Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Drawing from Plato
by Geonn Cannon
Jamie Tsang sat on the subway with a sketch pad open on her lap, idly drawing the profiles of other riders. People whose faces were twisted in shock as they listened to a story, expressive smiles as someone heard good news on their cell phone, the tight lips and wide eyes of a woman barely containing some large anger. She drew in pencil, focusing on the faces so that the yellow legal pad resembled a crowd pressed up against a window.
Another page of the pad featured a multitude of hands - fingers extended or relaxed or curled into fists. She also had pages and pages of outfits. Rumpled suits and blouses and heavy jackets frayed at the sleeve cuff. Little details like missing buttons or unique patches were what she was looking for. Anything that would bring life to her characters.
She frequented the train during rush hour, the dreaded crush of commuters that gave her so much inspiration. She usually got on the train early enough to find a good seat where she could vanish into the crowd, observe without being observed. That day she was facing front when a tall brunette swept in just before the doors shut behind her. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that bounced as she came to a stop against the wall of people. She wore a simple brown overcoat tied loosely at her waist as she searched for a place to settle.
The V-neck of the coat was wide enough to reveal the scooped collar of metallic purple top, most likely some sort of workout gear. When she moved Jamie saw that she wore knee-length black bicycle shorts that clung to her like a second skin. She stepped closer to the window and gripped a rail, swaying with the motion of the train moving again.
Jamie turned to a fresh page of her pad and began sketching, this time focusing on the full body of her subject. The hand and head hovered over a vague sketch of the body. The overcoat turned into a cape, and she lightly traced the lines of a harlequin mask over her eyes. The costume would be metallic purple.
By the time the woman left the train, Jaime had a pretty fair portrait of a superhero taking up the majority of the page. She checked her watch and closed her pad. The train was nearly to her stop, so she stuffed the pad into her bag before she stood up and slung the strap over her shoulder. She moved toward the doors, bumping someone in a jacket three sizes too big for him. When she turned to apologize she saw a black patch with a silver saying written on it.
After Every Loss, Your Need Grows.
"Sorry," she murmured, taking note of the phrase and turning it around in her mind until it was boiled down to just the first letters: AELYNG.
Jamie drew her comics by hand while her assistant Zoe did the ink, coloring, and lettering. Their strip had no continuing hero, no over-arcing story. The plot was a city had cropped up on the rim of an ancient crater when precious metals were found embedded in the soil. Before long it became apparent to the residents that what caused the crater was no ordinary asteroid. Some people got tremendous headaches or frequent nosebleeds. Some began so light sensitive that they couldn't go outside without swaddling themselves like vampires.
A select few, however, gained extraordinary powers. Flight, invisibility, invincibility, super-strength, and super-speed being just a few. The series began with a hero named Zero Cell, a man who could dissolve the bonds between his cells at will so he could pass through solid objects. They tracked his adventures through his origin and then set him up against his first real supervillain. In the middle of the fight Zero Cell dissolved his torso to allow a bullet to pass through and the villain shoved him.
From his chest up, he fell. His legs remained standing. The gap between his cells was too great to fix, and he was dead within seconds.
That was when the true nature of Crater City became apparent. They weren't a one-hero comic, and anyone could die at any time. No one was safe. The city's position on the edge of the mysterious crater provided ample opportunities for new heroes to rise and fall, for new villains to discover their abilities, and all of them could be struck down at any moment.
They published a new issue every month, preceded by a six-panel teaser that would let people know what was coming up. Last month Serentes, the hero they had focused on for five issues, abandoned the city after his love interest was found murdered. They currently had plans to bring him back in a few months time but, until then, they needed someone else to tell stories about. The workout woman on the subway was the perfect inspiration.
Jamie was putting the finishing touches on the teaser drawings while Zoe spit-balled origin stories. The Aelyng was a woman who had lost her husband and son during the Uprisings (Issues #43-50) and, in her rage, discovered that she was stronger and more agile than she'd ever imagined. The first issue would flashback to show her connection to the past story, following her through her training until she was ready to don a costume and head out to protect others who were too weak to protect themselves.
The Aelyng was an anti-hero, willing to break the law (and bones) if it led to justice for a victim. If there was scant evidence to send someone to trial, she would act as the judge and jury in whatever dark alley happened to be available. She wasn't invincible; Zoe insisted on that. The Aelyng would be cut and bruised and her bones would be broken. She would be strong but vulnerable. Jamie agreed wholeheartedly and began sketching a panel where the Aelyng removed her mask to reveal two black eyes. Dragging herself weakly down a hall to a lonely room where she could curl up and recuperate for her next trip out into the night.
