Issue 16 Review

Rising Stars 16 Synopsis


John Simon sits in Jerusalem and broods on the history of the city. He feels like Solomon choosing between two mothers.

Elsewhere, the television news recounts the actions of Randy Fisk. Ravenshadow has spent the last seven days wiping out crack houses and street gangs in the eastern United States. He has not stopped to eat or sleep since he began. Randy set up a telephone hotline at 1-800-BE-A-HERO for people to report local criminals. People who have been reluctant to provide information to the police have quickly taken advantage of Randy's offer.

A man-in-the-street interview elicits praise for Randy. The police don't do anything even when repeatedly told about the criminals, but Randy takes care of them once and for all.

The news report questions how long Randy can continue. Since the authorities are powerless to stop Randy, the news media wonders when it will end. Randy replies, "When it's done."

John Simon ponders the historic figures that lived in Jerusalem - both Jewish and Muslim. He thinks of the eastern stars and the crescent moon, who broke apart and declared themselves eternally at war despite the fact that they share the same sky. If the sky itself falls in war, John wonders, what hope is there for those who live below? The flags in the city reflect the star and crescent moon in the sky.

The newscast continues with an account of Jason Miller's actions. The Special who previously used the name Patriot has now confiscated over four hundred nuclear warheads. The Pentagon moved its warheads to unmarked trucks and railroad cars, but Jason still finds them easily. While the Pentagon studies the issue of its ballistic missile submarines, Jason makes the point moot by locating and carrying off an entire submarine.

John swore to never harm another Special again after the battle with Critical Maas, Jason Miller, and Matthew Bright. He has broken many other promises, but he doesn't want to break this one, especially with Laurel Darkhaven. She is the only Special who can scare even John. Laurel approaches John in Jerusalem, and they greet each other.

The news report notes that other Specials are not being violent or destructive. Elizabeth Chandra and others are rebuilding tenements and public housing. They have renovated abandoned factories and offered them to overseas investors to ease unemployment. They use the money they make to purchase medicines overseas for much less than the cost in the U.S. and deliver them to the elderly. The FDA and AMA have filed lawsuits against the Specials for breaking trade agreements and the drug companies' pricing policies. When asked for comment, one Special replies, "Screw 'em," with an appropriate hand gesture. Many Specials have also undertaken other activities out of the U.S. that concern the government.

Laurel Darkhaven has the power to affect very small objects. The other Specials thought it was a useless power, but they never considered that the carotid artery is very small. Laurel can pinch it shut with a thought, and the victim dies with absolutely no evidence of foul play. She is the perfect assassin. After graduating high school, Laurel was recruited by the CIA, NSA, and other government agencies. They sent her after their worst enemies: terrorists, bombers, and so forth. John always wondered how she could do it, but now he only wonders why and where does it stop.

John asks Laurel how she has been. She says she spent the last ten years killing troublemakers for the government but hasn't done much else. She asks John about himself. John says he sold a poem to the New Yorker and rescued a boatload of Haitians. Laurel compliments his work and asks how he found her. John reminds her that he has his own information sources just as she does.

Laurel surmises that since John knows where she is he also knows what she plans to do. John asks her to tell him herself since the stories he heard might have been exaggerated.

Laurel was proud when the government recruited her. The Specials were all under suspicion, so she was thankful to fit in and hoped that she could make it easier for the government to accept all the Specials. Unfortunately, she was naive. The government's attitude didn't change. Laurel killed people all across the Middle East for her country. She quit counting when the number became too great. She told herself that the people she killed were terrorists, murderers, suicide bombers, or worse. Still, her actions changed nothing.

The fighting and dying still continue. Both sides believe that they are right, that God speaks for them and they speak for God. Laurel doubts that either side is right. She suspects God has turned His back on the whole region and is waiting for them to stop fighting.

John asks how to stop the fighting. Laurel believes the people are fighting for the icons of their beliefs. If she takes away their symbols, they will have nothing that proves their rightness over which to fight. Using her power to control individual molecules, she plans to destroy the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and other religious landmarks. Laurel compares the people to children and vows to take away their toys. Jews and Muslims will both lose, and then they will rebuild together. They will also have someone besides each other to hate.

