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Asia

Asia Girl

Alison Park 945 Greenhill Rd. Mill Valley, CA 94941 415.888.8699 alison@rethinkingdiversity.com Pages: 220 Words: 60,886 Date: 03.03.11

for Ishmael & Jess for thinking it should be so

& Especially for Andrew, my superhero

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Faster than a speeding rickshaw

Able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound

More powerful than the smell of ripe kimchi!

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Lois Cho was stuck. Meanwhile, her deadline was approaching like a sandstorm across the Gobi desert. Unfortunately, neither sand, nor storm, nor threat of unemployment would stay Paycheck to Paycheck Girl from her rounds with the Evil Writers Block. Indeed, our beloved hero found herself between a block and a hard place Lois crumpled up the page, tossed it into the recycle bin, and pulled out a fresh sheet. OK, she exhaled. Time to focus, starting Now! Twirling the ends of her shoulder length hair, she squinted at the five blank squares on the page, willing Genius Incarnate & Clever Wit to leap forth from her skull like twin Athenas! Nope. Menacing the empty page with a freshly-sharpened pencil, she threatened to draw something, anything at alleven if it were really lousy! Nothing. She sighed, drummed her fingers, and glared a little harder through her contact lenses. She leapt from her chair, hoping to jar an idea loose. She even tried some of the standby jump starters: Suddenly Back at headquarters Unbeknownst to our hero Nope. Nada. Nothing. A flutter outside the window caught Lois eye. She perked up, Miso? No, chicken soup. Want some? Alistair Wentworth, who wrote an advice

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column for columnists who feared they had nothing left to say, stood in the doorway blowing into a Tupperware bowl. Uh, no thanks. Actually, I was calling for Lois caught herself. Some things were better left misunderstood. Yeah, Im just really in the mood for Miso. Alistair stared at her for a moment. Then with a shrug, he sipped and continued down the hall to join the water cooler crowd. Conveniently for the crowd, the cooler was located right next to a jumbo screen TV, which enabled them to watch soap operas on the pretext of hydrating. At the moment, the newspaper staff was transfixed by the revelation that one of daytime TVs longest-standing illicit love affairs had produced a child exactly twenty years ago, concealed until this afternoon by the affectations and various pseudonyms of the perpetually despondent, but ever stylish mother. As daughter met father, the audience, actors, and characters made a strenuous and concerted effort not to notice that despite the indisputable whiteness of her parentage, the love seed was quite blackand speaking with a Sudanese accent. She looks just like I thought she would, whispered a life-long fan of the show, her cup of water trembling as the screen flashed to a commercial break. HUH TV: We are your world. Lois sighed and shut her door. Maybe shed write a letter to the station. Or send an e-mail in ALL CAPS. What else could one comic-blocked girl do? She turned back to the window and pressed forehead to pane, peering out hopefully. A solitary obese pigeon eyed her back. With a sigh, she returned to her desk. The now deaderline continued its inexorable march. OK, Lois exhorted herself, think. You can do five panels. Youre a

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professional. Youre Lois Cho, comic stripper! Hey, now there was an idea... she caught herself on the brink of obscenity. Yes, she was actually that desperate. And she was getting a migraine. Lois pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to suppress the tingle that was quickly turning into a one-too-many-kamikazes headache. No, not a headache It was her sense of injustice clamoring! The alarm was a Chinese opera to Lois ears. Dropping her pencil and Clark Kent anxieties, she spun like a paper lantern in a hurricane, her wire rim glasses and lightly starched ensemble blurring in a neutral palette cyclone. Whish! A ripple of air fluttered the blank page on her desk. And there in Wing Chun high horse stance, she unfurled as

Asia Girl!
Smoothing her Beijing smog black hair into a bun, Asia Girl let the panels of her hanbok settle around her. It was not, as the press often misdeclared, a kimono. It was a state of the calligraphy, fully equipped hanbok, direct from Seoul. Spun from the lightest of silks, it held more tricks than a milliners shop for magicians. Indeed, with a flick of her sleeve, Asia Girl could inflict greater damage than Godzilla on the villainor metropolisof her choice. Of course, as a superhero, she usually chose less apocalyptic means to justice. But in a pinch, it was always nice to have both sleeves cocked. Securing the last of her stray hairs with a lacquer comb that doubled as a throwing star, Asia Girl cracked her neck and dashed for the windowzing! * Aloft, the worries of Lois Cho seemed like fiction. Bad fiction. Asia Girl

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ascended to cruising altitude. Winging her way through the air, she felt lighter, freer. Less constipated. Lois muse might be unamused, but the siren call of injustice had never failed to inspire Asia Girl. Waving sayonara to the tragic-comic woes of another life, Asia Girl climbed to cruising altitudewoosh! And quicker than she could say, Feel the yellow claw of my justice, you malefactor! she arrived at the HUH TV Towers, where injustice had reared its homely head * She landed just in time at the TV station. A quick ninja reconnaissance revealed that network executives had convened to plot the new fall line-up: More Tokenism, More of the Time!TM The morning had gotten off to a rousing start with a motivational speech by HUHs only female employee, and the lights were dimming for a PowerPoint presentation on Killing Two Tokens With One Biracial Stone when Asia Girl kicked open the double doors with one very steel-reinforced stiletto bosun. The faces around the table gaped like koi in a drained pond. For a few moments, the room stagnated, silent and slack-jawed. Then, the VP of Reality Programming, always the first to misperceive a situation, harrumphed with a look of dismissive recognition, Auditions for The Bachelor: Fresh off the Boat are down the hall, honey. Confucius, was that the wrong thing to say. But Asia Girl decided to role play along for a moment. Ah, she clasped her hands together, blinking earnestly, so. Bowing her head, she shuffled backward a few paces as if to excuse herself, but really to get a running start.

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The suits were already turning back to the projection screen when Hi-YA! Asia Girl ordered up a little chop suey kung fuey, with extra sour sauce on the side. They didnt even see her strike. The only evidence was the boardroom table, which now lay in equal halves in their laps. I am Asia Girl! Faster than a speeding rickshaw! Able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound! And more powerful, she indicated the slain table, than the smell of ripe kimchi! All round eyes were fixed on her. She bowed once more, acknowledging her petrified opponents. Now lets talk tokens * Half an hour later, she was polling the suits to make sure everyone was clear as the melted snow from Mt. Fuji that one gay, two blacks, and half a Latino per three hours of evening programming was not going to cut the multicultural kimchi. Are we clear? Asia Girl asked again, tapping the Chopsticks of Truth on the tabletop. What if we add an Indonesian midget every half hour? one of the execs offered. Asia Girl closed her eyes. There was a slow learner in the group. Exhaling, she reactivated her slant eye vision just in time to spot the VP of Getting-Around-the-FCC scrabbling for the door on his belly. Ffffft! She foot bound him Spidey-style with a Chinese silk weave, formulated specially for its high constriction-to-struggle rating. He thumped to the floor like a Brooks Brother larva.

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Now, am I going to have to culturally revolutionize your ass, or are you going to be reasonable? she addressed the suit. Oww, he whimpered. Asia Girl took that as a yes and allowed the room a moment to contemplate the possibilities of a massive ass rebellion. Confucius had once told her, Justice long paddy to hoe. Then, wagging his finger at her, Rice harvested one grain at time. She considered the group assembled before her: oh yes, these little grains were going to require some thrashinger, threshing. Just then, the VP of Under-the-Table deals tried his own sub-tabla maneuver to reach the door. Asia Girl flared like a dragon with a torch under its tail. Fffft! Before he even cleared his ergonomically designed chair, Asia Girl had the veep bound tight. Her patience expired like a tourist visa. Time for playing amah to this crew was over. Does anyone else want to get intimate with the ancient Chinese practice of foot binding? Anyone? Maybe you wanna bind something else? Get down with your kinky self with a little help from the Song Dynasty? Asia Girl splayed her wrists; fourteen heads shook a mute declination. OK, then to review she resumed. The door whapped open. Shocked and Appalled here to assist! In stepped five feet-eight inches of cardigan cape and active-casual Spandex wear. Ready with outrage, indignation, and, of course, shocked and appalled ness After a moments hesitation, the Spandex figure tossed its tawny coif and flashed a flawless smile. Asia! You look fabulous! she shrilled.

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SarahI mean, uh, Shocked and Appalled? Asia Girl did a double take. Shocked and Appalled and Asia Girl, aka Sarah Pablum and Lois Cho, had been in the same class at the Super Academy. But Sarah had struggled from the beginning: while her fellow cadets mastered solo and super duo fighting techniques, archenemy psychology, and heroic motto writing, she was still gawking at the crime statistics in the orientation packet. Well into the winter term, gasps of Ohmigod! I cant believe this! I am so skittered like grains of rice from under Sarahs door. In fact, she spent so many hours poring over numbers clipped from newspapers that she flunked all her 101s. But Sarahs sincerity had ultimately paid off. After setting a school record for the longest continuous enrollment, she finally graduated, although without any particular honors. Today, upon this unexpected reunion, Asia Girl had to smile; it was always nice to see people realize their strengths. If nothing else, Sarah had definitely been Shocked and Appalled. Please, call me Shocks. And hey, I love the kimono! the junior superhero raved. Its a hanbok, actually, Asia Girl corrected. Cool. Very ethnic. You, too, Asia Girl gestured at Shocks khaki-inspired tights. Shocks paused, as if Asia Girl had just told her the emperor was butt-naked. Then she giggled, Right. Me, ethnic! Asia Girl decided to let that plate of chow mein slide. So, SarI mean, Shocked and Appalled

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Reporting, Shocks face snapped into a serious crime fighting expression. Whats the injustice? Tokenism. Corporate-scale. I was just explaining to our friends here that tokens are for the subway, but But Shocks had heard enough to leap into action. Toktoktokenism?? she gasped, I thought we were beyond that! I mean, can you fathom? I cant believe Ohmi She reeled, grabbing the nearest tie, more for support than emphasis. Tokenism?? But this is the twenty-first century! Whod a thunk Umm, Shocks? Asia Girl wanted to get on with resolving the situation. But Shocks didnt seem to hear. She had seen the enemy, and she couldnt believe it. III wasnt prepared for this Eyebrows arched like the eaves of a pagoda, Asia Girl pondered what, if anything, Shocks had been prepared for. II need a moment. Icant breathe Shocks plopped herself down on the lap of the nearest executive, who immediately began fanning the verklempt superhero. Unless sitting on villains was a new fighting technique, this, alas, was Shocked and Appalleds superpower: total impotence. No, Asia Girl wasnt going to put any of her rice in this bowl. OK then, have a seat there, Shocks. Now that we all know what the issue is, gentlemen and lady, lets talk primetime. This aint no Noahs Ark * By midmorning, Asia Girl had successfully foiled the TV stations plans, saving millions of innocent viewers from flatscreen ignorance in the form of Law & Order

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Ghetto-Style! and Who Wants to be a WASP? Of course, the media mighties had yet to understand what she meant by meaningful diversification of programming, but that was a fight for another day. So she freed the feet and other body parts shed bound, told them to consider what and how they showednot just how many of whomand escorted Shocks from the building. Theyd almost gotten clear of the misbroadcasting zone when an impressively obtuse network rep hobbled out to offer Asia Girl a starring role in her own kung fu series. Asia Girl cut through the fatty tuna. Thank you, but no. And now, if youd rather I not kill you, I suggest you go back inside. He did, and Asia Girl walked Shocks to a caf for a cup of green tea. One cold pot later, Shocks was still mumbling her astonishment, now to the jasmine pearls clumped in her mug like the marbles she had apparently lost. Asia Girl was getting impatient. Her colleague was turning into a real pain in the chakras. There were a few too many cracks in Shocks celadon, and while part of Asia Girlthe Pokmon partsympathized with her onetime classmate, another partthe King Ghidora partwanted to grab Shocks by the cardigan and drag her back to the Hall of Justice to ask the Superhero Certification Board what in niraya they were thinking when they gave her a license. The irritated truth was that while Asia Girl supported the getting of backs in her line of work, she couldnt give her chop of approval for getting the back, the front, the top, and the bottom, as well as both the sides. She glanced over at teary-eyed Shocks. What good was shock or outrageeven super-sizedif it only got you as far as the

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nearest lap? The Hall of Justice already had a booming roster of super-spacewasters: Feminist Femme, HughMan, and, of course, the Unoffenders. They didnt need to make it a quintet. At the thought of her colleagues, those supposed 21st century arbiters of justice, Asia Girl sighed and sagged, like a junk sail in a dead calm. If only they would put themselves out to pasture. Like Righteous Man. Now there was a superhero who knew when to turn his cape in * Once upon an abacus, Righteous Man had started his career as the Fighter for Rights. But zeal had transformed him into Righteous Man, fighter for his own sense of right; soon, he was preaching to anyone about anything that bristled his all too ready bristles. Then one day, he took off. Some time later, the Hall got word that he had started his own messianic movement. It turned out he was on to something big. The Right to be Right really appealed to people, and the last Asia Girl heard of her former colleague, he had opened a clinic for average folks who suspected they were right and just needed the tools to convince everyone else * Even as she reflected glowingly on Righteous Mans departure, Asia Girl reminded herself not to follow him too eagerly down the slippery Silk Road of selfveneration. Her job required conviction, for sure, but too much of any spice could ruin even the tastiest Mongolian hot pot. Maybe the scene back in the boardroom was a fluke. Maybe Asia Girl was too quick to see Sarah, student unextraordinaire, and not Shocked

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and Appalled, a true superpeer who was just having a bad day. Asia Girl regarded the lump of twitching indignation beside her. Yeah, maybe. Asia Girl took a breath and put her own outrage on the back burner. The day was young, and she was willing to bet her last baht that there was plenty more injustice out there to kung pao. She rose to full stiletto height. Then, after asking the waiter to keep an eye on Shocks lest her colleague slip and drown in her teacup, Asia Girl took off like laughter from a geishas lips... Zing! *

Dear Oops I Said It Again, Perhaps it is time to accept the oops of your ways. Maybe your readers really are how did you put it? Alistair shuffled through the news clippings on his desk and found the column where it had all begun. He continued typing. Ah yes, Less intelligent than petrified dung. And, as you so vividly described in your most recent column, the moral equivalent of the crust between a cats toes. However, while our job as advice columnists is to illuminate the hard truths for our readers, we should strive to do so with fewer scatological references, wouldnt you say? Alistair paused, hands poised above the keyboard. It seemed every day now, he was receiving a letter from yet another columnist who had snapped like the child-proof lid on a bottle of Xanax. How many times had he written this very same advice, encouraging a colleague to put down the quill and step away from the parchment? What was happening to tolerance? To compassion? He sighed and resumed typing.

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Alistair was in the middle of what he hoped was an eloquent plea for Oops I Said It Again to consider a vocation more appropriate for her emerging wrath, when Ed stuck his head through the door. Have you seen Lois? Ed (or Ed.the staff wasnt sure whether he went by name or title) was doing his weekly rounds, which consisted of dredging Lois up and badgering her back to her office with a threatening reminder about the upcoming deadline. Hmm? Uh, hold on Oops, I believe in you. Just apply that vituperation where it will be the most useful. Have you ever thought about playing ice hockey? Or driving a taxi?

Satisfied that he had not only identified the problem but provided a concrete, actionable solution, Alistair finished typing and folded his hands in his lap to contemplate fully and soberly the conundrum that was Lois. He suspected she had a motivation problem, something he had just addressed in a letter to an etiquette columnist who had begun telling her readers to get a life and leave her alone. But the look on Eds face suggested that now was not the time to riffle through the archives. Lois? Yes. She was just in her office. Well, shes not there now, growled Ed. Maybe she had to go out. Come to think of it, she didnt seem like her usual self. She seemed recalling the image of his colleague seated at her desk as she stared out the window, Alistair tried to find the words. She seemed flickery. Flickery? Eds tone red penned the question.

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Alistair frowned. He knew it must have been a trick of the light, but as she sat, head turned away and pencil held motionless to paper, Lois had seemed to flicker. Nodding slowly, he added, She may have been on her way to the gym. He wasnt sure why he thought so, but it struck him nonetheless as a reasonable deduction. Hopefully to jog her brain, Ed muttered as he stalked back to his office. And work out whatever it is, Alistair thought as turned back to his column. * Way above the metropolis, Asia Girl soared like a mini-Mothra, occasionally flapping her outstretched arms in a gesture of luxuriation. She was a junkie for flying. Loved it more than the Buddha dug enlightenment. After all, it was the first thing shed ever done well. Not piano, not violin, and certainly not math. Not tennis, not science fair, not keeping her eyes down and her voice low. No, the bilingual truth was that Lois was an exemplary average child, whose most notable accomplishment was her indefatigable ability to clean her plate down to the last grain of rice. That is, until the day she climbed up to the roof and went running for the edge. She hadnt been suicidal, and she hadnt been sleepwalking. No, quite simplyif illogicallyat the age of nine, Lois had run full speed for the roofs edge because she wanted to fly. Her parents, who had never suffered the delusion that Lois was a bright child, watched in upturned horror that Saturday afternoon as she pattered across the shingled slope. Dr. and Dr. Cho resigned themselves: their daughter was plainlyand soon to be painfullygaijin desu dumb. But to their shock, Lois didnt die. She launched off the rooftop, arms aloft, with the grace and ease of a crane. She

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swerved and swooped, swished and soared. She flew until her mother called her down: the bulgogi was ready. When Lois alit with dive bomber accuracy at the picnic table, her mother simply chided her not to eat so fast. No one mentioned aviation. The Drs. Cho, who were recent immigrants to the United States, assumed that flying was an American thing, like pizza or blue jeans. They accepted Lois aeronautics as just another benchmark of their daughters successful assimilation. So they continued to drive her to weekly violin lessons, and she continued to fly after school, on the weekends, and whenever the Christians called it a holiday. Years later, when the acceptance letters came, they were disappointed but supportive when Lois chose the Super Academy over a four year college. And while to the present day, they still sometimes fantasized about hanging out the Drs. Cho, Cho & Cho shingle, they were sincerely proud of Asia Girl. In fact, late at night, when Father Dr. Cho was asleep, Mother Dr. Cho could sometimes be found in the basement, chopping away at the air. Oh, how she envied her little girls ability to kick ass, groin, and clavicle, with a surgical and legally upstanding accuracy. Picturing her mother, Asia Girl thought about stopping by to see how the basement butt-kickings were going. But just then, her sense of injustice placed an emergency collect call: something shady was going down at the park. Making a mental note to call home later, Asia Girl veered off in the direction of the foliated foul play swoosh! * Meanwhile, in an ashram at an undisclosed location, a shadowy figure adjusted his skull cap and discreetly scratched his nose, all the while maintaining flawless eagle

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pose. The figure loved eagle pose. He was great at it. In fact, one time when he was going for the eagle pose record (there wasnt a record at the time, but he had thought it would be fun to set one) an eagle actually tried to mate with him. He sustained some gruesome injuries before the dozen sherpas in his retinue shooed the bird of prey away. But it was worth it. The record said it all. Today, though, he had the enlightenment of the world on his mind; he would have to abridge being one with the universe. I think well do my special edition series, not the whole Bikram thing. Maybe just pregnant cow to molted locust to inverted camel on pinky toes. Then a final asana and lets give it all weve gotecstatically humping rabbit. He offered this amiably to his yogi-sherpa as they deepened into opposing spinal twists. Vertebrae popped like corn on a campfire. Oh, and some of that fire breathing on the way back to the office. The yogi-sherpa grunted his assent, as he attempted to lob his head over his shoulder blade and then up and through his armpit. Anatomical difficulties notwithstanding, it was hard even to see his armpit through all the smoke that this figure of a thousand poses seemed to generate. Maybe, the sherpa considered, fire breathing wasnt such a good idea for the white man. Then he spotted ithis armpit! And with a long exhale, the sherpa tried once more to pitch his head through the hollow. The figure smiled, his teeth gleaming in a Jack o lantern grin. This yoga thing was great, he thought, and a little ingenuity on his part made it even better. The figure had a passionand a knack, if he did brag so himselffor reinvention. He couldnt be bothered with inventing the wheel, but hed retread it until the cars came home. Of course, some people called his work derivative, buthe breathed into ball o python

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hed changed their minds with an intimate demonstration of torque. The figure breathed in, becoming one with the universeor, as he preferred to think of it, the universe becoming one with him. He folded and stretched and leaned through the series like a balloon animal going through an identity crisis. As he popped up from his final pose, the sherpa struggled to extricate himself from once humping to now painfully cramping rabbit. The figure looked upon his still entangled companion with paternal benevolence; god, he loved these people. They were so what was the word? Unlitigious. Yes, but so much more than that: they had no pretensions of greatness. Thus, when faced with a will such as his own, they complied without any of the self-aggrandizement that was becoming the way of the worldly. It was refreshing. The figure reflected on the virtues of egolessness. Then, he reached down and snapped the yogi-sherpas neck. There simply wasnt time to wait for others to sort themselves out. Indeed, the new world orderhis new world orderwaited for no man, woman, or foreigner. The figure fastidiously rolled up his mat and exited the room shadow first, leaving the sherpa in a wad on the floor. Ah, the benefits of a spiritual regimen. The figure took another moment to bask in his oneness with himself. Then it was off to the lab to see how things were concocting. His smile broadened into a gondola at the thought of Phase Is impending execution * Asia Girl bounded through the park like a dragon at a Chinese New Year parade,

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her slant eye vision at full power. Whizzing past the verdancy and around the dog poop, she came to a bosun-melting full stop at the duck pond, where her sense of injustice exploded in a jangling cacophony. On the ground in front of her sat a teenage girl. Or rather, on the ground in front of her lay a man on top of whom sat a girl. The mans mouth, wrists, and ankles were duct taped, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a roll of duct tape twirled around the teens index finger. Asia Girl would have bet the rice paddy that this wasnt a tryst. The man, whose face was thoroughly engaged with the ground, did not notice Asia Girls arrival; the girl, who had been looking pretty pleased anyway, now grinned like a cat regarding its nip. No way! Are you Likeasiagirl? Before Asia Girl could respond that she was in factand not just approximatelyherself, the duct taper continued. No way! How cool! I make my first citizens bust and whos here to witness it but Likeasiagirl, how cool is that! Realizing that a question was not actually being asked, Asia Girl simply smiled before posing her own query, And you are? Kelly. So, Kelly your first arrest, huh? Asia Girl indicated the man. Whatcha got there? Man I wish I hadnt sat on my camera phone cuz how cool would it be to have a picture of you and me andoh, him! Right. Hes my bust. And whatd you bust him for? Asia Girl cast the bamboo rod a little deeper, hoping for a nibble; before she knew it, she had a great white on the line.

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Well, I was walking through the parkwe have the right you know, Kelly snarled at the man who was serving as her private bench. He grunted. So I was walking through the park, and this guys harassing a lady whos just trying to have her lunch and a half-hour of peace. He actually says to her The next words out of Kellys mouth would have made the entire Imperial Army blush. But Asia Girl wasnt the Imperial Army. She was a woman with the technology and the martial training to hurt this guy. For a moment, she contemplated binding a couple of his less obvious body parts, nice and too tight. But no, she reminded herself, justicenot disgustwas her cause. Kelly began stripping more tape from the roll. Apparently, she was going for a merit badge in bondage. As she trussed the perp like General Tsos last chicken, the teen muttered, Its just wrong. Asia Girl nodded sympathetically. You shouldnt be allowed to use that kind of language. Not in this country! Dj vu slapped Asia Girl upside the head. The avenger with the duct tape wasnt just protesting smut. She was censoring it. Oh, Confucius. This kid was a karaoke remix of an all too familiar tune, originally sung by No. It couldnt be. Could it? Was she back? An erstwhile anger came out of hibernation, shaking its matted fur at the evocation of Asia Girls old enemy. Easy, Asia Girl cautioned herself. Maybe the sound-alike rhetoric was just happenstance. Sure. Like the adhesives.

