zero shoots one bullet toward Crow.
“One,” Crow hides behind a pole to avoid the bullet.
“If a plane with 400 people loses control in the sky which can possibly destroy Metropia, would you destroy the plane with 400 human beings inside it?” Zero pulls out another gun. However, she still only uses her revolver for combat.
“I’d rather sacrifice 400 people to save the whole city. The scale is obvious,” Crow runs forward with his sword.
“Do you know how many human beings that you’ve killed already?” Zero jumps up to a car.
“I don’t need to count. Those rats are better not to live for the ultimate peace of this world. And you’re next, Zero,” Crow jumps up and forwards his sword.
“You‘ve been killing many people. Kill yourself already to save lives of many,” Zero moves backward and pulls the trigger. The bullet misses Crow because she has no time to aim.
“Sure if you kill yourself first,” Crow says.
“I refuse to believe that crap,” Zero moves close to Crow and triggers her second gun.
Crow sees gas emitted from her gun. Paralyzing gas! In a brief second, with incredible desire to live, Crow hits the emergency button on his utility belt. Five seconds after that, he cannot move no matter how much he tries. Zero walks toward Victor, holding her revolver.
“Now mister, want to play a Russian roulette game with me?”
Suddenly, Crow’s plane comes in between Crow and Zero, aims its weapons at her. Knowing the danger, Zero rides away on her motorcycle. After thirty minutes, Crow recovers. He unties the victim, then rides his plane back to the mansion.
After throwing off his suit, Victor calls Sophia, “Hello, Sophia? I am not feeling well, so I cannot meet you tonight. I am really sorry.”
Victor lies down on his bed. He thinks about his conversation with Zero. The fact that Zero said “human being’ multiple times annoys Victor. Is what he has been doing so far not justice? No way. Victor wants to talk to Arnold about it, so he opens Watchman and greets his father, but the bell rings. Victor asks Arnold to wait then he runs out to open the door.
“Sophia, why are you here? I canceled the…”
Not waiting for Victor to say anymore words, Sophia pulls out a strange device.
“I can’t wait to show you this cool thing. Ultraviolet light. Isn’t it awesome?” Sophia turns on the switch, “I’d never known electromagnetic radiation could be this cool.”
The light is inconveniently bright. Victor’s eyes are overwhelmed.
“Turn it off Sophia.”
“Are you a vampire or something? It is just a little enlightenment,” Sophia laughs.
“Sophia, I am very tired.”
“Fine. I will see you later then. Have a good rest Victor,” Sophia turns off the light then leaves. She doesn’t look happy.
Victor comes back and talks to his father. He tells Arnold about his conversation with Zero, about how she accused him as a killer, and about his confusion of justice.
“Repeat after me, son,” Arnold says, “Justice is on my side. My mission is to eliminate the rotten rat of this world, for the greater good.”
“But father, Zero said that I killed human beings…”
“Just do it, son.”
Victor follows his dad‘s order, “Justice is on my side. My mission is to eliminate the rotten rat of this world, for the greater good.”
After talking to Arnold for a while, Victor is illuminated. Arnold said that criminals are not worth listening to. As Crow, Victor needs to be determined. Victor is glad that he is able to talk to his father every day.
When he is finally alone, Victor feels a little bit guilty because he pushed Sophia away. He calls her and apologizes for his annoying attitude. Sophia admits that she was a little bit angry, but his sincere apology makes her feel better. Victor then asks Sophia to come over his house for lunch the next day and Sophia agrees. They look forward to the date.
Sophia comes to Victor’s mansion at around noon. Victor opens the door and he sees beautiful Sophia in her red dress. Their eyes meet each other. She has captivating brown eyes, which reminds Victor of morning espresso. He feels energized as he looks at her eyes.
They get in the Victorian-style dining room. The dark oak table in the middle of the room makes a great complement with the cream wall. Polish silverware glistens under warm sunlight. While eating, Sophia and Victor discuss probability theory. Sophia seems to be extremely interested in Cauchy-Schwarz inequality. However, Sophia is strange today. She asks Victor about his personal values, and his definition of what is morally right. Victor passionately talks about his Crow’s ethics, about punishing bad people for a better society.
