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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Love And Fatality : A Green Lantern Fanfic


From Archiveofourown.org by DragonTail

Summary:
Kyle Rayner has hit a dead end - professionally and personally. But a chance encounter with one of the most mysterious, powerful beings in the universe will change the young freelance artist's life forever. Thrust into a world of excitement, danger and heroism, does Kyle have what it takes to wield the power of the Green Lantern? And if he does, will it be enough to spare him the wrath of the bloodthirsty intergalactic hunter known as Fatality?
Notes:
A proposal for a reboot of DC Comics' Green Lantern franchise, written in "scriptment" style with some dialogue (like the old '60s Marvel plots, somewhat ironically). This work covers the first four-to-six issue arc of the series. Originally written and posted online November 27-30, 2004.

Every time Kyle Rayner thinks his life couldn’t be worse – girlfriend left him, stagnant art career, little or no relationship with his mother – all he has to do is glance sideways along the bar and look at Tyler Hutchence. Yes, one look at his best friend since childhood constantly reassures the young freelance artist that he’s far from rock bottom.

Tyler, meanwhile, is a permanent fixture of the end of the line. Not only does he live on rock bottom, but he eats off it and sleeps on it. Perhaps the most talented artist and draftsman in their class at UCLA, the most Tyler’s skilled hands do these days is push the photocopy button at the office or heft another schooner of beer to his lips.

In school, Tyler had teased Kyle for being “such a dreamer”. Tyler was 100 per cent focused on becoming San Francisco’s next hot architect, while Kyle dabbled in watercolours and oils, trying to find his medium. The end result, in truth, is that Tyler’s focus was too narrow to make him employable, while Kyle became proficient in most forms of art but failed to truly master any single one. His teachers all told him he had a fantastic imagination, but often lacked the determination or skills to fully translate his ideas onto the canvass.

It was a bad time for Kyle, during which he seemed to have only one real supporter – Alexandra DeWitt. Tyler had introduced them, as the budding architect was trying to impress her enough for a date. But it was Kyle who accidentally stole the svelte blonde’s heart, and they had become “the” couple of the UCLA art set.

Daughter of an upper class family, Alex – as she preferred to be known – turned her back on the glitz and glamour her parents and older sister moved through and “lowered herself” to attend their college. Her dream was to become a photographer and, out of the three of them, was the only one who had achieved her goal. True, it was for a rag newspaper tabloid, but it was more of a start that Kyle or Tyler had made.

Their love remained unbreakable, unshakable, and Alex was the one person who told Kyle his imagination was more important than his focus. She was the reason he kept going through a seemingly endless sea of greeting card designs and bad flyer advertisements. A few days ago, the adult world caught up with the two young lovers. The stresses and pressures of Alex’s job, combined with Kyle’s lack of steady work and childish refusal to find more, had ripped out the heart of their relationship. Then Kyle made the biggest mistake of his life – both artistically and personally – and Alex left.

Always the best pal, always the knowledgeable one, Tyler knew the perfect cure for his friend’s woes. The unshakeable hangover. Tyler had become a regular at San Francisco’s Heretic nightclub – “I’ve got my own stool… the Tyler Hutchence Memorial Spot” – and had dragged a morose Kyle in for a drink. One drink that became lots. Kyle watches as his friend becomes more and more inebriated, finally steering him to the public toilets to “vent” the results of his dedication.

Tyler feels better immediately, deciding it’s time to hit the dance floor and “scare up” a girl for each of them. Kyle disagrees and leaves his friend, letting himself out a fire exit and into a quiet back alley. The flashing lights and pumping music have done nothing to soothe his pain. The darkness in him only becomes deeper as he fingers the small box in his jeans pocket.

True, it’s only a small diamond, and probably not real 24 karat gold, but it was the best he could afford and he knew Alex would have loved it. He’d had the whole thing mapped out in his head, how he was going to propose, how he would suggest her moving in with him – a long engagement, enough time to save up for a nice wedding and a real honeymoon. None of which mattered anymore. He had goofed, he had stuffed up “as usual”. He had wandered away from his responsibilities and now Alex had walked away from him.

Leaving the ring box alone, Kyle steps further into the alleyway. A small green light seems to pool in the corner of his vision. He shakes his head, thinking it to be a remainder of the club’s bulbs, but the pool remains – and has grown bigger. Kyle starts to panic, worrying about seizures and fits and his greatest fear, going blind. But now the green light has filled his vision totally. Everything is green hued and green tinged, the world is a verdant canvass, drained of all colour except one. He falls to his knees, covering his tearing eyes, and is about to call uselessly for help when he hears a small, quiet voice.

“You shall have to do.”

When Kyle opens his eyes, the green film has dropped and before him stands a small man. A small blue man. A small blue man in black and green robes. The midget’s face is stern, his jaw set strong and proud, but there also seems to be a small sprinkle of mirth in his dark eyes. His long white hair is pulled back into a loose ponytail, tied off with a length of green and black cord.

Kyle, still on his knees, looks at the small man for a moment. Realising the sheer stupidity of the situation, his humour and his anger kick in. “Have to do? I wonder if you have any idea just how many times I’ve heard someone say that lately,” Kyle spits.

“Indeed I have, Kyle Rayner,” the stranger answers, his unearthly voice seeming to penetrate deep into the young artist’s skull. “But the constraints of chronos and chaos leave me with no choice but to add to your burden.” Her raises his small blue fist and unfurls his pudgy fingers, revealing a brilliant emerald ring. It sits in the palm of his hand and seems to be made completely of green gemstone, from the band to the brilliant emerald set in a stylised face-plate.

“Take this ring,” the small man says, his expression grave and brooking no argument. “Do with it what you must.”

Ignoring instinct, Kyle reaches forward and takes the ring. As his fingers touch the sparkling jewellery, small jets of green flame seem to leap from the stranger’s arm and over Kyle’s. The ring is warm in his hand, and it hums slightly. The vibrations tingle through him, and for a moment he thinks he can feel them in his head. “Now what’s supposed to happen?” Kyle asks.

“What must,” the small stranger replies. “Order will see to the rest, and so I place my faith in that. Hopefully, order will place its faith in you.” The stranger smiles sadly, and the emerald haze fills Kyle’s vision once again. This time he does not panic, instead he grips the strange ring tightly and waits for his sight to return.

When it does, Kyle finds himself standing in the studio of his small apartment. The first rays of dawn are slicing through gaps in his shutters and illuminating the rooms within. He glances around to see familiar sights – his drawing board, his equipment, pages and pages of discarded ideas. Unfinished watercolours, oils that have flaked and peeled from disuse, his latest freelance job that has been done eight times, each in a different style and medium and each without satisfaction. He stands in the half light and the chaos of his ideas and slowly opens his fist.

The ring is still there. The humming in his mind is even more potent now. No matter what happened last night – and despite the loss of the last few hours – none of it was a dream. A blue midget in a green dress handed him a humming emerald ring.

Dumbfounded, Kyle clambers down the last flight of stairs, and opens the private door into Radu’s coffee shop, the small cafe beneath the apartments. Radu Stancu is the owner of both the apartments and the cafe. A lovable, big hearted Romanian with a passion for baseball and a kind word for all, Radu has been Kyle’s moral support and cheerleader through many a crisis. And no crisis – not even his break-up with Alex – is stranger than this one.

As is usual for a Monday morning, all of Radu’s tenants are sitting at the front counter, eating their breakfast and holding the weekly “Tenant’s Meeting” - a joking reference to their usual gathering to start the week. Radu, as always, is behind the counter – an hour before the store is due to open, and the big man is looking even more relaxed than usual. He bellows a cheery “good morning” to Kyle and quickly hurries into the kitchen to make his tenant’s usual breakfast - a bowl of Rice Krispies in cold milk, followed by scrambled eggs and toast with ketchup. The smell of good food pushes the humming from Kyle’s mind, and he slips the ring into his pocket – right next to the engagement ring – and tries to focus on the moment.

Kyle scans the counter from left to right – all of Radu’s tenants jokingly refer to themselves as “Radu’s Irregulars”, and they more than live up to that name. At the leftmost end of the counter sits Rachel Ginty, a bohemian poet in her forties. Rachel makes her living selling her poetry in the San Francisco markets, and actually makes a good living out of it. Every once in a while, she will knock on Kyle’s door and get him to do a pencil sketch for her to attach to the poem - they sell better that way. Kyle never takes any payment for the pictures, but Rachel always manages to find time to cook a meal for him in return.