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She wasnt entirely buying the idea of lightning striking the same temple twice, but Kelly had begun unraveling even more tape; Asia Girl needed to intervene before the perp was totally mummified. Pfft! She whisked away the roll with hidden dragon stealth and took Kelly by the now free hand over to a real park bench for a chat. So he was talking trash, which is Asia Girl coaxed. Wronginsensitiveincorrect! Kelly glowered. The proof was in the rice pudding. Whether reincarnated or simply plagiarized, Political Correctness appeared to be back. And with her, Asia Girls desire to Yan Can Cook her cheeky white bread buns. That PC would resume her old trickery, as if Asia Girl flinched involuntarily at the humiliating memory of how eagerly she and the rest of the superfools had bought into PCs winsome, well-worded, and ultimately warped cause * Political Correctness had seemed soheck, so correct way back when she first joined the superheroes union. Her mantra: Respect for others through the language we use had made such perfect sense. Before the ink had dried on Asia Girls application for a change of monikerto, what else? Asia Womanall the superheroes had joined the charge, apprehending anyone who even whispered one of the words on the No-No List. It was greatmaybe a mite totalitarianbut as much as Asia Girl hated to admit it now, she and the rest of the superfolks had enjoyed the clarity that PC brought to the job. There was no need to think so much. Just check the list. No-No words: bad. Stuttered, apologetic, and paranoid speech: good. Yes, Asia Girls lips skewed, PC had made things easier. Suddenly, a hero could

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do the job, just by sitting there and objecting. Applications at the Academy had centupled; everyone felt capable of doing good. Newly minted legions of not-so-actioninclined heroes had suited up and grabbed their bullhorns, ready to spring into their arm chairs and make some justice happen. Of course, those salad days had wilted like a home perm caught out in the rain when PC unmasked her mad villainy. It began with the expansion of the No-No List from words and phrases, to specific opinions and even entire topics: at the height of PCs power, any mention of welfare reform would buy you the punishment of five superheroes. And no one would dare utter an opinion about reverse racism. Then the superglue incidents started. Asia Girl recalled the first case: an attack on a librarian who had last been heard reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to a group of students. The next morning, colleagues found him cowering in the African-American literature aisle, face turned to the bookshelf. When they finally coaxed him out of his huddle, they discovered why he wouldnt name his attacker: he couldnt. A gallon of nail polish remover later, they had dissolved the glue from his lips. But even when his face had healed from the acetone burns, he would not resume reading at work. The children begged and pleaded, but he would only whisper that they were better off reading silently to themselves in the privacy of their own rooms with the doors locked and the shades drawn. Ever after, when some unknowing bibliophile went to check out a book by Mark Twain, the librarian would run away, shrieking in terror. Other incidents followed. Here and there, a victim turned up, gagged with a dose of adhesive across the lips. Then the glue began to pour, like tears from Madame

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Butterflys jilted eyes. But even then, the superheroes didnt make the connection between PC and this vigilantismor maybe they did and chose to look the other way. There was no denying that complacency had gotten the best of them: they liked the new silence of Political Correctness. The return of civility, as some of them called it, lulled the defenders of justice into thinking that maybe they had fixed the world and gotten people to treat each other right. But all theyd gotten was the sari pulled over their eyes. Eventually though, even the most devoted PC-ites had to wake up and smell the soju. In a brilliant fit of efficiency, PC graduated to gluing groups of people together for anticipated word crimes. After all, why wait when you knew people were bound to misspeak? Freedom of speech was sputtering like a Toyota underwater when Asia Girl finally discovered PCs fatally uncorrected flaw. But to her landmassive regret, she never got to show her colleague the error of her waysbecause, suddenly and without explanation, Political Correctness disappeared. In her absence, speech reemerged like cherry blossoms in springtime, and the populace awoke as if from a collective hangover, tongues heavy in their mouths like carpets needing a good beating. Whether PC had been hatching her devious scheme all along or simply lost her wonton chips somewhere in the batter, no one ever knew. Frankly, neither did it matter. What did matter, what really steamed Asia Girls pork buns, was that PC was supposed to be one of the good guys. And under that guise, she had wreaked more havoc on the city than any word, however profane, ever could * Recalling how she herself had been duped, if only for the blink of an almond eye, Asia Girl shuddered again. PC may have been as nutty as chestnuts roasting, but you had

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to give the gal credit for her earnestness. She had meant every mote of mayhem she caused out of her despotic sense of what wasand wasntcorrect. And now, over a year since PC and her droppers of extra-sticky glue had sealed any orifices in the metropolis, Asia Girl sat on a bench with version 2.0 of her old nemesis. The kid was less deft, but just as ardent. And if Asia Girl had learned anything in ten years of rampaging against injustice, it was respect for an ardent foes potential. Of course, respect was just one flavor in the masala of emotions Asia Girl was feeling. The taste of unfulfilled vengeance was full frontal on her palate. And she couldnt deny the stinging salt of umbrage. It was insultinga slap in the topknotto imagine that PC would flaunt her return so boldly. And quite frankly, Asia Girl was disappointed. She expected more originality from PC, whose potency had derived in no small measure from her unprecedented style and strike. Yet here was Kelly, silencing away Asia Girl was about to cut the tofu and ask Kelly outright where PC was hiding, when her sense of injustice revved up to a five gong alarm, alerting both temples: the Hall was calling. Asia Girl was going to have to wrap this situation. She tapped the Chopsticks of Truth against her palm. So what to do with this ronin of the duct tape? Kelly, who had just had a revelation about the NAACP needing a good correcting, was getting up to purchase a gross of back-up rolls when Asia Girl shot a handful of tapioca balls at her feet, sending the teen sprawling in the grass. No restraints needed. Asia Girl hoped that reasoning would suffice to redirect Kellys energies; she didnt want to have to tae, kwan, or do the kid. Whoa! Kelly had apparently enjoyed the ride. She picked up a tapioca ball and,

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after inspecting it closely, popped it in her mouth. Mmm gummy! Asia Girl was befuddled by the kids schizophrenic adaptability. Kelly juggled moods like a quadradextrous Chinese circus act. From giddy to ferocious to now content, this girl couldnt make up her mind. Or she really enjoyed changing it. Either way, Kellys distraction provided an opening for some conversation. Asia Girl scooped up a tapioca ball and tossed it to Kelly, This taping business I dont know how its supposed to do the job. Kelly ceased chewing for a moment to offer an explanation of the mechanics and proven effects of sealants. What I mean, Asia Girl clarified, is that there has to be a better way. Sure, you can crusade all over the city, taping up offending mouths one by one, but what will that accomplish? Just because people cant say it, doesnt mean theyre not thinking it. And thats what really matters: thinking it. Kelly, cheeks stuffed like a chipmunks, nodded gravely. Asia Girl could see the incense lighting up over the girls head. I figure we have a choice: we can try to police the free speech roadsbut I wouldnt place a bet in Macau on our odds of catching all the reckless driversor we can do some drivers ed. You know, understand where people are trying to go and help them find a better way to get there. A better way, Kelly thoughtfully chomped a mouthful of squished tapioca. Yeah, Asia Girl crouched beside the girl. As an old teacher of mine used to say, Many road lead to Philippine. Best take boat. Kelly smiled uncertainly as she tried to connect island to mainland.

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Now, I have to fly, but here Asia Girl dispensed another palmful of tapioca. You have to find your own way. But in the meantime, no more taping, OK? Kay. And with those last pearls of wisdom, Asia Girl took off like a lighted firecracker. Skip-pow! * On her way to the rice rocket to take the dispatch call, Asia Girl couldnt shake a sumo-size shadow of apprehension. It wasnt Kelly. Shed be OK with some direction. No, what was bugging Asia Girl like a grub in her rice bowl was a lingering suspicion about the ebb of PC: even when it was kurisutaru clear that PC had set her censoring sights on the Bill of Rights, not all of the superheroes had actually rallied against her tyranny. Sure, after PCs disappearance, the Hall hoisted a new party line up the flagpole. Suddenly, Political Correctness was an outlaw oxymoron. And all the registered heroes swore allegiance to their new position like Koreans toeing the Thirty-Eighth Parallel. But then and even now, Asia Girl suspected that some of her colleagues might know more than they admitted about PCs whereabouts She picked up the pace, as if to outstride the anger and embarrassment that still haunted her, however past PC might be. She had just reached the rice rocket when the call came in over the karaoke mic. Hall of Justice, Equity-slash-Equality, Tolerance, and Inclusion to Asia Girl. Come in, Asia Girl. Oh, Buddha. Ever since the Hall had sponsored a focus group to revamp its image, things had gotten wordy. Equity-slash-Equality? Someone at the Hall should

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use a dictionary. This whole cultural retrofit, as the Chief described it, was a crock of kimchi jigae, as far as Asia Girl was concerned. She began power-rotating a pair of baoding balls in her palm to calm herself. Just as long as it didnt interfere with the job Asia Girl here. Hey, Hall. Asia Girl, the Unoffenders are really sorryreally, really sorrybut theyre unable to cover Magnificat Heights today. Something about too many reparations, not enough time Can you swing through just to make sure everythings copacetic? The Unoffenders were among the few remaining legacies in the business; their parents, Fleur Power and Guilt Blanc, had crusaded internationally against injustice in the seventies. Horrified at the blight of apartheid, Power and Blanc were inspired to adopt South African twins by mail order. For nine months, their salvation fantasies gestated: oh, how they would save these two souls from famine, disease, and general Africanness! But then, two white as chardonnay Boer orphans showed up on their doorstep without return postage. A surprised Power and dismayed Guilt nonetheless took advantage of the irony and lovingly raised the children to be appropriately mortified by their birthright privilege. Indeed, the twins Nostra and Culpa, who would later become the Unoffenders, constituted a mighty alliance of regret and attempted restitution. The brother and sister could rally more atonement for the least inconsideration, let alone an actual grievance, than any god had ever hoped to inspire. In their most recent campaign to unoffend women who had erroneously been asked when they were due, Nostra and Culpa had strapped on prosthetic bellies and canvassed the city carrying signs that read, Ask me if Im pregnant. (The response was not pretty, but it did cause people to think twice before congratulating anyone on their impending bundle of joy.) Thus, it was no trifling matter

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to incur their powers of reparation. In fact, the last time Asia Girl had covered for them, she had had to step over their mortifications at her front door for a month before she could convince them that she was not offended, affronted, or even lightly chafed. If Asia Girl wanted to avoid Apologizapalooza Part II, she would have to handle this situation with zero tolerance for the twins penitence. Im on it. Like white on Caucasians, Asia Girl confirmed. And please tell the Unoffenders Im happy to do it. For the love of Inari, no flowers or serenades. Thank you, Asia Girl. Well let em know. Appreciate it, Hall. Over and out. This is the Hall of Justice, Equality/Equity, Tol Asia Girl clicked off the mic. * Meanwhile, on the seedier side of the metropolis Nostra? Culpa strained to hear the two syllables of his own name, called back to him from somewhere in the darkness. The halved hero tried tremulously again, N-nostra? The fairly dynamicbut more often maudlinduo known as the Unoffenders had somehow gotten separated during what should have been a routine apology. Normally, they were far too co-dependent to lose track of each other. Perhaps therapy hadnt been such a good idea. Culpa would discuss this with Nostra ifhe shook his headwhen he found her. Right after he apologized for losing her. He took a deep breath. This was no time to crack up over a misplaced twin: they were on a mission. Since their graduation from the Academy, Nostra and Culpa had

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maintained a state of perpetual repentance. You name it, and they had done it in their truly heroic campaign to atone for everything and anything that had happened, was happening, or possibly might happen in the future. But somehow, fasting and flagellation for a fortnight, all-you-can-repent telethons, and even handwritten, individually addressed notes to the general populace didnt seem to say, Were sorry! sincerely enough. Then, in the midst of a debate over whether cursive script or block lettering best conveyed the depth of their angst, Nostra arrived upon the ideal solution: they would go door to door. Thus, like evangelicals at ten minutes to judgment day, they began barnstorming the city. They even had fliers. Ironically, their quest to unoffend was less than endearing to some. During Nostra and Culpas first week on the road, the police received several complaints of aggressive tandem attacks from a pair of Spandex-clad Greeks who uttered their apologies even as they hurled themselves at peoples ankles. Public nuisance citations notwithstanding, Nostra and Culpa had made some good progress. In fact, they had just one stop left on their tour de restitution: the warehouse district, where they were presently lost. Silence breathed rather noisily in Culpas straining ear. Nostra?? Now he was irritated. Nostra knew the routine. They were never, ever, ever to leave each others sides. Especially in a neighborhood likeCulpa clapped a hand over his mouth before the offensive thought could escape. Truth be told (which it could never be, for obvious reasons) the twins had been nervous about checking this last item off their To Atone list. Indeed, their heroing had always veered unconsciously from the metropolis shadier hoods to those locales less alarming to their suburban-bred sensibilities. Conveniently for them, affluence correlated highly with affront: deluxe senses of entitlement among the

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have-alls and got-mines had always kept the twins plenty busy. Theyd had no need to confront their socio-geographic bias. Until now. Nostra? he tried again. Not for the first time, Culpa lamented that for all their superpowers of regret, penitence, and eggshell walking, the Unoffenders lacked the arguably more useful, if mundane, power of direction. After looking left, right, behind, and forwardand realizing that he had forgotten which way was forward anyway Culpa resorted to spinning in a circle, hollering, NOSTRA? Theres no need to yell. He froze in mid-spin. The voice, not his sisters, was directly behind him. But even as he felt the hairs prickle on his neck, he felt soothed by the voice, as if from its resonant depths it offered him, at last, the forgiveness he had sought his entire life. For a moment longer, Culpa allowed the voices echo to waft about him like the smoky incense of repentance requited. Then he slowly rotated around. Before him stood his sister. Nostra Culpa! Im so sorry I made you worry! she responded, notably more upbeat than he had expected. But before he could ask what, who, or how, a figure in a billowing cape stepped out from behind her. And you are? Culpa asked, squinting to discern the man within the billows. The figure smiled, Delighted. * Three blocks and three seconds after signing off with the Hall of Justice et al, Asia Girl was in the Heights. To the uninitiated crime fighter, the assignment might seem like a day off: Magnificat was a Rubenesque rump of old money, with cheeks

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commanding some killer oceanfront real estate. All across this marvelous backside and down its Brazilian-waxed crack, precision-tuned European autos purred, non-fat lattes steamed, and illegal immigrants took other peoples children to the park. Statistics boasted that Magnificat had the weakest crimebeat in the entire city, which was not surprising, considering security systems outpopulated human residents two to one in the neighborhood. The altitude helped, too. The last criminals who tried to scale the Heights got nosebleeds and passed out halfway up. But that was crime. Injustice was an entirely different cardiogram. On Asia Girls scroll, crime was to injustice what nail polish was to beauty. And it was in places like Magnificat, where everything was clipped and groomed, polished and remodeled to gleaming, luscious quintessence, that injustice could be found in its fullest, most breathtaking excess. Injustice was the elephas maximus in the boutique windows and sidewalk cafs of the Heights: everyone saw it but could afford to feign blindness behind their Chanel sunglasses. And so they did. But Asia Girls almond eyes were polarized to eliminate the glare from entitlement. She parked the rice rocket and powered up her slant eye vision to scan the shade-dappled blocks. All looked peaceful, of course. Hopping out, she considered her options: left for a scone and a pedicure, or right for a tour of Open Arms Academy, a selfproclaimed progressive charter school for gifted students. The academy was a fine institution, with a fine tuition attached to itnot the kind of place your average superhero could afford. Asia Girl opted for the tour and maybe a quick brush-up on her alpha beta gammas. The road to Open Arms was an obstacle course of double-parked Mercedes,

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oblivious cell phone chatterers, and nannies bent over in various states of placation. Just the kind of warm-up that Asia Girl relished before a couple of kung fu rounds with the bad guys. She lowered her head and set off in a sprint, hurdling a double-lane of handbuffed hoods in a single bound. Nearing the wide green lawn of Open Arms, Asia Girls sense of injustice began tingling. She galloped toward a low window and launched over the sill, folding herself origami-style. Landing on the spiked heels of her bosun, she barely made a click as she touched down on the bathroom tile. Eggrolling to the door, she cracked it a chopsticks width open and peeked down the hallway. It was empty, save for one small boy. And what appeared to be a dead animalor twolying in front of him. Asia Girl swooped soundlessly to his side. A small brown face barely peeked up from its commitment to studying the concrete floor. The boy was crying. Hey there, Asia Girl knelt down, noticing out of the slant of her eye that the carcass was actually a faux suede jumpsuit, crumpled up and wrapped in a feathered headband. Whats your name, friend? He sniffled, Jos. Jos, Im Asia Girl. Whats up with this? Asia Girl gestured at the pile of dressup clothes. Im supposed to put it on. But you dont wanna? Jos shook his head with the heavy deliberation of Siddartha declining another spin around the wheel of samsara. At that moment, the door thwacked open. Out popped

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a miniature beer wench and a caveman. The pair pushed past Asia Girl and Jos, clattering beer stein charm bracelets and bone necklaces all the way to the bathrooms. From the open classroom door, Asia Girl could hear a teachers voice, Now class, its time for Guess-My-People Asia Girl pulled the door shut. Whats going on in there? she asked Jos, whose face had creased in a deep frown. Were supposed to wear our nanative costumes, he mumbled, resuming his commitment to memorizing the floor. Uh-huh, Asia Girl regarded the costume: standard issue Halloween wear. The moccasin did not, in fact, fit. But youre not No. So how did you get this Missus VanBugle gave it to me. She said I could wear it since I forgot to bring my costume in, but I didnt forget. And Im not No, youre not, Asia Girl sighed. Despite a quarter century and a plenteous endowment, it appeared that some things hadnt changed since young Lois had toted her own Hello Kitty pencil box to class * Everybody, listen up now! Today is a very special day, a very special day, indeed. Today is Hyphenated Peoples Day, when we celebrate the partial Americanization of diverse peoples who have managed to cross oceans and sneak past border patrol! The classroom of six year olds fidgeted, wondering how long it was until recess.

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This was Mr. Kinds daily dilemma. After a morning of Math and Language Arts, the kids were ready to play. But not, the school board had determined, without a dose of Global Sensitivity first. GS was the centerpiece of Worldview Elementarys academic program, which promised to prepare every student to be a leader in Math, science, and appropriately apologetic Americanism. This triple-threat of excellence parlayed Worldview into a semi-precious gem of public education and drove the districts real estate values up to a paradoxical premium: while parents sought out Worldview so that their children could learn about diversity, the exclusivity of the housing market ensured that neither generation would have to live in it. So it was that on Hyphenated Peoples Day the number of hyphens in the room equaled one Lois Cho. Mr. Kinds next words were inevitable. Lois, do you have anything youd like to share about your experience of being partially American? All heads pivoted toward the pair of black pigtails slouching at desk level in the second to last row. For Lois, Global Sensitivity had never been so painful. Umm, I have to pee. * Asia Girl surfaced from the flash flood of her past. Apparently, some old wounds hadnt entirely healed. But whereas what was done was done, what was happening, well, that had yet to be determined. She decided that it was time for the educational system to go indigenous on someone its own size, and vowed to Pucca that Jos would not have to don any headgear.

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Just as she was rising to mete out some elementary justice, bone and beer stein ricocheted back up the hall. Trampling Joss boycotted costume, the caveman beat the bierfrau to the door, which swung open just as they grabbed for the knob. The exuberance that was Mrs. VanBugle surged out into the hallway. Joseph, are we ready to join the class? Jos tensed, sniffled, and gave the feathers of hisor rather, herheaddress a kick. Have we had a change of VanBugles volubility drained to an airless gasp as Asia Girl stepped out from behind the door. Oh my. Mrs. VanBugle? Asia Girl. Ive been chatting with Jos here, and Oh, do come in! What a wonderful coincidence! How perfect for the children! Quicker than Asia Girl could say Aiiieeee! the Bugle had her by the elbow and was ushering her into the room. Asia Girl noted that the Bugle had an impressive grip. Class! Class! We have a visitor! Forty eyes in a sea of beads, embroidery, and hosen not just of the leder variety turned to Asia Girl. Hands stopped bopping heads, mouths stopped hollering, and butts found chairs. Asia Girl wasnt particularly tall, but there was something towering about her presence. Particularly in a room full of five year olds. The Bugle blared on, China Girl is here, and look, shes wearing her native costume! Welcome to Multicultural Day at Open Arms, Classroom K-1! Chinese Girl, would you like tell us about what youre wearing? Hands clasped, the Bugle turned to her guest, full of pedagogical pride and cultural expectation. Actually, the show and tell hero responded, without missing a beat of the

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jangdan, its Asia Girl. She used the Chopsticks of Truth to point out the difference between country and continent on a handy wall map. And this she planted the chopsticks back in her bun and swept her hand down to the steel tips of her bosun, aint my native costume, kids. She executed a turbo-pirouette shed learned from a black belt fan dancer. This is. Asia Girl stopped on a yen in front of the class, sporting a tank top, capris, and some really cute suede sneakers. The Bugle gasped, her teaching moment dissolving before her wide eyes. The other get-up, Asia Girl continued, is my work uniform. A fusion of traditional Korean and superhero clothing with pan-Asian accessories. So its not native to me or anyone else, really. Its Asia Girl trailed off, noting that the Bugle had slid into a chair. Not native, not native, the teacher mumbled, but cargo pants are native? Cargo pants Good Ganesh. It was the damn cargo pants every time. The Bugle was going to need some support. And in a flash of brilliant typecasting that Kurosawa would admire, Asia Girl knew just whom to call. Who better to absorb the shock than Opening her third eye, she saw her old classmate at a gas station only a few blocks away. The revived super rookie was commiserating with consumers who were aghast at rising prices. Asia Girl whipped out a fortune cookie, stuffed a message into it, and hurled it like a shuriken out the window. In a Hokkaido second, her third eye saw it bonk Shocks in the head. It would be a few minutes. In the meantime, some triage. She

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was, after all, the daughter of doctors. Are you doing OK, Mrs. VanBugle? Asia Girl and a clump of multicultural minis gathered around the teacher. Asia Girl was sympathetic. Frames of reference were tough to adjust, what with the glue of habit and all those nails of belief that went into constructing them. Asia Girl tried to help, I know its toughkinda like the idea of ethnic food. She smiled wryly, As if any food isnt? The Bugle twitched. Asia Girl reminded herself: babysteps. Just then, reliefAsia Girl could only hopehad arrived. Shocked and Appalled at your service! Ready with outrage, indignation, and, of course, shocked and appalled umm ness, Shocks still hadnt found her flow. Asia Girl made the requisite introductions. Then she pulled Shocks aside for what she thought would be a quick recap of events. But Asia Girl had thought wrong, like curry on coffee cake. She hadnt gotten very far in explaining the Bugles vision of Jos as the original Tonto, when Shocks unleashed her superpower. She what? Are you telling meI cant believe it! The ignorance! Lemme at herand she calls herself a teacher? How could she be so so insensitive, so blind, so vile, so offensive? Shocks, who had momentarily exhausted her vocabulary, sat heavily on the nearest desktop, inadvertently smushing a smorgasbord of Tostitos, fortune cookies, and other multicultural carbs. The calories seemed to do her some good, and she resumed her rant. We should organize a protest, thats what we should do Just call her Shocked and Appalled and Totally Not Getting It. This was ridiculous. Van Bugle was a misguided Marco Polo, but she wasnt the villain. She was but a pustule; they needed to cure the pox.

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Asia Girl tried to jump in, but her colleague was on a California roll, heading straight for the Bugle in a blonde blur, How could you? I mean, dont you know better? Whats wrong with you? IIIm feeling faint Concerned about the Bugles ability to withstand any more Shocks to her system, Asia Girl decided to wrap the situation before it really started stinking. OK, lets focus on taking care of everyone here. The Bugle made a bad call, but A bad call? A bad call is phoning your ex after youve had too many margaritas! This is a wretched injustice, not only to Jospoor Jos!but to Latinos the world over! And I am Asia Girl snapped like an uncooked rice noodle. Shocks Theater of the Appalled had gotten as old as the Shilla Kingdom. Lemme guess. You are so shocked and appalled! Shocks didnt miss a beat of her tired tune. Right. Youre so shocked and appalled that you dont even know where to begin. Vigorous nodding. Let alone what to say. More nodding, and a finger on the nose. Or do. Asia Girl fancied that she could hear the vertebrae chattering in Shocks neck. So you dont do anything about anything. The nodding slowed and shallowed as Asia Girls tone dawned like the rising sun on Shocks. Asia Girl elaborated, You dont do anything because, heckwho has the time? All that indignation takes effort, right?

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Wwell, Shocks rasped. How can you not be outraged? Its all so awful, so Unimaginable, right, Asia Girl focused her slant eye vision mercilessly. Yeah, yeah, like abused prisoners of war or corporate executives who embezzleI cant believe it! Call me Shocked and Appalled! Whoda thunk: you tell people its a Korean-eat-dog worldand they misconduct themselves! Imagine! Asia Girl sprang on a roll of her own. Oh, but no, I couldnt! She protested with her hands in the air as if to defend herself from the onslaught of winged imaginings beyond her comprehension. Evil? Injustice? Can-not com-pute! Please say it aint so! Silence bloomed like a lotus in the night. It must be nice. Wh-what? Shocks stammered. Being able to afford all that disbelief. Ladies and gentlemen, it insulates and repels: reality-Gortex! Shocks was silent, her nodding stilled. Her face reminded Asia Girl of a crumpled shikhye can. Thats some privilege, Asia Girl croaked. She took a breath and decided not to waste any more on Shocks impotence. Now look, the Bugle is going to need some time to recuperate, and itd be better if someone were here with her. Any chance you have some Confused but Working Through It in your tool belt there? Shocks lowered her head and barely raised it again to signal her assent. Some unappalled part of Asia Girl registered her associates distress. That part of Asia Girl would have liked to apologize, to be a kinder, gentler Asia Girl. But

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But Chinese Girl was not such an enlightened being. Chinese Girl shook off her remorse. She had bigger dumplings to fry. With that rationalization, she vaulted over a row of desks and bolted out the door. Jos was still out in the hall. Asia Girl swept Shocks histrionics and her own disgust under the tatami and regarded the boy. She noted that his non-native costume no longer adorned the floor. I guess its time for me to change out of one costume she said, tugging at her capris. Then, executing a reverse roundhouse kick in the air, she spun back into her injustice-fighting gear and into the other. She shrugged, and a smile like the stroke of a calligraphers brush appeared on her lips. The funny thing is, I like wearing it. Them. Both. You think I should just put it on? Jos asked, glancing sideways at a trashcan from which the tip of a blue feather protruded. No, Asia Girl squatted beside him to get a gander at the world from his point of view. I think we have to dress up anyway, so we might as well choose our own costumes, instead of letting other people dress us. You know? Yes, he nodded. Tell you what, she glanced conspiratorially over her shoulder before continuing. If you ever need me, do this. She tossed her head back and squawked a cranes unison call in the air, Aack-ack-ack-ack! And just wait He was still nodding his agreement when a whoosh of wings filled the hall, and a white streak shot past him to land on Asia Girls outstretched arm. When the feathers had settled, he saw it was a snowy owl? Jos, who happened to know his bird calls,

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frowned. Yeah, I know, said Asia Girl, sheepishly, But I couldnt resist. You know, those big eyes. The owl poofed his head feathers at the compliment. Anyway, Miso here will come if you call, and hell deliver any message you give him. And then, she and Miso leaned in a little closer, I will be here. Faster than a speeding rickshaw, pal. Jos smiled for the first time that morning. Ruffling his hair, Asia Girl took one last glance through the classroom door, where Shocks and the Bugle sat amid a cultural maelstrom: the St. Pauli girl had tried to steal Pocahantas graham crackers, an army of redcoats was laying down the tax code, and a mini-Madame Mao crouched in the coat closet crying. It wasnt pretty, but it had a certain historical authenticity. With one last wink and coo, Asia Girl and Miso shot out the main doors of the academy, feathers and hanbok aflurryzing! zing! * Asia Girl and Miso were cruising at altitude when she noticed that her companion was watching her, instead of the troposphere. Dont look at me like that. Did you have to be so harsh? Misos unblinking eyes seemed to ask. Asia Girl hated it when Miso took advantage of his species evolution to make his point. Yes, I wish things had gone better with Shocks. But she has to get a GrecoRoman grip on herself. The girl is an odyssey when you need a haiku. Not a blink from Miso.

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Feeling does not by itself justice make! Sometimes when Asia Girl got really broiling, her English took an odd turn for the Confucian. The owl lowered his lids. His expression suggested that he expected better from someone whose prefix was super. By her bushido, she should be ashamed. But Asia Girl, who was in no mood for the evil half-eye from a snowy owl, felt a different emotion rising * Little Lois Cho had been bornperhaps even conceivedwith a healthy whiteknuckled grip on her ire. As soon as she had formed limbs and digits, she had employed them to hammer like a sagasa kickboxer at the amniotic sac of her nurturance. To this day, the maternal Dr. Cho, by nature as pacific as the ocean she had crossed as a newlywed, still winced at the memory of those final months of pregnancy. By comparison, delivery had felt like a gentle spring rain. In pre-school, Lois found a more deserving target for her rage: playground bullies. By mid-autumn, she had successfully cleaned up the yard, making slides and swings safer for everyone. Then in second grade, her cause expanded to embrace all fauna, big and small. This led to some contradictions. After traumatizing a boy for pulling the wings off butterflies, she was sent to counseling. But despite his best efforts to pathologize her, the counselor found that Jungian, Freudian, criminal, and Swedish modes all deemed her reasonably normal. His notation in her file read: Lovely child. Rather meek and quiet, except when she senses injustice. Then, duck. Shield tender parts. Once justice is achieved, give lollipop. Since no one had a beef satay with justice, Lois was released back into the general population.

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And so, Lois had proceeded, like a bull in a celadon shop, to hulk out on injustice wherever she encountered it. In fact, the academy had accepted her application on the presumption that this trait would become her signature power. The admissions committee was particularly impressed (if a little frightened) with her uncanny reflex for furious action before higher level thinking. However, Lois had other plans. Declining the aliases her advisor suggestedthe Outragist and Indignant-etteshe opted instead to cultivate her other constitutional power * On this occasion, though, fury fit like Imeldas glass slipper. Asia Girl activated her self-defensiveness shield. Look, Im a superhero, not a superfriend or a Powerpuff girl. Am I supposed to say, Hey, way not to make a difference! and give her a medal? Shes supposed to be one of the good guys! Shes supposed to turn the tide of injustice, not impale herself on her own incredulity and then flop around because it hurts! Shes doing the best she can, Misos feathered brow protested. Yeah, and the best she can makes my job harder. With all that over-shock, who needs archenemies? But even as she upbraided Shocks, Asia Girl flinched at her own intolerance. She looked away, unwilling to suffer the expression on Misos beak. Then, from among the gossamer depths of her hanbok, Chopsticks started playing. Saved by the cymbal, she thought, reaching for her cell phone. Miso eyed the phone as he might a field mouse. Human rudenessespecially when it was parlayed into avoidancereally fluffed his feathers. He glowered at her, but Asia Girl was already riding her excuse like Aladdin on his magic carpet.