She decided the Aelyng wouldn't have a dark ending. Instead, she would find peace and new happiness that didn't involve putting on a mask and beating the crap out of criminals. They didn't have a lot of happy endings in Crater City, and it would be a nice change of pace than leaving their heroes shattered in alleys.
Zoe was inking a new panel, speaking as she carefully drew the lines of a mugger's handgun. "So Aelyng - or whatever we decide her secret identity is - works out at a local gym. There's a kid there training to be a boxer, and she takes him under her wing. She realizes he needs someone who will be there full-time, and his problems won't be solved by kicking someone's ass. So she decides to make him a surrogate for the child she lost. She buys the gym so he'll always have a safe place."
"I love it. That's fantastic." She leaned back and smoothed her palms over her temples, gathering her waist-length black hair into a ponytail as she stretched. "We can end her story with her in the boxing ring, running through some combinations with him. This scrawny kid in a too-big tank top and shorts, punching the pads in her hands."
Zoe smiled. "Sounds like a winner to me."
"I'll work on the scripts tonight."
"Tonight? No big Valentine's Day plans?"
Jamie wrinkled her nose. "Is that tonight? No. No plans." She straightened her papers and stood, passing by Zoe's table to get a peek at the work in progress. "Beautiful. Just outstanding work, Z. How about you? Is that robot chick going to sweep in and whisk you away to some enchanted evening?"
"Katrina is not a robot." Zoe laughed.
"How does she get through security at the airport?" She went into the kitchen and took the juice out of the fridge to pour herself a glass.
"I wouldn't know. And no, you don't have to worry about her showing up with all her piercings. I cut her loose."
"Good for you. So what finally ended it? Was there an awkward stud-getting-stuck situation in bed?"
Zoe cringed. "No. God! Why would you even... no. We were just too dissimilar. She wanted to go out to clubs, I wanted to sleep. We didn't even like the same movies or music. There are arranged marriages between people more compatible than we were. So we finally decided to stop fooling ourselves and set each other free."
Jamie sighed and walked back to her desk. "I'm sorry. But why didn't you say anything? I thought things were still going well."
"I didn't want you to feel bad for me. It was a decent breakup. I wanted out, she wanted out. I'm a little sad, but I didn't need you asking if I was okay or offering me comfort lunches. And I know you would have, and I appreciate it, but it's really unnecessary. I promise."
"So you have nothing planned tonight. Why don't we do something? We haven't just hung out in forever. I have a couple of Netflix I've been meaning to watch. We could order a pizza, maybe make prank calls. Have a pillow fight in our underwear."
Zoe laughed. "That sounds superb. And we can do each other's nails and talk about how icky boys are?"
Jamie grinned. "I'm serious. Come on, you and me. Business dinner. I have a stack of bad movies. Don't make me go through them alone."
Zoe tapped the end of her pen against the table and raised an eyebrow. "Well, it is a more acceptable alternative to actually going out to eat. I may not be heartbroken, but seeing dozens of lovey-dovey couples doesn't sound like my idea of a good time. So what movies do you have?"
Her Netflix queue was an odd blend of lesbian romances, comedies, and shoot-em-ups. She also had a handful of superhero movies, since they couldn't keep up with trends if they didn't know what everyone else was doing. Zoe considered the titles.
"So we have Anne Hathaway in Batman or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers?"
"The battle of the skintight leather. Hell, is there any way we could just watch the two of them duke it out?"
"Marvel and DC. It'll just have to live in our imaginations for now. I'm going with Batman... it's grittier, and more Crater City."
"Works for me. Start it up."
They settled in on the couch, stationed at opposite sides with the snacks Jamie had brought in from the kitchen filling the center cushion between them.
Jamie met Zoe eight years earlier, after Zoe answered an ad for an inker and letterer. Her work was phenomenal, and Jamie adored the scratch-like marks she used for settings and captions. She had a way of personalizing the dialogue inside balloons so it was always easy to tell who was saying what, a touch of continuity in a world where even the main protagonist wasn't safe. After a few weeks, when Zoe became more comfortable with her position, she began offering story ideas. Now the brainstorming sessions were a necessary part of Jamie's writing process. She couldn't imagine forming an arc without running it by Zoe first.
