Nebula

by D.L. Timmerman

A blur.  That’s all they can catch a glimpse of as you soar through the sky like Earnhardt Junior blazing past the opposition in the Daytona 500.  Only you’re more than a thousand times faster than light.  You could zip around the earth ten thousand times every second.  You’re quicker than time, swifter than a shooting star, to the moon and back in the twinkle of an eye.

A scream.  A desperate cry for help.  You hear it more than five thousand miles away.  You’re there before she has the chance to give it a second go.  Heck, you’re there before the fire has the opportunity to burn.  You dart in and out of every room in the hotel; every one is safe, the smoke is gone, the flames have been snuffed out, and just like that, you’re gone.  Fire can’t hurt you.  You’re a rock.  You’re invincible.  Untouchable.  You couldn’t get a tan sitting inside the sun.  A hundred thousand nuclear bombs could go off and you wouldn’t have so much as a scratch.  Sticks and stones could never break your bones, and no weapon on earth could ever wound you.  It’s what you are.  Unstoppable.  Unbreakable.  Indestructible.  Indissoluble.  You’re about as fragile as a million tons of solid titanium.

An explosion.  The volcano erupts in shock and awe fashion.  Lava spews forth like a ruptured water tower and heads on a collision course with the town below.  People are in a panic.  Mass hysteria ensues, fear grips every heart, and terror conquers the most stable of souls.  Then you show up.  It’s over before it began.  The volcano is plugged up by the mountain you happened to snatch up along the way.  What’s a mountain to you when you juggle planets like a professional juggler playing with marbles?  You could destroy the earth with a single punch.  You rescue a million people an hour without so much as breaking a sweat.

The lava is cooled by the canal you created that stretches over a hundred miles all the way to the ocean.  No one is hurt.  No one is dead.  And no one has the chance to thank you because it is over in a fraction of a second  Whether you’re flying into the eye of a hurricane, breaking up a terrorist training camp, stomping out a bank heist, flattening a Tsunami with a thunderous clap, or doing battle with some diabolical creation of science, it’s a breeze.  Stopping an earthquake is like reading the back of your hand.  Nothing is too hard for you.  You never tire.  You need no rest.  You never sleep.  You’re an enigma.  A marvel to behold.

A beep sounds.  You recognize it instantaneously.  And just like that, you’re gone in a flash.

 —

You’re seated at the priciest, most private spot in the classiest restaurant in all of North America.  You imagine that you couldn’t afford a meal in this place even if you mortgaged your home, sold your car, and maxed out all your credit cards.  Not that you care: this isn’t your sort of joint to begin with.  The waiters are snobs, the portions are miniaturized, it’s so quiet you can hear yourself chew, and if you don’t know someone that knows someone, you can forget about making a reservation; even if you are the President’s Chief of Staff.

You’re Eva Larkin.  You were once engaged, never married, you live in a three bedroom house on Lover’s Lane in New York, and you have a multitude of degrees and experience in politics, economics, and law.  You attend church as often as you can, which is never as often as you would like, and you happen to have the trust of what many would say is the most powerful man in the world.  You’re successful, beautiful, smart, and young, with a bright future ahead.

So why are you so nervous?

You, unlike the vast majority of the world, have no fear of public speaking.  You excel at it.  You bask in it.  You wouldn’t be surprised if someone told you that you came out of the womb giving a speech.  Being anxious is not something you have ever been accustomed to.  Stress is not a word found in your vocabulary.

In spite of this, you can’t help but fidget.  You rub your hands together as if to spark a fire.  Your heart pounds harshly against your chest.  When the waiter interrupts your train of thought, you nearly spring from your seat.  You graciously apologize and accept his offer of wine.  Perhaps this is what you need the most.  Anything to calm yourself down; you need to calm yourself down.  Self-control is vital.  Your words must be carefully picked, your speech clear and concise, and your outlook completely professional.  The President would expect nothing less of you.  After all, he picked you to attend this event.  You’re about to have dinner with the person who really is the most powerful man on the planet.