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Faster than a speeding rickshaw, Asia Girl here. Hi, honey, Mrs. Dr. Cho lilted back. You busy? Asia Girl watched Miso begin to groom himself meticulously. His attention to each quill suggested that she was Asiana non grata. Not so much. Whats up, Ma? Oh, work. Your father and I keep think we retire, but but then youd both have to get new jobs? Asia Girl smiled into her phone. She knew her parents were as likely to retire as Communist China was to adopt the caste system. Not that the Drs. Cho were workaholics; they liked to recreate as much as the next immigrants. Indeed, they could cut quite the Oriental rug on date nights. Once, they even tripped the lantern fantastic at a fast food restaurant, much to an adolescent Lois chagrin. While Lois had hoped that none of the other patrons would suspect that the doctors belonged to her, her parents showed no such self-consciousness, supplying the words to a Muzak version of Fly Me to the Moon as they whirled and twirled across the French fry-strewn floor: Fly me to the moon, And let me play among the stars, Let me see what spring is like On Ju-pi-ter and Mars... No, Asia Girl reflected, her parents werent driven to work obsessively, compulsively, or even marginally. As someone who approached her work with an all-or-upsuh attitude, she found herself wondering once again what their not-so-ancient, not-so-Chinese secret was. Maybe, mother Dr. Cho musing on her next profession, Maybe I home decorate. Arrange flower. Fight crime. There was a note of admiration in her teasing.

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Asia Girl contemplated the soft-shoe number her mother could do on criminals city-wide. Sweet little Asian lady by day, avenger with a pink plastic bag at night. Yes, Mrs. Dr. Cho would administer the law with all the surety with which she currently prescribed rest, plenty of water, and a bag of smelly herbs. The good guys could definitely use you, Ma. But then, what your father do? Asia Girl could hear the shrug of her mothers shoulders, the same shoulders that had supported Mr. Dr. Cho through medical school, where Mrs. Dr. Chos star had admittedly twinkled a little more brightly. Just lucky, she had dismissed her higher class ranking, even as he glowed with pride for her. Ten years later, those same shoulders supported Lois head when the rigors of elementary school had beaten the silken tofu out of her. And today, even though she was a capable superhero in her own right, Asia Girl felt the childish urge to curl up and rest for just a moment at her mothers side. I let you go now. Mrs. Dr. Cho was never one to overstay a conversation. When you come home? Isoon, Ma. I promise, but I cant Ching chong! her watch sounded its pre-set alarm. It was almost time for the weekly superforce meeting at the Hall. Miso gave a powerful flap of his downy wings; he liked to get a good perch by the window. I have to fly. OK. Take care! Be safe! You, too. Give Dad a hug for me. As Mrs. Dr. Cho hung up, Asia Girl could hear her humming softly.

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on Ju-pi-ter or Mars, Asia Girl added the lyrics with a smile, trotting over to the rice rocket. Then, she fired up the turbo-powervroom! * Meanwhile, in a super-secret laboratory at an undisclosed location somewhere in the metropolis, science was refusing to advance. Hop Singh shook his head. For all his PhDs, he couldnt figure out what was wrong. Staring into the beaker, he reviewed the procedure in his head one more time. Ah, maybe he had heated the compound too quickly. He turned the Bunsen burner to low and prepared another sample, carefully stirring each of seventeen vials into a new beaker, which he held and swirled above the flame. The contents of the beaker clouded, and then, as he allowed the mixture to cool, it turned urine yellow. Brahman bollix! Singh, a top-notch researcher and inventor, was beginning to take this chemical reaction personally. He was Dr. Hop Singh, personally credited with pioneering passably safe nuclear home appliances, explaining where the matching socks go, and concocting the perfect pH-balanced mango chutneyall while he was still in high school. Failure was not in his extensive SAT vocabulary. Or in his contract. After completing three decades worth of graduate education during summers between his undergrad years, Singh had received job offers from an aeronautics firm, a pharmaceutical company, two research hospitals, a tech start-up, and his current employer, who had offered him an opportunity too challengingand lucrativeto resist. Yes, Singh had jumped at the chance to develop well, he wasnt sure exactly what he was developing, but the secrecy of the work was as much the allure for him as the dollars he had banked for signing. What he did know was that he had state-of-the-

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science equipment, all-he-could-spend funding, and the chance to engineer an unprecedented technology: aChroma. (Singh liked to name his achievements before he achieved them, so he could greet them properly when all the alkaloids fell in place.) How this aChroma would be used, he could only speculate. Paint jobs for cars, sensory deprivation torture, avant-garde art it really didnt matter to Singh. What did matter was the shot at hanging out with Edison and Curie in the pantheon of brilliance for eternity. But he wasnt even going to get into the motel of alchemy at this rate. What was he missing? Singh was about to mix up another batch when a voice right behind him inquired, Well, Hop? Hows it going? Hop shot out of his lab coat like a peasant fleeing the Golden Horde. The figure gave him a moment. This ritual of theirs was such a delight. The figure smiled contentedly. He loved these people. They were always on top of thingsor readily prompted there. Singh scraped himself off the ceiling and resumed breathing. With all the perks of his job, the one drawback was his employers uncanny knack for sneaking up and scaring the pakoras off him. Sir, he composed himself and turned around to address the shadowy figure that was his boss. Singh had gotten used to the shadowiness. While admittedly eerie, he relished the air of turban-and-dagger it lent to the lab. Someday, Singh hoped to study and clone it, possibly for application in military aeronautics or the cosmetics industry. But not today. Sir, he sighed, Im still working on it. Its close, Im sure, but

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Well, maybe this will help, the shadow flicked on an incandescent smile and squirted the contents of a dropper into the beaker of disappointingly piss-colored fluid. Purple droplets spiraled to the bottom of the container, and the whole sample turned snow white. Good night, Miss Saigon. Singh shook his head in defeat. It was back to the whiteboard. He pushed up his sleeves and reached for the beaker. His employer beat him to it. Ah, perfection. Singh was puzzledthis was aChroma? He had imagined an elixir more transparent than air. Something pure and clear, absolutely and literally achromatic. Not milk. Well, science wasnt always elegant. But before he could join his employer in celebrating the unlikely answer to their empirical prayers, Singh was wearing it. And before he could emit the slightest squeak of indignation, he noticed aChromas peculiar effect. * Asia Girl arrived at the Hall just as HughMan was powering down the HughManity Mobile. Pulling in a few empty spaces away, she had an unobstructed view of his car. The passenger side quarterpanels bore a super-sized replica of his toothy smile and even toothier motto: Cant we all just get along? After all, were all HughMan. And to make sure folks didnt miss his brand promise, the HughManity also played a recording of the slogan whenever Hugh laid on the horn. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Asia Girl scowled to herself. HughMans superpower was a relentless reasoning filibuster that tended to work only because he was able to jabber his foes into addled nubs of concession. That was all

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fine and occidental, except when Hugh put consensus before justice. The last dispatch call theyd handled together, HughMan had reasoned that when you thought about it, there was no victim or victimizer because after all, were all just Then and there, Asia Girl had decided that her colleague was three players short of a Mah Jongg game. She confiscated the clubs from the seal hunters and, from then on, turned her sense of injustice to maximum whenever she knew HughMan was on patrol. Hoping to avoid anymore of his tortuous logic, Asia Girl speedwalked past the HughManity Mobile. But just as she rounded the fender, HughMan hopped out of his ride. Hey! Yo! Asia Chiquita! Hugh, she exhaled and kept walking. How fortuitous to run into you! I was just thinking Hugh trotted alongside her. Asia Girl put her stride into overdrive. Water torture was preferable to enduring an explication of whatever was going on in HughMans brain. But alas, Hugh was exceptionally fit and managed to keep up with Asia Girls near gallop. things at the Hall have been making less and less sense lately. Heroes arent always heroing. Frankly, Hugh leaned in for a high speed huddle, sometimes its like were doing more harm than good Pronoun alert. We who, Hugh? Maybe weve been on the wrong track, he continued. Maybe its time for a new gig. Bonus fortune in the cookie! Was HughMan going to retire? Asia Girl stopped

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and spun on the heel of her bosun. Was it possible that she and HughMan were seeing almond eye to round eye? Maybe injustice aint the game. The cosmos returned to its former balance. Almond eye rolled into head and bosun resumed trotting. Hugh jogged to catch up. No, hear me out. What if we focused on crime instead of injustice? I mean, I think the problem is this focusno, no, this obsession with justice at the Hall. And its not just us, its the populace! Because really, what is justice? I mean, has anyone stopped and bothered to figure that one out? Isnt justice more or less a matter of opinion? he nodded, buying his own spiel: hook, line, and pearl diver. On the flipside, crime, we know! Crimes in the books. Or at least whats legal is in the books. Or I guess a little of both, depending on the book Here, he seemed to hit a kink in the silly string of his logic, but then he simply snipped out the offending snag. So we can figure out crime pretty easily. But injustice fighting injustice is like chasing phantoms, its its hard? Asia Girl growled, her rice cooker beginning to steam. Yes, HughMan responded gratefully, placing a hand on her shoulder. Why struggle so much? Why fight for something thats just another mans injustice? Why Why? Why?? Asia Girls cooker boiled over. She shook off Hughs heavy handedness, Because there will be injustice, even if I ignore it. And pretending its not my place to say what is or isnt justice is crane shit! I am faster than a speeding rickshaw, able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound, and more powerful than the smell of ripe kimchi! I am Asia Girl, and I fight for justice because I can. And you

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HughMan was about to launch his Cant we all just get along? After all, were all defense, but Asia Girl flattened him like the breasts on a Tokyo runway model. Wake up and smell the green tea! No matter how much rhetoric you mix with reality, youre not going to make everyone equal. Look at yourself! She gestured at Hughs hard as jade, Spandex-encased physique. And the HughManity Mobile! How does any of this make you just like everyone else? Youre not merely human. Youre HughMan! And thats why your game is fighting injustice, even though, yeah, it can be hard. Just then, a soft boom! caught their attention. Hughs recorded voice stuttered from the parking lot arent we all all arent we all all Oh my! HughMan shrieked, realizing the disaster was no occasion to rubberneck. The HughManity! and he raced back to save his own day. Asia Girl whipped out another fortune cookie, wrote down the 911, and hucked it to the fire department before turning back toward the Hall. Yeah, the humanity. * Across the metropolis, a notably haze-free figure was seated at a sidewalk caf, idly twirling a cigarette between her long, tanned fingers. Everything about the figure bespoke precision, from the bobbed hair to the tailored jacket and pencil skirt skimming her lean, muscled frame. That the figure cut quite a comely outline did not go unobserved for long. Need a light? A flame appeared next to the figures hand. The sunglassed Prometheus had the smile of an expectant knight in shining armor.

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I dont smoke, the figure replied, in a tone that doused the fire bringers hopes as well as his flame. It kills. And something in this distressing damsels eyes suggested to the knight that she knew a thing or two about killing. Muttering something about letting people open their own doors from now on, the man retreated to a corner table, where he busied himself with sugar substitute and nondairy creamer. The figure continued twirling, seemingly mesmerized by the thin white stick. She did not, in fact, smoke. She hated the taste and, well, the smoke. But personal tastes aside, she had nothing but respect for cigarettes. They were bad for you: caused emphysema, cancer, and all sorts of internal putrefaction. Not to mention wretched breath, yellow-stained teeth, and banishment to grudgingly conceded back alleys and windowless closets. Heck, they even came with a warning from the surgeon general. Yet people loved them. It didnt matter how many blackened lungs you showed them, or how much grayed mucous they coughed up. People wanted their cigarettes. They craved them. And the figure really admired that. So many evils these days were apologetic, skulking in societys corners and hoping to go unnoticed. But not cigarettes. Cigarettes were whorishly high-profile and unrepentant not only about the crimes they had already committed but the crimes they were hoping to commit. Against your children. The key, of course, was addiction. Cigarettes werent a one night stand sort of wickedness. They were a Romeo and Juliet, do-and-die evil. Cigarettes got under peoples skin, inside their brains, and they made people want to tar their own lungs to unredeemable pitch. The figure shook her head with silver medalist grace. She could only

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hope to have that kind of lasting, toxic effect. Still twirling, she checked her watch. It was almost time. * Next up on the agenda the Chief was moving the meeting along with her usual efficiency, but in Asia Girls opinion these get-togethers were never quite short enough. Thanks to all for your support during our cultural retrofit. We know its a mouthful, but people like our new name. It really speaks to the values and buzzwordiness? Asia Girl thought to herself. social consciousness of our times. Weve come a long way from just justice, baby, the Chief beamed. And on that note, the Hall of Justice, Equity-slash-Equality, Tolerance, and Inclusion is considering one more modification She rifled through the stack of papers on the podium. Ah, yes. It seems we forgot Diversity! Unimaginable, isnt it? Well, Citizens for Scrutiny e-mailed us a petition last week addressing this oversight, and well be updating ourselves next week. If you have any thoughts about where to stick Diversity, then drop a note in the Suggestion box. Now, before we get to a couple of new patrol assignments, we need to review the forms and procedures for any and all encounters with the public. After all, our lawyers can only protect you from the people youre protecting if you let them know what youve been up to. So remember, for all acts of intervention, defense, and prosecution, there is a form! The room rumbled like a gwoemul trolling the sewers for a meal. Ever the stoic, Miso refused to hoot even the faintest protest, although Asia Girl noticed that he hunkered down on his perch, as if preparing to weather a paper storm on the tundra.

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The lilac form is for justice, lemon for equality, salmon for At that moment, HughMan, swathed in a cloud of smoke, stumbled into the room. Holy Honshu! Asia Girl hadnt expected Hugh to put out the fire with himself! All eyes turned toward the interruption, thankful that the salmon form would remain enigmatic a while longer. The Hugh Manity, he wheezed, clutching the charred and dented drivers side door to his chest. Then he collapsed into an ashy pile. The heroes fussed over their unconscious colleague, trying to pry the door from his deceptively limp grasp. As her colleagues checked vitals and filled out the correct tangerine form for medical emergencies, Asia Girl noticed the puzzling work of vandalism in HughMans hands. Evidently, the HughManity Mobile had been torched. But not before the arsonist had added a pair of Ray Charles-style sunglasses to the image that grinned undaunted from the door. Now whatand who Asia Girls thoughts were interrupted by banging from the front of the room. The Chief was back at the podium, trying to call the meeting to order. OK, people, the paramedics are coming, and the fire department has extinguished the HughManity. Well adjourn for now. Check the board for your new assignments, and ohthe salmon form is for successful diversifications! * On her way out, Asia Girl stopped by the Chiefs office to debrief the incident in the park and the possibility that PC had returned. The door was ajar; Asia Girl spied the Chief at her desk, collating pastel forms. Behind the Chief, a golden lasso gleamed on the wall. Its ethereal shimmer hinted at a power independent of the hands that had so

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skillfully wielded it for over half a century. The Chief had once been an active-duty superhero. Back in the day, she was a fierce Amazon fighter, all the fiercer because the Hall was a near-exclusive white-boysin-capes club. Undaunted by their gender or her own, the Chief had trail blazed a path and place for women among the testosteroned ranks of the Hall, learning along the way that injustice is not always the perpetration of some black-caped them somewhere out there; sometimes its right in your own house, and your own family is responsible. Of course, her success had not been without its billion won fee. After decades of service, the Chief reminded Asia Girl of a hand-me-down futon. Hard use and not a little indignity had left her nearly worn through in some spots and unapologetically lumpy in others. Still, she had persevered. And in administering the institution that had once laughed at her bullet-proof jewelry, the Chief had always done her best to hear all voices and respect the spectrum of cadets that came through the superhero training program. Given the travesty that PC had made of respect and justicenot to mention basic conversational etiquetteAsia Girl anticipated some of the old Amazon reflexes when she told the Chief the news. She knocked on the door. Asia Girl, the Chief smiled without looking up. Gotta minute? Of course, the Chiefs fingers sifted the palette of papers into impeccable stacks. Hey, do you smell gas? Asia Girl sniffed, as she sat down in the chair directly facing the Chief. Hmm, no, the Chief wrinkled her nose, but Ill have maintenance check all the

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pipes. So whats up? Asia Girl exhaled, I think PC may be back. Really? What makes you think so? The susurrus of collation went on uninterrupted. Asia Girl twirled the roll of duct tape shed confiscated from Kelly. The Chief finished sorting the last of the papers and looked up. Superhero regarded superhero across brightly colored bureaucracy. Lilac? Excuse me? Do you think that requires a lilac form? The Chief flicked a sheet of paper toward Asia Girl. Asia Girls face froze like a Noh mask. Mouth and eyes agape, she wondered what color form she should submit for permission to slap some sense into a superior. Im not sure we have the right form for requesting the reactivation of an alert, the Chief mulled, pulling out a manila folder and splaying an array of paper samples like a garish hand fan. How about red? Ooh, yes. Red. Chief. I think PC may be back. Asia Girl enunciated each syllable as if she were trying out the English language for the first time. Yes, and well have a new red form for you to fill out. Itll be on your desk tomorrow. I cant believe the Task Force on Creating and Filing Paperwork missed this one Chief, I just said I heard you. For a moment something sharp glinted in the Chiefs voice. The

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next moment, her tone was as harmless as a Ginsu knife, And youll get the form just as soon as its ready. Now is there anything else? It occurred to Asia Girl that something stunk like a thousand year egg, but she decided to put on her Totoro face until she knew what exactly it was. Thanking the Chief, she murmured something conciliatory about the Halls new rainbow of administrative requirements and excused herself. * Asia Girl made a Japanese beetle line for some fresh air. What in Jakarta was up with the Chief? PC was back, and she was worried about stationery? Maybe it was time for her to hang that lasso up for good. Because the Chief that Asia Girl knew would have put her tiara on and fired up the invisible jet as soon as she heard that the rogue hero had returned. But whatever the cause for the Chiefs administrivial response, for now Asia Girl would have to contend with the renewed threat of PC on her own. She sat on the front steps of the Hall, contemplating the tips of her bosun and her next move: if PC was back, where was she hiding out? What was she plotting? Where had she been, and for tom yums sake why couldnt she stay there? Then, as if PC werent enough bitter melon to swallow, the spectre of another foe who had suddenly up and vamoosed rose to spoil Asia Girls palate completely. She grimaced. Whereas PC had undeniable sex appealeven her detractors found themselves beguiled by her ultra-short sueded Lycra supersuit and matching sashayit wasnt clear to anyone what appeal Molten Pot had. But appeal she did. MP had been selling her social vision for almost a hundred years, finding buyers long after her fad should have

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fallen out of fetish. How did she manage such an extended run? Gossip had it that the burly brute had found her fountain of eternity in cannibalism. MP had argued that by flinging themselves into the boiling cauldron of the greater community, individuals enrich the mass stew, providing the nutrients of mind and body on which society necessarily feeds. Thus, her modest proposal for society: the whole must consume the individual. Side-stepping questions about how exactly cannibalism benefited the consumed, and what would become of her much-vaunted society once the last individual flung herself into this crocked pot plan, Molten Pot hit the streets evangelizing an all-as-one social ideal with a fervor that would make a Christian missionary look unmotivated. Disturbingly, as MPs hungry war raged on, its general grew conspicuously chunkier. But when rumors began to flap and squawk that converts were disappearing almost as quickly as they enlisted, MP pulled the plug on the neon sign above her headquarters: a blinking soup pot with electric steam rising from its open mouth. People continued to disappear, but none of the superheroes could connect the pictographs. Eventually, MP faded into the rabble of injustice, just like PC. In fact, Asia Girl mused, at around the same time A shadow fell at the outermost perimeter of Asia Girls gaze. Her third eye swiveled up and registered Feminist Femme. Just what her day needed: X chromosomes gone wild. Daruma face of inscrutability, Asia Girl resolved herself. Hey, sisterI mean, sis-tah! Femme gave her trademarked two boob salute. It was an impressive maneuver that projected both breasts up, out, and then around in twin loopity-loops.

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Asia Girl couldnt help shuddering. Femme, whose eternal torment was having missed the heyday of the womens lib movement, was fixed like sticky rice on contributing something to the cause of womens rights. In an age of herstory, when braburning had been debunked and talking vaginas provided an evenings entertainment, that was no easy goal to achieve. Thus, the marathon of increasingly unfathomable and even contrary antics in which Femmeand her boobswere constantly engaged. So far, Femmes legacy amounted to a series of suggestive posters (candid shots of Femme in action that were particularly popular with the fraternity crowd), a lesbian porn flick featuring a Femme look-alike, and an unauthorized website that recommended committing some gratuitous sexual harassment for a quickie boob--deux from La Femme. Yes, in the name of womens rights, Femme had catapulted ass slapping and catcalling to an all-time high. In fully ironic fact, Femme was so successful at bringing soft porn to the masses that local strippers and XXX stars were demanding that she unionize. Of course, Femme, apparently suffering from a dyslexia of cause and effect, managed to interpret the increase in sexual misdemeanors as an indisputable sign of the need for her C-cup size of protection. And so, she crusaded on, thinking that it really was all about stopping truckers from calling their waitresses Hon and making sure that pantsuits were recognized as acceptable formalwear for women. It drove Asia Girl betel nuts that rather than shattering any glass ceilings, Femme made a specialty of scrutinizing floors, from which she could pick among the crumbs of gender issues. Indeed, despite a stalker-like obsession with the Chief (which had precipitated a standing restraining order against any contact outside the Hall), Femme failed to stand on the shoulders of her idol,

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deferring instead to an altitude subserviently well below them. To be fair, Femme was a registered superhero; she had done the training and had a legitimate license tucked between those melons of justice. But a license clearly wasnt the credential it used to be. Asia Girl realized that she had tuned out like an American-made radio and dialed back in to Femmes broadcast. Ive got you back, Femme scrunched up her heavily sparkled and mascaraed eyes, I mean, Ive got your back, sis-tah. She tried to snake her neck but pulled off something more like the last spasm of a trampled worm. Appreciate it. No, really. Im your back-up this week. Sweet Saraswati, Asia Girl almost said aloud. She caught herself with a discipline that Bruce Lee would have commended. As a personal rule, Asia Girl hit the skies as a dynamic singularity, preferring to pursue justice as her own one-woman Mongolian horde. No teamwork for her, thanks. No worrying about how her partner was handling things or having to agree on tactics: just total, uncompromised control over each and every situation. Maybe she should learn to play better with others. But if she couldnt even count on the Chief, Asia Girl fumed, then how was she supposed to put any of her tobiko in Femmes basket? So for now, she would keep her toys and her perps all to herself. Still, Femme had direct orders from the Chief and a fanatical sense of duty when the opportunity to double her girl power arose. Asia Girl would have to ditch and dash like an FOB making for land if she was going to save the day from Femme.

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With a South Pacific breeziness that belied her panic, Asia Girl asked, But what about the Unoffenders? Femme was usually on their backs. Its funny, Femme nodded, chewing a lightly glossed lip. They didnt show up for the meeting today, and they havent called in. Guess they forgot to tell the Hall theyre taking vay-kay. So its you and me, babe. I just need to put on my sports bra. Goddess praise those reinforced nipple guards! Be right back Ah, merciful Maitreya! Asia Girl thanked her own pantheon for the hardships of chafing. Then, seizing the opportunity, she snuck off in super stealthy ninja mode, hoping to stay Femme-free for the rest of day. Fwing! * Downtown, traffic was snarling, air was smogging, and people were adamantly avoiding eye contact. It was another impersonal day on the concrete grid. Shibumi for a hero who wanted her bosun tracks to dissolve like rice candy. Asia Girl was just touching down when she heard the hiss. Whipping out a canister of biodegradable graffiti remover and her trusty Chopsticks of Truth, she turned the corner and dashed into an alley to accost the tagger. As Asia Girl charged, her extraperipheral slant eye vision detected the hesitation of a door mid-way down the block. Sighing shut, the door wheezed a thin smoke into the alley. Then, like the edge of a cape, the smoke slid back over the doorsill and out of sight. Asia Girl made a note of the unusual vaporous activity but decided to deal first with the tangible misdoer in front of her. She whirled the perp around. There was no mistaking the girl from the park, despite a thorough makeover. Kelly had apparently bought out a flea market of cultural clichs and decided to put them

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all on at once: beginner locks, Ch t-shirt, tattoo straight from the Tribal Selections section of a parlor sample book, and was that a Gucci bindi? Oh, dear. To complete her new look, Kelly had traded duct tape for spray paint. PETA Anti-Fur Campaign Red, to be precise. Ohwowlikecool! Its like so nice to see you again! Kelly was particularly perky for someone being frisked. Aiming her chopsticks at Kelly like she was the last piece of sushi at an all-youcan-eat-buffet, Asia Girl scanned the wall above them. Blind is the way. She flashed back to the HughManitys new paint job. What does this mean? Kelly went silent and wide-eyed. What does this mean? With each syllable, Asia Girl centimetered the chopsticks perilously closer. More silence. Wider eyes. Kelly started to slide a hand into her pocket. I wouldnt do that. The teen froze like a nose in Siberia. Then, out of the corner of her unmoving lips, she squeaked, I just oh, this is sowaycool. I just met you, and now youre jacking me up against a wall! Like, have I told you I think youre really cool? Hands. Right, Kelly retracted hand from pocket. In case Im packin heat or somethin, right? Or something. Asia Girl still wanted to know about the graffiti, So, Kelly Icky-ick, Kelly interjected.

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Gesundheit. No, thats my new handle, Kelly explained. Icky-ick. Its like African. Asia Girl guessed that it was, in fact, precisely Zulu. Icici? she demonstrated the clicks. Yeah. Thats it! Icky-ick! Wow you are likesocooldo you speak all the Asian languages? Asia Girl winced, but before she could disconnect the land masses, Icici barreled on, like colonialism across the Serengeti. Yeah, I just changed my name. This ones so much more me, you know? I have to say, I dont. But why dont you tell me about this graffiti, Icici? Oh, right! Icici began shaking the paint can excitedly, Like I know its all illegal, but you told me to find another wayand I have! Apparently, assaulting property instead of people qualified as variety enough for the girl. This is so it, Icici assured Asia Girl. Its like the second comingbut not religiousor secondbut otherwise its so like that, you know? Again, Im going to have to go with: no. What exactly is it? Oh, Icici giggled, Well its not really an it. Hes Captain Colorblind! Asia Girl conjured an officer in a badly mismatched uniform. Clashing drab greens, maybe. Captain who? Captain Colorblind. And hes gonna save us all! In her excitement, Icici sprayed a little Anti-Fur Red on her hemp pantleg. Umm, let me take that. As she removed the can from Icicis grip, Asia Girl

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wondered what exactly this Captain Colorblind was going to save them fromand how. She started to ask, but just then, a voice behind her declared, Ive got your back, sisterI mean, sistah. Holy hot and sour soup! How had Femme found her? Asia Girl sighed. She mustve used her super-strength estrogen detector. Thanks, but Im good, Femme. Its no problem, my sister, Femme responded obtusely. Whats the 411? Asia Girl suspended hope of any further discovery and explained, Icici here is doing some tagging to promote a certain Captain Colorblind. Seems hes into He? You should know better, our little sister! Femme reproached Icici. Its time you freed yourself from the shackles of patriarchy! Crime is no life for a woman. Its like pro cycling Dear God, not the pro cycling rant again. But Icici didnt seem to mind the lecture; in fact, she was nodding vigorously at Femmes condemnation of what the super libber had rechristened the Tour de Pants. And when Femme extended her tirade to an indictment of both the superhero and villain costume industries for misogynist designs, Icici nearly swooned. Her ovaries had never felt so validated. Asia Girl decided it was time once again to lose the sidechick. Looking out at the busy street beyond the alley, she noted the automatic doors of a grocery store opening and closing incessantly, disgorging mostly female patrons and their recycled brown bag purchases. Ah, the mother lode. Nudging Femmes calf with the steel-reinforced toe of her bosun, Asia Girl shrilled in mock horror, For the love of fallopians! Pointing at the expedited traffic of shoppers, Asia Girl dangled the proverbial phallic vegetable before the myopic horse.