Sophia says, “I conclude with 95% confidence that you are Crow.”
Victor freezes for a second. His identity as Crow cannot be revealed that easily. He has been very careful. Maybe Sophia said that just to mess him up.
“What are you talking about? I am just Victor, a boring billionaire with a big mansion,” Victor laughs.
“You know I’m not a fool,” Sophia leans toward Victor, “You’re Crow.”
“No, I’m not. Your claim is just a hypothesis without proof. Also, the idea of me being Crow is absurd.”
“I have proof, Victor. But it’s better for you not to know it.”
Victor feels uneasy. He wants to know the proof so badly to be able to convince her that he is not Crow.
“Tell me the proof, Sophia. I’m interested in how you come up with that ridiculous idea.”
“You don’t even know the consequence,” Sophia says, “It’ll end everything. Do you still desire to know?”
“It isn’t fair for me to be the only one who is confused. Tell me Sophia, then we’ll try to resolve everything. Together,” Victor holds Sophia’s hand.
Sophia shrugs Victor off, “If it’s what you want, I’ll show you the proof.” She opens her purse, pulls out the UV flashlight.
“Remember this, Victor? That day, under UV light, you have a mark on your face,” Sophia says, “I put invisible ink in the paralyzed gas emitted from my gun.”
Victor connects everything together. Only now he realizes the similarity between Sophia and Zero, from their voice and mannerism. And “epsilon”! They both refer it as something that is small. How could he miss such an important detail?
“Sophia, you are Zero?”
Silence. It is confirmed, Victor thinks. He loves Sophia. But he is also Crow. Crow needs to destroy Zero. And of all the absurdities, Sophia and Zero are the same person.
“Victor, do you love me?”
“Yes, I do,” Victor says hesitantly.
“Then please die, Victor. For me, and for true justice.”
Victor’s adrenaline level increases. What is going on? And he realizes that this is Zero. To die just because of a request is weak. He would not do that. And Crow would never do that, especially for a criminal.
“No. I am Justice,” Victor says.
“I am not a good person. Not anymore. At least I know that. But you still blindly think that you are good,” Sophia loads her gun, “That is why I need to eliminate you, as Zero.”
This cannot be the end, Victor thinks. In the mist of confusion and fear, Victor hears his father’s voice, “Victor, remember that you are Crow. And Crow’s mission is to exorcise evil in this world.” “But I love Sophia, father,” Victor murmurs to himself. “The person that stands in front of you is Zero. Wake up, Victor. Zero is trying to kill you”, the voice inside Victor’s head says. And Victor decides. He puts his hand in his pocket, pulls out a cigarette and his black matte lighter – a present from his father, “Sophia, do you love me?”
“I used to, Victor,” Sophia says, “But it will not stop me from attempting to kill you.”
“Then can I just have the last cigarette before I die under your hand?”
“I didn’t know that you smoke. Anyways, if smoking is on your bucket list, I will grant you that wish,” Sophia seems impatient.
Victors turns on the lighter. He brings the lighter to the tip of his cigarette. Suddenly, he throws his cigarette at Sophia’s eyes. She drops her gun. Victor picks up the gun.
It is now or never. If Victor sees Sophia’s eyes, he knows he could never be able to kill her. In this situation, the choice is either to kill, or to be killed.
“I love you, Sophia,” Victor says. And he fires the gun.
Victor feels like time stop. The gun clicks, then the spring exerts force on the bullet. At that moment, Sophia opens her eyes and looks at Victor. This time, it is filled with hatred. Her brown eyes stares deep into Victor’s soul. Victor wants to stop, but he has already pulled the trigger. There is no way back. The bullet rushes through the air, then it reaches flesh. Sophia falls down, like a rose petal. Sophia’s blood runs on the checkerboard floor. It has the same color as bouquet of roses on the table. Her blood touches the revolver, then the cigarette, and then Victor. Sunlight shines on the unfinished plates, the red napkin on the floor, and Sophia’s purse. The purse catches Victor’s attention. He opens the purse and sees a letter.