 —

You’re on your way.  Or so they hope.  Their sensors don’t lie.  Asteroids.  A significant number of asteroids, with an average diameter of six thousand two hundred and eight kilometers, are on a collision course with the planet Taracos.  They are the remains of a solar system that was destroyed when a star some thirty thousand light years away went supernova.

Taracos is a peaceful planet with a population of over one hundred billion.  It is estimated that more than ninety percent of its inhabitants will not survive the impact of the asteroids that are only minutes away.  Their constant political squabbling kept the government from uniting on any one plan of action; causing them to delay announcing a mandatory evacuation.  Trying to escape the impending doom would now be futile.  Their only hope hinges on a distress signal they broadcasted to you several hours ago.

Trepidation has brought the thriving alien metropolis to a standstill.  Death looms overhead.

Then you show up.  Always in the nick of time.  Arriving when danger is most imminent is what you do best.  It gets your adrenaline pumping.  It’s like injecting three hundred pounds of caffeine into your bloodstream.  It’s a rush; a high you would not choose to live without.  It aids you in this seemingly never ending struggle between good and evil.  Keeps you from getting bored.

You float just outside of the planet’s atmosphere.  You wait patiently for the massive rocks to come within arms reach.  You’ll time your punches perfectly; using the right amount of power needed to turn each asteroid into nothing but dust particles.  You cannot afford to let a single pebble escape your assault.  In this business, precision is everything.

You take a moment to muse over your surroundings.  Moments like these don’t happen often enough.  A chance to gaze out at the distant cosmos, to breathe in the scent of a burning star, to listen intently to the sound of a trillion different languages echoing all across the vastness of space.  The universe is surely a work of art no artist could ever hope to equal in any given lifetime.  And yet here you are: the eyes of no other man have seen, nor ears heard, nor could other minds even begin to comprehend the wonders of all you’ve borne witness to.  It would leave most anyone breathless.  Most anyone, except you.

You don’t need to breathe.  You never hunger or thirst either.  This is just as well since you have lost your sense of taste.  You have all the memories of what a juicy, tender T-Bone tastes like, enough to make your mouth salivate.  However, everything you attempt to eat now is flavorless, bland, and cold.  You’re always cold.  It’s all you can feel.  The icy chill of the vacuum of space is contained within you.  Your tear ducts are frozen solid.  You can never shed a tear.  Your skin is entirely numb.  In the process of gaining enhanced hearing, sight, and smell, you have lost your sense of touch and taste.  There are times when you’d give your life to enjoy a single bite of prime rib.

The asteroids have now moved within the reach of your fists.  You don’t dare hesitate; it’s time to get to work.  The first blow causes a huge explosion, like a million fireworks all going off at once.  You demolish the next one, and the one after that, and one after another until there is nothing left of the cluster of asteroids.  You hear the planet below break out into a jubilee as you zip away.

You head straight for the mammoth sized black hole that is positioned at the outer rim of the Milky Way Galaxy.   The gravitational pull of one of these “whirlpools of space,” as you call them, is so intense that not even light can escape their grip.  You’ve been told a black hole is formed when a star closes in on itself.  Personally, you could care less how they were created or how strong people claim them to be.  You have a job to do.  You approach it without dread, without alarm, without even a shred of concern.

As you enter its scope, you feel a slight tug; almost like a rip tide attempting to drag you out to sea.  Only a black hole has about as much a chance of taking you down as a toddler has of tackling a fifty-two Chevy pickup.  Deeper into the black hole you fly.  It is pitch black all around you.  You hear the crackling of fire.  Is this a portrait of hell?  You spot what you came for: a medical starship.  Their distress signal indicated that they were in such a rush to meet a demand for medical supplies on the planet Narsis, that they accidentally veered off course and wound up trapped in a black hole.  You realize they don’t have much time before the black hole will tear the ship into pieces.  It’s alright.  You haul the ship to safety in a heartbeat, and away you go.