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Isnt that just updated chivalry?! At the mention of the c-word, Femme gasped and whirled. Whatoh, great uteri! The doors (designed no doubt by men) subjected womenoh, Femme feared to think how many in a single dayto a relentless, condescending gallantry. And the women accepted this chauvenism unwittingly, distracted as they searched for car keys and chatted with one another. Infernal implants! With every moment, another woman fell victim to this this this Auto-MANton. How diabolical, this technological veiling of an antiquated but nonetheless offensive act! He is a devious opponent, indeed! Femmes lips formed a glossy frown under the light fuzz she pointedly did not bleach. Will the worlds need for my manicured but capable hands never cease? I must go and rouse these women from their unwitting submission! But first, Asia Girl, my sisteruh, sistahcan you handle this vandal on your own? Asia Girl glanced at Icici, who was still mulling how stiletto heels were holding the average superheroine back. Yeah, I think so. With that, Femme raced across the street, to study more closely this newfound enemy of equal rights. Prepare, Auto-MANton, to meet your flaccid end! Breasts ajiggle, Femme charged the nearest door, determined to deactivate the offending courtesy. Asia Girl could hear the yelps as Femme pushed through the exit, sending handmilled pastas and organic veggies flying. Rise up, my sisterserr, sistahswhatever! Rise up, you women, against these portals of enslavement!

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Asia Girl composed herself before turning back to Icici, who was digging a rumpled flier out of her pocket. Here, she pushed it into Asia Girls hands, I meant to give you this. But now, like wow Im so inspired, I mean Femmesheshes like the second comingor I guess the third Asia Girl shook her head. The kid was like Silly Putty. Stick her to a belief and she peeled right off with its impression on her forehead. Like any piece of putty, she needed something to adhere to, something to give her meaning. And so she was always jonesing for the next message du moment, like an addict seeking her fix. But Asia Girl wasnt going to wait for Icici to discover wrecking balls and decide they were the next and one-half coming that wouldno, reallysolve societys ills. With her third eye on the girl of the perpetual misdemeanor, Asia Girl uncrumpled the black and white print. It read, simply: Captain Colorblind sees you. Who is Captain Colorblind? Asia Girl demanded. Icici giggled and blushed. Asia Girl guessed that the captain was, like, really cool. Is he a friend of yours, Icici? More giggling. Oh, for Quan Yins sake, just once Asia Girl wanted a helpful answer. Icici began twirling a lock around her finger and pawing at the ground with a beaded-by-actual-Eskimos mukluk. Asia Girl read the symptoms like tea leaves: the kid had an ideology crush. Icici wasnt going to give up any of the imported goods on the captain. Not necessarily because she wanted to hamper justice. No, the sweet and sour truth was that infatuation had fried her brain, and anything she might actually know was a

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dry and salty stir fry by this time. Even though Asia Girl was eager to get this show on the open seas for a face to eyepatch with the captain, she felt an empathetic flutter. After all, not so long ago, she had been there herself * Once upon her post-adolescence, Asia Girl had been swept off her bosun by her own Prince Ism, whose worldview had left her breathless. It was the summer after her freshhero year at the academy. She was a simple suburban supergirl scooping ice cream in between workouts ator rather, abovethe track. He was a sociologist with ambitions beyond tenure at the local college. Wearing his ideology like a leather jacket, he had swaggered across her unconscious point of view and ordered a double scoop on a sugar cone. In the next breath he asked if she realized that dessert was the cornerstone of capitalism. Before she could ask if he wanted sprinkles, he had pitched both the cone and his vision of a sugar-emancipated world. She dropped her scooper, her perspective forever altered, his serving of Rocky Road with extra Road Kill left to melt on the floor. For two delirious months, she listened and nodded, first to the politics of dessert and then to his manifesto on world peace: they would begin with non-dairy, low-fat embassies in over-sweetened countries. And they would not stop until there was an unrefined sugar alternative in every freezer! Asia Girl was ready to devote her life to the No Diabetic Left Behind campaign, when her conviction, and her love, met with a bitter end. One late August afternoon, Asia Girl stopped by her mentors office. She had decided to quit the academy and go completely Atkins as a show of allegiance to the

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cause. She wanted him to be the first to know. Reaching for the doorknob, she heard moans from within and hesitated. Then, fearing the worst, she flung open the dooronly to discover her mentor crouched under his desk, mainlining sucrose. Bereft of her inspiration, like Don Ho without his ukulele, Asia Girl resolved never again to allow anyone or anything, no matter how revelatoryor cuteto come between herself and her pursuit of justice. Back at the academy, she flung herself into her studies. The only hint as to her devastation was her occasional and violent dismantling of the dessert tray in the cafeteria * Realizing that shed gone all Sailor Moon eyes while Icici was waiting, Asia Girl abruptly tucked her unrequited fantasies away. Right! So, the captain. Look, Icici, you can find a way to save the world that doesnt involve petty crime. Or hanging out in alleys, she gestured at a dumpster and a puddle of urine, their only companions in the narrow, dank aisle. KelIcici Dont you want better for the world than this? Icici pulled thoughtfully on a lock and nodded. You can find a way, with or without the captain Icici looked aghast at the thought of being without His Colorblindness. or with him, sure, Asia Girl let sacred cows stand. She didnt want the kid to implode. But I need your word that you wont break any more laws. After a moments consideration, Icici nodded once more. She was tired of trying to spray in straight lines anyway. OK, so were agreed. I wont be seeing you againat least, not like this, right?

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Icicis head bobbed meditatively. Thats my girl. Oops, Asia Girl poked Icici in the forehead. Your bindi is slipping. After repositioning the dot with a grain of sticky rice, Asia Girl left Icici at the street entrance to the alley and whizzed back to the Hall to consult the Abacus archives. Perhaps she could glean a hue or tint of this captain somewhere in those records of injustice * HughMan sat on the edge of his hospital bed, sodden as a block of tofu. He wasnt sure he wanted to get up. Ever. While the HughManity explosion had left him physically unscathedbut for some mildly singed facial hairthe emotional damage had worked him like an advanced Calculus problem. Earlier, in the parking lot, it wasnt just a heap of metal and some quality leather seats that had burned to ash: Hughs faith had been cremated. So the scalded hero sat. A circus of flowers bustled in on the white-stockinged legs of a nurse. Well, how are we this morning, Mr. Manity? the flowers chirped with the crisp gaiety characteristic of professional caretakers. Arent these lovely? They just arrivedalmost missed you! Wouldnt that have been a shame? Well, well miss you very much. Take care, and no more playing with arsonists, you silly man! The flowers settled on the nightstand, and the chatter continued out the door, Why, Mrs. Weckles! Arent you looking spry HughMan sighed. Nope, he wasnt going anywhere. What was the point? He would just as soon spend the rest of his days with Mrs. Weckles, whose greatest crime against mankind was a tendency to spit when she talked. His glance slid over to the

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manic bouquet, and he leaned in to take a sniff. The flowers farted on him. He jerked his head back and hastily reviewed what he knew of botany. Since when was flatulence part of the photosynthetic process? He held his breath. The offender held its gas. Repeating the new mantra hed adopted in therapyExplosions never strike the same hero twiceHugh cautiously ventured a single nostril reconnaissance, revealing run-of-the-garden floweriness. He tried to laugh off his fit of flora-phobia as a bada really badday. That was all. There was no reason to get paranoid. They were flowers, for philanthropys sake. And in his current state of heart, a little blossom therapy might just do him some good. So he continued taking shallow sips of the aroma until he was quite light-headed. One last inhalation, and he smiled. For the first time since the bonfire of the HughManity, he felt OK. Then he noticed, nestled among the jubilantly colored petals, a note: So sorry to hear about the HughManity. Perhaps this will help ease the loss. Why dont you stop by? CC Taped to the back of the card were a key and a map. * Back at the Hall, Asia Girl had just cleared the Abacus fourth security checkpoint: a follicle scanner that required both nose and eyebrow samples for identity verification. Having been plucked and permitted, she made a left, right, left, diagonal, and then a squiggly line through a series of firewalls, to arrive at an ornate floor-toceiling carving of a dragons head. Eyes the size of human skulls glinted from the scaled

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countenance, threatening to emergealong with the rest of the beastat the slightest provocation. Above the fanged grimace, nostrils dilated with fiery fury. Asia Girl thrust her right fist up the near nostril for a final scan. Somewhere deep in the granite brain, a chirp signaled recognition, and the dragons jaw dropped to the floor, revealing a deep stairwell that ended at the Abacus. Asia Girls one of a kind personal supercomputer was a hybrid of the finest East and West technologies. Jade beads the size of snowman bottoms racked an entire wall, suspended on horizontal titanium cables. Sliding the beads along the cables activated an algorithm that had never yet failed to produce an answer, no matter how obscure Asia Girls query. Heaving the jade into position, Asia Girl programmed the Abacus to retrieve any and all information about Captain Colorblind. Faster than she could count hana, dul, sehthe Abacus spit out its findings on neatly tied rice paper scrolls. Asia Girl sat in full lotus to receive the reports: She who seeks is also sought, eventually to be found but unseen.

Unseen? Her brow ridged. Visibility had never been a problem for Asia Girlespecially since shed acquired the stilettos. But just in case, shed make a point of walking loudly and carrying an even bigger bokken when she met the captain. She read on: Beware the senseless man: his lack is his power.

OK, now the Abacus was getting to the kalbi of the matter. So where Address unlisted. Ask the Reparator.

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The Reparator. Sweet curry! It had been a monsoon since Asia Girl had last heard that name * Raymond the Repairman had handcrafted a healthy career in the fix-it-all business. A whiz at troubles plumbing, electrical, automotive, and haberdasherial, Ray found deep satisfaction in mending what was broken. For a while. But a flourishing career and a fat bank account ultimately provided too little sustenance for Rays will to repair. Something was missing from his repertoire of disaster response. And so, like a screw without thread, he spun idly, hoping to find purchase. Then one day, when Ray was perusing the community college catalog, he happened upon an evening course called Reparations: One Nation, Lotsa F*** Ups. Intrigued, he signed right up. The first night was no less than a revelation: broken TVs and leaky roofs were just the tip of the plumbers crack. The real damage was out there, suppurating the pus of the publics passive acceptance. Exploitation! Denied rights! Socially accepted harassment and ostracization! Ray realized that the country was crawling with injustices screaming for repair in the form of payment to injured parties. A week and a half into the class, he hung up his coveralls and donned a sleeker jumpsuit his own stain and tear resistant design, of courseand the Reparator was born. As the Reparator, Ray no longer bothered with corroded pipes or broken fences; armed with his extension school certificate, he graduated to fixing the nations historical and socio-political problems. At the apex of his supercareer, the Reparator secured two votes for every woman and awarded total ownership of the railroads to Chinese-

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Americans (who were, truth be told, less than thrilled at being saddled with the now defunct industry). The invigorated hero was well on his way to initiating one hundred years of white slavery, whenwithout a word of explanationhe retreated to his tool shed, never to fix anything else again, not even a toaster. The Reparator had closed up shop. * That had been several lunar months ago. Now the Abacus was instructing Asia Girl to bring Ray out of retirement for one last fix-it. She was utterly sangakued. Why in the Himalayan highlands would Ray be consorting with a patron of the graffiti arts? What, other than solvent, could they possibly have in common? But since the Abacus had never miscalculated before, Asia Girl set out to find the hermit herofwish! As she dashed out the door, the scrolls of paper fluttered to the floor. * Asia Girl! Asia Girl! Asia Girl had just reached the rice rocket. She looked up to see Shocks skidding across the parking lot toward her. Despite the days warmth, Her Appalledness appeared to be wearing a bivy sac over her usual crime fighting get-up. Asia Girl decided not to ask. Still feeling a sesame seed of guilt about grilling her old classmates spareribs, she responded, Hey, Shocks, Im glad youre here. Look, I want to apologize for I took your advice! Shocks grabbed Asia Girl by the forearms and shook her like a skillet of fried rice. Huh?

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Your advice! You know, reality-Gortex! Oh, Confucius. Clearly, Asia Girls powers of sarcasm needed some work. She scrutinized Shocks outfit more closely. It was a virtually seamless glove with four Velcro-cuffed fingers for her arms and legs. Dangling between her shoulder blades was the stubby fifth finger, featuring an inner zip under the Velcro around her neck. When Shocks flipped the digit up for a demo, Asia Girl saw that she had sewn Oakleys into the fabric, presumably for fashion, as well as function. Youre wearing a body condom, Asia Girl summarized. Custom made! Shocks beamed. And your point is the answer to injustice as we know it! You were absolutely right: I cant just zip myself up into a cocoon and pretend everythings OK. But if all of us have our own cocoons, then none of us have to seeor senseanything! Thats right, reality-Gortex is sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch-resistant! I call it Shocks batted the lashes of her Western sky blues in modest self-congratulation SenseLess technology. Asia Girl felt a pain somewhere behind her third eye. So we just stay inside our condoms. Your My Reality Cocoon, Shocks corrected her colleague solicitously. Soon to be patented. Asia Girl repressed a desire to pound Shocks mochi. Youre planning to distribute these to every person on the planet? Oh yes! Shocks head bobbed like a wonton in a bowl of soup. And I know what youre going to ask she shushed Asia Girl with a reality-proof finger. Just how

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are we going to afford global distribution? Shocks was grinning like the kid who always sits in the front row on the first day of class. Well, let me tell you, Miss Smarty Asian Pants, were going to ride the coattails of capitalism all the way to social revolution! There was way too much wrong with that statement for Asia Girl even to begin. She kept her yap shut and warmed up her slant eye vision. Its all about product placement. The first My Reality Cocoons go to high profile folks: Britney, the Donald heck, we could send one to the President! For free, of course. I figure all we need is some good PR, a couple of lucrative sales, and then BAM! Prices drop like Dick Clarks ball on New Years Eve! Asia Girl winced. See how simple? A tsunami of frustration slammed Asia Girl. Whatever remorse shed felt earlier for having been too hard on Shocks fermented into a yeasty regret that she hadnt ended their last conversation with two slaps and a judo kick. She readied her ggochu breath. Yes, Im afraid I do see, Shocks. We make sure the rich and famous have access to reality-insulation first; after all, who, if not they, could use a break from the real world? Then when they rave about it, capitalism, which has apparently been zipped up in its own bizarro world condom it was Asia Girls turn to shush Shocks with a chopstick to the lips creates an equal access market where the poor and disenfranchised can shop freely alongside the Saks Fifth Avenue set. Tada! All this, despite capitalisms spotless record of responding to demand by limiting supply and jacking prices up higher than Pam Anderson on stiletto heels, to speak in lingo you might comprende. Yeah. Good plan. As long as no one unzips.

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Her cocoon in semantic tatters around her, Shocks imploded like a shogun without a cause. Once again, reality had turned into her most appalling nightmare. She shut her eyes. Maybe it was cruel, but Asia Girls sympathy was exhausted, like the last defenders of Iwo Jima. So she went in for the post-mortem, And who, precisely, is this we to whom youve been referring? She jabbed the chopstick higher, so it just penetrated Shocks left nostril. Uh, I was h-hoping you might help, Shocks simpered. Not, Asia Girl hissed, if you were the last dry cleaning business on the block. She whipped the chopstick from under Shocks nose and somersaulted into the rice rocket. This time no guilty voice protested her tone or conduct. As Asia Girl strapped on her seat belt, she spied Shocks zippering her Gortex of many denials over watery eyes and a tremulous mouth. Hoping that Darwin would take it from here, Asia Girl fired up the ignition and took off for the Reparators tool shed Vroom-san! But first, a stop at the teahouse for a triple shot of ginseng. After that SenseLess encounter, Asia Girl felt the need for a little antioxidant boost. * Shocked and Appalled was trying not to cry. But halfway through her third box of 40% post-consumer waste tissues, she was still leaking like a sieve. Snuffling and hiccupping, she gave in, the tears washing over her cheeks in a rinse cycle of selfforgiveness. She was a good person. All she wanted was to help others. So why was Asia Girl

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picking on her? Was it Shocks fault that the world was a shockingand yes, appalling, thank you very muchplace? Was she just supposed to yawn nonchalantly at the ways and means people invented to inflict all-around awfulness on each other? Should she just stop feeling? Since when was caring a crime? Wasnt it worse to be oblivious? She sniffed with superheroic indignation. Sarah had certainly thought so * Once upon a well-buffered childhood, Sarah Pablum had gamboled through infancy and toddlerhood, unsuspecting that life for some included no such luxuries as a complete My Little Thoroughbred collection of actual ponies, and a personal staff to color within the lines for her when she tired of the concentration the task demanded. Hers was a pleasurable existence, deliberately constructed by her parents Hortense and Ichabod, who knew from their daily diet of news and non-fiction bestsellers that the world was no place for a child. Determined to spare their offspring the sufferings of the average organism, they orchestrated her first five years so that she might experience only the best of life, filtered through rose-colored safety glass. Fearing the kind of knowledge that unsanitized interaction with the world might bring, the Pablums did their best to reinforce all the gaskets, home-schooling Sarah, supervising all her play dates (even the ones with her imaginary friends), and donating the TV to a non-profit agency serving the undermediated. Inevitably, though, the pigeon of reality crapped on Sarahs windshield. Ichabod was driving Sarah home from a fully gloved day at the Please Touch Museum. On their way, they passed the local elementary school, where Sarah noticed a group of children waiting for the bus. Seething with the energy of a day spent pent up at

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desks, the kids head-butted and wrestled each other to celebrate their post-meridian freedom. All, Sarah noticed, except for one boy, who slouched on the sidelines of their joyous romping. The child shuffled in orbit around the planet of his peers jubilation, obviously hoping that kindness or centripetal force would pull him in. But no such phenomenon, social or gravitational, rescued him: he remained a loosely tethered asteroid, not close enough to belong and not far enough to be free. Troubled by the boys exile, Sarah asked her father, Whats wrong with that boy? Why is he all alone? Realizing that Sarahs world had just sprung a reality-leak, Ichabod replied as minimally yet truthfully as he could, Everyone is alone sometimes. Thats the way life is. Sarah pondered this with brows cable-knit together. Ichabod decided it was time for some organic frozen yogurt. But the world was not done schooling Sarah just yet. As Ichabod pulled back into traffic with a double-scoop of Macrobiotic Mocha for each of them, a yellow bus trundled by, loaded to its legal capacity with the kids from the elementary school. Ichabod decided to step on it, in a gentle, gas-conserving way. As they moderately accelerated past the bus, Sarah once again noticed the lonely boy. This time, his hair was full ofsnow? The boy looked utterly disheartened by the change in weather. Beginning to feel something besides confusion at the boys plight, Sarah asked, Daddy, whats wrong with that boy? Why is it snowing just on him?

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Unable to beat the bus, Ichabod heaved a sigh. He let up on the gas and decided to conduct home-schooling a little more literally from then on. Spitballs, honey. Theyre spitballing him. Sarah had never heard oflet alone seena spitball, but she had no trouble deciphering their gooey contempt. Her mouth went dry, as she watched the spit whizzing at the boy from all directions, a growing drift on his head. Attempting to put a choke hold on reality, Ichabod repeated, Sometimes thats the way life is. At that moment, Sarahs first hair turned gray. As she mulled the worlds not-soniceness, the light turned yellow. The bus drove through the intersection, and Ichabod gratefully stepped on the brake. But Sarahs destiny was in the drivers seat. Just past the light, the bus pulled over. A pod of children and backpacks disembarked, among them the snowy boy, whose persecution was not yet over. Giddy with the distance from school authority, or maybe just finishing what the pack had started, one of his peers snuck up and pantsed him, in plain 360 view of the four-way intersection. But before Sarah could ask what was so wrong with the boy that even his pants betrayed him, Ichabod had unbuckled and bolted from the car. She thought she heard him mutter something about for the love of global peace, cant we all just get along? Sarah had never seen her father like this before. Indeed, even to those unfamiliar with his mild-by-political-choice manner, Ichabod was a sight for startled eyes. Feet pounding and eyes abulge, he was across the street faster than Sarah could ask, Daddy, why?

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At the sight of Ichabods incoming rage, the children stopped, frozen in a prehysteric diorama, like pygmies confronted by the god they worshipped but would really rather not meet. Then, it was every pygmy for his or her pint-sized self. Screams rent the air, and each child ran in whatever direction led to Mom. All except for the Pantsed and the Pantser. Whereas the former was detained by the excess of fabric around his ankles, the latter was detained by Ichabod, who demanded, What in the jungle gym is going on here? The offender, caught in Ichabods lockdown grip, was clearly unsure of the correct, minimum punishment answer. Son, pull your pants up, Ichabod suggested to the other boy, who seemed to have forgotten his condition upon this inscrutable twist in the plot of his humiliation. Then Ichabod turned back to the offender, As for you, son, its time to recognize what youve done, and put on your junior-size scarlet letter! You have your choice: you can wear this Kick Me sign or pants yourself for the walk home. The boy looked perplexed. Was this very scary man serious? He had never known an adult to condone such pranks, let alone prescribe them. What had happened to timeouts? Ichabod pulled out a safety pin in case the offender decided to go with the sign. Buckled back in the drivers seat, Ichabod tried to downplay the fact that he had just threatened a fourth-grader, but Sarah was inspired. As her father drove away from the scene of injustice interruptus, she smiled, realizing that life didnt have to be this, that, or any other way. It could be what she wanted to make of it, one tantrum at a time * Remembering her awakening, Shocks felt a little better. Maybe she wasnt the

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fastest, farthest jumping, or most powerful superhero, but she was trying. And if she had learned anything in her home-schooling support group, it was that trying counted for something. Usually just a gold star, but Shocks was sure it had more potential than that. Hadnt she forsaken her house of safety glass, and the perfect comfort that her life could have been to fight injustice, one unbelievable atrocity at a time? (And there were a lot of atrocities out there!) Furthermoreher indignation was getting a nice workoutdidnt she wake up every day and go to work, despite the disparagement of some colleagues? Or rather, colleague. A certain person might get off her Asian high horse and appreciate a more diverse range of skill sets. Shocks smoothed the hem of her cardigan cape. No more negative thinking. She was Shocked and Appalled, voice for the outraged, offended, and insulted! (Ooh, she should write that down.) Surely, all her trying would result in some great contribution to justice Wouldnt it? * Asia Girl was getting her ginseng to go, stat. Had she taken a moment to read the front page at the tea house, she might have forgotten about the Reparator like he was, well, yesterdays headline. But Asia Girl rarely glanced at the paper these days. The Urban Mythologist, whose motto heralded, All the news that advertisers let us print! was hardly a mecca for the serious information seeker. Indeed, The Mythologist had exiled many a politician to section Z, page 40 for criticizing corporate interests, and the paperwhich it was literally, if not ethicallyadamantly rebuffed any claims of global warming from the scientific community, contending, Actually, the earth is cooling. We

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need to heat her up a wee bit. The Mythologist crowned its environmental stance with an outright denial of any so-called rainforest. For all such eyebrow-jacking claims, they quoted an unnamed buttrust uslegit source. So it was that Asia Girl missed the feature story about the latest capitalism meets vanity venture: the Caucasian I salon. According to the article, the Caucasian I provided a full spectrum of eye alteration services: lid creasing, hazelnut shaping, eyelash extensions, and, of course, iris dyeing. A photo of the salons grand opening captured a Great Wall of women queued up all the way down the block, anxious to have their lids lasered and sliced. The Mythologists admittedly sparse reporting included quotes from satisfied customers, who talked about seeing the world differently since their procedures: It literally widened my perspective, exclaimed a young Vietnamese-American with dinner plate eyes, while an older, equally startled-looking FOP from Hong Kong concurred, Ah so, now I see! Countless written testimoniesall generously supplied by the Caucasian Iraved about the new view. And in a private interview, Lily Wantabe, proprietor of the one eye fits all salon, let drop none too discreetly that the Caucasian Is clientele just might include a certain well-known TV anchor, renowned for her exceptionally earnest reporting style. The remainder of the article chronicled Wantabes rise from frustrated adolescentYou could never see my eyeshadow no matter how much I put on!to founder, first client, and spokeseye for the salon that really changes how you look. The dutiful child of the children of the children of immigrants, Wantabe was well-studied in the methods and means of U.S. capitalism: in the land of opportunity, it took hard work to pull yourself up by someone elses bootstraps. Thus, the hyphenated Asian

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entrepreneur began her search for a rice cake daddy. A mere year after she graduated from business school, Wantabe met him. The Caucasian Is angel investor was, Wantabe effused, a true visionary who sees that we dont have to be who we are. We can be whoever we want with surgical help, of course. The investor was regrettably unavailable for interview, but Wantabe assured The Mythologists readers that he had a direct hand in everything you see. Soon, everything would include the whole woman, from enhanced top to toe. The Caucasian I had plans to expand services, including forearm hair plugs and platform heel implants (So you can add a couple of inches, even when youre barefoot on the beach!) All procedures, Wantabe continued, were available in an incremental eightweek series, for those clients desiring a discreet transition to their new selves. When asked if the salon had a Western aesthetic, Wantabe denied endorsing any particular look. Its not about ethnicity. Its about universal glamour. Then, she directed the reporters attention to a digital print on the wall: a pouting Suzie Wong dissolved into a beaming, planet-eyed blonde, who winked, Ask about our layaway plan! The article noted that protesters had attempted to scuttle the salons opening, but Wantabe had deftly diffused the conflict by offering them 10% off their first tanning bed sessionswith purchase of eyelid reconstruction. Upon consideration, half of the protestors got in line; the other half were so disgusted that they went home to tape their eyes back to their ears in preparation for the next days rally. Resuming the interview, Wantabe smiled, Tanningits a whole new market. First, we bleach the skin. Then we do a Malibu Glow for that Riviera leisure look. In closing, the reporter raved, Its modern day alchemy! The Caucasian I has a

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look for everyone who wants to turn her yellow into gold! * Asia Girl would become familiar with the Caucasian I and its primary investor soon enough. For now, her yellowness remained contentedly unaware of the prosthetic possibilities available to her. She arrived at the tool shed to find the Reparatorthat is, Rayfixing his current project: lunch. Hey there, Ray, Asia Girl called out as she knocked on the door of the shed. A tasty aroma seeped through a crack in the doorframe. On second smell, make that almost tasty. An acrid undernote tainted the otherwise enticing cloud from the makeshift kitchen. Ray? More cumin, he replied. Asia Girl took that as permission to enter. Ray was busy at a hotplate, stirring and spicing. He looked up from sampling his stew and nodded his greeting, Shut the door, shut the door. Asia Girl obliged and surveyed the workspace. From the looks of it, Ray was back in the traditional, household variety fix-it business. Blenders, radios, and assorted auto parts lay scattered among piles of shoes and sports paraphernalia, all in some stage of rehabilitation. A vent blew gustily from high on the back wall. Asia Girl shivered at the chill and noted that Ray had exhumed his old coveralls. Yeaten? Ray offered a helping of soup in a bowl that he had glued back together that morning. Asia Girl declined the meal. It smells delicious, but no thanks. I just stopped by to talk. Im working on a case and