When they met, Zoe was dating a curvaceous Wall Street drone, slightly too warm to be called robotic with a Dominatrix gleam in her eye when she surveyed a room. That lasted for a year and by the time it ended Jamie was involved with a woman who ran yoga classes out of her apartment. As a result their work relationship and friendship precluded any attempts to actually date each other.
Now nearly a decade later, part of Jamie wondered if they'd missed out on something by not taking that step. Zoe was precious to her. They argued and made up, they were comfortable spending eight to ten hours together, and Zoe was always willing to take middle-of-the-night phone calls from Jamie if she had gotten inspiration on whatever story they were working on. They had survived highs and lows and bad relationship after bad relationship.
Zoe narrowed her eyes as she popped a chip into her mouth. She swallowed and then pointed a finger stained with cheese-dust at the screen. "Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now there's a guy I would make an exception for."
"He looks like Mindy."
Zoe laughed. "Spike his hair and dye it blonde. Wow. You're right. He was my first crush when he was on 3rd Rock from the Sun. I think it was that gorgeous long hair confusing me. Mixing my signals."
"Is that why you only date women with short hair now?"
"Nah, my tastes just became more refined."
Jamie nodded slowly. "Is that why you never came on to me?"
Zoe looked at her. "What?"
"Nothing. Never mind."
"No. I never came on to you because..." She pushed herself into a more awake position. "I don't know. There never seemed to be an opportune time. We've both always been in relationships that overlap and then the grieving period and..." Her voice trailed off and she tilted her head to the side. "Did you want me to come on to you?"
Jamie sighed and looked at the screen again. "Yes. No. Maybe. I'm not saying you're my unrequited love or anything. But we get along. We've spent the last eight years sitting across from each other, and neither of us ever thought about shoving all the papers off the desk and having our way with each other?"
Zoe shrugged. "Just because we've never had sex doesn't mean I don't love you." She furrowed her brow. "Triple negative. Sorry. The point is, I love you, Jamie. This isn't just a job for me, it's spending a day with my friend doing something I really love. But this is the longest relationship I've ever had, and the most fulfilling."
"So... you wanna go down the hall?" She raised an eyebrow suggestively.
Jamie laughed and reached out to cup Zoe's cheek. "No. I think it would be a little too weird. If we were going to take that step, it would have happened a long time ago. I'm just wondering if we both missed out on something really special."
"Or, on the other end, what if we had screwed after that issue with Temptation?"
Jamie felt a thrill at the memory. A woman who could sway people's convictions with a wave of her hand lost control of her power at a sporting event. She had been forced to flee while the hordes of men and women under her spell tried to tear her clothes off. The scene itself was played for terror; it was harrowing and lacked any kind of eroticism, but they mined porn sites for naked bodies in the correct positions, and their shared desktop had soon filled with pictures of writhing, nubile bodies glistening with sweat.
"I think we were both in the mood to throw caution out the window and just jump the nearest warm body. But if we had, what if it ruined this dynamic?" She waved a finger in the air between them. "We would have broken up, I would have had to quit, and then you'd be stuck with a partner who didn't have my talent."
Jamie said, "What makes you think I couldn't replace you with someone better?"
"Because there is no one better, sweetheart."
Jamie laughed at that. "I have to agree with you there."
"We didn't miss out on anything special. We just missed out on a couple of weeks of mind-blowing sex. And don't get me wrong... you and me, in bed? It would be mind-blowing. But what we have now is even better. People can get lucky on blind dates, but getting lucky in work and friendship is rare. I wouldn't sacrifice what we have by sleeping with you."
"Same goes for me." She leaned across the pile of decimated snacks and kissed Zoe on the cheek. "I do love you."
Zoe wiped off her cheek with mock disgust. "Yuck. You're gross." She smiled. "I love you, too. You know what else I love?"
"Anne Hathaway's ass in that suit. Scarlett who?"
Jamie settled back in her corner of the chair, her feet up on the cushion with the ankles crossed. Zoe was right. It was a nice ass; why didn't they have Academy Awards for that? But she was also right about their relationship. Too many people focused on the "in love" part of Valentine's Day and ignored the simple sweet pleasure of platonic love. Zoe was as dear to her as any girlfriend. As far the holiday went, she couldn't imagine a better way to spend the "love day" than hanging out with her best friend, her business partner, and the sister she never had. Smiling, she wrapped her arms around her legs and smiled as she focused on the screen.