“My dear daughter Sophia,
By the time you read this letter, I probably have been killed by Crow. I want you to know that I am innocent. I was the only survivor in the classroom that day, so the investigator quickly accused me as a culprit without even trying to find the truth. That is why I became Atom. I just want to let you know that I always love you. Your father.”
Victor collapses into the couch. He killed Sophia’s father, and now he killed Sophia. He looks up Atom’s real name – Albert Brandt. Atom is indeed innocent: they caught the real culprit a few days ago. Sophia must have hated Crow so much for killing her father that she turned into the criminal Zero.
Victor thinks of his missions. He did kill a lot of criminals, but at the same time, involved many innocent people. As he put human lives on the scale, he thought he knew the consequences of his actions, so he made decisions based on that. But how could he know what would happen? How does one know what is good or bad? This world is complex and unpredictable. As one variable changes, many other variables will change as well. He wants to be hero of justice, but he fails to understand its foundation. He tried to save more people, but ended up making more villains by produce more hatred. The result is that more people suffered.
So Zero was right.
Crow is a hypocrite.
Tangled in all those thought, Victor decides to go for a walk without any destination in mind. He walks in a small alley. Darkness consumes the forest of stone. The wind is screaming as it flows through some broken windows. The alleyway is twisted and convoluted, and most of the time Victor only finds dead ends in this giant labyrinth. Not much sunlight can find their ways to get in this alley, so it is still cold and gloomy, filled with loneliness. A dead rat is lying near the garbage can, producing an unpleasant smell. The smell attaches itself to the wind, scatters around, and invites flies to come for a big feast. Disgusted, Victor tries to escape the alley. He finally finds the way out and sees the sun again. On the side walk, a smashed rose lies in sadness.
Victor realizes that Crow doesn’t have the authority to decide how the world should be. He makes a quick call to Arnold and arranges an emergency private flight to Weismann Research Laboratory. After two hours flight, he reaches his final destination. As Victor walks in the research lab, he sees cold light from fluorescent tubes shine on the black tile floor, and reflect to the stainless steel wall. The lab is divided into different rooms, and each room has different set of machines. In the monotone background, oscilloscope, spectrometer, particle accelerator, electron microscope, and other expensive equipment are immersed in slight disinfectant smell.
He tells his father about everything. Crow need to be stopped, he thinks, because peace cannot be achieved with violence. Zero’s words come back to Victor, and only now he understands what they mean.
Victor assumes that his father would get angry at him because of his decision. But Arnold looks incredibly calm. He listens to everything Victor has to say, without any change of expression on his face.
“So you strongly believe that we shouldn’t complete our dream?” Arnold says.
“Yes, because Crow isn’t true justice,” Victor says.
“I guess at this point I can’t change your mind by mere talk anymore,” Arnold put on his respirator.
White gas occupies the whole room. When the ventilation fan turns on and the gas flies out, Victor realizes that he is unable to move. He tries to say something, but his mouth is also paralyzed. He feels threatened.
“Don’t worry, Victor,” Arnold says, “I won’t harm you.”
Arnold walks to the next room. The autonomous chair that Victor is sitting in follows Arnold. A big machine is in the middle of the room. The machine has a gurney with complex machinery covers the head position.
“This machine can erase memory all your memory about Sophia, Victor. I knew you would disagree with me eventually, even though I always talked to you about our dream and I controlled your sources of information. When I saw you killed Sophia through the surveillance system I installed in our mansion, I thought you have grown away from yourself, but I was wrong.”
The autonomous chair changes shape, starts its programming sequence. A few minutes later, Victor is lying in the machine. Victor feels hopeless. At the moment he learns the truth, he is going to forget everything. He cannot accept that he will live his life being blindfolded. He tries to move, but he cannot.
“Victor, you know what Crow is. Most people would just live for themselves, stuck in their own bubbles, and do selfish things. Someone needs to stand up and make decisions to bring this world into order. It is no one but Crow. I have to make Crow live forever. For the greater good.”