Next to Rachel sits Nathan Straussman, a film student at UCLA. Nathan is the Irregular closest in age to Kyle, but seems older – he is more intense, more focused, and always taking notes to turn into a screenplay. Kyle has been trying to avoid Nathan lately – not because the young student is annoying, but because he keeps trying to convince Kyle to storyboard his latest project. Kyle likes to think he has far too much to do without trying to help Nathan out – even though nothing could be further from the truth. Nathan is so absorbed in his conversation with Rachel, however, that Kyle doubts Nathan notices his presence. Rachel and Nathan live on the same floor of the building, and Kyle has always wondered about the two of them - granted, she’s old enough to be his mother, but something in the way they act towards one another suggests they may be more than friends.

The next two people sitting at the counter are definitely more than friends – Li Chiang, the Chinese-American manager of a local community theatre; and her lesbian partner Lee Adamson, who holds a part-time position at one of the city’s museums. They live on the same floor as Kyle. Li is tall – her father was Chinese, her mother American – with hazel, almond-shaped eyes and a lithe, athletic figure. She is always dressed sensibly in business style pants suits, turning many a man’s head. Amusing, especially seeing her devotion to Lee. The homemaker of the partnership, Lee is short, dumpy and Caucasian, with mousy blonde hair and a cute, pudgy face. While Li is the more dominant of the two – the one who pays the bills – life for the pair would be impossible if not for Lee’s efforts in the home. Lee is very shy, bordering on a recluse. Li is the loud one, full of bawdy sexual humour and armed with a fiery temper.

Lacking the concentration for humour, he nods at his housemates and eases into the spare seat next to Cleveland Rose. Out of all the Irregulars, Kyle feels the closest connection to the blind African-American jazz musician. Rose lives in the apartment below Kyle, and spends many a summer evening sitting on the fire escape belting out another blues tune on his saxophone. Kyle and most of the other tenants usually open their windows and listen as the haunting melodies drifted up past them and mingled with the ambient noise of Los Angeles. Kyle and Cleveland’s friendship grew from their mutual love of music and desire to expand their horizons. They often trade CDs, and Kyle had splurged an all-too-rare freelance cheque to buy an LP player, just so he could hear Cleveland’s old jazz records. Kyle had discovered Bird, Brubeck and many others through this “musical exchange program”, while Cleveland had developed a love for Depeche Mode, Stabbing Westward, Third Eye Blind and Everclear.

The others give Kyle his space – very little is private in a community as small as theirs, and so the story of his break-up with Alex is well known. But they group is not nosey as much as it is protective, and despite his obvious carelessness Kyle will never hear a harsh word out of these five. They will talk about Alex if he wants and, by the same token, ignore the topic until he speaks of it.

Kyle watches his five neighbours chat amongst themselves until Radu returns, arms laden with plates of food. Most of the others have finished their cereal, and were on to their second course – Radu insists every meal be a three courses – so Kyle wolfs down the Rice Krispies to catch up. Radu smiles and pours the young artist a cappuccino with double sugar – Kyle’s usual drink. The big Romanian has always had a soft spot for the dreamy, somewhat irresponsible young man, and is quick with advice or assistance. Noting the young man’s mood, he offers simply “As I always tell you, the best cure for a bad day is good coffee.”

“Yeah,” replies Kyle, “and like I always say to you, if that’s a Romanian proverb then I’ll eat one of these stools.” Radu guffaws loudly, his large belly rumbling with mirth. “You’re a good boy, Kyle,” he said between chuckles, “you always make old Radu laugh.”

Then the door to upstairs opens, and for the first time since last night, something takes Kyle’s mind away from the puzzle of the ring. His eyes grow wide as Allison Chandler enters the room. Her short reddish-blonde hair, blue eyes and full pouting lips have long made her the darling of the Frisco modelling scene. So too has her body, which is “to die for” – as Kyle already knows quite well. His relationship had died because of it.

Kyle had long admired Allison, and she had made it pretty clear that she had noticed his approval. She flirted with Kyle constantly from the moment he moved into the top-floor apartment opposite hers. As time passed, and they became friends, Allison had even posed nude for Kyle – a momentary lapse of judgement that signalled the end of Alex’s patience. It was during their argument over the nude painting – “you know all about exaggeration, don’t you,” Alex sneered, “because you’ve drawn her chest way too big” – that she’d found the door.

In truth, Kyle really did only see a friend in Allison. Sure, his 22-year-old mind has no trouble imagining the physical possibilities – lack of focus or no – but the fact remains she is a girl who had been through much the same as him. Young person moves from a less-than-stellar home life into a big city and tries to make it in an image-conscious industry. Bitterly, Kyle had told Alex that her real problem with Allison was the model had struggled, as had Kyle, while Alex had much of her life handed to her. He’d regretted the words instantly.

Allison floats over and sits next to Kyle, taking a moment to say hello and ruffle his already-unkempt hair. To one side Rachael groans and rolls her eyes. The poet has been in the building longer than anyone, Radu included, and she has little patience for the flirtatious model, who only moved in a few weeks before Kyle. While the Irregulars are protective of their own, few of the group view Allison as a member. She is an outcast among them but scarcely seems to care or notice – a fact that infuriates the close-knit group even more.

For her part, Allison ignores the rest of the diners, takes a blueberry muffin from the display case to go with her take-away coffee and dashes off to a job. Ever the show-off, she pauses at the door to blow Kyle a kiss. The jangle of the door bell is enough to set off a chain reaction of gossip and snide remarks amongst the Irregulars. Kyle once again lapses into silence, the emerald ring feeling impossibly heavy in his pocket. He’d hoped to talk to Radu about the strange encounter and get some perspective, but now knows that would be a waste of his time. The hackles of the landlord and his tenants are raised over Allison, and their knives are sharpened to blame her for the Alex break-up. Unlike him, they’re too focused on one thing to be able to take in a blue midget’s words.

Kyle finishes and leaves, dragging a cheery goodbye from somewhere within him. Despite the sour feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knows there is only one person he can talk about the ring with – Alex.

Kyle sits outside the elaborate gateway to Alex’s family home, waiting to make sure everyone is gone – particularly her older sister Amy, who has never liked him. Convincing Alex to the truth of his story will be hard enough without interfering relatives who feel he is not good enough for their little princess. The family, he imagines, would have been ecstatic when Alex moved out of the apartment above Radu’s and back to the mansion – the first time their tearaway daughter had asked for help since she set foot on the grounds of UCLA. He watches Amy’s pink BMW peel away from the coastal mansion and slips inside the gates, sauntering up to the door.

Not surprisingly, Alex answers it herself – she hates using maids – and Kyle is immediately taken aback by her beauty. But the disgruntled look on her face makes it clear it is not the time for flattery or words of love, so instead he manages to convince her to let him inside. She barely has time to close the large white doors before Kyle pulls the ring from his pocket and starts babbling madly – about the club, Tyler, the midget, the ring and the humming in his head that hasn’t stopped.

Despite her obvious scepticism, Alex is intrigued. Kyle is imaginative, she knows, but not delusional. She is still not sure about blue dwarfs, but is willing to put out her hand and take the ring. Abruptly, the humming stops. Kyle can no longer hear it, and Alex could not at any stage. But as soon as she tosses the ring back to him, dismissing it as “gaudy junk jewellery”, the humming begins again. Kyle notices that the closer the ring gets to one of his fingers, the quieter the humming gets and, telling Alex to cover her eyes, he thrusts the ring onto the middle finger of his right hand.

A brilliant, concussive flash of green light blinds Alex and knocks her backwards, over a coffee table and into a lush recliner chair. The chair tips too, and she finds herself lying on the floor upside-down, emerald sparks still streaking across her vision. Pulling herself into an upright position and rubbing her suddenly tired eyes, Alex sees Kyle in a totally new light.

Her former boyfriend is dressed head-to-toe in a strange military-style uniform. The tunic is a deep and brilliant green, the arms and legs a black that seems to suck in the very light of the room. Clasped green boots enwrap his feet and legs, and pure white gloves coat his hands. On top of the right glove is the ring, no longer a gaudy piece but now a shimmering, energy-spitting emerald. A deep green mask obscures his nose and most of his upper face, his brown eyes replaced with pupil-less white slits. In the centre of his chest is emblazoned a white oval with the same stylised green symbol that makes up the face-plate of the ring. Alex now believes Kyle’s story, without a doubt in her mind.