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I cant, Ray interrupted, his eyes dropping to the cracked cement floor. Cant what? Cant come back. Cant do that anymore. Rays face wore the look of someone who had eaten too much hot pepper paste. OK, Asia Girl placated him. To be honest, she wasnt particularly disappointed. As much as she personally liked Ray, hed been a rabid hero with a kamikaze Robin Hood complex: whether or not his poor had wanted their due, the Reparator had been on a Shaolin mission to give it to them. And while most of his campaigns were at least arguably legitimate, he was notorious for the occasionally ludicrous call to arms. Once, Asia Girl had to talk him out of extracting compensation for inner children, whom, he claimed, had been tyrannically suppressed by their overly anxious outer adults. Thus, the permanence of his retirement was fine by her. You dont have to come back, she reassured him. His face relaxed to uncomfortable but not urgent constipation. but Id like to talk. Asia Girl had a choice here: approach this interview mild or Szechuan style. As always, she opted for Szechuan, let the chilies land where they may. Ray, I need to know about Captain Colorblind. He breathed in deeply. Colorblind? She cocked the Chopsticks of Truth and nodded. He exhaled like he was trying to fill a balloon with a big hole in it. Asia Girl decided to heat this wok up, good and quick. For the love of pad thai! she gasped, pointing at the pot of stew, as if the paprika had reconstituted itself to avenge its herbal brethren. As Ray turned, Asia Girl drew the sterile and individually wrapped

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Needles of Accelerated Truth from her belt and shot them with assassin-caliber accuracy. Ray didnt appear to notice the four-inch needles now protruding from his eyeball, neck, and right pinkie finger. But the acupuncture got his blood and chatter circulating like the Ganges during the rainy season. Before she could repeat the question, he started jabbering. Captain Colorblind, sure! The captain set me straight, helped me see the error of my way. Reparations only divide us! It doesnt have to be us versus them. It can be us, including them. No need to stir up the past. Let bygones be gone, and lets look for solutions together. As the captain always says Asia Girl was as lost as Basho in an epic poetry class. Ray and the captain, two lychees in the same shell? She had come expecting an indictment, not an endorsement. If the Reparator, in all his zealous determination, could be convertedshe winced to think who else was susceptible to the captains orders. And from what Ray was telling her, this captain had been stirring the fry for quite a while. Ray could have regaled Asia Girl for the whole afternoon with praise for his commanding officer, but she got straight to the dim sum of the matter, Ray, do you know where he is? Ray stopped mid-gush, Well, sure. Asia Girl blinked. It hadnt been this easy to track down a perp since the Segregationist was on the loose. (The heroes simply had to follow the lines.) Searching through a snowdrift of work orders on his desktop, Ray located a shiny white card, which he handed to Asia Girl. The classic cursive script announced:

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MetaVision, Inc.
Captain Cecil Colorblind Founder and CEO 1 In Probando Circle

Asia Girl was curious about the kind of vision a man who called himself blind was selling. Fortunately, she could now ask the CEO in person. She thanked Ray, told him they should get together to play a round of Caucasian checkers some time, and excused herself. Then Asia Girl took off, like Mach Go Go Go to shine some yellow on the captainzing! * HughMan stared down at his hands, limp at the base of the steering wheel. For the love of man-made mythology, what was he doing here? The engine was idling; he could just drive away, let humanity fall where it may. Given the gas efficiency of his new sport utility truck, he could get at least ten blocks before needing to refuel. Yes, he resolved, tightening his grip. He was done with humanity. Torch his transmission once, shame on him. Torch it twice, and it was time for Co-Dependents Anonymous. Snug in the bucket seat of his disillusionment, he considered the new HughManity Mobile. It was quite a gift. Brand new and fully loaded, it featured a smooth-asunilateral-negotations ride, worth every iota of conflict in the Middle East. The waxing on the titanium hood? Perched three feet above the rest of traffic, he could avoid ever

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having to look humanity in the windshield again. His only reservation about the vehicle was the chartreuse and magenta paint job. Who would choose such eye traumatizing tones? Perhaps, he reasoned, his as yet anonymous patron had purchased it unseen. Once again, he wondered who had sent it. No, he shifted into reverse and released the emergency brake. He didnt need to know. He didnt need to get involved. His days of consorting with the populace were over like Adam and Eves days of gardening. Or so he tried to convince himself. But despite his determination not to standlet alone fight for humanity any longer, he lingered. What had possessed him to buckle in, flowers in the passenger seat, and drive to the X that marked this spot on the map? HughMan took several deep breaths of the commingling scents of flora and microfiber-faked fauna. Then, for reasons he couldnt articulate, he reset the brake and turned off the ignition. Curiosity may have killed the Siamese, but surely car bombs never struck the same owner twice. He heard himself make the argument as if he were listening to a voice on the radio: he would just check out the address, say thanks, and then rev off into the sunset. Simple. And so, confirming the address one last time, HughMan, retired guardian of the greater good, twisted the keys free, flung open the door, and bounded across the street. The building loomed tall, brick, and blind; boards sealed the first floor windows, lending the architecture its air of abandonment. Leaning back, HughMan made out the very top of the building, where an unplugged neon sign stared dully out across the metropolis. Gray against gray sky, the sign was hard to read, but Hugh discerned the image of a bowlno, a potand what looked like headless flowers sprouting from it. Or

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skeleton fingers trying to claw free. He shivered and turned to retreat when the door yawned open like a horror flick clich. Mr. HughMan? a young voice bleated. Reluctantly, he turned to face his accoster. The girl wore a liberal swath of Kente cloth, a turban, and shoes so sensible that the Oracle at Delphi would probably have asked them for advice. She noticed him staring as she gestured for him to enter. Blushing, she explained in a voice that strove for total officialness, Its time we womynand thats like with a y, thank you very muchtook our heels in our own hands. And this is like actually a skort, she flipped up a panel of fabric to show him the practical design. Isnt it likesocool? For a moment, excitement betrayed her veneer of professionalism, but the girl caught herself and managed admirably to contain her skort-ophilia, Please, come in. Hes waiting. Hugh hesitated. While not entirely off-putting, the kid was not exactly confidence inspiring, either. He could still bolt like the locks he was planning to install on his front door. But as he stood there undecided, gentle waves of air conditioning lapped at his clamped jaw, loosening the last clenches of his apprehension and beckoning him to enter. The young girl preceded him through a dim foyer into a large room that radiated light and manically overlaid colors. HughMan could see that the truck had been a conservative choice. The dcor of the salon evidenced a post-modern definition of matching. Or more like a complete misunderstanding. Colors antagonized each other with a proximity, volume, and spastic frequency that reminded HughMan of his insides when he saw the

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HughManity engulfed in smoke and flames. A deep satin voice rescued him from his over-stimulation, HughMan. So pleased you could make it. Care for a drink? Hughs eyes struggled to locate the source of the invitation amid the raging chromatics. His retinas began to throb. Then, along the far wall he discerned an absence of color. A man, serene and erect, on a pillow. Both man and pillow were draped in simple white, which, rather than standing out against the clutter of hues and shades, lapsed into the background, like a patch of canvas unmolested by brush and paint. HughMans overwrought eyes sought shade in this oasis. As he staggered across the room, Hugh noted the mans unusual eyewear: goggles with opaque white lenses. And then there was the curious shadow that cloaked the figure like a cape of fog. Cool trick. HughMan had always wanted a special effect. Cool Fog Man sat motionless for several minutes longer, breathing deeply and regularly as if keeping time by the lungful. HughMan worried that he had interrupted a private momentor that his host had fallen asleepwhen the man, still immobile, recommenced speaking. If youll excuse me, Ill just finish up my meditation here while we get acquainted. HughMan opened his mouth to suggest perhaps coming back another time, when his host smiled reassuringly, Youre not intruding. In fact youre very, very welcome. Please dont mind me. Coffee? HughMan didnt know much about contemplative practices, but he was pretty sure small talk and caffeine werent conducive to inner tranquility.

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As if sensing Hughs doubt, the man explained, Ive improved the Zen thing to make the whole experience more efficient and durable. Zen Pluspatent pending enables the practitioner to multitask. I can get enlightened while tending to all of lifes little logistics: checking e-mail, paying the bills even dictating to my assistants. Lets face it, merely by modulating his tone, the man seemed to lean in closer to Hugh, although he hadnt moved a muscle, the average Joe aint no monk. He doesnt have time for a lifetime of lotus. Hence, Zen Plus! The busy mans express ticket to nirvana. HughMan nodded uncertainly. So, coffee. And please, sit down. My name well, you can call me Captain Colorblind. HughMan, Hugh offered automatically, but you, err, already knew that. He remained standing by a pile of floor cushions as the young girl from the front hall brought in a tray laden with cups and a plate of cookies. Clearing his throat, he added, I want to thank you, Captain, for the, umm It was the least I could do when I heard, the captains voice dipped in sympathetic dismay. Unimaginable. After all, arent we all HughMans heart fluttered at the old familiar tune. He chimed in like a cracked bell searching for its choir, A-all j-j-just huhu but the faith fractured on his lips. Human. Yes, we are, my friend. Yes, we are. Although Hugh was unable to see Colorblinds eyes behind the goggles, he could sense nonetheless the captains steady gaze. And as seared as his faith was, HughMan felt a little better. The captain continued, Some folks like to make a big deal about how were

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different, waging war over superficial minutiae like skin color, dollars in the bank, and how we praybut really were all the same. Just meat on calcified sticks. A few minutes on the beach, and whats the difference between me and my African brethren? HughMans instinct was that vacation brown wasnt the same as born brown, but the captain had asked the question rhetorically and was moving on. Having reached his recommended daily allowance of Zen, Colorblind unfolded himself and approached. With your vision, I believe we have a place here for you. A pl-place? Its a cold, cruel world. Even for a great Hugh-manitarian like yourself, the captain coaxed. Join me, join us, and I promise youll never have to go it alone. Youll always have a home here. Son. Despite their equivalence in age, the captains paternal embrace felt appropriate, even comforting, to Hugh. And Colorblinds voicethat welcome back to Eden voice! sent smoke signals into the depths Hughs despair, assuring him that everything would be OK. The cavalry was here. HughMan half-sat, half-tumbled onto a plump cushion that resembled a balled up and partly eviscerated parrot. Colorblind gave him a moment. Then, with a ringmasters smile, he announced, To welcome you to our family, Ive asked the other members of MetaVision to join us. The door opened. HughMan looked up, and gasped. * Normally, Asia Girl avoided the boutiques that bloomed from the intersection of Laya Way and Capitalist Drive. While the prices certainly qualified as criminal, the

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victims here all paid to be exploited. However, the shopping mecca lounged straight as the crane flies between Rays neighborhood and Captain Colorblinds lair, so she found herself detouring off her usual detour and jetting right through the districts chichi. As the rice rocket hummed past an emporium hawking Genuine Pelts! And Real Fake Fur, Too! a woman strode out the front door and directly into the path of all nine hundred of the rice rockets horses. Slamming on the brakes, Asia Girl brought the herd to an immediate, hoof-grinding halt. The woman continued ambling across the avenue, oblivious to her close encounter with a moo shu pancake ending. Asia Girl decided to investigate; this lady wasnt going to make it far with those pedestrian habits. She parked the rocket and sprinted the few steps to catch up, Excuse me, maam? The woman glanced over her fur-swaddled shoulder, tossing her glossy black bob out of her face. On her nose perched a pair of large black sunglasses. Then, as if she didnt see anything of interestlike, for instance, a Spandex and silk-clad superhero tailing hershe swiveled her head forward again and kept walking. Asia Girl, who was used to the public gasping, staring, pointing, and even fainting at the sight of her, was utterly water buffaloed at this nonchalant dismissal. She repeated, this time fortissimo, Excuse me, maam with the coat of many pelts? The woman whirled around. She had obviously heard. But instead of identifying Asia Girl as the closest and most likely passerby to have addressed her, the woman looked to the left, to the right, and finally straight at Asia Girl only to look away again as if she didnt see her. Now sporting a look of annoyance, the woman resumed walking. But of course! Asia Girl frowned at her own obtuseness. The woman was blind.

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Mystery solved, Asia Girl fell into step next to the sightless pedestrian to oversee her safety. Our rebuffed hero was about to attempt a third introduction, when the woman stopped at a newsstand and, pulling her sunglasses to the tip of her perfectly reengineered nose, began to peruse the glossy covers of fashion magazines. If this lady was blind, Mao was a Republican. Perplexed, Asia Girl watched as the seeing blind lady put down Elle Plastique and plucked the latest issue of Botox Glamour from the rack, cooing excitedly. Tugging on the equally furry sleeve of the patron next to her, she squealed, I just had this done! Its fabulous! See? and removed her glasses completely. Sweet Jizo! The womans peepers had popped like overstuffed red bean buns. Asia Girl flew to the womans side, like an i-Dog to its charger. Excuse me Asia Girl grabbed the unblind womans arm. But Bug Eye-san didnt budge. She refused to acknowledge Asia Girl, even when the superhero began waggling both hands in front of her bulging irises, hollering, Hello! Ni hao! Konichiwa! Aloha! Earth to eyeballs! Come in, eyeballs! The woman failed to register Asia Girl in any language, even as other sidewalk strollers abandoned the newsstand and cars veered to the far side of the street. Maam, do you need some help? one brave soul approached Bug Eye, while warily watching Asia Girl. Help? Bug Eye looked up, surprised. Uh, yeah are you being harassed? the knight in tweed armor, gestured at Asia Girl. What are you talking about? the woman scowled, denting her hubcap ogle with

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furrowed brows. If Im being harassed by anyone, its you. Cant a lady read in peace, anymore? She raised the magazine in both fists like a shield against his intrusion. Flummoxed, her would-be rescuer shook his head and walked away, palms in the air in the universal sign for Keep your crazy to yourself. The woman glared at his receding figure until she deemed him appropriately out of her space, and went back to reading. Alone once again with Bug Eye, Asia Girl managed to rein in her rampage long enough to deduce there was more to this situation than met either set of their eyes. It was time to get an infallible nano-chip perspective. Slipping between the woman and her reading, Asia Girl did a full body scan with the handheld Abacus. In a split second, the computer surveyed Bug Eye from bone density to toenail polish and presented a complete report of her vitals and superficials. What Asia Girl found made her own eyes bug: the womans ocular glands had company. Next to each wellspring of tears waiting to be shed, a little sac of something else was quietly secreting. To find out what, Asia Girl simply turned and read along. The article was a review of a salon called The Caucasian I. What Asia Girl gleaned made her want to shriek, from a mai tai of amusement and horror. Then she connected the henna dots. Apparently, selective myopia was in vogue these days. And available as an outpatient treatment. Asia Girl did one last scream and jump test. Still no response from Eyes Wide Blind. Figuring that Captain Colorblind could wait while she did a quick fly by to check out the salon with her own two, Asia Girl sling shot herself into the airfwish!

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* The figure shrugged off her suit jacket and hung it, wrinkle-free, back in its place. Smoothing the already smooth collection of pin stripes, she appreciated the order that she had so painstakingly imposed among the numerous tailored pieces: thick stripes conceded to thin as colors and fabrics lightened in a finely graded spectrum of respectable hues. Below the jackets, skirts and trousers draped from separate bars. Hems escalated smoothly from floor-length to above-the-knee, and narrowed from flared to straight-leg. Next to the pin stripes, racks of houndstooth, tweed, wool, and then linen extended to the far wall. More than the individual articles of clothing, the figure enjoyed their collective correctitude: everything in its place among the others. Now, what should she wear? The figure was still surprised at herself for accepting the invitation to interview. Notwithstanding that this new enterprise just might be the much-needed turn that the old screw needed, the figure was not the corporate type. Indeed, the last outfit shed signed up with had definitely been too group-oriented for her. Not that she didnt appreciate a good collective, but there was something about meetings, agendas, and consensus voting that took the edge off a mobs mentality. It had been a relief to shuck the chains of that gang. No more having to play at playing nice, or reporting in to account for her actionsalthough, the figure smiled, shed discovered early on that a properly worded report would buy her unfettered freedom to do whatever she wanted on the job. But why even consider signing up for more employee handbooks, corporate culturization, andshe shudderedteam-building exercises? To be fair, there were advantages to being a company gal: additional funding, support staff, health insurance (which in her line of work was expensive), and someone

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else to take the fall when the corporation of cards came falling down. Speaking of her prospective fall boy, she wasnt sure what to expect from the CEO of this new venture. There had been something cloaked in his tone when theyd spoken on the phone. Something suggestive of the dry ice that curtains an amateur magicians sleight of hand. She liked that quality in people. Whether inspired by shame, betrayed trust, or just general paranoia, a healthy appreciation for subterfuge generally meant less meddling behind the cloaks of others. Thus enticed, she had agreed to todays sit down. The figure checked her watch. It was time to get dressed. Turning from the racks of slim silhouettes, she opened a set of double doors on the opposite wall. Inside stood an array of mannequins, her perfect body doubles, each clothed in some version of her standard professional attire. Now, what to wear? She contemplated the options, which were arguably so subtle as to go unnoticed except by the most discerning couturiers. She decided on the silkiest nap. Yes, she should put her best long leg forward. And faster than a zipper can zip, she was dressed. The mannequins rocked gently in her wake. The figure smiled, running her hands over her sueded hot pants. Getting suited up again felt so right. * The line at the Caucasian I curled around the block, like the tail of a giant Persian. Technicians moved clients through the waiting room at an efficient pace, but there was still a lag time of about two coats of mascara, de-clumping time included. Scanning the scene, Asia Girl spotted a figure making quite a grand exit from the front door, plowing

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right through the congregation of operation hopefuls. Handbags and scarf tassels flew up in the air like couture confetti. Hey! Excuse you! Who do you think you are? Asia Girl recognized the womans heedless gait and zoomed in for a closer looksee behind the over-sized sunglasses. Big ol anime eyes, check. Blank stare past Asia Girl, check. No recognition of the women she was taking out like Chinese food, check. Coincidental cousin to ol Bug Eyes? Asia Girl thought not. But just as she was about to bug some eyes out through her own, non-surgical means, her cell phone rang. This time, instead of Chopsticks, the beginning notes of Beethovens Fifth tolled at her. Dum dum dum dong She sighed and, closing her eyes, took the call, Lois here. Lois? Where the heck are you? Actually, dont answer that. I dont care where you are. I care why you arent here. We just talked about this last week: nothing should come between you and your deadlineunless, of course, youre saving mankind from some catastrophe. Eds sarcasm hung like Beijing smog in the ensuing silence. Asia Girl had the feeling that her idea of catastrophe would only qualify as potential lead story material to her boss. Besides, this was Lois call. Best then, not to rock the junk. Uhsorry, Ed, she did her best to sound contrite, I just needed some inspiration, so I took a walk, you know, to find some material. Asia Girl regarded the women who had willingly lined up to be blinded by science. She rolled her eyes, Ill

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have my strip done on time. I promise. And before he could tell her not to make any more excusespeace, justice, and the continental way be damnedshe hung up. As she holstered her phone, Asia Girl couldnt help feeling sorry for her alter self. No wonder Lois inspiration had dried up like the Han River during a drought. Eds approach to employee motivation was only slightly less discouraging than his annual pantomime of holiday cheer. Asia Girl shook her head. Why did she bother? The Leung and the short of it was that she needed an alter ego like a Persian needed hard wood flooring. Aliases were so overno offense to the professionally schizophrenic heroes of past generations. These days a hero could be herself, no need to cower in the cape closet. And when she did need the occasional break from the publics unblinking eye, all she had to do was pin a number on her chest and start jogging, thanks to the triathlon trend, with its hordes of amateur athletes suited up in head to toe Spandex. Granted, aliases had a certain retro appeal, but that didnt make them any less of a pain in the gyoza to maintain. A license to operate an alter ego required extensive additional training and continuing educationseminars on How to Appear in Two Places at the Same Time, Fashioning a complete disguise from a pair of glasses, and Three Steps to Bounce Back from a Blown Cover (Step One: Put glasses back on). And then there was the on-going counseling in managing multiple personalities. Asia Girl scowled. Why did she bother? And why did Lois? That was the gazillion rupiah question. Wouldnt Lois rather be Asia Girl? If she quit covering, she could drop the 9 to 5 (OK, more like 10 to 4:30) no more scurrying on the hamster wheel, chasing deadlines she could never catch. No more of those daily, weekly, monthlyand lifelyroutines, drenched in the neutral

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tones of her snoringly sensible wardrobe. But just as Asia Girl finished wadding up her alter ego like origami gone bad, she paused. Obsolete and inconvenient though her existence might seem, Asia Girl wasnt ready to toss Lois out with the recycling. She wasnt sure why, exactlyonly that she wasnt. And so, she smoothed out Lois crumpled visage and slipped it discreetly into her utility belt. Before she could chase this insight to an Oprah moment, a scuffle at the front of the line caught her attention. Apparently, the non-natives were getting restless. Asia Girl tucked a loose lock behind her ear. It was time to get the real story behind these Caucasianized eyes. When the receptionist called, Next! Asia Girl zipped to the frontest of the line, silencing the protests of her fellow Asians-in-waiting with an eloquent narrowing of her almond eyes. But instead of changing into her paper gown, she slipped down the hall to the directors office. Opening the door, she found a petite woman bubbling exuberantly at the speakerphone. While many things could be said of the entrepreneur, perhaps the most common observation was that Lilys Wantabes eyes made Bambi look squinty. Otherwise, she looked reasonably Asian-American. yes, very exciting. Theyre coming in from everywhereno, not just the USyou wouldnt believe the numbers from East Asia alone! I think we can look at a second location in Magnificat Heights well before wed projected. Uh, may I help you? she noticed Asia Girl. And then Wantabe registered whoor rather, whatwas standing in the doorway. Potential celebrity endorsement. Can you hold on for just a moment? she

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asked the box on her desk, already sidling out of her chair. Of course, a sonorous bass replied. Asia Girl! Wantabe purred, Welcome! She bustled eyeballs first at her guest. Yes, welcome, the speakerphone echoed with an audible smile. Ill leave you ladies alone. But his tone shifted, settling on Asia Girl like a lei on a Honolulu tourist. I do look forward to making your acquaintance in person. Soon. A note of command resonated in the last syllable. That would be nice, Asia Girl thought involuntarily. The voice had a husky allure, suggestive of cigars smoked by a blazing hearth. But before she could cozy up in the warmth, Wantabe was ushering her into a seat. How nice of you to stop by! I was just putting together a personal invitation to tour our facility and a complimentary So, you can see me. Wantabe blinked, andmuch to Asia Girls amazementwidened her gaze. Of course I can see you. Actually, I can see the new you, Wantabe hopped behind her desk and pecked at the keyboard. Swiveling the monitor around, she announced, Asia Girl through the Caucasian I! What stared unblinkingly from the screen made anime look like the art of realism. Each feature was a netsuke carving: the ideal of nose, chin, eye, and cheekbone. All together, these individual bits of perfection comprised a digital Frankenstein-san. Proportionate, symmetrical, and utterly inhuman. Asia Girl, who preferred a little wabi with her sabi, shivered. Still, she wondered what her mom might say

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* The maternal Dr. Cho was a compulsive primper, especially when it came to those she loved. No sexist, she showered her husband and daughter equally with suggestions for make pretty. Thus, young Lois was the only kid on the block who flew with a matching cape and purse ensemble. For his part, the paternal Dr. Cho allowed himself to be spiffed up with cufflinks, argyles, andjust oncea perm. Then came the glorious morning when an early adolescent Lois asked her mother about make-up. Dr. Cho sprang into action like the bodhisattva of complexion. The bathroom erupted in a spectacular blizzard of blushes and shadows. As she penciled and glossed, brushed and blended, Dr. Cho explained precisely what each powder was meant to conceal or fix. An hour later, Lois was thoroughly coated with non-animal tested products and a new appreciation of the word highlight. While it was never Mrs. Dr. Chos intentindeed, she was only trying to enhance what she considered her daughters natural beautywhat Lois learned that day was how much pretty she could be. And some things even a superhero cant fix. Like a childs fear that shes just a blemish to her mother * Wantabe was guiding the tour of Asia Girls digitally renovated face, when prototype Asia Girl shook off her reverie and unclipped her handheld Abacus. She wanted to know why Wantabe, unlike the other women whod undergone the Caucasian Is signature procedure, could still see her. Punching in a logarithm, she scanned the CEO for any other alterations or implants. The Abacus found plenty. Scrolling past the voluminous annals of Wantabes

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elective modifications to skin, hair, and subcutaneous fat, Asia Girl finally found what she was looking for. According to the Abacus analysis, Wantabe matched Bug Eyes proof of tampering, gland for gland, balls to lids. There was no evidence of any deluxe treatment. So how was it that the entrepreneur could still discern the Asia in the Girl? Asia Girl breathed in deeply, contemplating the miracles of misled science. Then, beneath the cloying scents of hair spray and anesthesia, her nostrils detected the sparest trace of an odor that she had imbibed earlier But where? She racked her olfactory faculties. Holy Shih Tzu! Asia Girl had inhaled this peculiar parfum before, under cover of office supplies and then cumin. She let the Abacus sniff for clues: sure as shiitake, a routine environmental analysis registered an unidentified gas in the air. Capturing a sample of the rooms fumes in a mini-bento box, Asia Girl did her best to cut back on her breathing habit. Wantabe was still yapping. Gee, Asia Girl interrupted, doing her best pre-op round eye look, its a lot to consider. You know, I should check my HMO to see if this kind of work is covered. She rose and made for the door. Truthfully, the Caucasian I and its so-called services creeped her out more than Kim Il Jungs hair or whatever Wantabe might be spritzing in the air. Of course, of course. But please, on behalf of the salon, Id like to offer you a handsome break in our usual feeperhaps in exchange for an endorsement. Say, some print ads, maybe a radio spot? Wantabe was close on Asia Girls stiletto heels. A little too close. Asia Girl whirled around, ready to footbind, even if not utterly necessary. Midspin, she brushed against the wall, inadvertently turning the thermostat off. Wantabe and

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the fan stopped simultaneously. A look of confusion crossed the proprietors countenance. Well, the CEO murmured as if to herself, that was a speedy exit. A superhero cant say thank you? Meanwhile, Asia Girl loitered in the doorway, as present as the Buddha under the bodhi tree. So Wantabe could only see people when they were boosting the bottom line? How capital of her. Scowling, Asia Girl rolled her eyes like chohan dice and then she noticed the switch. On a hunch, she flicked the thermostat back on. Oh, youre back! Wantabe lit up like an incense stick. Want to schedule a consult? she hustled back to her desk. Asia Girl didnt bother to protest; she simply clicked the thermostat off. How about Tuesoh, smudgy eyeliner, Wantabe sighed as she turned to find that her prey had escaped once more. Asia Girl left the thermostat on and Wantabe disappointed as she made her exit around chaises stuffed with Caucasian-eyed clients. Once outside, she exhaled and considered the bento box. What next: Colorblind or the chemistry lab? Swami, please. Asia Girl, who could never turn down a good tussle with injustice, was ready to get right to the yolk of the captains matter. Still, she was curious as a Siamese about what didnt smell funny enough all across the metropolis. Time to call in some assistance. Aack-ack-ack-ack! Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. Half a heartbeat later, Asia Girls hair was filled with down. And there, on her shoulder, sat Miso. Thanks for coming so quickly, my friend. I have a mission for you.