Victor closes his eyes. He sees himself running through his memory castle, with each room stores part of his memory about Sophia. In one room, Sophia is sitting in the café, talking to Victor for the first time. Victor remembers their conversation about golden ratio, and as Sophia left, she gave Victor a math problem, which turned out to be her phone number. In the opposite room is his fight with Zero, which looks like a tango dance. Victor reaches the final room, where Sophia is waiting for him. Victor sees her deep brown eyes, so he tries to reach her. The espresso color turns into cappuccino, then the brown color disappears. Victor feels lost in the empty room.
Then a crow approaches Victor, emerges in him. Victor sees his life. His physical training with his father in sword fighting. His fight with the evil for justice. With the plasma sword, he passed judgment on all criminals. And he sees Metropia flashing and blinking under him, like thousands fireflies. Everything is so vivid, so colorful, seems like they happens only yesterday. It feels so good to be Crow.
Victor wakes up in his mansion, at Crow’s headquarters. Watchman is still running, seeking for the criminals. No matter what happened, the earth still rotates around the sun, the universe still expands, and Victor still does his job. “Beep,” there is a notification from Watchman of a bank robbery nearby.
Victor puts on his suit. “Crow is ready,” Victor says. Then, without hesitation, he immerses himself into the sky. The sky is pitch black.
In the beginning of the semester, I was very interested in moral philosophy and the definition of justice. I wanted to focus on the gray area of moral ethics, therefore I developed a superhero-main character struggling with his moral values. He represents utilitarianism value, and his rival represents deontology value. I developed plot twist by putting this two characters in a complex relationship, and I also intentionally gave some cliché superhero elements to the story. The fight between this two characters, and the fact that both of them are ethically questionable show that as human, we are often confused and have disagreement about the truth. And in Victor’s case, he can only get over his false assumption about justice by exchange ideas with other people, which are Sophia and her father. Similar to Victor, we tend to justify our actions, therefore, it is necessary to question our moral ideas of what is right and wrong and seek for the truth. As I was writing about “the father” character, I realized that this character can bring another big theme beside the moral ethics part of the story. I had the father, Arnold, acted as the mastermind who controlled and manipulated Victor to be a violent superhero. The false belief was infused into Victor’s mind, and he blindly believed it until he figured out that he killed an innocent man. Victor is nothing but a tool for Arnold to achieve his goal, covered by the utilitarianism idea. By this, I want to convey the essence of war: many people attend war, assuming they are fighting for good cause, but have little to none understanding about what they are fighting for, and become a puppet of propaganda and manipulation from greater power. Arnold’s method to control Victor were surveillance, repetition and dehumanization of the opponents. In my very first draft of the story, I had Arnold faked his death, then he showed up to kill Victor when Victor is no longer useful. Later, I decided that having Arnold disappeared in the middle of the story doesn’t show how Victor is manipulated by Arnold. In the final version of my story, Arnold always kept his eyes on his son; and Victor just had his memory erased. I think the new ending works better since it emphasizes that Victor was brainwashed by many different method, and he lived his whole life being blindfolded.
“Crow” is the biggest symbol in my story. Many cultures consider crows as the keepers of the Sacred Law, and nothing escapes their keen sight. Crows is secretive and mysterious. Crow is omen of death. Crow eats rotten meat, which represents the evil in society. However, as crow can eat almost everything, it damage crops and transfer disease. This image perfectly represents the good, the bad and the ugly of this superhero. All the names in my story has meaning: “Victor” means “conqueror”, “Sophia” means “wisdom”, Arnold means “eagle power”, Albert means “noble”, and the supercomputer Watchman is closely related to surveillance. The setting in my story also reveal the theme. Metropia City is vibrant from the outside but broken from the inside. Most of the setting description in my story are dark, and in the end, “the sky is pitch black”. The alley that Victor go through near the end of the story is the symbol of his journey, which is convoluted, dark, and narrow. It is hard for Victor to find an escape out of his Crow’s responsibility, as he is in a vicious circle. There are only few moment of light in the story, and they are all with Sophia, because she revealed his falsehood. The “smashed rose” in the setting of the story represents Sophia and Victor’s guilt. In conclusion, I believe with these symbols and the plot itself, the story has enough subtlety for an intelligent reader to get them.