A scrap heap.  That’s all that remains of an invading army of giant robots.  Comatose.  It’s the state a rebellious clan of mutated insects has been put in.  You pound a four hundred foot monster into submission.  You prevent a moon from spinning out of orbit.  You send inter-dimensional warlords home packing.

A creature brimming with energy gloats about how he will be the end to everything that lives in the universe and that all must tremble before his might.  You end his tyranny before it begins by turning him to jelly with a single blow.  You zoom from planet to planet with a great whoosh!  You encounter billions of different beings.  You defeat thousands of murderous foes.  Millions are saved.  You travel to the ends of the universe and beyond.  It’s what you do.  It’s who you are.  You’re a thoroughbred.  Cream of the crop.  A model of perfection.  And all anyone ever catches a glimpse of…is a blur.

A beep sounds.  Great, you’re late.

 —

He’s late.  It comes as no surprise to you.  You’re used to men being unreliable, and at the very least, weird.  Take the last three guys you’ve dated.  One was so interested in sneaking a peak under your hood; he vigorously attempted to persuade you to start a nudist colony with him.  The next one was so wrapped up in his own little world he probably still hasn’t noticed you left.  The last one was nice enough, though he didn’t seem to realize the importance of proper hygiene.

Of course this man is anything but ordinary; and is definitely like nothing you’ve ever seen.  In the past ten minutes alone he’s most likely saved another ten million people from certain death.  He’s a spectacle.  His presence is enough to suck the air right out of you.  At least, that’s what you’ve been told.  You’ve never met him.  Very few have.  He doesn’t fancy interviews.  At times it may appear every other news story has to do with another one of his heroic endeavors; yet the only thing their cameras ever catch a glimpse of is a blur.

You finish your third glass of wine.  Or was that your third bottle?  As long as someone else is flipping for the bill you don’t mind one bit.  You need to relax; to be at ease.  Life hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for you.  What you would give to be able to fly.  To travel the stars, see a sunrise from fifty thousand feet in the air…to have the ability to get away from it all.

The waiter breaks open a new bottle and pours you another glass.  By now he no doubt suspects you are some kind of alcoholic.  Would he be shocked to discover you only recently took to drinking and that only on occasion?  Perhaps it wouldn’t surprise him to know that you’re just another victim of heartbreak whose soul has been torn out and trampled under the feet of abandonment?  Maybe he would look at you with gentler eyes if he knew you’d been stood up at the altar by the man you loved since junior high?  By the man who patiently waited for you to graduate college before popping the big question.  The man who had been your high school sweetheart, your one true love, the one you were more than prepared to spend the rest of your life with who just disappears without so much as a phone call three weeks before your wedding.

Your lips embrace the wine glass like an old friend.  At this point you no longer sip; you throw them down like a nineteen year old at a frat party.  Who are you kidding?  The waiter doesn’t care.  Your friends can’t relate.  Your colleagues don’t really understand.  And who could blame them?  You can’t truly have empathy with someone who’s gone through deep sorrow unless you’ve been there as well.

Your exercise in self-pity is abruptly interrupted by a gust of howling wind that rips through the dinner hall like a bat out of, well, you know.  You twirl around with your eyes blazing.  A sudden surge of energy erupts within you and your heart nearly leaps onto the table when you see him.  There isn’t a person around you that isn’t frozen in awe.  It’s as if time has been reduced to a snail like crawl.

He has emerald colored gloves, boots, cape draped to his knees and a silver belt with an N for a buckle, silver tights that look like a jumpsuit, a shiny bald head and a nicely trimmed goatee.  An exquisite image of what looks like the Milky Way Galaxy is on his chest.  His face is picturesque; brushed with strokes of dark chocolate.  A mountain of a man with a burly body stacked with so much muscle he looks like someone that stepped right out from the pages of a comic; and his pupil-less eyes devoid of any color save the blackness of space and the twinkling of tiny white star-like dots.  He doesn’t strike a pose or attempt to flex.  He simply stands there, as calm as can be, appearing to not have a worry in the world.  And why would he?  He is Nebula after all.