Rapid discussion follows, both of the young people falling over each other’s words to make themselves heard. As Alex stumbled in the brilliant light, Kyle stood in its centre and caught visions of alien faces and worlds, of ferocious battles and a great citadel in the stars. The humming that had dominated his thoughts for so many hours reached a crescendo of majestic words – a phrase that was repeated over and over as the strange costume wove itself around him. The humming is now gone and of the words he can only remember the phrase “in brightest day, in blackest night”. Neither he not Alex has any idea what to do next.

And so they do what any Californian kids do – they walk outside the house to the pool, and sit and think. Alex dabbles her bare feet in the cool, clear water while Kyle paces back and forth, picking at the stuffy confines of the costume and glancing at the ring. He wonders aloud, jokingly, if the blue man was a hobbit, and Alex splashes water on him. Amazingly, the strange suit dries itself a moment after the water hits. They repeat the experiment again, marvelling at the results.



“So it’s self-generating and self-cleaning, like something out of a movie,” Alex says. Kyle agrees and adds, “It’s a pity it’s just so damn uncomfortable. Kind of ugly, too – the white gloves are a definite no-no.” Alex says maybe he can change how it looks, make it more his own, “After all, it seems to be sort-of malleable”. He asks for a pen and paper and she finds some. He sits by the water’s edge and starts to draw. Just sketches at first, playing with the layout of the colours and the corners of the sleeves. He barely notices the effects of his doodles, but Alex watches in equal horror and amazement as the suit warps and shifts over his skin, aping the scratched designs on the paper.

Finally, Kyle settles on something he likes. The majority of the suit is now black, the chest-piece of the tunic changed to a white field. The white gloves are gone, replaced by metallic-looking green gauntlets that match boots made of the same “material”. The high black collar finishes just below his jaw line and the thin mask is gone. “Don’t know why a mask is included,” Kyle says, “but the costume won’t seem to hold it’s form without one. Must be a necessity for some reason.”

He plays around with different designs, each seeming to do little but be decorative. He starts to “think manga” and designs a solid mask that is part medieval knight, part samurai. It covers most of his face, leaving only his mouth and forehead exposed. Alex is impressed – “no one would know that it’s you under there” – and so the design is almost finished. The final change is the stylised logo – “if it’s on the ring already,” Kyle reasons, “there’s not much sense in duplicating it” – and so it is shifted off-centre. Now emblazoned over his left breast, the logo is half black and half green, resembling a yin-yang. Kyle stands, about to try and figure out how to make the suit change to fit the design, and blushes when he sees it already has. Alex laughs at his shock good-naturedly.

“So if the suit responds to your thoughts, and the suit came from the ring, what else can it do?” Alex asks. “Can it make me a suit, for example?” Kyle looks at her, an image forming in his mind. Suddenly, his hand rises of its own accord and a beam of energy shoots from the ring, swirling around Alex and creating, almost instantly, a duplicate of his suit. But instead of the blacks, whites and greens of his tunic, the suit around Alex is made totally of a shimmering green light, solid to the touch. It apes the shapes and lines of his suit, but colour-wise there seem to be only two choices: a light shade of green or a deep shade of green. Alex touches the shiny suit and it is solid beneath her fingers.


Kyle’s rampant imagination is off and running. He points the ring at the pool and concentrates just for a moment – without warning, a giant green whale is swimming in the deep end, wrestling with a miniature Captain Ahab. Two green fighter jets drop out of the sky, transforming into robots, and land in a scale-model wrestling ring. Two beefy athletes rise up from the ring itself and crash-tackle the robots, who shoot green lasers into the air ineffectually. On the other side of the pool, a palm tree is covered with melting Salvador Dahli clocks, the Mona Lisa argues with The Scream and a cartoon crab sings a musical number to a half-naked mermaid that looks exactly like Alex. All of it appearing from thin air, all of it made from the same translucent green material, all of it emanating from the ring.

Kyle is in awe. For the first time ever, he can make his imagination real. No paints to frustrate him, no teachers to criticise him, no clients to satisfy. Just his deepest, constantly shifting thoughts, etched in three dimensions and glowing brightly. He is so thrilled, so happy with his new ability that he leaps in the air and whoops with joy – and stays there. Floating above Alex, he turns somersaults in mid-air then streaks out over the ocean, trailing emerald smoke in his wake. Alex hears him before she sees him again, a sonic boom rattling the mansion’s windows as he streaks overhead and straight up into the sky.

Kyle is travelling as fast as thought, his imagination carrying him higher and higher. But then, for just a moment, he stops to think of something else… and gravity takes hold of the errant emerald streak. He plummets sickeningly back towards the water, his concentration broken. In desperation he throws his ring-hand out in front of him, creating a giant circus fat lady floating on an inflatable raft. He hits her soft green stomach and trampolines back into the air, where he is caught by two flying sumo wrestlers. Their big green hands steady him and, as he concentrates again on flying, they evaporate. By the time he returns to Alex, his other creations have also faded. The last of them, the whale, is smiling happily as it chews Ahab and sinks below the chlorinated water.

Alex’s suit has faded ,too, and she looks at Kyle with breathless awe. He is swept up in the moment, running on adrenalin and pure bliss. With a wave of the ring, four cherubic angels appear at her feet and arms, lifting her gently into the air and carrying her across to him. Kyle reaches up and takes the mask from his face, drops it to the ground and takes Alex into his arms. Before she can react he kisses her – passionately, deeply – and the small angels cheer and shoot their cupid-arrows into the sky in salute. Small green cannons form spontaneously on the mansion’s balcony and shoot rockets into the sky that explode into emerald fireworks. Tiny hearts rain down on the duo as the kiss breaks off, Kyle looking longingly into Alex’s eyes.

“Nothing happened with Allison,” he says earnestly. “Nothing. It never has and it never will, because I am just crazy over you.” Over his shoulder, Alex can see a cartoon version of Kyle wrapped in a straightjacket, drooling and gibbering over a green picture of her. “I know I’ve done a lot of things wrong and the things I said to you – God, I was such and idiot.” Arrow-shaped signs form over his head, inscribed with words like “idiot”, “loser” and “jackass”. “But this is a new start for me, for us – this is my chance to learn responsibility, to start to focus. I don’t know where this ring came from or what it’s all about, but I want to find out. And that’s only worth doing if you do it with me, Alex.”

She starts to say something, and he cuts her off. “This ring is pure imagination, it’s Aladdin’s Lamp on your finger, and it’s ours. I’m never going to get to the bottom of it without you, because you’re the only one who lets me let my mind wander. Please, Alex. Let me try again with you.”

Alex smiles, blinking back tears. “I want to know about it too, Kyle – I want to know everything about what this ring means. But that can’t be all there is to this. You say you want to change, and I know you well enough to know you’ll try – and I believe what you said about Allison. I can see – believe me, I can see – you mean everything you say.’ She points to the cherubs, the cannons and the madman, and Kyle chuckles softly. “But I have to know this is about us and not about the ring. I can see your heart, it’s out there in 3D, but I want to be in your heart. Not just your ring-partner.”

Kyle stops for a moment, thinking. His left hand drops to where his pocket used to be and the strange costume ripples around his fingers. He dips into the suit and comes back up with the ring box. Kyle flips the ring box open and drops to a knee. Alex starts crying even more. “This isn’t about the ring,” he says, flicking the green ring dismissively with his thumb. “It’s about this ring. It’s about us.” And with that, he asks her to marry him.

Alex cannot say “yes” fast enough, and the couple embrace and kiss again. He slides the small engagement ring onto her finger and they laugh and cry together. Kyle kisses her again, wrapping her up in his arms and lifting them both a few feet into the air. They spin and circle, air-dancing over the surface of the pool as an emerald orchestra rises from its depths and plays a slow-dance. Several hundred spontaneously-generated audience members give them a standing ovation. Kyle’s mind wanders as he loses himself in his thoughts and his reborn love.

Later, as they sit calmly by the pool and lounge in each other’s embrace, Alex is distracted to find that many of Kyle’s thoughts literally flit, swoop and dive around her. The more he believes in something he talks about, the more likely it is to form around them. When an emerald copy of the two of them in bed together begins to materialise, Alex tells her fiancé he needs to “exercise a little control”. Kyle thinks he has a better solution and tries to take off the ring… only to find it won’t move. No matter what he or Alex does – including trying some detergent to slide it off – the ring remains firm on his finger. Kyle panics slightly and ghostly verdant vapours howl and groan around them. As always, Alex brings him back under control and, with some concentration, Kyle manages to shut the “spirits” off. He is beginning to understand the difference between a thought and “an imagination”, as he calls them, and learns slowly how to stop his every thought appearing. In the process, he discovers how to dissolve the strange costume back into his own clothes.