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Who? he asked. No, youre not going after anyone just yet. I need the Abacus to crack this pine nut, she showed him the bento box. Miso gave her a look as if to say that this mission qualified more as an errand, and did she really think this was a valid reason to interrupt his lemming-hunt? OK, OK, Asia Girl knew a disgruntled predator when it was sitting on her. I owe you a vacation in the Artic. She tried to hand him the box. Miso continued to look at her. Fine. A vacation in the Arctic and Ill trim your feet fur. The owl cooed. Then, accepting the bento box in one talon, he flapped away, nearly knocking Asia Girl over with the force of his take-off. She smiled as she brushed the down out of her bun. Miso drove a hard bargain, but he was worth every moment of grooming. Then, she took to the skies herself. Time to shiver the captains timbersfwing! * The Committee for Monthly Observances had convened for their regular update. Several new groups were lobbying to be put on the calendar, and when August went up for grabs, the discussion got hotter than a summer day. Once upon a lunar cycle, only National Water Quality would put up with Augusts humidity and the lackadaisical observance that the vacation month generated. But as the more pleasant seasons grew increasingly crowded, folks began to reconsider Augusts positive attributes. For one, it had that thirty-first day. For another, National Water Quality Month? It was like having four weeks all to yourself! And so it was that the usually clerical and somnolent

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proceedings of the committee had turned physical. Shocked and Appalled arrived just in time to see the first blow. We deserve this! What else do we have? screamed the representative for Stress Awareness Month, who had the lobbyist for Returning Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month in a headlock. Not shopping carts, choked the retailer. Meanwhile, the contingent for Be Nice to Phone Solicitors Month was taunting the Stamp Collecting Month posse. Oh, no ones licking your stamps? Thats too bad. The suggestion of saliva set off the philatelists, who charged their tormentors at full speed, hollering, We dont lick! Um excuse me I think Shocks was trying to get an indignation in edgewise, but couldnt seem to find the words. Desperate, she found herself wondering what Asia Girl would do. Shocks could see her, diving in with chopsticks ablaze, plucking insults and retorts from midair and dashing them to the ground. As always, right in the yin and yang of things. Laying down the lawhow would she say it?Singaporestyle. Shocks snorted at herself. Well, if she couldnt cut it as a hero in her own right, she could always hit the party circuit as an Asia Girl impersonator. No, she scolded herself. No more self-appalling. Heroic powers are for external use only. And she was going to have to start using them here and now, if she was going to prove Asia Girl wrong. Shocks inhaled. She could do this, she could. She She was hyperventilating. OK, best just to go for it and let the exclamations fall where they may. She cleared her throat. Uh, Im not exactly sure at whom or at what, but I feel its my duty to let you

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know that I am truly Shocked and Appall There was a pause in the incivility. Shocks rued that she hadnt chosen to debut her new, effective self at the scene of a kitty cat stuck in a tree. A community reporter, who was really enjoying the arrhythmia in his usually boring beat, stuck a mic in Shocks face. And joining the debate is Shucked and Peeled. Shucked, what do you have to say about todays proceedings? What did she have to say? Up until this moment, the entirety of what Shocks had had to say on any subject consisted of interjections and a modest selection of preverbal sounds. Her mind was as blank as an unsigned petition. Shucked? the mic was now pressing its mesh pattern into her lower lip. Shocks realized that she couldnt just gasp and shudder this problem away. She was going to have to look this mob straight in the eye and tell them something. But what? Once again, a vision of Asia Girl popped up, like a leering Jackie Chan in the box * People and banners bellowed at each other across the courthouse steps. Factions snapped off the main body of protestors like the strings off a tightly wound sitar. The issue between their slogans? Affirmative reaction. Tired of battling what he termed the unjust levelness of the working field, an unemployed Caucasian college dropoutalmost graduate, he preferredhad invoked the privilege of his gripe and filed a class action lawsuit against employers en masse. No longer content merely to land a job, he and his legal phalanx sought a reversal of affirmative action to swing the pendulum of preference once more in favor of whites. It

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was their turn, the affirmative reactors insisted. Time for minorities to share the borrowed wealth. Tit for tat. Whats good for the goose is good for the gander. Pay it forward, baby. The case had generated huge public interest, the most vehement of which was gathered on the steps that day. Actors, reactors, and some folks who were just generally disgruntled locked in a vigorous tug of war for the title of most oppressedor at least more oppressed right now: End discrimination against Whites! First end discrimination by Whites! No, you first! No, you first! Things were progressing nowhere quite nicely when the affirmative reactionaries unveiled their big slogan: Whitethe New Black! Silence, as the affirmative activators tried to figure out what the heck that was supposed to mean. Then, it was every color for itself: Blackthe Old School Black! Asianthe Other Black! Somos el Negro Nuevo! Meanwhile, a newly arrived extremist group frothed at the periphery of the fracas, claiming to speak for the real victims in matters of fair hiring: those folks who werent seeking employment. Why should they be denied preferential treatment just because they chose not to work? Tensions escalated as advocates regressed from slinging rhetoric to pushing, shoving, and occasionally flicking foreheads.

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That was when Asia Girl touched down. How do I qualify? All heads turned rabidly to the newcomer. But before anyone could open that can of chili paste, Asia Girl set the advocates straight. I mean, this is the Oppression Olympics, right? Were all here to compete for the gold in being kept down by the Man? she looked expectantly at the faces around her. With events in being overlooked, underappreciated, and generally stomped on? She clapped her hands together. And this summer, I hear entitlement is making its debut as an exhibition sport! Now let the games begin! Who wants to take me on for the platinum medal? * As Shocks recalled, the rally had proceeded with significantly less whining after Asia Girls intervention. The Oppression Olympics. Wasnt thisShocks glanced over the courthouse scenethe same deal, just fill in the blanks with calendar dates? Couldnt she blow the dust off a perfectly good sound bite? Use a touch of irony to lighten up the situation and promote some self-awareness? Yeah. She could handle this. Shocks took a step back from the mic, How do I qualify? Excuse me? the reporter looked puzzled, as he snapped her photo with his phone camera. You mean youre here representing a special interest, too? The room raised a collective eyebrow. What month was she advocating for Synthetic Fibers Month? Bleached Blonde Month? Because cheerleaders already had their thirty days, and if she thought they were going to scoop up any more Well, yes Shocks was feeling more confident. Were all here to get whats ours, and I want to get mine. I deserve it just as much

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Lady, are you saying we dont deserve it? Stress Awareness shook a finger at her. Right, a look of confusion crossed Shocks face. I mean, wrong. Of course you do, but I do, too, and so And so youre going to take yours and leave us with October? How are we supposed to compete with breast cancer? Shopping Carts threw his arms up in disgust. Breast cancer was such an attention hog. Panic lapped at Shocks very core. How could they accuse her of such unfairness? It was so unfair. She just wanted to help. She just But as she tried to regain mutually indignant ground, she beached herself on the rocky shore of her most distressing revelation yet: she might want to help, but she wasnt. Like a calculator at a spelling bee, or a glass of water when someone was drowning, she was useless. Or worse, she winced at the angry faces walling her in. When the world needed a hero, she was inadequately Shocked and Appalled. * According to Rays directions, Asia Girl was about to fly directly over the captains quarters. Turning up her slant eye vision, she noted that the neighborhood was a textbook front for evil headquarters: corner stores and bus stops huddled under a sparse canopy of faded awnings and peeling billboards, and among a few sidewalk-stranded saplings, just enough pedestrian traffic dribbled by to thwart an all-out blitz by forces of good. Given the hack real estate, Asia Girl had smugly dismissed the captain as nothing more than an ensign-level threat, when she fell out of the sky like an overstuffed, twicefried dumpling.

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Next thing she knew, she was flat on the concrete. And hurting. The fact that she was Asia Girl! And this could not be happening! hadnt occurred to her yet because it was still inconceivable! Deeper in denial than North Korea at a nuclear arms negotiation, she reviewed the facts contradicting the evidence: Asia Girl flew. She did not fall. And when Asia Girl chose to stop flying, she landed on her stilettos. Not her ass. This failed to explain how and why her aforementioned ass had come to meet the sidewalk so indecorously, but now was not the time to mire in inconceivability. If Asia Girl did fallnot that she was admitting any kind of involuntary altitude impairment she would simply get up, dust herself off, and 3-2-1 like the latest mission to Mars. So she did or tried to. In actuality, she only got as far as her five feet plus heels would allow. Much to her horror, she did not have lift off. Au contraire, she had ground control like Mulan had unresolved family issues. Hop. Hop. Sweet. Now she could fulfill her dream of becoming the awesome, injustice-crushing juggernaut known as Asia Bunny. After more strenuous hopping and cursing in pictograms she wouldnt want to show her motherAsia Girl was still earthbound. And beginning to panic. This was not how she envisioned meeting the captain. The plan was to surprise him, not herself. She gave herself a hot pepper talk. I am Asia Girl, and this is a fluke. A hallucination. A case of qi gone quirky. A misunderstanding with gravity that will work itself out because I am Asia Girl, and I fly. I fly now. Hop. Still no soaring, winging, or even fluttering. Hop. By the Ural Mountains,

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no! She was Asia Girl! And this was not the Year of the Rabbit! Hop. It was time to spin this cottontail into something light and airy. She was just mounting a first floor windowsill for a pre-liftoff lift when a voice behind her queried, Hey, Chiquita, need some help? Look, pal, just because a gal decides to get a little boost, doesnt mean she Asia Girl turned and forgot to be scathing. Hugh? * OK, look. I have some business here, and this is no place for youarent you still on leave? Asia Girl was trying to walk Hugh down the block to the bus station, but she couldnt get him to budge. This was not good. There were one too many chefs standing around this hibachi. Well, not exactly Hugh replied. Holy Shiva, Hugh was heavy! Asia Girl put a little more shoulder into her effort. I kinda quit. She stopped pushing. I-I havent exactly given official n-n-notice yet, Hugh stammered, IIm having a hard time putting it into words. You know, wh-why Im l-leaving and OK, Hugh, Asia Girl switched to pulling. As a rule, she liked her choices more diverse than either-or, but on this point she wished for clarity. Hed either quit, or he hadnt. I understand this is a huge decision, and Im happy to talk you through this later, but right now I gotta go see the captain. I know. Im supposed to come get you. Asia Girl paled to a margarine yellow. Hugh and the captain? She wobbled,

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undecided: this was either the obvious answer or wrong, wrong, wrong. She decided on the latter, plus or minus a wrong. Despite Hughs questionable judgment, efficacy, or likelihood to commit an act of actual justice, he was on Team Hall. And Team Hall was for life. He couldnt just quit and cuddle up with Team Nemesis. But Hugh had already taken the helm, steering the S.S. Asian right into the captains port. If Asia Girl was still stunned to discover that Hugh had jumped ship to join the bad guys, she got over it as soon as she caught her first glimpse of Colorblinds main cabin. Yu Gi Oh! Cymbals and gongs crashed just behind her third eye, but Asia Girl wasnt sure whether her sense of injustice or bad taste had been activated. It appeared that someone had open-sesamed the complete edition Crayola box on the room. Asia Girl had never seen shui fenged like this before. Who was this madman? As she tried to focus (or unfocusher retinas couldnt decide which was safest), it occurred to Asia Girl that if the dcor were any indicator of the captains fiendishness, she was going to need every last one of her exclusion acts to stop him. Now was not the time for a sudden bout of projectile dysfunction. She hoped to Asoka that the captain was as yet unaware that the Orient Express was having engine trouble. Smoothing the skirt of her hanbok, Asia Girl peaked a fiercer arch in her brow, knowing full well what Confucius would say: Sometime, bridge to justice out. So swim. And swim she would. But just as Asia Girl took a deep breath and prepared to dive in, her sinuses froze in full lotus. Something foul was a blowin in the air, and it wasnt just the captains sense of style.

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Holy Harajuku! A rice paper lantern lit up over her head. The blind were indeed leading the blindthat is, after blinding them. Asia Girl exhaled the spiked air and wondered just how long she could fight injustice on the residual oxygen already in her blood supply Well, tickle my potstickers. If it isnt Asia Girl, a voice interrupted her morbid speculation. Well, hello Dalai. It was none other than the voice from the speakerphone, now marveling with a tone of smug satisfaction, Finally. For a moment that she would later deny, she was once again titillated. What was it about that voice? Like the steam rising in a hammam, it soothed her, seeping into her pores and relaxing Her sense of injustice rebooted, blaring louder than a yeti in a rain forest. No one talked to her about their potstickers like that. Beaming her slant eye vision across the room, Asia Girl got her first glimpse of the man whod been up her nose all day. The captain loomed tall, lean, and utterly whiteexcept for a cloak of shadow that roiled off him like a giant Fu Manchu moustache. How banal, she thought. And those goggles? Wrong, like cream cheese in a sushi roll. Asia Girl had never known a villain who didnt have some wacky accoutrement: bad mustache, over-sized hat, single glove. Maybe it was the free gift that came with the purchase of a will to do evil. At least the goggles worked. The captain, who was sailing full speed right at her, apparently saw yellow just fine. Captain Colorblind, I presume, Asia Girl opened with one of her favorite poses: Crouching Asian, Hidden Taafung. While she had a policy against initiating violence, she liked to be split-second ready to return it. And despite the still-smarting evidence

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from the sidewalk, she refused to entertain the possibility that a pose was all she had. Why, yes. At your service, the captain assumed a posture Asia Girl recognized immediately as Sahib on the Savanna. He extended his hand, Im flattered that youve heard of me. Well, not exactly heard, Asia Girl declined, parrying with Indigenous Uprising. Read. And smelled. The captain smile-smirked and did a few rounds of Wax On-Wax Off. Asia Girl wondered if he had any original moves. May I get you anything? Coffee, tea, lemonade ice pack? he launched his first offensive strike from Blind Mans Bluff. I understand you had a rough landing. Hrrm she cleared her throat, reaching for a bluff of her own. Well, it seems youre one step ahead of me on the bell curve today. Asia Girl flowed right through Water Off a Peking Duck and into Roe-Sham-Boe. So why dont you tell me what Im doing here? Meanwhile, she readied her foot bindings. Who am I to tell you? the captain protested, hands in a mudra of Rhetorical Pondering. But perhaps I might guess. Youre tired of battling the Halls relentless pursuit of anything but justice he began to circle Asia Girl and youre thinking maybe its time to flyoh, excuse my insensitivityfight solo. But thats so drastic, so anti-social. Maybe, he mused with affected thoughtfulness, you dont need to go it alone. Then, as if excited by her possibilities, You could find a new outfit. One that suits you, and your vision, better. The captain paused in his orbit to let his insinuation sink in. Asia Girl was floored like a Persian rug. If the captain thought her vision had

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anything in common with his, he was Long Duck Dong wrong. But before she could shed some Technicolor on his limited spectrum, the captain slid into Unrelenting Tundra and resumed his sales pitch. Now, hold your Shar-Peis, missy. Heroes arent exactly super these daysand we both know thats the truthso perhaps its time to reconsider so-called villains. Maybe were not the black to your not-so white. If there was anything that burned Asia Girls rice, it was the irresponsible distortion of an already oversimplified dichotomy. She wasnt about to take the advice of a blind man when it came to the question of true colors. Instead, she decided it was time for the captain to understand what she was talking about. Upturning both wrists, she fired with the intent to foot, hand, and goggle bind the captain. But there was no familiar fffft! No twin missiles of fabric finding and binding their target. Instead of one compacted captain, Asia Girl found herself beholding Colorblinds increasingly disturbing, ever confident smile. She tried again. Nothing. Just limp-wristed supplication to the great god of her humiliation. Asia Girl was completely stupad. No flying was a freak mishap; no binding was a trend. What in Shangri-la was going on? Then her worst fearother than a global kimchi faminetapped her on the shoulder. Superhero menopause. No, it couldnt be. Not already. She counted off her years of active heroism. She should have plenty of decades ahead of her. Still, Asia Girl knew all too vividly that the inevitable change of life struck all heroes, no matter how fast or strong. The process was swift, merciless, and sometimes fatal; she recalled the legend of a certain caped crusader who had suffered a storm of hot flashes and a total superpower outage while facing off

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against his archenemy. He had died, powerless and sweating. She shuddered. Anything the matter? the captain inquired, his tone as transparent as rice vinegar. He was enjoying Asia Girls impotence the way a Kobe cow relishes its massage. Asia Girl decided to save what face she had left. Besides, she still had a utility belt full of tricks. A small hiccup. Consider it your lucky cat day. You were saying? She affected Humble White Belt, throwing a few rupees his way to buy herself a little time. The captain extended the Benevolent Hand That You May Kiss and resumed both his orbit and his spiel, Are we really so different? He smiled as if the answer were as obvious as the Taj Mahal. Yes, in fact and deed, we are, Asia Girl answered with reflexological speed as she organized herself into Yellow Plague Descending. You erase peoplemy people. Erase? Oh, you misunderstand, the captain eyed Asia Girl like the long lost pea from his edamame pod. I love your people. I love all people. I just want to save you from your unnecessary sense of alienation. He spread his arms in Come to Papa posture. By erasing us? Asia Girl repeated, confronting the captain in Hirohitos Revenge. His logic was Sanskrit to her. By alleviating your color self-consciousness, the captain euphemized, striking his best rendition of Benevolent Sensei pose. Color is so divisive. But why? Whats some pigment really? You tell me, Asia Girl volleyed back. Youre the one alleviating it. Seems to me youre the one with the color problem. She placed one hand on her rice ball holster,

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relieved to find that Hello Kitty hadnt crumbled under the current embargo. Me? Oh, no. Im the one with the color vision. MetaVision, actually. Incorporated, Captain Colorblind noted for legalitys sake. He stood tall in European Union. Really, my dear, you need to get over your need for me to be wrong just because you believe youre right. That kind of thinking is sohow do the kids say it these days?old school. I am not the bad guy. No, my dear friendand if I may, colleague I, like you, am a humble servant of justicetut-tut, the captain shushed Asia Girl, whose lips twitched at the captains nonchalant appropriation of justice. And despite her best instincts, she obeyed. It was something about the way his lips pursed when heshe shook off the image and dialed back into the captains irrationale. Its all this difference seeing thats your villain. Asian-American, AfricanAmerican, Latino, Native Americanwhy cant we all just be American? Or, even better, plain old human? You rang, boss? Hugh popped his head into the room. As the captain turned to dismiss his most recent and eager recruit, Asia Girl took advantage of the distraction and full-body scanned the captain with her handheld Abacus. She couldnt help noting his fine physiqueagain, she stopped herself before she sashayed down that questionable alleyway. What was wrong with her? Maybe the air impaired more than vision. She tried shallow breathing with just one nostril. The Abacus indicated that the scan was complete. But before she could read the specifics of the analysis, the captain resumed his infomercial, gliding forward in The White Man Cometh. MetaVision will revolutionize the world as we know it, by taking race out of our

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collective consciousness and letting us return to what matters: our common humanity no, Hugh, we still dont need you just yet. Hugh nodded sheepishly from the doorway and receded. As the captain admonished his new lackey, Asia Girl sensed a subtle but distinct shift in his tone and posture. It was like catching Charlie Chan rolling his eyes at the common senselessness of his ever baffled clients. The next moment, Charlie was back to the indefatigable smile and shuffle with which he handled all mainland confusion. It was hard to say whether Charlie had really lost his cool, or there was just a scratch in the film. So too with the captain. Maybe Asia Girl had hallucinated the wrinkle in Colorblinds suavity. Or maybe there was indeed some sweat under his calm, conniving, and collected. Where was I? the captain purred, repossessed of his wink and charm. I believe you were explaining to me, Asia Girl assumed First Chair Violin pose, one hand still on Hello Kitty, how MetaVision justifies erasing peopleexcuse me, alleviatingpeople. I sense your skepticism, Captain Colorblind chided, but I have hope for your evolution yet. Asia Girl bristled like a blowfish trapped between a shark and a sushi chef. Maybe it was time to evolve something of the captains. Like his sense of pain. She contracted her grip on the rice ball and brought all her energy to Overripe Kimchi in a Sealed Jar stance. MetaVision, Captain. Stick to MetaVision. Certainly, the captain smiled as he backpedaled into Bicycle Built for Two and winked at Asia Girl to hop on. Merciful Mata Hari, those eyes Asia Girl almost slapped herself this time. Pull

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it together, you little wonton! Captain Colorblind was the enemy, the archenemy. There was nothing sexy, alluring, or even remotely attractive about injustice. All the same, he had a fine set of peepers, even if they were roundOK, enough! Asia Girl trashed that thought like a cheap Hong Kong toy. MetaVision recognizes that color itself isnt really the problem, the captain leaned close in White Man Encroacheth. Its how people perceiveor rather, misperceiveit. Your skin, my skin. Really, whats the difference? he stepped wide in We Are The World. You just have a little tan going on. Asia Girl cocked an eyebrow. Weve made such a big deal of some extra pigment: Black and Red and Yellow, oh my! As if its not fundamentally just skin. Which everyone has. And in choosing to see our differences instead of our commonality, we have strife, conflict, insecurity, and low self-esteem. The captain shook his head at the tragedy of low self-esteem. But there is hope, he perked up. Take whiteness Asia Girl mutely gestured that shed had enough already, thank you. Weve gotten it right with whiteness. Like a canvas before its been painted, white is the uncolor: we dont think about it. And voil, its not an issue. Delighted, the captain assumed Funky Chicken pose, As a matter of paid fact, in a recent MetaVision study, nine out of ten white people reported that racial identity had little to no impact on their lives. Seven of those nine even offered to donate their claim to whiteness to a good cause since they werent really using it. And of the ten percent who did claim white identity, further study indicated that they had either misheard the question, were confused, or insisted on identifying themselves as more of a pink, actually. So you see,

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uncolor is the superior way. Colorblind moonwalked in See No Evil. At MetaVision, we humbly aspire to free you people of color from your pigmentation so that you may enjoy the relief and carefree colorblindness that so many white folks do. Carefreedom, if you will, the captain snapped his fingers. Pulling out a notepad, he jotted down his newly minted mot before continuing. Where was I? Oh yes, carefreedom for all. Of course, that means people of color have to bear more of the initial costs, but that seems only fair. After all, it is your color thats the issue. Asia Girl had one profound, screaming thought: Wrong. There was more wrong with the captains vision than with Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and internment camps all balled up in one wartime wad. But she tried to be concise in her objection. So youre just going to pretend that people of color dont exist. Like monsters under the bed or gays in the military. Dont ask, tell, see, or acknowledge. Just pull the covers over our heads. Erase us. He nodded encouragingly, pleased that she understood. And for whom exactly does that qualify as justice? Why, for all of us, the captain smiled. Again with that infuriating smile. So sure. So easy. Asia Girl revved up in Imported Engine, Us meaning your nine out of ten? All those who think theyre transparent and can blend right into a whiteexcuse me, uncolorcanvas and not cast a shadow? It was time to light this Korean barbecue. Captain, meet Colonel Kitty. Asia Girl pitched the sticky white missile. But instead of connecting with the right side of the captains noggin, the rice ball dive-bombed from her fingertips and hit the floor like the

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Tokyo Exchange on a grizzly bearish day. Good King Kamehameha! Asia Girl instinctively went for a second ball; the captain chuckled at the gesture. My dear, dont you understand yet? he shook his head, assuming Pater Knows Best position. And your people are supposed to be so smart Goes to show how we could all benefit from letting go of stereotypes, eh? he dipped in a quick Ooh-La-La, My Faux Pas pli. Regarding the futility of attempting another rice ball, foot binding, or any other of your Vera Wang bag of tricks, your powers are useless against me, the captain balanced in Great White pose. So why dont we play nice? Even before Colorblind finished declaring her impotence, Asia Girl knew he was telling the truth. If the captains gas could render its victims invisible, then of course it could incapacitate them as well. How could she have failed to anticipate the pan-Asian effects of whatever the captain was pumping through the vents? She winced. But there was no use crying over spilt white tea. As Confucius had once said to her, When no tricks left up sleeve, try pant leg. For once, Asia Girl regretted not buying a hanbok with a skort bottom. But now was not the time for fashion remorse. Asia Girl palmed the one weapon that she hoped still packed a karate chop, and tried to muster a dolsot-hot tone. By play, I suppose you mean roll over and obey? Nice trick, by the way. Blind and therefore immune. Now that you should get patented. As Asia Girl spoke, she cast her slant eye vision around the room. In the far corner, she located a thermostat and a vent, neither of which connected to a furnace, if her hunch was correct. She would have to play this one naeng myun cool. Assuming Refugee Adrift posture, she continued scanning to camouflage her intent, while interrogating the captain using the Thai massage technique.

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May I ask why you havent eliminated me yet, when you obviously could have? Captain Colorblind smiled like Attila the Hun contemplating his prize minion. My dear, youre still thinking binary. You versus me. Yellow versus white. But Im thinking buttermilk. Why should I eliminate you when I can incorporate you? The way Colorblind said incorporate, Asia Girl sensed there was something very wrong with his charter. I dont do assimilation, thank you. Incorporation, he repeated. She gave him a look that suggested shed heard what hed said, no matter what hed said, and drifted on. The captain chose to let sleeping Pekingese pups lie and continued, You would be an invaluable asset to the MetaVision teamwith some modifications to your identity and powers, of course. The Asia thing obviously wouldnt work with our brand of multiculturalism Dont you mean monoculturalism? Asia Girl clarified, still touring the perimeter of the room. Multiculturalism, dear, Colorblind cleared his throat, mildly perplexed. All his sources reported that Asia Girl was fluent in English, yet she seemed at times not to speak his language. He thought enunciating more slowly and loudly might help. Bracing himself in Lingua Americana, he attempted to explain, MetaVisions MUL-TI-CULTUR-AL-IS-M is a smooth blending of all cultures into one unified MO-NO-CUL-TURE, Asia Girl also experimented with more volume, less speed. Well help you with the lingo during your training, Colorblind smiled a bit

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more strainedly. Where was I? Oh yes, instead of Asia Girl, perhaps you could be something less exclusive. Like PanEthnic Girl! he noticed Asia Girls less than excited expression. Or something more streamlined, like Girl! Faster than anything speeding! More powerful than everything! Able to leap many things in a single bound! Colorblind certainly seemed enamored of his own idea. Mustering as much of a smile as a Girl could, Asia Girl continued her perambulation to the far side of the room, where she discreetly activated the boomerang function on the shuriken concealed in her hand. She waited for her chance. Colorblind was still rapt with the view through his soymilk-colored glasses, And well re-equip you with a more MetaVision-aligned set of powers and gear. Perhaps a gun. You know, something that translates universally. Asia Girl could see that Colorblind knew her about as well as Genghis Khan bothered to know whom he was pillaging. But she had to keep him talking until she had her opportunity. She prayed for a butterfly slice of good fortune. Surely kung fu movies had been whitewashed enough for her ninja gizmo to do its job? Universally, you say? Got big plans there? Shaking his head, the captain chided, Come now. Youre not going to judge us on the basis of a plot to take over the world, are you?" Asia Girl hoped this was a rhetorical question. Because its not as if world domination is just for the bad guys. You and I both know that the good guys want the whole world in their pious little palms just as much as anyone else. Colorblind was sounding a tad defensive, to Asia Girls ear.