He takes a step forward and in a husky voice utters your name “Eva.”  It’s then that it hits you.  There is something oddly familiar about him that you can’t seem to place your finger on.  He inches a hair closer and in a peaceful manner whispers, “It’s me.”

You spring from your seat in an alarmed fashion, gasping for air.  You’ve lost all strength and begin a freefall toward the tiled floor.  He catches you long before you can collide with the ground and holds you in his massive arms.  Everything starts to fade to black as you slowly pass out from extreme anguish.  In your final moment of consciousness the realization of his identity is entirely too much for you to handle.  This is not just Nebula, the mightiest super powered being on earth.  He is Jack Snyder-the self-made millionaire, daredevil extraordinaire and Hollywood stuntman.  Oh, and he’s also the one who left you at the altar.

She jerks.  Groggy, disoriented, and no doubt suffering from a severe migraine; she gradually awakens from her overnight slumber.  You watch her eyes crack open little by little, her hair blowing wildly in the wind, her tongue gently massaging her lower lip.    Your ears fixate on her adorable groans.  She was never much of a morning person.  She blinks once.  Twice.  Then her eyes, those beautiful baby blue eyes, open wide to embrace the warmth of the sun seeping from beneath the earth’s spherical horizon.  A slight smile begins to spread across her face.

It hits her.  Her heart begins to beat frantically.  She has come to the realization she is thousands of feet above the city of San Francisco and is apparently just dangling in mid-air.  But before she can let out a scream, you softly whisper, “Its ok, I got you.”

She whips around her head and gazes deeply into your eyes.  “Jaack…is it really you?”  She says as her eyes tear up and send a steady stream running down her cheeks.

You hesitate for a moment; gathering your thoughts.  You rub your fingers threw her hair and caress her scalp sending chills throughout her body.

“Yes.”

Her head sinks into your chest and she bursts into full blown wailing.  It touches your heart, though it is impossible for you to show it outwardly.

“I’m…I’m sorry, Eva.”

She tries to respond, but is too choked up to form any words.

“I know I’ve hurt you…I’ve tried so long to build up the…the…courage to tell you…there’s something I must show you.”

You whiz by mountains, lakes, rivers, skyscrapers and farmland with ease.  She clings to you for dear life not knowing she’s not in any danger.  You’ve yet to encounter anything that managed to break your grip.

You gradually lessen your speed, matching up perfectly alongside an airliner whose curious passengers stare wide-eyed out the windows; some snap photos while others cheer with excitement.  You beam them a smile, offer up a salute, and begin a gentle descent toward the earth.

Eva, who, up until this point, had spent most of the trip burrowed into your chest, finally lifts up her head just in time to enjoy the ticklish delight of passing through a cloud.  Her face cracks a grin as you zero in on the mountain range some ten thousand feet below you.  You allow her to suck in the beauty of all the surroundings; and watch as she glistens with wonder and joy, like a five year old set loose in a candy shop.

A loud rumble drowns out the roaring of the gusty wind and right before her eyes the side of a nearby mountain below you opens to reveal a tunnel.  You know what it is and where it leads.  This is the entrance to your private refuge, your sanctuary, your…city of tomorrow.

 

She mutters not a word as you quickly swoop down into the opening; cunningly navigate its narrow passageways, and land pleasantly on a balcony overlooking your vision of paradise.  You set Eva upon the ground, and observe her closely.  You hear her heart pounding.  You notice her jaw dropping.  You see her eyes nearly popping out from her head.  If you could feel emotions, like you once did, you too would have been left speechless by the breathtaking sight of this magnificent underground city.  It is the fantasy of science fiction writers brought to life.  The model utopia infused with technology the surface world had yet to discover.  Androids on every street corner.  Flying cars going to and fro between spiraling towers of such artistry they’d make architecture of the 21st century appear archaic.  Clean air.  No crime.  Pure silence.