The transformation is just in time – no sooner have his clothes melted back onto him than Alex’s mother and father come out onto the pool deck. At first surprised by Kyle’s presence, they are soon delighted to hear of the engagement. Unlike Amy, Alex’s parents have always been supportive of their daughter’s choice, believing him to be the creative, whimsical input needed to balance her strong-minded, artistic sensibilities. And because Kyle’s own family background is so catastrophic, he is more likely to encourage their daughter to come visit Rhiannon and Oliver, stopping a total breakdown in the DeWitt family. A chat turns to celebratory drinks, and then to dinner and dessert, throughout which a returned Amy scowls at Kyle. But he takes no notice whatsoever. He has his love, the ring and a bright new future ahead of him – one condescending, spinster sister is not enough to ruin his mood.

Alex sees Kyle off at the door – she is on the early shift for the newspaper. Although happy to be engaged, she feels they had best continue to live apart. “For now at least… nothing else is going to go slow with that around,” she points to the ring, “and I don’t want to ruin this for all the world.” They kiss goodnight, pausing midway to watch a falling star over the ocean. “The perfect ending,” Kyle whispers into her lips.

He trots out into the street. Alex’s parents were told a cab was waiting, but Kyle never had any intention save “the emerald express”. He raises the ring as his costume forms around him, taking to the air buoyed by his own confidence and imagination. In his wake he trails a shooting star and, before he goes too far, he sends a tiny emerald butterfly back to Alex. It meets her, and lands on her finger, before she reaches the door. She turns and blows him a kiss, then watches in continued amazement as her boyfriend – fiancé – streaks into the night sky.

Nothing can bring Kyle down now – nothing at all. The ring makes anything possible, provided one can imagine it and concentrate on it. Imagination has never been a problem, and concentration is easy to learn when the rewards are this tangible. His ease and skill in flight comes from the hours he spent “flying” as a child. In his mind’s eye, he would rise from his bed in their small two-bedroom walk-in, pass straight through the roof and into the air, dipping and soaring amongst jet fighters and alien spaceships and super-heroes.

Super-heroes. Men and women with powers beyond the norm. Kyle laughs out loud. No longer confined to the realm of fiction were they. After dreaming it for most of his life, Kyle has become a super-hero. If the ring can be used to make shapes, then it could be used to create all sorts of tools. He pauses in mid-air and tries an experiment. It takes a moment, but he is able to stay aloft and, at the same time, create a large science-fiction style gun. He pulls the trigger and is knocked back by the recoil, a blaze of emerald energy spewing from the barrel. He bids the weapon vanish and, in the same motion, whips up an ornate Japanese battle shield, complete with carved dragons and spiked edges. In his other hand forms an enormous mace, which he points at empty air. “Bang!” he cries, and the head of the mace leaps out on a hidden spring and flies forwards.

He always wanted to be a hero, to help other people. The impulse had come from two separate places. One was his father, a career military man who left his family to perform a top-secret mission and never returned. The other was an experience he had when he was eight, and a fireman saved him from the burning ruins of their then-house. It left such an impression on him that for months he tried to focus on getting into fire fighting or another public service. But in the end any endeavour gave in, as always, to drawing. Art was something he did because it was inside of him – the urge to create, to get those thousands of ideas out of his head and into the real world, and hopefully win some fans and fame along the way. But now he can use that same imagination to help others – create ways to get them out of trouble, to stop crimes, to be a hero and to be famous in a completely different way. The little blue man had said to him “do with it as you must”. He can think of nothing better than making a name for himself in spectacular fashion.

That night, no light shines brighter in the city by the Bay than the light from Kyle’s ring. He seems to be everywhere at once, diving and swooping through the hilly streets. A giant green elephant stops a robbery by sitting on the getaway car. An army of crazed banana-wielding pygmies prowl the streets, preventing muggings. Sewer alligators spring up from manholes to stop a ram-raid. A convenience store shoot-out ends when a group of zombie samurai slice through the criminals’ weapons. Police, bystanders and almost-victims alike are greeted by a smiling man in black and green armour, summoning green creatures from thin air to protect and help them. And throughout it all Kyle Rayner finds himself free for the first time, his mind able to expand beyond the confines of the page and accomplish something tangible. For the first time in his life, he has focus.

His final act on his first night is to put out a building fire. After introducing himself to the stunned and weary firemen, Kyle creates a pair of ludicrous x-ray goggles and looks through the building to see the people inside. He flies up level with them and steels himself. First he creates a force-field to shield himself from the flames. Then he mutters to himself “time to see if all those years of Space Ghost were worth my time”. Reaching out with a tentative hand, Kyle imagines himself passing through the very wall of the building… and does. He pushes aside any pride and concentrates on his task, fearful he will lose focus and materialise half in, half out. Agonisingly slowly, he pushes himself through the wall – then moves at the speed of thought to gather up the last few people inside the building.

Each victim is wrapped up in their own personal train carriage, complete with bed and breathing mask, as Kyle creates a locomotive around himself. The emerald express crashes out through the building’s front doors, the carriages then disconnecting and delivering their passengers to waiting emergency workers. Kyle turns his attention to the building and drops a giant emerald dome over it, creating a vacuum. With no oxygen to consume the fire dies out. Fire fighters drop their hoses with relief and run to meet the strange costumed man. Kyle takes it all in, revelling in the good he has done and the fame he is achieving. A familiar voice rings out over the crowd – “hey, hero!” – and Kyle turns just in time for Alex to snap his photo. Her camera winds on as her partner, a reporter, struggles through to get comment. TV push through also, and the hysteria in the crowd starts to rise. Realising the situation, Kyle raises his force-field once again and flies up through the people, into the air and away.

Seeing Alex makes Kyle realise how much time he has spent “righting wrongs and other derring-do”. He flies back towards his top-floor apartment, moving so fast he is hard to see. He rushes headlong at the wall, turning intangible at the last possible second and landing perfectly in his living room. He whoops with glee, then orders the costume off of him. All too quickly he is overcome with a sense of fatigue. Before he can take more than a few steps he is beset by a massive headache, bordering on migraine. Grunting in pain but still elated over his evening, Kyle drops two aspirin, falls onto his bed and passes out.

Meanwhile, news of his exploits travels fast through San Francisco. Alex’s newspaper puts out a special edition, her close-up shot of Kyle filling most of the front page. She is amazed by the effectiveness of his mask – it seems to obscure his face even more than she remembers, almost as if his desire to have a “secret identity” manifests itself through the costume generated by the ring. She muses that, had she not been there to see his first display of power, she would have had no idea her fiancé was beneath the mask.

Her excited editors sell her photo through the wire services and it is an instant seller – picked up coast-to-coast. Likewise, the brief television footage shot from a distance by the harried news crew is beamed out. Network powerbrokers share profanity-laden mobile phone calls, haggling over the price of the precious footage. It is not as clear as Alex’s photo, but still shows the amazing green man in action. Within a few hours, Kyle’s heroic deeds – coupled with eye-witness testimony of police officers, fire fighters and innocent bystanders – are headline news across television, radio, print and the internet.

News of Kyle is bounced from satellite to satellite across the United States – and intercepted by a small yellow spacecraft, lurking below the surface of the San Francisco Bay. The ship’s sole occupant is alerted to the footage via a pre-programmed computer signal. Her lithe female form rises from a sleeping chamber, instantly alert. She dresses herself swiftly in a form-fitting black jumpsuit and stalks towards the cabin. The sleeping chamber and the underwater seclusion had been necessary. The Thanagarian ship she detected in earth orbit forced an unusual degree of patience upon her, but now she is confident the time to strike has arrived. All that is left is to study the computer system and determine her target.

The woman passes through the central area of the small ship, passing by two large windows and a trophy display. The hideous ornaments include severed and mounted heads of a dozen alien races, as well as hands, tentacles and other digits. Each of the heads is adorned with a deep green mask, and each limb bears the same jewellery – an emerald ring with a stylised face-plate. Beneath each display is a plaque, bearing words in an alien language and, below that again stands strangely familiar objects. Each one somewhat resembles an old oil lantern, but is made of the same material as the rings. Each one is slightly different to the other, varying in size and shape no doubt to accommodate their former owners. The “glass” inside each “lantern” is shattered, whatever fire they once contained extinguished long ago.

She pays no attention to her trophies as she passes – not a glimmer of recognition not pride. This woman is a hunter, and she has many more targets to kill before her display is worthy of even the slightest pride. Today’s hunt is simply one step closer to her ultimate goal: the death of anyone – male, female, humanoid or alien – who bears one of the rings.

