Click Here If You Missed Part I

Without a job, I had a choice between hanging out with friends in the city or jogging in the canyon alone. More and more, I found myself doing the jog.

There was always this expectation I would spot Hi’s frail but sprightly figure bouncing down the path. Whatever—there in the silence of the canyon, I could hear his voice in my mind. I asked questions, and his voice answered. There was a certain peace in that.

But those last words of his“You’re the hero in a role playing game. So am I. So are all of us.” remained unresolved, unexplained: “You’re the hero in a role playing game. So am I. So are all of us.”

Then came that Friday afternoon, a scorcher. I collapsed onto a bench beneath some thick trees by the lake. Just sat there watching thoughts and memories run through my brain like a tv with multiple channels playing all at once. Somehow, I just burst out loud, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It could seem that way.”

I jerked my head around. Hi was sitting next to me. I hadn’t even noticed when he came and sat there.

I didn’t want Hi to think I was talking about him—even though I was. So I said, “Hi! Did you see the news today? Isn’t that the dumbest thing you ever heard?!”

Hi stared off into space, unfazed, smiling. “How’s your part going?” he asked.

“They say it’s going to rain. That’s dumb, isn’t it?”

“So are you a superhero yet?” he asked.

“Well, my jogging is improving. I figure I’ll start running again soon. Have to build up slowly, y’know.”

“Do you want to be a superhero?”

Now I was getting annoyed. “Look, Hi," I said. "I know I told you the story and everything. But maybe you should just forget it. It never really happened. I made it all up.”

“It happened, Josh.” Hi stared me right in the eye. “I was guiding you up there. But it looks like you still need some guidance down here. It’s painful for me,“It’s painful for me, but I came down into this physical body to help you along.” but I came down into this physical body to help you along.”

Now I was shaking. Uncontrollably. I just wanted to run out of there. But I was frozen.

“Now, tell me. Are you going to be a superhero?” Hi’s warm hand clasped mine.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be a superhero.”

“Do you feel like one?”

“No. But I wanna be one. I just don’t know how to begin.” Now I was crying. I hadn’t cried like this since I was a kid. Everything that had been welling up inside for the past year was pouring out.

The Smart-Dumb Suit

“What’s wrong, Josh?”

“There’s no way. I saw there what a superhero is. It’s not just flying in the air or zapping villains with my eyeballs. I have to be good. Pure good. Good like that light up there was good. I can’t do that. I can’t. It’s not me. I’m a fun-time guy. I’m the guy who hangs out with friends and …”

“What about when I saw you there. Were you superhero material then?”

“There, yes. Here, no.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I dunno.”

“Which is the real you?”

“I dunno.”

Quiet. The tears stopped. The shaking stopped. Catharsis. Stillness.

“Josh, the real you is pure.”

“Hell no.”

“But you’ve been sent on a mission. And for that mission, you had to come back into a body.”

“Who needs it?”

“To come into a body, you needed to invest yourself within a personality that can handle a body. A kind of beast, driven by wants and needs, urges and passions. Often, it gets way out of hand. But you have control.”

“But I keep wanting those things. Chasing them. Like I don’t have a choice. I forget that whole scene up there.”

“That’s not you. That’s the beast. But you’re inside it, so you think it’s you.”

I held out my hands on my lap, palms opened before my face. They didn’t look like paws. They looked like very human hands. Are humans animals? I just stared at those hands and shook my head.

“Imagine dressing“Imagine dressing up in a suit that has its own mind.” up in a suit that has its own mind.”

“Like it’s driven by artificial intelligence?”

“Call it animal intelligence. Very, very smart animal intelligence. Basically, a suit on autopilot, with stereotyped responses. Can you imagine how clumsy that could be?”

That reminded me of this classic comic sci-fi tv show my parents used to enjoy watching. This Martian had made a human-like suit with a mind of its own, and his arm kept hitting him in the face. I remember watching it as a kid, rolling in laughter .

“The suit starts doing its own thing, and you have to work hard to control it. A lot of the time, it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, it’s plain stupid. You can always override it, but you can’t get anything done without it.”

“Yeah! You’re right!” I said. “That’s what it feels like. Except that this suit speaks, too. And thinks. Lots of thoughts. Dumb thoughts.”

“Those are harder to override. But you can do it.”

“And then I’m a superhero?”

Hi was staring off into the distance again.

“Hi? Will I be a superhero then?”

The Super Un-hero

“No,” he said, quietly.

“What the …?”

“I don’t see you ever totally conquering that beast. On the contrary, Every time you beat him, you go up a level and the beast gets tougher to handle. every time you beat him, you go up a level and the beast gets tougher to handle. It’s smart. It learns your strategies.”

“Then what’s the point? What a dumb game!”

Hi looked towards me again. “It’s not dumb, Josh. It’s amazing. You just don’t understand the game.”

“So if I’m not a superhero, what am I?”

“You’re a guy in-between.”

“In between what?”

“In between a superhero and a villain.”

“You mean like the superhero’s sidekick?”

“Well, sort of.”

“The guy who can get killed?”

“Well, yes, you are pretty vulnerable in this game.”

“I don’t want to play sidekick! I want a lead role! If I’m not superhero, then I’m the villain. Hey, villains are major roles, too, you know! I could do a good villain!”

“Josh, you think you can play the villain? After being up there?”

I looked down. “No.”

“So play the guy in the middle. He’s the real lead role.”

“Guy-in-the-middle can’t be lead role.”

“Yes, he can. Because inside him is the villain. And deeper inside him is a superhero. And they’re in brutal, mortal conflict, wrestling with each other to control that robot suit he’s wearing.”

“So what’s so thrilling about that?”

“Because, Josh, whoever wins inside this character, that’s who wins in the big game.” Hi jabbed his finger into my heart. “The whole big game is all inside here.”

I looked at his eyes. They were blue, and caring.

And Hi was gone.

Click Here For Part III