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Then he got tadder, Take, for instance, your Hall of Justice, Etc., he waved a hand irritatedly. Surely a hall is plenty of space for justice to flourish nicely. But are they content? Of course not. They want more. And not just a floor or a building or even a whole housing complex. No, they want justice for the entire world! As if thats any different than any other megalomania! Asia Girl noted the captains touchiness on the subject of evildoers getting the short end of the marketing stick. That little jade gem might come in handy when she made her move to bust this chaebol up. So, he clasped his hands together and took a deep lungful of his special blend of reconditioned air, lets not get hung up on unfounded judgments. Agreed? But before she could agree to disagree on this and anything else he might care to say, the captain got back to the hiring interview. Now, while Im sure youre curious about salary and benefits, let me share with you the greatest incentive to join the MetaVision team: your colleagues Colorblind buzzed an intercom. Hugh, please bring in the staff. Hugh popped in almost as soon as Colorblind had released the intercom button, creating the momentary distraction Asia Girl needed. As the captain looked toward the door, she hurled the shuriken between the slats of the vent. It circled back to her hand before her hosts returned their attention to her. Clipping the shuriken into her belt, she acted as if she were just brushing out her skirt. You know Hugh, Colorblind smiled at Asia Girl like the Siamese who ate the phoenix. And I, he gestured at the girl formerly known as Icici, and even more formerly as Kelly, as she stepped into the room. I grinned and waved at Asia Girl like a

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homecoming queen come home. Asia Girl was stunned more by the new nomenclature than she was by the appearance of her acquaintance from the park and alley. I? Yeah, well, I shrugged, chewing on a fingernail before straightening up selfconsciously, the first step was accepting my true African self and acknowledging that I am as African as I am American, Asian, European, and Antarctican. Apparently, Is consciousness created identity and culture where below-freezing temperatures prohibited them. Then I just had to get over it, I bashfully regarded her feet, which were encased in very sensible shoes, Asia Girl noticed. I, Asia Girl nodded, deciding to honor the girls new tag. For a copy-kitty like Kelly, I was probably as good as rebaptism got. The captain continued his reintroductions. And, of course, the Unoffensive Nostra? Culpa? Asia Girls almond eyes went walnut. Were so sorry! the Unoffensive, re-ne the Unoffenders, chorused. But Nostra and Culpa didnt have a chance to explain their new brand before the next MetaVision employee strode in. And I believe youre also acquainted with Molten Pot? MP offered as charming a smile as she could. At best, it was disconcerting. For crying out Kali! Whom didnt Colorblind have in his legions? Then Asia Girls mental Abacus whirred into action. Of course! This address Amidst the chaos of her indecorous grounding, Asia Girl hadnt recognized the real estate where she had fought more than one protracted battle against the ravenous gluttony of assimilation. Asia Girl and Molten Pot exchanged still heated glares. There

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was always someone who had it out for the new kid. And finally the captain cooed. Asia Girl waited for the other bosun to drop. our very own, Political Correctness. Asia! PC stepped through the door, one long leg after the other. She blew a kiss across the room. You look positively continental. Asia Girl felt as if the Oriental rug had been pulled out from under her. Along with the floor. Despite all her worrying that PC had resurfaced, she had never imagined that the once hero might come back as part of a chorus line. Asia Girl mustered a nod, PC, you look, proper As would you. Here. With us, the captain pitched in his best boardroom voice, At MetaVision, where were all one happy, undifferentiated family. He raised his arms as if to suggest a group hug. On his cue, Hugh, I, the Unoffensive, Molten Pot, and PC closed ranks around the newest head in their hunt. Unsure if they meant to embrace or downsize her, Asia Girl considered her options: fight, which so far wasnt going so well; or flight, which was literally impossible. She decided to give her powers one last shot. Facing the cast of resurrected characters in front of her, she aimed herself at PC and Ai she squeaked like a poor province mouse. PCs lips curled into a mocking smile. Whats the matter, Asia? Captain got your tongue? Asia Girl gulped. Even her power of Hangul was lost without translation. Her cannonade of Korean, normally powerful enough to dent the defenses of even the deafest

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of foes, was now just a petulant peep. Well, there was always harikari. Except that Asia Girl didnt feel like impalement today. So it was that Asia Girl, superhero in checkmate, was out of options. Unless She shuddered. She hadnt played that card for over two decades. The last time had been a grisly reckoning: tears, devastation, small children left broken in the wake. Thus, she had sworn never to use that power ever again. Mistaking her silence for capitulation, the captain waved a semaphore of peace, I knew you would see he winked, the correctness of our way. Asia Girl positioned herself in Exit the Dragon stance as the ring tightened. Exceptional circumstances warranted exceptional response, she reasoned. What I see, Colorblind, she exhaled with both eyes closed, is what you wont. With that, she sprinted straight at the Unoffensive. Grasping their heads like the handles of a pommel horse, Asia Girl vaulted over the twins, executing a double somersault, followed by a handspring off PCs skull to Hughs as if they were two points on an invisible balance beam. Dismounting with an extra twist in her round-off, she nailed a perfect 10 landing, feet planted firmly beneath her. Giving silent thanks that the uneven bar had not been part of this event, she snapped both arms above her head in the gold medal salute she had learned at Yang Weis Camp for Gymnasts Not Sissies, and she was offalbeit on foot. Thump, thump, thump, thump * Did anyone hear a fwip-fwip sound? the captains brow was etched with uncertainty.

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Fwip-fwip, sir? I asked, eager to please, but not always sure how. Yes, a fwip-fwip and a flickering when Asia Girl was standing here? Colorblind walked over to the spot from where she had launched her escape. The Unoffensive traded rueful glances, Sorry. The rest of the MetaVision team shook their heads as well, except for PC, who regarded the captain with cool interest, not unlike a sated snake observing an extra mouse. Aware that leadership is not enhanced by rumors of lost sanity, Colorblind cleared his throat and waved a hand insouciantly, It mustve been the adrenaline. Well, folks, back to work. B-but, Asia Girl Hugh looked like a man whod lost his favorite rib. Later, Hugh. Later. I think weve demonstrated that her Orientalism has no place in the new age of undifferentiation. The very thought seemed to intoxicate him. Then, beaming, he slapped Hugh on the spine-sagging back, So lets keep our eyes on the translucent prize. He clapped his hands. OK, people, lets get back to building that MetaVision * A block away, Asia Girl sensed something lift, like steam off a bowl of soba. Could it be? With a hop, skip, and bound, she was airborne. Holy chindogu, it felt good to be back in Technicolor. Soaring through the sky like the keen edge of a yojimbos blade, she recalled leaping off her parents roof for the first time: the rush of wind, the Crows eye view the unstoppable giggling. That day, she had awoken. And while today had certainly been

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an almond eye opener, Asia Girl couldnt find much to laugh about. The thought that her powers might fail had never occurred to her. Like losing her name, her childhood, or her yellow: it wasnt possible. Or so she had thought. What in Bali Hai had the captain done to her? She took a quick inventory to make sure that she hadnt actually lost anything. Bindings, check. Hello Kitty rice balls, check. Chopsticks of Truth, check. Needles of Accelerated Truth, check. Slant eye vision, check. Ggochu breath and ginseng touch of electrocution, check. Fury, checkmake that check, underscore, italicize, and bold. Power of Hangul? She tried out her basic vocab, Aigu saesungae! Nearby, a gaggle of migrating geese exploded from their orderly V into a Braille of panic, and a plane was blasted off its flight path. Whoops, check. After righting the plane, Asia Girl assessed one final function: the hon-wasabi desire to haul the captains dinghy up out of the water for good? Check. Yup, she was back. And ready to kick Colorblind right in his neutral palette. She indulged in a brief wuxia-style fantasy sequence of justice delivered, shadow kick-boxing the clouds as she hurtled through the air. Thats rightshe was Asia Girl! Faster than a speeding rickshaw! More powerful than the smell of ripe kimchi! Able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound! She took a deep nasal passageful of good old-fashioned air pollution. But even as she reveled in relief and revenge, Asia Girl fumed. The captains plot emerged from the buckshot of recent events like a renga from the individual verses of his havoc: Blind is the way, the Caucasian I, her sudden and complete power outageit didnt take a genius to connect the grains of rice. Oh, she

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should have known not to judge a scroll by its cover! The captain was no more blind than she was European. Indeed, he saw all too well. How clever to disguise his campaign of mass ochre-cide as merely a difference in vision. How insidiously unimpeachable. Captain Erasure would be a better nom de fiendishness for him, Asia Girl smoldered. But as wrong as the captains point of viewlessness was, Asia Girl realized she would have to reckon with it. The captains so-called blindness made him immune to her powersor rendered her impotent. She didnt like the sound of the second possibility any more than Tokyo Rose had liked the sound of being called a traitor. But whether the issue was the captain or herself, how could she make him see? She ruled out a full Oriental cracker mix attack; for obvious and still painful reasons, round two with the captain would require a more novel approach. Yes, she would have to reinvent the rickshaw wheel for their next interview. But how Just then, her sense of injustice started clamoring like a Banzai chorus. The conundrum of the captain would have to wait. To be honest, Asia Girl didnt mind the distraction. It would be nice to flex her powers on a traditional perp: the kind who was susceptible to justice in primary colors. Yes, an easy Mandarin collar was exactly what this hero needed. And so, smiling like the Hello Kitty who ate the canary, Asia Girl banked hard in the direction of a familiar zip code, ready to Lucy Liu whatever injustice was being taught, learned, or quizzed that day * The captain knocked cursorily as he entered PCs office. Ah, Political, he smiled broadly.

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Color, she nodded, returning the over-familiarity. She was seated at her desk, hands folded on the polished surface, gaze already directed at the door when he entered. As if she had been waiting for him. I just thought Id pop in and see how the latest addition to the MetaVision team is settling in, he offered as he insinuated himself into the seat across from her. She smiled with a minimal engagement of muscle. An invitation to sit and stay awhile was clearly not forthcoming. Nonetheless, Colorblind sat. As the silence lengthened like a well-chewed piece of gum, he examined the room. It was entirely immaculate. Even the dust motes floated orderly through the air. Minimalist in its furnishings and devoid of any knick-knackery, the room was as spare as its occupant. At least, the captain reflected, when it came to conversation. An occupational hazard, no doubt. Nice bird, he nodded toward a large cage in the corner, wherein perched a red parrot. PC continued non-smiling. He noticed that she was twirling a cigarette deftly between the fingers of one hand. Tut-tut, he thought, they never read the handbook. Im sorry, but theres no smoking in the office, he raised a reproachful brow. Is that right? PC returned brow for brow. Her gaze fell to the cape that draped from his shoulders and billowed thickly to the floor. The captain gathered his shadow about himself defensively. He was beginning to rethink this hire, despite her proven track and silence record with Asia Girl. PC was proving to be far less manageable than her colleagues. And for all her word perfectness,

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she seemed not to comprehend the difference between smoke and shadow. Sometimes, he pinched the bridge of his nose, he really hated his own people. He allowed himself a moment longer to fester and then flipped the charm switch back on. But enough about policy. Lets talk vision, Colorblind leaned forward, steepling his fingers in front of him. Your vision, he paused for the splittest of seconds before barreling on with the ardency of a pioneer seizing his frontier. MetaVision isnt about seeing the world as it is. Its about shifting the paradigm, constructing a new social reality his eyes sparked, and the steeple fluttered apart, two birds flapping agitatedly in the air. Voice rising, the captain connected the theoretical dots to reveal his monochromatic masterpiece * Several reconstructed paradigms later, Colorblind finally shoved off. PC shut and locked the door. Perhaps she had signed on the dotted line too hastily. It was only her first day, and she was considering reverting to her old seal-em-up ways. Her jaw hardened. She had endured the captain as he levitated out of his chair on the currents of his own hot air. She hadnt listened exactly, but who could? Great grandmothers of etiquette, the man hemorrhaged words like a hole in a bucket! PC could still hear his insipid MetaSpeak. A new socio-cultural model for the global age. Awareness and acceptance through blindness. A para-dise through parasight. She rued the day that man had learned to hyphenate. Cracking her knuckles, she began to pace. What she wouldnt give to take away his prefixes and suffixes, and strip away those preposterous abstractions that didnt mean squat outside the temporal lobe. Thats right. Get him back to nouns of yore. The kind

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that meant something. Persons, places, things. None of these ideas that just put, well, ideas in peoples heads. If only she could A flare went up, and PC stopped mid-stride. If only she could She released the tongue shed been determinedly biting ever since Colorblind smeared his way into her office, and allowed a smile to buoy the corners of her mouth. Yes, there must be a way she could... Awwk! feathers ruffled in the cage. PC stared keenly at the bird, as if seeing him for the first time. Pretty boy, she murmured absently. Her smile reappeared. Yes, she could. Then, rummaging in her pocket for kernels of corn, she opened the cage door. The red feathered head tilted to one side, Hi, pret-ty la-dy. Then spying the morsels in her palm, the bird bobbed its noggin, Pret-ty la-dy. * The doors of Open Arms Academy stood wide, belching students and teachers out onto the lawn. Three reasons people run, Confucius always said, Get to, get from, get skinny. Hovering above the throng, Asia Girl scanned for the cause of this exodus. She was nearly teriyaki bowled over when her slant eye vision spotted the center of all the interest. Atop an Everest of books rising from the playground stood Shocks, one arm sassily akimbo, the other clutching a Bic lighter. What in Brunei? Asia Girl wondered. And since books plus burning never added up, she swooped in to keep everything at room temperature. Touching down in the front row of spectators, she found herself next to Jos.

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In his urgency, he didnt notice Asia Girls arrival; subtlety, she archly noted, seemed to be her newest supertalent. But now was apparently not the time for salutations. A good student and citizen, Jos knew better than to yell Fuego! in a crowd, but given the circumstances, he looked like he was seriously considering it. Before Asia Girl could counsel her young friend on emergency procedures, Shocks began pontificating from her perch of prose, Students and teachers, put down your highlighters! We cannotwe must nottolerate this wrong any longer! No, we must take a stand! No textbooks without equal representation! No textbooks without equal representation! The trained ear would have discerned a note of something beyond earnestness in the junior heros call: desperation. Shocks wanted this gig to work out more than a sushi chef wants to cut the fugu right. Preferably with textbooks and equal representation, but she was willing to settle for one or the other. Since her anything but affirmative reaction from the calendar committee, she had been trying to see the glass as half full, but that had only gotten her a hangover. The truth that no amount of Spandexed denial could repress was that Shocks couldnt remember the last timeor any timeher intervention had tipped the scales of justice even a millimeter * After Ichabods bus stop heroics, Sarah would no longer be contained in the bubble wrap of her parents over-protection. Having tasted the bitter fruit of knowledge, she pledged from that day on to make sparkling lemonade for the thirsty, puckered-face masses. However, things had turned out less than juicy at little Sarahs justice stand (10

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a reckoning). She never managed more than the bruising of some citrus. From ballet lessons to student government, her legacy was a preservation of the status quo and a library of yearbook photos from which shone the widest, most earnest smile that no one could identify. Comments like Have a summer and Its been knowing you were her status of no quo. Even the marathon of canned food drives that she organized for every cause imaginableincluding, tragically, the Association of People Allergic to Aluminum netted no gain. While Sarah acquired cans of peas and baby corn like a magnet, hunger and need trundled on. Indeed, as many ounces of marinated veggies as she dropped off in non-profit parking lots, infinitely more remained to be collected. But at least she wasnt making people hungrier. With the tenuous consolation of her zero-sum activism, Sarah Pablum gamboled from one unspectacular effort to the next, occasionally screwing things up, but more often leaving everything just as if she had never been there in the first place. Little Lois Cho may have failed to impress, but for the greater part of her young life, Sarah couldnt even muster the slightest indentation. Despite the invisible ink of their daughters attempt to make a mark on the world, Ichabod and Hortense knew Sarahs heart was in the right place. So, with the fervor of parents who believed they could shape the future (and had the bank to finance it) they resolved that their daughter would always achieve what she desired, even if they had to achieve it for her. Of course, the Pablums knew their daughter would never stand for standing on their shoulders to succeed. She may have been unremarkable, but she still had pride.

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Thus, Sarah received her diploma from the Super Academy under the mistaken impression that she had barely graduated when, in fact, her parents had barely graduated her. A persuasive conversation with the Super Strength Departmentincluding an offer to undertake the construction of a new Villainous Headquarters Simulation Centerhad finally married ink to parchment on Sarahs diploma. Had Sarah known, she likely would have committed seppuku. So it was that Pablum family lore was perforated with omission * And so it was that Shocks was pursuing justice through arson. She was already failing to live up to her own admittedly flexible expectations. Adding affirmation to insult: she wasnt rating super, or even average, in her performance reviews at the Hall. Thisshe slipped on the glossy pages beneath her feetwas her last stand. No textbooks without equal representation! she tried unsuccessfully to start a mass chant, punching the lighter and her fist high in the air. Asia Girl shook her head. It was all in the rhythm. In the lull of Shocks White Women Cant Dance routine, Jos spoke up, Please, Miss Shocked and Appalledness, dont burn the books! We need them! Aghast, Shocks looked down at Joss aggrieved face. My child, she reproached, you must rise above your urges and think about the children. Jos looked aptly puzzled. The children of Open Arms deserve books with equal representation of every race, creed, and gender! Some of the children pumped their fists in the air. Others, part of a separatist

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minority who had begun their creep toward freedom since class had gotten out, guiltily spun around and began clapping, which Shocks chose to take as further support for her platform. She did a little curtsy. We must unite and refuse all misinformation from these so-called educational tools until Jane ditches Dick for Kofi Jr., and the question becomes: how many pesos must you convert from Euros to purchase enough durians to end world hunger? Shocks punctuated the word problem with a flick of her thumb. A small flame rose, sputtered, and then died. She shook the lighter. Allowing the durians to sit and stink for a moment, Asia Girl calculated the answer to the more complicated question of what it was going to take for Shocks to acquire a clue. Once again, the novice hero was applying her incredible power of microvision to zoom in and attack the tippiest tip of what wasnt even the issue. As if browning a few pictures were going to single-handedly right the slant of education. As if the issue were a word problem, rather than a whole point of view. As if Asia Girl hadnt dealt with this question beforesay, once upon a television network. Maybe Shocks had attended the wrong employee training; she certainly seemed apprenticed in HUHs myopic problem-solving strategies. Asia Girl half-expected sales reps from the conglomerates publishing division to jump out of the bushes and offer a handsome discount on a complete set of their latest edition of textbooks, fully abridged and tokenized. Instead, Shocks chose her own back-up, pulling Jos up to Primer Peak alongside her. Diversity isnt easy, but its good for us, she proclaimed, positioning the boy directly in front of her, like a shield. And if it doesnt always make sense, we have to remember that it takes work. We have to trust in the process and dig down deeper within

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ourselves to give a little more. If Asia Girl had heard Shocks accurately, diversity was a Brussels sprout. No one had ordered it, andneedless to sayno one wanted it, but since it was on the collective plate, everyone was just going to have to shut their eyes, try not to breathe, and choke the bugger down. That kind of hate-it-before-trying-it attitude might be OK for a vegetable, but social issues werent side dishes. Asia Girl felt a case of heartburn coming on. Whereas before, Shocks had simply added no value, here in the bosom of Open Arms, she was poised to commit some serious damage. If Shocks succeeded in torching those books, the kids wouldnt have anything to study and make up their own minds about. And after Shocks added some Libyans, Croats, and heck, Hasidic Jews to the list of illustrations? She would just find another cause non-celebre to incinerate. Perhaps it would be gender equitable font or culturally unbiased paginationwhatever moot grievance Shocks championed next, Asia Girl suspected that her colleague would give it all she regrettably had. Asia Girls ggochu breath rose up in her throat, ready to give hot and odiferous voice to her fury. Not wishing to yell in front of the children, though, she took a deep breath and tried to smooth the sands in the Zen garden of her mind. The Bugle chose that moment to throw in her two yuan, Maybe we can compromise. The few grains of tranquility Asia Girl had groomed roiled up like the Tokyo pavement in 1923. In the history of social revolution, she had never known that phrase to work. She braced herself for a futsuu follow-up from the Bugle. What if we cross out a percentage of the existing illustrations to lower the overall

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ratio of under representation, and delete our way to equity? The crowdthose who hadnt gone truantnodded in circumspect incomprehension. Even Asia Girl needed a moment to sort out the Bugles abstract reasoning. Then the educator went totally Hayao Miyazaki. Or a new lesson plan flashed in the Bugles eyes we can complete the pictures. We can color them in! Surely there were women at the signing of the Declaration of Independence! And Asian-Americans at the first Thanksgiving! Asia Girl arched both brows. Already envisioning the first pharaoh to land on the moon, the Bugle blared, And we will do it together! A school-wide art project! At that, Shocks leapt down from Mount Hardcover, dragging a startled Jos with her, and gave the Bugle a high five with her Bic-free hand. Asia Girl didnt know which was worse: Shocks touting suffering as a useful enterpriseas if feeling badly were an action verbor the Bugle advocating science fictionalizing facts when reality didnt appeal. Meanwhile, books flamb was on the menu, and kids were being tailor-fitted for their very own hair shirts: the new uniform of educated America. Asia Girl felt a double dj in this vu. Suddenly, she was tired. Forget dj vu; this was the thousand and one Arabian nights stuck on replay. She had most definitely and head-bangingly dealt with thiswith themalready. Perhaps the Bugle might recall the Case of the Misassigned Feathers. Yet, lo and behold, the educator was stuffing the bras of the founding fathers and attributing the way of tea to the Native Americans as if culture were a sock you could never really mismatch.

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Regarding both beasts of her burden, Asia Girl wondered how many more times she would have to deflect their good but ultimately deleterious intentions. How much more support and understanding could she spare for the so-called good guys, while the bad guysand who in Lhasa knew one from the other anymorewere still alive, kicking, and plotting? No matter what she did today, wouldnt she just have to intervene and do it again tomorrow? Then the karaoke singer sang. Asia Girl realized that the problem wasnt just Shocks and the Bugle: faced with their amazing powers of impotence and obtuseness, what had she done but demonstrate her own? Rather than deterring or reforming them, she had enabled them to spread like Westernization. And heroes who live in rice paper houses should never throw stones. She sagged at what suddenly seemed too much for her. How could she deal with the likes of Captain Colorblind, when she couldnt even manage Shocks or her own, far too personal incompetence? Yes, incompetence. She self-shredded into Chinese Chicken Salad. For all that she knocked Shocks, Femme, the Unoffenders, and even I, Asia Girl herself was no different. No better. No use. Like them, she believed she was a helping hand in a world of left feet. But all she had to show for her belief were some calluses and a reserved seat in the front row of the never-ending Shocks and Bugle show. Green Tara, she just wanted to take a nap. But even as she readied to throw the tenugui in, something within Asia Girl fluttered a faint protest: perhaps she was just raw from her recent fan dance with Colorblind and the Whos Who of Villainy. Surely her fatigue was an aftereffect of the captains air conditioningnothing a soak and sauna couldnt sweat out of her system.

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Hopeful that her sense of resignation was indeed a forgery, she did a quick selfscan with the handheld. Her ego was a little damaged, and she was still stunned by the revelations of the Captain and Co., but there were no traces of any residual gas in her airways. All systems seemed to be Speed Racer ready to go. So get a grip and make peanut sauce from these pistachios, she prompted herself. And when youre done with Shocks and the Bugle, get back over to the captains and color his world! But the only thing she was getting was depressed. It hit her like a souped-up Kawasaki on a straightaway. She didnt care what the Bugle taught the kids. She didnt care if Shocks burned every last book and scroll in the world. She didnt care about getting Colorblind. She didnt care about the return of PC and Molten Pot. And she sure as Shanghai didnt care which team Hugh and I chose. She had run out of caring. Her banana was peeled. And that was Sun Yat Sen of that. Asia Girl turned from the mountain of texts, just as a small bookslide started on the northern face. Retreating, she glimpsed Jos wriggling free from the Bugles clutches and splaying his small body on the sagging heap of his education. As teacher tried to pry student off biology book, Jos began hollering. Youll have to feather me first before you get your matches on these! The boy had some feisty in his fiesta. But even this did not relight our heros firecracker. No, she had confronted her greatest foe of all: her own inadequacy. And that was the straw hat that broke this rice farmers back. Shuffling through the crowd, stilettos scraping the pavement, Asia Girl was apathetically uncertain about her next move. What was the point of flying back to Hall now? Or ever?

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Where did a superhero go when she no longer gave a rambutan about justice? * Hi. La-dy. Hi. La-dy, Winston bobbed his head. Undoubtedly, there was a hiccup in his cadence. A hesitation. A loss. PC smiled and opened the cage door. The bird clambered up the metal bars, and onto the roof of his home. She ruffled the feathers on his forehead, Hello, Winston. Hi. La-dy, he repeated in chopped monotone. She held out her hand; with two heavy flaps of his vermilion wings, he landed on her forearm. He proceeded to march his way up to her shoulder, where he continued to rasp, La-dy. La-dy. Depression? She could only hope. But wary of jumping like a CEO to convenient corporate-funded conclusions, she checked her notes from the previous session: Pretty removed from subjects vocabulary with electro- hypnotherapy. Subject hesitates, as if searching, when he would normally say this word. Subtle dip in affect detected? Todays experiment should change the end punctuation, she thought to herself, reaching into the surprisingly expansive pocket of her sueded shorts and producing a handful of Winstons favorite snack. Corn, Winston? How bout some corn for my boy? His eyes glimmered with anticipation and something more evolved. That something was PCs secular grail. As he greedily pecked at the kernels, PC clucked approvingly, Pretty boy. Pretty boy. At each repetition, Winston momentarily froze. Any anthropomorphist worth her

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empathy could see the look of reminiscence that crossed his reptilian eyes. Pretty, pretty, pretty Winston shook the palm tree of his memory, hoping to jiggle loose the associated fruit that he could still taste on the tip of his prehistoric tongue. But each time, before his avian brain could recall what he sought, the siren call of the corn would lure him back to sweet, crunchy obliviousness. Despite lingering associations, PC added to her notes, the subject fails recall. Pretty is dead. Exultant, she put down her pen and chucked the bird under his beak. She hadnt felt this good since shed discovered adhesives. But tape, gluesuper or notthey were so last century. Of course, she had said nothing about that to the captains little intern, even when I had spent the better part of the morning inserting herself under PCs feet like a portable doormat. In PCs line of work, she had to not talk the talk better than everyone else. Only silence was unimpeachable. The unspoken truth was that PC felt nothing but scorn for Is derivative get-up and go-tape-them; if the kid wanted to make a difference in the world, she would have to find a better way than riding someone elses cape tails. She would have to innovate and get people in a way they hadnt been gotten beforein a way they didnt even know they could be gotten. Young I would have to see things differently than the current lot of heroes and villains, that was for sure. As far as Her Correctness was concerned, the Super Academy taught myth and mirrors: neat tricks and fancy posturing, but nothing that was actually going to make a dent in the world. And these days, those fools at the Hall were so consumed with what people thoughtincreasingly what people thought of themthat they would never achieve more than a makeover for society. PC snarled at their collective worthlessness.