Yrra Cynril takes her place in the cockpit and is welcomed by the computer system. She barks an order at it in her native tongue and the screen lights up with footage of Kyle Rayner flying away from the crowd, of grateful residents praising their mysterious hero. Yrra’s cold eyes seem to ignite as footage of the fire itself is shown – Kyle vanishing into the side of the building, the emerald locomotive bursting back outside, the verdant dome snuffing the flames. More barked commands, and the computer zooms in as much as possible on Kyle’s face. Despite distortion in the enlarged image, Yrra leans in close for a long hard look. Then she licks her lips, like a hungry wolf looking over a herd of sheep.

Hours pass, and Kyle is still asleep. Blissfully unaware of his sudden fame, he sleeps off the headache his nocturnal activities brought upon him. His phone rings several times, each call ignored by human and answered by machine. The first is Alex. She speaks in hushed, excited tones, wanting him to call her immediately and reminding him how much she loves him. The second is Amy, Alex’s sister. In clipped tones, she says she wants to meet Kyle and talk, and will be at the Heretic Club from eight onwards. The third call also revolves around the Heretic – a jilted, drunken Tyler spews bile into the phone line, talking about abandonment and failing friendships. He says he will be at the club tonight if Kyle “has the guts” to show, and prove his loyalty.

The final call, however, stabs through Kyle’s slumber and brings him bolt upright. The whining, nasal toes of his agent, Simone Montaigne, hold more power than even the ring. If Hitler could squeeze into a leopard-print mini-skirt and an atrociously coloured ribbed jumper, he could be Simone’s twin. She was rabid with her clients, always pushing them into choosing the artist she had already decided was right for the job. Which, for the most part, worked in Kyle’s favour. After looking at his portfolio, Simone had instantly set him up with a Hawaiian tour business, painting watercolour facsimiles of famous landmarks. He’d finished the job on time (for once), earning not only the respect of the company, but also the admiration of Simone.

It was apparent to Kyle now that, while Simone’s admiration may mean she is generous with work, it also means she expects you to work better and quicker. Kyle was only on his second job for Simone - he hated to think what artists that had been working with her for years felt like. The second job Simone had found for Kyle seemed fairly innocent on the surface, if a little more high-profile than he was used to. Alternia, one of the hottest bands on the local alternative scene, had commissioned Simone to find them an artist. They wanted a cover for their new album. Not just a cover, but interior illustrations and promotional artwork. Simone had unerringly recommended Kyle, showing off his previous album covers for little-known club bands and grunge compilations.

It was a $500 a month retainer, plus a slice of the album’s profits. A small slice, to be sure (made even smaller once Simone took her 15% cut), but still the sort of job Kyle would have to be insane to turn down. Happily, he took the job; Simone’s praise for the watercolours still ringing in his ears.

But over the phone, that praise soon turns to outright slander. A few shrieking words makes it very clear to a headache-fuddled Kyle that, no matter how good the cover he turns it, Simone will insist it can be better. He had been through twelve revisions alone prior to finding the ring and, according to the rapidly lengthening message on his machine, Simone had hated them all. In fact, her displeasure was emphasised by the sound of 12 sheets of paper being ripped into four evenly sized pieces, then the dial tone.

Wincing more from frustration than the lingering pain in his temples, Kyle staggers out of bed and takes a quick shower. Refreshed, he sits down in his studio and begins to draw. Then he pauses, taking a moment to let the final image form in his mind. He raises his hand and gestures to the corner of the room – emerald light sketches the concept out in three dimensions. Kyle alternates between furious line work and swivelling to see the hard-light sculpture, cutting down what would have been a good two hours of drawing to minutes.

The dragon coiling around a very distressed Simone is especially good, he thinks to himself. There could be a little more blood dripping out of her pained mouth, though. It might even be a good piece for the album, provided he “rearranges” Simone enough to get it past her.

But that he reasons, can wait. First he returns Alex’s call, both of them babbling in turn over the phone about his nocturnal activities. Then they remember phone lines can be traced, and every tabloid reporter in San Francisco would be looking for Kyle. Alex suggests they meet, and Kyle suggests the Heretic. He arranges their meeting for nine – hopefully giving him enough time to deal with both Amy and Tyler. She agrees.

Kyle hits the Heretic at seven that evening, well aware Tyler will have arrived. His friend has, in fact, been at the club since it opened for staff at five, according to the barman. “Why would you let him start drinking that early?” Kyle asks. The barman, leering, says Tyler’s money is “as green as anyone else’s. Besides I’m a barman, not your friend’s keeper.” It takes all of Kyle’s control not to plop a shining emerald plunger over the man’s grinning face.

Control is the word of the night – Tyler is in near hysterics, charged up with self-important rage and full, yet again, of booze. He’s had a lot of time to think but sadly has used it for paranoia instead. Kyle tries to calm him down but fails miserably, especially when he tries to share his good news by asking Tyler to be his best man. The failed architect launches into a vitriolic assault, telling Kyle he uses people and then throws them away like they’re worthless. “When things go bad, everyone has to shoulder the burden and lift poor old Kyle Rayner – my daddy’s gone, my mummy hates me, my girlfriend left me, boo hoo hoo,” Tyler spits. “Woe betide anyone else with problems, anyone else who could do with a hand, because unless we’ve made direct eye contact with Mr Dreamy, he wouldn’t even know we were fucking alive!”

Tyler storms out, spilling a drink on Kyle in the process. The few people gathered in the club this early turn and laugh – everything in a nightclub is funny when it’s happening to someone else. Frustrated and annoyed, Kyle goes to the bathroom to clean himself off.

When he returns, he is stunned to see the woman who has taken over Tyler’s usual seat. She would have to be well over six feet tall when standing, and her mocha skin and shining black hair seems to have captivated every man in the room. She is sipping lightly at a drink, constantly licking her lips as if the taste is new to her. Trying not to stare too hard, Kyle resumes his seat. Her voice, when she speaks to him, is like syrup. “I heard what your friend said, thought it was pretty inappropriate and unfair.” Her accent is intriguing – Kyle guesses she is Hawaiian, perhaps a few years older than him. “I’ve always thought people rely too much on automatic help and, when they don’t get it, like to blame others for their inability to communicate.”

The woman – she says her name is Yirrah – speaks in a way Kyle has never heard before. Like a foreigner practicing her English, her mouth rounds too much to form words and the sounds have an alien quality to them. Nevertheless, the duo spark up quite a conversation – about life, friends and even loss. Yirrah says she comes from a place that no longer exists, and she has wandered since she lost her family. She can never go home again. Kyle sympathises – his father ran out on him and his mother when he was just a child, never to be seen again. His relationship with his mother, meanwhile, is “nothing to write home about… not every woman is Mrs Brady, you know”. Yirrah says she is envious, because at least Kyle has a place to go if necessary. She has nothing. Seeing the sadness in her eyes, Kyle does the gentlemanly thing and invites her to dance. The music is pumping and throbbing, and maybe by losing herself in the beat she can forget her troubles for a while. It is a gesture of friendship, even if he can’t quite take his eyes off her exquisite body.

On the dance floor, everything changes. Yirrah’s demeanour rockets from melancholy to nymphomania, her hands darting across Kyle’s chest, back and legs. She moves through the music like an animal on heat, her dancing becoming more and more sexual with every pulse of sound. She wipes at the sweat running across her chest, the perspiration soaking her light-coloured top and turning it transparent. She grinds her hips against Kyle’s and breathes heavily, panting into his ear whenever she can move her face close enough. Kyle is intoxicated in her scent and her movement, hypnotised and turned on like never before. All of a sudden his mind blanks, all thoughts of Alex and engagements driven from his mind. He reaches out and grabs Yirrah roughly, pulling her towards him and letting his hands roam across her.

The couple whirl across the dance floor and then Kyle catches sight of Amy. His future sister-in-law’s ever-present scowl has deepened, face flushed with indignation and rage. Her look is more scarlet than even her tailored pants suit, and she turns on a heel and strides back towards the door. The shock and embarrassment break though the fever in Kyle’s mind and he lets go of Yirrah, trying to push his way through the throngs of people and catch up to Amy. But Yirrah is not ready to let him go just yet. Her arm strikes out like a cobra and grabs him by the wrist. Kyle turns as she pulls close. “Come with me,” she whispers, voice thick with innuendo. “I want you.”

For a moment, the spell is cast again – but only for a moment. Kyle has no idea why this woman affected him as she did, but his mind is clear now. He refuses, and tries to pull away. Yirrah holds fast, begging him once more to come with her. “And I said no!” Kyle shouts, drawing the attention of those close. “Let go of me!”