Leaning against the balcony rails, she closes her eyes and sighs deeply.

You take a position directly behind her by moving a step forward.

“You’re probably wondering why I whisked you off your feet and brought you to this place.”

She shakes her head and gazes out into space.

“I built this place, with the aid of robots, using alien tech-

“Please Jack; I don’t need to know about this place or what you’ve been up to.”

“Just…just tell me how.”

You pause.  She doesn’t flinch.  You don’t take your eyes off of her.

“How?”

She gives you a look, and you instantly understand it.  You nod.  You had been preparing for this moment since you became Nebula.  You knew this day would come.  But finding the right words to convey it was proving to be more difficult than saving a planet from annihilation.

That day is forever burned into your memory.  You had promised the woman of your dreams that you would once and for all relieve her worries and never again try another daredevil stunt.  No more stupid tricks that put you but one wrong move away from eternity.  You were in love now.  Being married, raising kids, having a family-this was far more important to you than anything else; even getting into an underwater cage with a great white shark.  You once lived only for the high you got when you felt that adrenaline pumping.  Now you were delivered a rush every time you laid eyes on her.

The months went by and then it happened.  With only four weeks to go before the wedding, you receive a phone call from a friend at NASA.  He gives you the offer of a lifetime: the chance to be the first person to ever study a star up close in a galaxy on the other side of the known universe.  You start to say no when he interrupts you with a lecture about this new prototype starship he’s constructed that will not only get you there and back before anyone notices you’ve left, but it is completely safe.

Safe from the heat of your typical, raging fireball; but your good friend had misjudged the stability of this star.  And no sooner were you convinced to say yes (you were promised you’d be back before your finance knew you were gone), was suited up and within viewing range of the star that it happened: the star imploded.  It unleashed a massive wave of energy that interfered with your starship’s special time/space “jump” engine and instead of jettisoning you back to earth, it first zapped your body full of every last thing the black hole could absorb-nearby worlds, stars, moons-everything.  You took on so much energy that you began glowing green and was flung across the universe and crash landed at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  You laid dormant there for a short while before being awakened by a team of scientists who had mistaken you for an alien creature.

Try as they might, there was nothing they had available to them that was powerful enough to penetrate your skin.  You broke free from their grasp without much effort (and much to your surprise), and embarked on a mission to find your doctor friend from NASA and figure out what is going on.  During your trip, you clumsily use your newfound powers to stay a step ahead of the pursuing military forces.  When you finally reach your friend you are given a shocking revelation: the “jump” engine built into the starship you piloted somehow triggered an implosion within the star that then created a black hole that dumped all the energy it could absorb directly into your body.  You were now as mighty as a …Nebula.  Super strength.  Invincibility.  Flight.  Your entire DNA structure was transformed from the ground up.  The man you once knew was no more.

And did you except these powers are some kind of gift?  No!  They were a curse to you at first.  You would have pouted like a little baby if you could.  Instead, you did the next best thing: you locked yourself up in a cold, dark room and vowed to never see the light of day again.

That is until they came.  An enormous fleet of invaders from another world.  They arrived in masses.  Millions of armored troops flooded the streets of every major city in the world.  Two hundred foot war machines made quick work of all the military might the human race could throw at them.  Their starships massacred airforce after airforce.  They seemed focused on one lone objective: to put an end to the existence of the human race.  And they were doing so with great efficiency.