John suggests that Laurel's plan won't help the situation. Laurel says the people in this region respect only strength. She has the strength and plans to use it.

Jason Miller flies down to join them, and Laurel says neither of them will stop her. She reminds them that while they may be invulnerable on the outside, their carotid arteries are just as vulnerable as a normal person's.

John suggests that there is another way. Laurel doesn't want to hear it. John tells her how his grandfather used to read the Bible to him. In Psalms he found a word that he loved: Selah. It means pause and consider. It serves as a break in the psalm during which the reader can reflect on the meaning before moving on. "Selah, Laurel," John begs.

Laurel adamantly believes that she has nothing to consider. Jason points out that she will be hunted down and killed. Laurel counters by saying that she is not proud of what she has done. She is tired of living and fighting. She believes that her death will have meaning. John doesn't think so. He insists again that there is another way.

John says that it is easy to hate when you're hungry. If Laurel can stop the suffering, she might achieve her desired result. John rises into the air as he unveils his idea. Laurel and Jason follow him.

The people here fight for every piece of land because so little of it is arable. Laurel protests about the religious differences, but John maintains that they wouldn't fight over every square mile if they had plentiful fertile land. Fertile soil lies a quarter mile or more below the surface of the desert. With Laurel's power, she can manipulate those grains of dirt.

John describes the principle of liquefaction. During an earthquake, soil becomes almost liquid. Laurel can instigate the same process. She can use her power to make the good soil rise and the dry sand sink. She could do it for the entire region without disturbing the buildings.

Laurel realizes that it wouldn't be enough just to transform Israel. She would have to do the same for all the Arab countries. John agrees. Laurel asks if she has enough power to do that. John can sense that she has just enough power... but no more. Selah.

Laurel flies back to the ground to contemplate, and John tells Jason that it's safe for him to leave now. Jason asks what John meant about Laurel having no more power. John merely tells him again that he can leave.

When Jason hesitates a final time, John adds that he senses something strange about Jason's energy. Jason says that he is fine. He just has a head cold. John points out that Specials don't get colds. "Yeah... Funny, that," Jason says as he leaves.

John returns to Laurel, who asks him if he has any regrets about his choices in life. John says that some days he has nothing but regrets. Laurel feels the same way, and she is tired of her regrets.

A group of Palestinians throw Molatov cocktails at an Israeli military vehicle. The armed soldiers disembark to arrest the mob. Suddenly, they stop cold as the ground begins to vibrate.

All across the Middle East rich soil rises from the depths and passes the dry dust on its way down. John compares it to Ezekiel breathing life into dry bones. He wonders if he is seeing what Creation looked like. He wonders if Creation required so much pain.

Laurel's body is wracked in agony. Blood pours from her eyes and nose. She begs John for help. She can't see or feel anything. John grasps her hand and promises that he will always be with her.

From orbit the crew of the Space Shuttle witness the miraculous transformation of the desert.

John feels Laurel's heart give out, but she still fights to complete her task.

Across the land, the people scoop up the rich soil and praise the miracle purchased with Laurel Darkhaven's life.

The news report explains that geologists are rushing to investigate the phenomenon. Possible explanations include a new kind of earthquake and an act of God. Interviews with Jews and Muslims evoke praise for God. The fertile land will feed everyone. The blessing is taken as a symbol. God brought the new soil to both the Arabs and the Israelis, proving that he cares for both. Perhaps that means they can care for each other.

John places a stone on Laurel's tomb in the Jewish custom. He tells her that the world has changed. Hopefully the next six thousand years will be better than the last because of her.

John reflects again on Jerusalem. It was a divided city brought together by Laurel's sacrifice. It isn't the first sacrifice, and it won't be the last. John isn't surprised that the soil here was so dry because blood has been spilled on it for countless generations. Jerusalem will always have tears and blood, he realizes, but the new soil brings new hope because it is a miracle that everyone shares. The miracle belongs to these people, but it was purchased with Laurel's blood, tears, and heart.


End of Act Two.