“Fine,” says Yirrah, releasing his wrist. She draws her hands together, knitting the fingers but keeping her palms apart. “Then we do it right here.” She snarls and drives her palms together, the impact making a small sonic boom. The force of the sound hurls Kyle and several other dancers outwards, collecting other patrons in their paths and driving them all into the walls. The music stops abruptly, as if it were cancelled out by the shock of Yirrah’s palms. Wincing in pain, Kyle pulls himself upright and looks back towards “that crazy woman”… and receives a sudden education in super-heroing.

Her tight white dancing clothes are gone, replaced with a suit of wicked, jagged armour. Kyle’s artistic eyes take in the sight instantly. Looking like a cross between amber coral and steel, the suit winds itself around her long, lithe form – making her attractive and deadly in equal measures. From her ears dangle large discs, each emblazoned with the same stylised design as his ring. Her black body stocking looks to be woven from incredibly fine chain mail, only hints of her brown skin peering through. Her arms are covered in boxes and holsters for an array of weaponry – daggers, grenades, discs and other things Kyle has never seen before. A walking armoury, a sexy hunter. “Victoria’s Secret weapon,” he breathes.

She looks at him with a hunter’s gaze. “My name,” she says in that same foreign tone “is Yrra Cynril of the planet Xanshi.” She snarls again – a feral, animal noise from deep in her throat. “But all your kind needs to call me, Green Lantern, is Fatality.”

The warrior woman raises her arm and a series of small projectiles fly from her fingertips. Acting purely on instinct, Kyle raises his ring and creates a force-field… but the projectiles bounce off, zigzagging around the room and impaling themselves into other patrons. Each stricken dancer stiffens and falls to the ground, dead. “I thought innocent bystanders were a Green Lantern’s first priority,” Fatality laughs. “Perhaps this will be more interesting than I’d thought.”

Kyle changes tactics. With a flash of emerald light his costume forms around him and, at the same time, he takes to the air and drives the emerald force field into Fatality. She cries out in shock as he connects, then orders the barrier to change shape and wrap around her. Within seconds, his attacker is encased in a glowing iron maiden, a small sign on its centre proclaiming “Do Not Open Until 2099”.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re on about, lady,” Kyle shouts through the screams of fleeing patrons, “or where Xanshi is, but on this planet there’s a little thing called murder.” He tightens his fist and the iron maiden shrinks, tightening around its captive. “But don’t worry, I’ll make sure to introduce you to some people who know all about that – ever heard of prison?”

For a moment, there is no response. Then a high-pitched sound cuts through the joints in the iron maiden, gouging itself into Kyle’s mind and disrupting his concentration. He tries to resist but fails, the iron maiden dissolving and setting Fatality free. “You’re willing to fight,” she says, grinning. “Good.” She reaches around and pulls two yellow daggers from holsters over her elbows and leaps towards Kyle. He raises an arm above his head and creates a massive green steering wheel which belches out an airbag. The daggers dig into the cushion but do not pierce it, and its elastic spring throws Fatality a few steps backwards. The hunter pauses, her vengeful façade broken at last. “But those were yellow daggers,” her eyes widen in disbelief, “yellow! You should be cutlets…”

Kyle gives her no time to recover. The steering wheel gives way to a battering ram which pummels Fatality in the stomach. From its head unfurl two hydraulic tentacles, each with three gripper-fingers. The arms lace around her wrists and their fingers dig into her armour, holding her fast. Kyle walks across – but not too close – and looks at her. “What exactly is your damage?” He asks. “And why do you keep calling me a Green Lantern?”

Fatality looks up at him, spitting purple blood from a split lip. “Because that is what you are, what all bearers of the rings are called – foul Green Lanterns, killers of worlds,” she hisses. “Self-proclaimed protectors and messiahs, drunk with power and arrogance, succeeding in the small things but oh so lacking in the big picture.” She is babbling, fighting off her shock over the daggers and the bruising to her stomach. “I prey on your kind, I will hunt down every last one of you,” Fatality says. “Because of your kind, I am the last of mine – a balance I will redress. You are not the first I have hunted, nor will you be the last…” her left boot raises slightly from the floor, “you are just different!”

A blade flicks out from her toe and fires itself at Kyle, glancing his right side and opening a large, long wound. He grunts in pain, concentration weakened just enough for Fatality to break loose of his creation. As she pulls free she punches him across the face, spiked knuckles biting into his mask and jaw. “The daggers should have killed you, and your accursed ring shouldn’t be able to restrain my yellow armour,” she says. “The rules, it would seem, have changed. Therefore, so does the hunt.” She takes one of the discs slung around her waist and throws it downwards, filling the room with a yellow, sulphur-smelling cloud. Kyle can hear her voice trailing away as she runs out of the club. “But if I could deal with Rot Lop Fan, then I can deal with you.”

Gripping his bloody side with his left hand, Kyle creates a giant fan to dispel the smoke. The very taste of it makes him cough and splutter, and he almost retches onto the floor. He stiffens in pain as he straightens, a glowing green band-air holding his side together. He staggers out through the ruined club and into the back alleyway – where he first received the ring – in just enough time to see Fatality crouched on the ground, holding a fist-sized chunk of what looks like green glass. He shouts for her to stop, but she merely leers at him before turning and running. Desperately, he fires a green grappling hook at her but misses. Her retreating figure ripples and shimmers, then blends into the streets beyond. “Camouflage,” Kyle spits. “Great.”

Behind him he can hear sirens, and his first instinct is to take off into the skies, get away from the scene. But thoughts of Alex stop him. This is his responsibility now. It was all fun and games last night, beating up the bad guys and leaving them for the cops. But this time it’s different – people are dead, and in some ways it’s his fault. He turns and walks back into the club, standing as tall as possible despite the pain. He goes up to a wide-eyed officer and, remembering the name Fatality used, introduces himself as “The Green Lantern”. To his surprise, the police are happy to see him – wary, but pleased. One comments that the damage “probably would’ve been worse” had he not been on the scene.

An EMT is called over to attend to his wound while he waits for the officer in charge. Cleaned and bandaged, Kyle is introduced to detective Guy Gardner, head of the SFPD’s Special Crimes Unit. A tall, strapping man with a shock of orange, bowl-cut hair, Gardner is all attitude. He is gruff and suspicious with Kyle, unlike the other officers, and wants a blow-by-blow account of the battle. He and Kyle arc instantly, the younger man resenting the cop’s chip-on-the-shoulder tone and accusations. But he resists the temptation to soften the story, and shamefully admits to having deflected the darts that killed the dancers. His admission seems to break Gardner’s stoic face. “So you’re honest then,” he says. “Makes a nice change.” The tension eases slightly, and Gardner offers to walk Kyle through the crime scene. “Anything you can tell us would be a help… maybe.” Kyle smiles beneath the mask. One all.

Meanwhile, Amy is a few blocks away in her car, fuming. She knew Alex was being far too naïve and forgiving, letting the creep Kyle worm his way back into their lives. Well, this was the end of that rubbish. Floozing all over that Hawaiian women was the last mistake he was going to make. She gooses the pedal, trying to get more speed out of the car without breaking the limit. She wanted to get home and tell Alex, break up their stupid relationship once and for all and have her family back. Her dour reverie is interrupted, however, by a thud from above. Amy screams and throws on the breaks as yellow-gloved fingers tear through the car’s roof and pull backwards. The car screeches to a halt as Fatality pulls her way through, then grabs Amy roughly by the hair. “You have the stink of a Green Lantern all over you,” she says, using her other hand to wave a small Geiger counter-like device over the hysterical woman. “And I think I know where you’re headed.”

It takes another half hour for Gardner to finish the tour and the questions – a half hour Kyle feels is wasted. “Listen to me, Greenie,” Gardner says, “the mayor may think you’re the best thing to hit this town since the 49ers, but I haven’t made up my mind just yet. What makes you think you can find this lunatic anyway?” Kyle pauses for a moment – he has no answers. “For now,” says Gardner, “I think you’d best give me your name and somewhere we can contact you.” Kyle laughs and says that isn’t possible. Gardner’s face flushes, and his temper rises. He reaches for his handcuffs and tries to snap them around Kyle’s wrists. But he is a second too late – Kyle is now intangible, and he floats up and through the roof with an ironic wave goodbye. Gardner throws the cuffs to the ground, in a rage, and punches a hole in a nearby wall. Several officers come across to calm him while other stare in amazement at Kyle’s exit.