That, of course, changed when your NASA buddy persuaded you to put on a costume and save the human race from certain destruction.  The thought of Eva dying at the hands of a killer robot was too much to bear.  It made you angry.  You burned deep within.  You set out to make these invading swarms of alien monsters wish they had never set foot on earth.  And at first, you did just that.  While still unsure of yourself and the maximum potential of your abilities, you made quick work of every last alien invader you encountered.  You decimated their entire ground force in a matter of minutes.  You catch a glimpse of their mother-ship in orbit above the earth’s atmosphere.  And like a hellfire missile bent on obliterating its target, you head start for that mother-ship in a near maddening rage.  It blasts you with more than a thousand laser cannons but they bounce off like pebbles hurled at a concrete slab.  You smash a hole into the side of the ship and proceed to find whoever is in charge intending on making him pay.

It doesn’t take you long to locate something that look similar to what you figure a bridge on this thing would look like, but before you can send what you think is their captain directly into the sun, he telepathically communicates with your mind and informs you that these aliens are not playing offense but defense.  It turns out that a ship traced back to earth was deemed as the root cause of a supernova that wiped out more than twenty billion lives and ended up creating perhaps the largest black hole they’d ever seen.  They were a kind of galactic police/investigators who did everything within their power to protect the lives of the innocent.

It didn’t take a genius to comprehend that it was your fault that these aliens had attacked earth.  It was your fault that twenty billion plus had their lives ended abruptly.  It was your fault for agreeing to the mission in the first place.  It was your fault for keeping it a secret from the woman you loved.  It was all your fault.  Your mistake.  Your guilt and shame.

One way or another, that alien detected your inner turmoil, and rather than hurl an accusation into your face, he simply promised to leave the earth alone.  Just like that.  He was ready to pack up his bags and go home.  You couldn’t let him do that.  You needed to somehow redeem yourself.  The origin of your powers had resulted in the destroying of lives.  From that day forth you vowed that what had originated in evil would now be used for good for as long as you shall live.

You bow your head in shame.  Fists clinched.  Eyes shut tight.

She stands by your side.  Her arms wrapped around your neck.  Her lips meet yours in a moment of passion.  But the coldness of your skin causes her to leap back in shock.

“Now you know why…why I never told you before…I…I’m not even human anymore Eva…I can’t even feel anymore.”

“Jack…you’re the very embodiment of what makes humanity great.”

You look at her perplexed.

“I don’t understand?”

She leans forward and clings lovingly to your arm.

“You’re redeemable.”

“No…I can’t-

“You fight for good.”

“I’ve caused so much evil-

“You save so many lives.”

“I’ve cost so many lives-

“And if you can’t learn to accept forgiveness, you’ll never know what it truly is to be forgiven.”

You pause, and then break your lips into a half smile.

“Thank you, Eva…it means a lot to me.”

“You mean a lot to me.”

For the briefest of moments you consider the possibility of making a relationship with the woman you love work.  But you know such a thing only exists in the realm of fantasy.  You could never be to her the kind of husband she needs.  You could never cry with her or enjoy a nice meal together.  You’d be home one minute and out into the depths of space the next.  And then there’s the fact you could never touch her without the risk of giving her frostbite.

“I wish…I wish there was a way…but we don’t always get what we want.”

She shakes her head in agreement, but is plainly not in the best of spirits.

“It’s getting late…tell the President that I will gladly oversee the negotiations in West Africa.”

She nods silently.

“And…remember that I’ll always be there to save you when you need me.”

 —

He’s only been gone for a handful of seconds, but you can’t help but miss him.  The TV that must have been left on in your apartment over night goes on and on about giant sized twisters that are causing mayhem to ensue in the Mid-West.  But before the reporter has the chance to say an additional word, a green and silver blur dissolves the tornadoes into nothingness in the blink of an eye, and now the story is centered on yet another heroic exploit of the mysterious Nebula figure.

You giggle softly to yourself.  No matter what you’ll always love him.  And you believe with all of your heart you’re meant to be.  After all, you’ve actually spent an entire evening with him and all anyone else ever catches a glimpse of…is a blur.