Soaring up and out of the city, Kyle heads towards Alex’s family home. Surely she’s heard the news of the battle by now and, hopefully, she’s had the sense to stay there and wait for him. When he reaches the mansion he grimaces – Amy’s car is parked below. But his frustration soon turns to shock, for a careful look reveals the car’s roof is missing. Kyle streaks towards the ground and drops lightly by the doorway. Secret identities be damned, his fiancée may well be in trouble. He doesn’t stop to bother with the door and instead phases straight through, striding into the living room calling Alex’s name. There is no reply.

He feels like a prowler, but he continues onwards. If he’s lucky, no one’s home – no one except whoever damaged Amy’s car. That’s what worries him the most – if Fatality has somehow found her way here. Kyle creates a green baseball bat and continues walking through the echoing, empty mansion. Funny that he’s never noticed how big the place is – even when he and Alex were alone, the place seemed small and intimate. He rounds the corner into the kitchen, past the family photos on the walls and onto the tiles. His boots click on the terracotta. Ahead of him, on the breakfast bar, is a note. He walks over to it, sees it is written in Alex’s handwriting. “Saw the bust-up on TV,” it says, “headed for the office.” Kyle exhales loudly in relief. She’s not here. She’s safe.

Then he looks again and notices another line on the note – it looks like Alex’s writing, but is not quite right. A cold wind passes through his guts as he reads the words “left a surprise for you in the fridge”. Kyle turns to look at the stainless steel refrigerator, humming quietly in the corner. For a moment, the humming sounds like the ring did, moments before he put it on for the first time. Hesitant steps lead him over to the appliance, and he reaches gingerly for the handle. Raising the bat up in readiness for an ambush, a trap, whatever, he pulls it open.

And sees Alex.

Kyle drops the bat and falls to his knees, spasms wracking his body and bile rising in his throat. He clutches himself tightly, wailing now, as the shudders flow through him and the eyelets of his mask fill with tears. He looks up again at her – she is unmistakably dead. His wail of grief continues, echoing through the empty mansion. His breath with come only in ragged gasps as his mind reels, trying to comprehend the sight before him. The Green Lantern costume unravels and warps around him, losing its cohesion and fluxing as his concentration shifts solely to his pain and loss. Finally he is left huddled on the floor, crying loudly, dressed in his street clothes. He is no longer any kind of hero, any kind of powerful being – he is just a man, wracked with the loss of his love.

He cries until there are no more tears, and he dry retches with sickness. In the silence that follows, broken only by his gasping breath, Kyle hears a low laugh. More of a snicker, a “tutting” of impatience and disappointment. An all-too familiar voice murmurs, “I remember how you feel.”

Fatality is perched on the breakfast bar, out now from whatever hiding place she had found. Her knees are pulled up to her chest and she cradles a long, hideously-bladed staff across her elbows. “Imagine what you’re feeling now, a hundred thousand times over,” she says, any trace of mirth gone. “A thousand fold. A million – even a billion – times more acute and painful. That’s what you Lanterns gave to me. A lifetime without love, without family, without brothers or sisters or people of my own kind.”

She slides gracefully up from the bar and slinks across the kitchen, twirling the staff slowly. Kyle still does not look at her, his face is burrowed in his shaking hands. “You have so much power, you Green Lanterns, and it’s all governed by control, isn’t it? Imagination, thought, willpower… which, to me, is little more than false nobility, delusion and arrogance!” Her voice becomes shrill and she brings the staff’s blade across, slashing the kitchen cupboards into kindling. “You think you can save everyone, bring peace and harmony to the universe well… you can’t. Anything you accomplish is little, useless, in the big picture. One of you tried to save my world from destruction and, instead, you hastened it’s demise!” Another single blow, another block of furniture destroyed. She walks closer to Kyle, dropping down on her haunches and placing the butt of the staff at the nape of his neck. “So now I have hastened yours, little Lantern,” she whispers. “You have felt my pain, now you will feel my blade.”

Fatality stands, twirls the staff once and thrusts forward with the blade. It never reaches its target. A grotesquely-muscled barbarian warrior grabs the staff from behind, trapping it tight in emerald fingers. As Fatality turns, the barbarian head butts her, driving the horns of his helmet deep into her forehead. She cries out in pain and falls backwards, only to be punched in the spine by a midget wrestler wearing a green hood. The barbarian brings a huge knee into her midsection and doubles her over, the midget jumping onto her back and pummelling her about the shoulders.

Behind them all, Kyle rises up. A scream of rage erupts from his mouth as the uniform of the Green Lanterns swirls and forms around him once more. Over his hands form spiked gloves which he drives into Fatality again and again. The barbarian and the midget fade as Kyle hits his foe with a double uppercut, sending her careening through the glass window and out to the pool area. She gestures wildly and her staff flies back to her – but Kyle is ready and, as she brings it up, he slices it in half with a pirate’s cutlass. Regaining her composure, Fatality drops low and trips him up with a sweeping kick. A green trampoline forms under him and flips him back over.

Fatality grins. “Your prowess is excellent – you’re one of the more inventive Lanterns I’ve faced.” She drops the ruined halves of her staff. “But not one of the more experienced. Last time was a delaying tactic – now I’m on the offensive.” From her belt she produces a small cylinder, which she tosses lightly into the air. Amazingly it hangs, suspended in the moment, and begins to spin. As it picks up speed, Kyle feels his perceptions alter and shift. He goes deaf suddenly, and an overwhelming smell fills his nostrils. His hearing returns for a moment, long enough to hear Fatality brag about a previous kill – “A Lantern impervious to yellow because he was blind and had no concept of colour… I took away his hearing” – and then silence again.

He cannot see her, and his head is swimming. Vision blurs and perceptions shift constantly – he cannot think enough to create anything with the ring. Fatality circles behind him and lashes out – sickening, precise blows to vulnerable spots. Kyle bellows with pain and rage and stabs out with punches and kicks, none of them having the remotest chance of connecting with their target. He tries to fly up and out of harm’s way and instead crashes headlong into the ground – he is all turned around.

A flurry of blows stagger him, each blade and weapon seeming to hit an existing wound and worsen it. Fatality delivers a savage blow to the back of his head with a steel cudgel, sending him forwards and onto the edge of the pool. He gazes into the rippling water, seeing nothing at first… and then a strong, clear image, better than his usual vision. His sight and other sense are being addled by Fatality’s device – so addled that the real-life ripples in the pool are cancelled out. The water, to his sight, has become a mirror – and in its dead centre he can see the spinning device.

His foe stands behind him and places her foot on his neck, no doubt readying a final blow and a platitude he’s glad he cannot hear. The level of concentration, of willpower, of focus needed is almost more than he can muster. But that’s what it’s always been about, hasn’t it? Kyle Rayner’s lack of focus… on his work, on his art, on Alex and his friends. That lack of focus has cost him much in his 23 years, and now it could cost his life.

“That… is not… going… to happen,” he says, even though he cannot hear the words. With s supreme force of will, Kyle manages to shine a pencil-thin green laser out from the ring, sending it high into the sky. It misses its target and continues star wards… but again through concentration, Kyle bends the thin beam back around. This time it slices through the spinning device, returning the world to normal.

Fatality staggers forward as Kyle turns intangible – she then loses her footing completely and falls face-first into the pool. She rises for a moment, coughing up the strange liquid that has filled her lungs and fighting for buoyancy. Finally she drags herself back onto the decking, hacking up saltwater and pulling herself upright. She looks around like a panicked animal, her prey nowhere to be seen.

The silence is broken with a rush of wind. As Kyle flies past Fatality, he lashes out with a green broadsword. There is a sickening impact and the sabre rattles with force – Fatality’s left hand flies free from the limb, trailing blood, and lands in the pool. The warrior woman shrieks but continues to fight, pushing past the pain and using it to fuel a murderous rage. As Kyle lands, she hits him in the face with he bloody stump, clouding his vision, and drives a pointed glove into his right shoulder. He barely seems to notice, shaking the weapon free and delivering an emerald sledgehammer blow that brings her to her knees.

She drops to the ground, cradling the severed arm, and Kyle stands over her. He raises the sledgehammer, not saying a word. He can hear the ring humming loudly in his thoughts again, as clear and as savage as it was before he first wore the device. But he ignores this, too – for the first time in his life, he is focused on one thing and one thing alone. A vision of Alex burning in his mind, Kyle starts to bring the hammer down across the back of Fatality’s neck.

Less than a second before the impact the sledgehammer wavers like an old mirage. It grows lighter in his hands and dissolves, nothing more than emerald streaks passing over Fatality. What was to be a killing blow instead ends as nothing – a silent fading of a weapon. The hum in Kyle’s mind silences also and, for the first time since he wore the ring, he feels… ordinary. The pain in his shoulder is suddenly acute, but he stares instead at his empty hands. “The ring…” he mouths, “it’s dead.”

Fatality says nothing, seizing the opportunity to take another yellow dagger from her belt and drive it into Kyle’s ribs. The force bends him over and he coughs up a crimson burst of blood, staggering back into the deck chairs and collapsing. He tries to rise and finds he can’t – he can barely breathe with the dagger so deep in his guts. He pushes through the cloudiness of his vision and sees Fatality drag a small disc from her boot and slap it agonizingly over the stump of her left arm. With a puff of heat, the small device wraps around the ruined limb and cauterizes the wound. Protected, disinfected and anaesthetised, Fatality glares at the limb and then at Kyle, then moves towards him.

She congratulates him on “a good fight… even if the outcome was never really in doubt” and holds up the green glass rock she found in the alleyway. This, she tells a barely conscious Kyle, was how she found him – the glass held the same power as his ring, and by hooking it to her devices she was able to follow “the stink of your energy” back to the mansion. Now, she says, she is going to beat him to death with his own power… then eat his remains. “You should be honoured – my people only ritually devour the most worthy adversaries. Then your ring and uniform will adorn my trophy wall.”

Fatality strikes with the green glass – it is far more solid than it appears, and Kyle feels a tooth fly loose in his beleaguered jaw. Barely conscious, he raises his right hand to block a second blow… and everything changes. The piece of glass stops in mid-air, resisting all of Fatality’s efforts to push it down. Then it flares with green fire and electricity, driving Kyle’s attacker back and lancing bolts of energy deep into her armour. The ring is drawn to the glass like a magnet, striking its centre and staying fast. The hum returns to Kyle’s mind – louder and stronger yet again – and the green glass morphs and re-shapes into a stylised lantern. As if in a dream, Kyle reaches out with his left hand to grasp the handle of the lantern, noting its face-plate matches the chest logo he designed. An unearthly voice breaks through the hum – the voice of the small blue man who gave him the ring – and intones…
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power ---
Green Lantern’s light!
The solemn oath fades into a final pulse of energy and Kyle stands. The ring leaps and crackles with green light, his uniform is repaired. Glowing green bandages and sutures bind his numerous wounds, and a tiny green dentist appears suddenly by his mouth, sealing down the loosened tooth. He is refreshed – the injuries are still there but they are manageable, and his weapon, the ring itself, hums loudly in his thoughts.

Kyle looks down at Fatality – her expression is one of total and utter despair. All her plans, her grand designs – her precious hunt – have been utterly ruined by her own carelessness. In her haste for blood and vengeance, she handed her prey the very source of his power.

“Congratulations,” Kyle growls, fury narrowing his eyes, “you just reaped the whirlwind.”

It all happens at once, an emerald storm erupting from the ring and consuming Fatality. A thousand green crows tear at her armour, shredding the amber steel like confetti. Neon skeletons rise from the lawn and pull at her legs and hair, peeling skin and drawing blood with their bony fingers. A murderous maniac wearing a hat and a spiked glove tears happily into her back, a dress-wearing madman brings a green chainsaw to bear on her breastplate. Once her armour is peeled away the onslaught continues – bats, goblins, razor-toothed pumpkins. A Halloween nightmare of attackers, all channelled by Kyle’s murderous focus. When the storm finally ends, Fatality has been stripped down to ragged chain mail and ruptured flesh, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition.

An emerald electric chair rises up from the ground beneath her and she slumps into it. Clasps snap shut around her forearms and ankles and the “boiler plate hat” drops down onto her head. Kyle walks across and orders Fatality to look at him. She doesn’t respond and so he backhands her across the face. “I said look at me!” Fatality grudgingly raises her head. “You took away the only thing that was important to me, you butcher. I don’t know why, I don’t even know what you’re on about, but I’m damn well going to find out.”

Kyle gestures – thumbs down. The chair snaps and crackles with electricity, jolting Fatality’s hair outwards and contorting her muscles. Blood and saliva ooze from her ears and nose as the electricity shuts down, and her head lolls forward.

“I want to know why you killed Alex, you maniac – and where this thing, this battery, came from,” Kyle says. Fatality unclenches her jaw and Kyle can see she has bitten her tongue. Suddenly she laughs harshly, spitting blood onto the white field of Kyle’s tunic and across the symbol – the lantern. She speaks roughly in her own language. “Karath attan zarthack,” she growls. “Spchakyn Green Lantern fra-tarn!”

“Yeah, you’re so tough,” Kyle replies. “Thing is, I’ve lost interest in anything you’ve got to say.” He raises his right hand again, the thumb slowly dangling downwards. “So let’s fire up ol’ sparky for one last go ‘round.” But his intentions are interrupted by the cocking of a weapon and a harsh voice behind him – Guy Gardner’s voice. He and the rest of the SCU surround Kyle and Fatality, weapons bared and ready to fire. With them is Amy, who had been unconscious in the back of the car. “Now is not the time, Gardner,” Kyle warns, but the red head refuses to lower his weapon until Fatality is released. Kyle shoots his foe a look of disgust and waves his hand, dissolving the chair. “We’re not done here,” he mutters.

Officers rush over to the fallen Fatality, simultaneously tending her wounds and securing her. Gardner takes his aim off Kyle but keeps the weapon ready. He tells Kyle he needs answers – “I’ve got a corpse in a fridge back there and all hell broken loose out here” – but Kyle cuts him off. “She’s dead!” he cries. “She did it – what more do you need to know?” Flames dance around his fingers and leap outwards, melting Gardner’s weapon and singing his hand. “Just leave me the hell alone!” Kyle wails, arcing up into the sky and out of sight, faster than any police officer can draw a bead.

He flies up – far, fast and hard, eyes burning with tears and with the friction of escape velocity. Finally he breaks through the atmosphere, out of the night sky and into the starry void beyond. Kyle still doesn’t stop, relying on a force field to provide him oxygen and he passes orbit. Unthinking, consumed with grief, he soars out past the moon and towards Mars, throwing himself headlong into the chaos of the asteroid belt. Soundless fury erupts from his lips as he tears through rock after rock, conjuring all manner of weapons and robots and monsters to pulverise all around him. Landing on an island-sized rock, he lashes out with the lantern itself, smashing the indestructible object into the unyielding asteroid, over and over again. Finally he falls, exhausted, to his knees. He feels wrung dry, sick with the lack of anything in his soul.

For a time he sits there, just gazing at the rocks and the stars. Then he turns to look at the ring – again, he takes note of the hum in his mind. Setting the lantern down, he wraps his fingers around the ring as if to pull it off. Then he stops, and old conversation flitting through his mind. Alex’s voice, telling him he is irresponsible. Her voice later, telling him she loves him. His voice, promising her a new start. Promising her he would be responsible for the ring and whatever it brought with it.

Times like this, I used to come to you, Alex, he thinks to himself. I was the dreamer, you were the realist – you figured out how things should be done. You were always better at that than me. Just like a photojournalist – seeing things from all the angles, thinking them through.

This hero stuff was supposed to be a way for us to be together… for us to be famous. Me as the hero, you as the media coverage – taking both of us far further than we’d ever dreamed. But it’s stopped being fun and games. I need you here with me because I don’t know if there’s any way I’ll ever be able to handle it myself.

It would be so easy, he thinks, gripping the ring once again, to just throw this away and let it all end here on this rock. Or fly back home and bury the ring, go back to being who I was.

But you wouldn’t let me do that, would you? If you were here, you’d kick me in the butt and tell me to get moving. Bad things happen and you can’t change them – all you can do is find a way forward and stop the next bad thing from coming to pass.

You’d tell me I have responsibilities… to myself, to the world, to the ring. You’d kick me in the butt and tell me to get moving. But that’s not all there is - I say I have a responsibility to you. I let you down, Alex, again.

Kyle rises, taking in the sight before him. Stars loop and swirl around him and, in the distance, beckons the earth and all the people on it.

You were the best thing I ever had in my life, and I loved you more than I ever managed to say.

Taking up the battery once more, he lifts lightly off the asteroid and starts towards earth, trailing green energy in his wake.

I won’t let you down this time. I promise.

With a flash of light and a rush of motion, Kyle Rayner – the Green Lantern – is gone, streaking towards his home, his life and his responsibilities.
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