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And the captain? He was the Grand Poobah of imbecility. That was as clear as a misplaced modifier from the moment theyd met. What PC hadnt expected was how much of an obstacle one imbecile could pose. Believing that seeing really was believing, Colorblind myopically chased his conviction, like a hamster on his wheel. His big, loud wheel. PC smiled faintly. All the better. He would never see her coming. Of course, they never did * And todays word of the day is Claire Lakon could care less. The pre-teen who would one day become Political Correctness had already endured six words over so many days in Utmost Middle Schools gifted program, although it had only taken one to figure out the curriculum. After all, Claire was gifted. She had been affixed to this label since her very first day of kindergarten, when she was given a routine get-to-know-you-and-your-issues art assignment: draw a picture of your family. While the other students obediently crayoned descending orders of stick figures, Claire wrote a two-page analysis of her family dynamics, including a projection of the dysfunctions she was likely to develop due to her parents refusal to buy her a dog. In the appendix that followed her bibliography, she sketched the requested likenesses of the nuclear Lakon, annotating the issues that she considered to be of particular psychoanalytic note. Immediately upon receiving this opus, her teacher called for backup. The next day, Claire was relocated to the gifted program, a small windowless room at the back of the school.

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Claires knack was extrapolation. Math problems, scientific theories, the praxis of theological determinismto Claire, it was all fodder for the grand panorama. By the time she arrived in adolescence, her brain wattage was blinding. The only pimple on her intellect was a severe and rare form of tone-deafness that extended beyond the typical inability to portage a tune. Put simply, Claire could not learn a foreign language. What others heard as the music of espaol or the beauty of franais was just caterwauling to her ears. And most puzzling to the auditory specialists who studied her disorder: she lacked the capacity to detect irony, sarcasm, or humor in any lingo, including her own. Once, when a camp counselor, tired of Claires incessant commentary on the days activities, asked her to cut it out, Claire had done just that. Ever since, shed only been allowed to use scissors under supervision. Incidents of excessive bleeding aside, Claires teachers secretly reveled in her deficit, not because they begrudged her precocity, but because there was an unmistakable whiff of condescending charity in each assignment she completed for them. Every perfectly executed drill and practice test seemed to sigh with bored intellect. Alas, what could the facultywith the exception of Madame Diseuse and Seor nfasissay? Claire could connect the post-graduate dots better than Monet in a garden. And that was the blistering brightness that walked across the threshold of Utmosts gifted program seven days ago. Seven long days ago. On that first day, Ms Shaper had introduced the word considerate. And Claire, along with her eight peers in giftedness, had had to define it ever since. Is that considerate, Dennis? Ms Shaper asked, pointing to the Latin obscenity he had inscribed on his desktop.

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What would a considerate critique be? she queried when Natasha laughed at Clementes science fair entry. And so it went. Shaper had an inundation approach to gifted education. Spelling and identifying parts of speech were for average intelligences; what Ms Shaper intended was for her students to be the vocabulary. Thus, for eight straight hours that inaugural day, the students appreciated the consideration of everything from their own etiquette to the Pythagorean Theoremwhich, it turned out, wasnt very considerate to scalene triangles. The next day, the word was compassion. Dutifully, the students inflicted compassion on each other like so many Mother Theresa berserkers. Then, integrity cracked its bull whip. Consideration, compassion, integrity, respect the words of days present and past took their turns as the indomitable taskmasters of Ms Shapers gifted students. For variety, she occasionally gave them a word not to be, such as selfish or ornery. (Dont you think that was a tad ornery, Claire?) But the lesson plan was always the same. The gifted denizens of Room 100b might very well have drowned in the spellchecked depths of Ms Shapers immersion language program, but for one bug: Claire. On that seventh day, the day after having to cooperate even during trips to the bathroom, Claire could not take any more denotative dictatorship. And todays word of the day is Ms Shaper looked particularly pleased with herself. The class seemed ripe for altruism. Manipulation?

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Excuse me? Ms Shaper was stunned. Hadnt they already established consideration and respect? OK, Claire propped her feet on her desk. She might have been tone-deaf, but she wasnt body language-blind or dumb. How about brainwashing? Ms Shaper was still reconciling herself with the inconsideration of Claires interruption. As in, Isnt the word of the day just a brainwashing technique? Claire stared down Ms Shaper. A moment later, altruism left the room, and Ms Shaper redefined ornery for the students through physical and verbal example. Unfortunately for Shaper, but not at all coincidentally for Claire (who knew exactly when the principals rounds brought him through the back halls of gifted ed), the teachers pyrotechnics led to her immediate reassignment to full-time hall duty, where it was considered good form to holler invectives at students. As for Claire, she swore an oath never to commit the sins of her elders and calibrated her grades precisely to disqualify herself from the gifted program. Average would be the word for the rest of her mandatory school career. At least, Claire decided, until she found a better use for the substantial quotient of her intelligence * Over a decade later, PC still harbored indignation at Shapers attempted wordocracy. But now her adolescent anger was tinged with appreciation. Shaper had taught her one thing: language was power. People could see, smell, hear, and think all they wanted. Just so long as they didnt have the words to name any of it. It was the

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ability to shape experience through language that gaveor deniedmomentum to human identity. It used to be that people would simply endure their less than perfect lives, but with the coinage of a few words, they realized who they wereworkaholics, codependents, Gen Xersand suffered in silence no more. Before you knew it, they were forming groups, holding rallies, and doing the talk show circuit. Suddenly, there was a new word order, defining and even driving peoples inane existences. Thus, it was the power of language that PC sought to conquer and harness. Of course, the complete annihilation of language was no simple matter. And so, PC found herself working under the auspices, if she could call them that, of Captain Oedipal. Oh, how he rankled her. All that sensory obsession, and those absurd goggles! Not to mention that smarmy come hither voice of hishe actually expected hithering! But true to form and ever the professional, PC had kept her lips super-sealed. Certainly that was a bearable price to pay for MetaVisions incubation of what the captain referred to as her little research project. Still, she relished the day when she would lean over during one of Colorblinds interminable staff meetings and tune his vocal chords to her own pitch Sensing a rise in the atmospheric bile, Winston paused mid-kernel and shuffled his feet nervously. PC scratched his cheek reassuringly and decided to get started. Since her work on vocabulary deletion was delivering satisfactory results, todays experiment would test a corollary question: what if she left the word but demotivated its usage? Something about this approach appealed to her more. It was more personal. Once PC had Winston settled on a perch, she strapped a small helmet to his head.

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Two wires trailed from the helmet to a control panel on the wall. PC flipped a series of switches, causing the wall to emit a hum. Then, she withdrew an over-sized pair of rubber-tipped pincers from a drawer. Winston, bobbing his head with anxious ferocity, squawked, Winston wants to go back to his cage. Back to his cage. Smiling, PC sympathized, Youre a good boy, Winston, but I dont think you want Simultaneously, she seized the parrot and pushed a button on the buzzing panel. Winston convulsed, screaming in the grip of the tongs. With a flip of her wrist, PC was nose to beak with the bird. Cage! Cage! Cage! she bellowed at him. The bird shrieked back. Then, overcome by Franklins electricity and PCs fervor, he passed out. Cage! PC barked one last time to the rigid body. Then she pushed another button, and the hum died. * Asia Girl swooshed over a glittering macadam maze of right-angled Americana. Hedges ticked off the quarter miles with metronomic regularity. She could have navigated the grid with eyes slanted shut. Speeding homeward, she sensed the bamboo grove even before she saw it. As Asia Girl touched down amid the stand of slender trees, she exhaled, feeling safe as she always and only did here. The Drs. Cho met her at the door. After removing her bosun and placing them stilettos to the wall, Asia Girl followed her mother into the

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kitchen for a steaming bowl of feel-better. Then, over chilled glasses of barley tea, parents and daughter asked and answered courteous questions about health, work, and old acquaintances: the family dentist who had recently retired, the Park girl who had finally gotten marriedand, by any chance, had Asia Girl met anyone nice yet? The doctors teased their daughter in polite stereo. Asia Girl was pleased to learn that their practice was flourishing like a lotus in deep water and that the doctors were finding time and energy for a spinning class twice a week. She smiled, imagining them powering up simulated hills in a peleton of fellow early risers. As the doctors described feeling burn at the urging of their instructora young housemother turned heart rate guru who flung off inspiration with every bead of sweat Asia Girl realized that she hadnt thought about work since shed arrived home. Colorcoded justice, colleagues like hives, even erasure by ignorance politely refrained from interrupting as the afternoon light exhaled over the polished wood floor * A plate of sweet sesame cakes later, the Drs. Cho were tag-teaming a story about an old family friend and patient who had opted for naked over the paper robe. He say naked more enviro-friendly! Mr. Dr. Cho threw his hands in the air, in mock surrender to the planetary cause. But too doctor-friendly, Mrs. Dr. Cho hid her eyes behind her hand. While at first the difficulties of nude patient care had amused Asia Girl, soon enough she found herself fuming like an overheated tandoori. Friend or not, who was this guy to parade his private parts and issues through the medical offices of Cho & Cho?

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Didnt he realize her parents had work to do? Asia Girl wished she had been there to paper the old codger like an origami project. Stop frown, Mrs. Dr. Cho interrupted Asia Girls smoldering, Make wrinkle if you keep frown. But, Ma, you dont just get naked on people. Thats obscene! He should know better. He With her thumb, Mrs. Dr. Cho ironed Asia Girls crumpled brow before getting up to boil more barley tea. Meanwhile, Mr. Dr. Cho yawned and patted his tummy, as if more sesame cakesand not Lord Godiva of the waiting roomwere his primary concern. Asia Girl realized that she was the only one in the room with a chopstick to grind. Indeed, as the conversation meandered to another patient, who had miraculously recovered from a severe case of hypochondria, there was no more a trace of keep frown in her parents voices than there would be if they were discussing the stickiness of short grain rice. In a blink, the epicanthal folds lifted from Asia Girls eyes: her parents accepted their work and all of its human vicissitudes with utter equanimity. They approached their profession with the matter-of-factness of drycleaners removing stains and starching collars. Not because they devalued their work; they simply embraced it as theirs to do. And so the Chos doctored. Asia Girl squinched her eyes, as if trying to see her parents across a distance much greater than the length of the table. She couldnt remember the last time shed accepted anything from or about her job. Tolerate it? Yes, in fact, every day. Reform it?

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Preferably. But accept it? Accept Shocked and Appalleds all bark, and not even an itty bitty bite of justice? Hugh and the twins defection? The captains monotonous monochrome? PCs sequelplease not a trilogy? Bok Choy the cat coyly chose that moment to make an entrance. As he inspected the faint avian scent that clung to his favorite unfeathered flier, the doctors observed the symptoms of their daughters stress. Although Asia Girl professed feeling finer than Ming porcelain, her hands talked a different story: all ten fingers drummed the tabletop with taiko relentlessness. Bok Choy hopped into Asia Girls lap and became the willing object of her percussion. Meanwhile, the doctors gently probed their patient, noting sore spots and nodding their support as she confessed her doubts and difficulties. Office politic, the Mrs. Dr. Cho was sympathizing. Yes but its more than that, Asia Girl hesitated. How could she tell them? She was still having a hard time admitting it to herself, still feeling queasyfluttery in her stomach and everywhere elsejust thinking about it. She focused on rubbing Bok Choys belly. As he purred back his pleasure, she began to relax. The first step is admitting you have a problem, she reminded herself. And so Asia Girl told her parents the complete, sordid, hulking truth, from colorblinding to book burning * ... and I had nothing. Nothing, Asia Girl slumped back in her chair, eyes cast to the floor, the shame of her failure revealed. Silence met her confession. Asia Girl felt the crushing weight of her disgrace. She had let herself and, by the transitive property, her parents down. Tears trembled behind

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her eyelids. So this captain beat you, her father gave the abridged version. Yes, he beat me, she could hardly bear to say the words. And then you beat it, he summarized. Asia Girl, who had left her sense of humor to burn on Shocks pyre, did not laugh. In her opinion, walking away from Jos and his highly flammable education was infinitely worse than anything Colorblind had done. At least the captain was doing his job. Sound like you get overwhelmed, Mrs. Dr. Cho tried a more tactful tack. Rest and feel better best remedy for hard day. But thats just it, Ma, Asia Girl could feel the tears spilling, like overflow from the Three Gorges Dam. I cant afford to get overwhelmed. If its a hard day, I have to be harder. If theres a bad guy, I have to be badder. And if I cant do that she choked on the not so hypothetical conclusion. The doctors flanked their daughter. Wordlessly, they sat, like twin lions guarding a temple entrance. Once her tears had subsided, they administered a second round of tea, and sent her off to futon. For once, she gladly followed doctors orders. In the room that had always been hers, Asia Girl hung her hanbok and utility belts behind an embroidered screen. Across the center panels, a peacock flared its spectacular plumage like a shoguns lacquered armor. Changing into an old Worldview t-shirt and a holey pair of her fathers retired boxers, she flopped onto the bed. From the peacocks effusion of feathers, an infinity of eyes studied Asia Girl, tacitly promising to watch over her. Grateful, she created a space for herself among the stuffed pandas and kitties of her

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childhood. Then, like a boat slipped free of its anchor, she drifted off to sleep * Winston awoke, talons to the ceiling. Someone was petting his head. Alarmed, he scrambled to his feet. He felt dizzy. And it smelled like barbecued chicken. Good boy, Winston, good boy, a familiar voice crooned. He turned his head slowly, so as not to vomit corn. Ah, it was La-dy. La-dy. Perhaps she had more corn. Perhaps she did, but first she conducted a whole body exam: she looked into his beak, spread his wings, and even checked under his tail. Seemingly satisfied, La-dy then produced the desired corn, although Winston could only peck slowly at itthe up and down motion was a doozy. He couldnt recollect what had happened, how he had ended up conked out on the tabletop. But La-dy had started cooing at him again. Now its time to rest, OK? Theres a pretty boy. Rest, she picked him up and walked across the room. Still queasy, he closed his eyes and tried to relax into the cadence of her stride. Here you go, Winston. Here you are at your cage. He opened his eyes. A silver, skeletal monster loomed before him, its jaw hung cavernously open. La-dy glided the hand upon which he perched closer to certain consumption. The beast waited, still and sure. Winston opened his beak and screamed. * Asia Girl woke, feeling like a season had passed. The room was suffused with the light and stillness of a late afternoon in the suburbs. The peacock still kept watch. And

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downstairs, a familiar soundtrack played: bonsai shears snipped in syncopation with the gentle rhythm of chopping and checking pots. Her parents performed their domestic duet across an open kitchen window through which they took turns singing the melody: Let me see what spring is like On Ju-pi-ter and Mars Asia Girl closed her eyes to savor the moment, but even in the dark behind her lids, she had six superactive and split-second toned senses, all honed for unceasing vigilance and response. Indeed, as she lay under the soft sheets of cotton and sun, her sense of injustice started to rev up She decided to take an aspirin and follow instead her sense of whatever was cooking in the kitchen. Slipping behind the screen to dress, she discovered her uniform, handwashed and drip-dried. Pressing the hanbok to her nose, she breathed in the bright smell of commercial freshness, and beneath it, the subtle waft of her mothers scent: Chanel No. 5 infused with the Japanese lotion Mrs. Dr. Cho special ordered with monklike devotion; undernotes of ginger, rice, sesame, and hot peppers; the liquid soap she used before and after every patient; and the lightest hint of sweat from her unceasing efforts to ensure the well-being of those around her. Maybe, Asia Girl mused, the aphrodisiac was in the nostril of the beholder. She closed her eyes and inhaled. Beside her work uniform, a spare change of clothes was folded crisply in a stack. She opted for casual wear to honor her day off. Sporting a lavender and lime tracksuit on loan from her mother, Asia Girl descended the staircase to discover that the hour was close to dinnertime. Mrs. Dr. Cho, shrouded in steam, reached out to slap Asia Girls hand as it dipped

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into the kimchi jar. Asia Girl settled for a snack of dried squid and strolled out to the garden to survey her fathers botanical passion. Over the years, the paternal Dr. Cho had cultivated a forest of bonsai, as dense with pots as a china shop. As a child, Lois had spent many bored afternoons by her fathers side, imagining where each tree came froma steep, sea-eroded cliffside; a wild jungle bursting with color and heat; a wind-scoured plain where only the most tenacious survived. She liked to picture some part of the tree still growing there, tall and magnificently uncontained. But she never mentioned these fantasies to her father, who cherished and cared for his petite beauties so devotedly that the idea that they belonged anywhere else must sound as outrageous to him as the thought of the Chinese moving out of Chinatown. At the moment, Dr. Cho was hunched among the Lilliputian trunks, pruning a particularly obstinate Nishiki Matsu. Asia Girl sauntered over and studied the improbable tree. Its bark was a study in medieval defense: jagged fins erupted from the trunk, virtually daring pestilence to strike. Indeed, adversity was the dwarf pines eau de vie. Denied water, shade, or anything but sand in which to stick its roots, the Nishiki Matsu thrived. Perversely, the more deprived the tree, the denser and greener the pincushions of needles it bore. However, Asia Girl knew that the bonsais hubris was but a cambium beard for its Achilles root: should just one pregnant pine beetle burrow between the shields of bark and into the trees sap stream, the coniferous blowfish would swim off to the big pagoda in the sky. Charlatan, Asia Girl thought. Youre not tough; youre dysfunctional. She felt an urge to strip the pine of its plates and bare the heartwood of the matter, but caught herself

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before she went herbicidal. Instead, she stepped away, hoping to quash any guilt by association. Meanwhile, Dr. Cho had moved on to a less threatening specimen, an aged Ficus Retusa whose roots curved down into the soil like a pianists hand. Asia Girl wandered over and stood by her father until the sun melted into the earth. * Two heaping rice bowls into dinner, the maternal Dr. Cho asked, So what you do now? Asia Girl chewed her cheekful of rice like a monk doing a meditation. She couldnt keep flying if she was only contributing to the overall quotient of injustice in the world. She was no Kyoto Protocol sign-and-smog hypocrite. No, shed sooner dish out the Arigatou!-smile-and-bow at Benihana than join the ranks of the great no-gooders of her day. With a sigh, she responded, I dont do. For now. And maybe for good. She smiled ruefully. If there is any good. I cant tell anymore. Her parents allowed this in silence. Maybe its time to retire from heroism. Asia Girl almost mentioned her new job offer at MetaVision, but she couldnt muster the disdain. Instead, she commenced a studious examination of her plate, picking at her food as if determined to let no grain of rice go unturned. The doctors waited. The paper would hire Lois full-time, Asia Girl finally blurted. Although her parents presented no argument, she offered her apologia, like so much worthless dana.

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At least with the comic strip I can see what Im doing. I know Im producing something. She began clearing plates and helped dry while her father washed. Then, when nothing could be drier, she sat back down, and her mother served the tea. Sometime, the maternal Dr. Cho mused aloud, patient help disease, not doctor. She shook her head with weighty regret. Still, we help. What else we do? Asia Girl drained her cup and pushed back her chair. But what if the patient were the disease? She bid her parents good night and retreated to her room. * Hours later, Asia Girl was still wide as the Indus River awake. In the dark under her covers, she tossed and turned like a Japanese maple leaf on the wind. Hoping if not to sleep, then at least to pass out, she tried holding her breath. But there would be no rest or relief for the unemployed. She couldnt escape the self-censure that clung to her like a cheongsam. She was Asia Girl. Faster than a speeding rickshaw to run home. Able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound assuming the captain was nowhere to be inhaled. More powerful than oh, who in Feng Du was she kidding? Asia Girl paused midway between a toss and a turn. The paper would hire Lois full-time. When shed said it over dinner, she was just trying to reassure her parents, but maybe Nah. Yet even as she dismissed the idea, it drifted back to her like seaweed on the ocean tide. Could she be Lois? As much as she was loathe to admit itand she was

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loathe, like Sun Tzu fighting an artless warthe idea appealed. Lois was Safe. Not because she had superhuman powers, but precisely because she didnt. Lois was totally average. Thus, were the responsibilities and expectations she bore. Tickling the commuter funny bone was not a fate-of-all-mankind gig. Out of ideas? Missed a deadline? Print a re-run and have another coffee break. As her no longer alter ego, Asia Girl could let someone else shoulder the weight of the worlds injusticeand not just play it safe. She could live it. Safe. Asia Girl stared up at the ceiling. The idea was growing on her, like kilograms on a sumo wrestler. Back there at the captains, hadnt she felt it? And then again at Open Arms, and even when she first arrived home? Like a heart palpitation, the desire to be anyone but herself. To be Lois? Well, as the Buddhists always said, there was no time like the present. She threw back the covers and wrapped a worn flannel robe about herself. Rummaging through the drawers of her old desk, she found paper and pencils. All right, she thought to herself. Lets get drawing. * Twenty minutes later, Asia Girl was searching for more paper. The desk was littered with sketches. Lois might be suffering an Imperial Navy blockade, but Asia Girl couldnt stop drawing. As soon as she put pencil to paper, the dialogue bubbles began to form. Then she was on to a fresh page, hardly aware of what she was creating, as if possessed by the spirit of Osamu Tezuka. Being Lois was turning out to be a piece of

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pandan cake. Ah! She found a virgin sheaf of graph paper, interred in one of little Lois old Hello Kitty binders. Asia Girl could already see her next illustration, as clearly as if it were in front of her which it was. She frowned, pulling the picture from the slapdash stack before her. There, hastily but expertly sketched, was the image of a young girl, whizzing through the air, eyes closed and arms outstretched. In her wake, a frantically flapping hummingbird thought-bubbled, I wonder what nectar shes drinking? Asia Girl pulled out the next picture. Lois in flight again, this time with arms pressed flat to her sides as she cruised through the cloudless sky. The caption read, Nonstop to justice for all. Asia Girl grabbed the rest of the pile: Lois racing a peregrine falcon, Lois surfing the jet stream, Lois orbiting in outer space All of them, Lois in flight. Asia Girl shook her head in disbelief. Old habits, she thought, die harder than Asian ancestors * Even before she launched herself from the roof, little Lois was fixated on flying. Every Halloween, she insisted on dressing up as some creature of the skies: parrot, ladybug, fairy, airline stewardess. It didnt matter, as long as she could take imaginary wing. The year her father imprudently brought home a penguin costume, Lois locked herself in her room, refusing to come out until her parents constructed a miniature propeller plane around the bird and convinced her that she could be the first penguin ever to catch big air. Of course, once she herself became airborne, Lois only had eyes, mind, and heart for flying. She would be a superhero, she decided, even before she knew that it was

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actually an option. (They never mentioned it on Career Day.) She had found her calling, and she wanted to holler it from the dojo tops. Incessantly. Thus began the learning to be OK by myself period of Lois life. Kids stopped coming by to ask if she could play because she refused to stay grounded during games of tag. Tear-streaked cries of No fair! and Cheater! would chase her into the air. But she couldnt help herself. Meanwhile in class, she refused to commit anything to paper other than yet another picture of herself flying. Once mere doodles in the margins of her life, these selfportraits became the subject of every test, essay, book report, and projecteven in Home Ec, were she learned to knit and crochet on the theme. Her teachers were at a collective loss: how could they reach a child whose head was literally in the clouds? Yet, over the years and through many teacher conferences, Mr. Dr. Cho continued to greet each of his daughters self-portraits with widened eyes and lips rounded in a delighted O. And each time, he would engage Lois in the same questioning: Who this? Me. Who you? Lois. You sure? he would ask with a sly sidelong glance. At that point, Lois would collapse into giggles over the ridiculousness of her fathers question * But the question didnt seem quite so funny anymore. Asia Girl placed the unmarked graph paper on the desk, pushed her chair back, and pitched forward onto the

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floor. So much for her career as a comic strip artistAsia Girl seriously doubted that she would find a devoted following for her one-action verb creations. (She suspected that her father had just wanted to be supportive and might not be in the market for any more refrigerator art.) Face down on the carpet, Asia Girl appreciated the irony: where she had hallucinated a haven, there was only Lois, pulling off her own great escape. So much for the rice paddy being greener on the other side of the fence. Sighing, she shuffled downstairs for a glass of soy milk. As she passed the double doors that faced the back lawn, she paused. To the Eden of bonsai outside she fancied she must seem a strange tree, stuck in deep, dry dirt. Asia Girl took up her fathers belt of clippers and scissors and pushed open the doors and into the night. From their bedroom, where they lay awake in sympathetic insomnia, the Drs. Cho could hear the staccato of snipping in the dark * Well, the captain exhaled. He was breathing deeply in preparation. The Unoffenders, Hugh, and even Molten Pot looked nervous. Under captains order, they too had their shoes off. The carpet of coals before them sizzled and popped. But for the scant strip on which his team was assembled, the floor was wall-to-wall fire. Wrapping up the final items on todays agenda: things on the R&D end are moving along. And regarding recruitment, as I said before, I think our meeting with Asia Girl went pretty PC arrived. Looking inappropriately serene, Molten Pot thought. Apparently, Ms

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Respect-the-Language hadnt read the mandatory fire-walking memo very closely. Nonetheless, MP seized upon the potential for a diversion. Speaking of Asia Girl, it really melts my nerves, the way shes always cracking those Asian jokesjust because she is Asian doesnt mean she should talk about it! No reaction from PC, who was calmly unlacing her thigh-high boots. MP tried new bait, And did I hear her say she wasnt about to work for a blind guy? MP didnt mind misquoting to save her insoles. Not even a nibble. Molten Pot was disturbed by her colleague. Not finger-in-her-soup disturbed, more like finger-in-her-soup-and-liking-it disturbed. PC seethed menace. And that stirred Moltens Pot, which had admittedly been feeling more than a bit coagulated lately. MP herself had never achieved quite the jagged edge shed hoped for when she embarked on her career in misanthropology. She blamed it on fondue. How could she command any real trepidation among a population who liked it stewed and swirledin hot oil, for that matter? MP sighed. It was all in the branding. Even the cannibalism campaign hadnt succeeded in improvingor rather, worseningher image. People insisted on metaphorizing her. And that pinned the bunny ears on whatever menace she had. Then before she knew, it her moment had passed. The populace had moved on to patchwork quilts and mosaics. And try though she might to highlight the gruesome side of stitching people together and then cementing them to the wall, she was just another figure of speech flapping in the collective imagination. Unlike PC. MP shot an envious glare at her fellow VP. But now was not the time to covet thy

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neighbors menace. The coals hissed. As much as she was a high temperatures kind of gal and a general fan of the liquid state, Molten Pot was beginning to feel a bit weak in the kneesand the ankles, hips, elbows, and shoulders, for that matter. We oughtta Chinese checkmate Asia Girls imported ass, she offered in a desperate effort to fan the flames of propriety beneath PCs buns. MP looked to Hugh for an assist, but he appeared to be suffering from anticipatory heatstroke. Molten Pot, the captain reproached. The others, including PC, hadnt heard her, mesmerized as they were by the flames blazing off the coals. Colorblind continued, As I was saying, I thought our confab with Asia Girl went pretty well. Her escape notwithstanding. H-h-how do you plan to find her again? Hugh managed to stammer, wiping the sweat from his brow. We didnt find her the first time, now did we? the captain continued breathing steadily. She came to us. And she will again. Next time, well make sure the SMOG is on full osmotic blast so shell stay a while longer. Now, closer everyone. He flapped his arms like a great bird gathering up his chicks. The chief officers of MetaVision reluctantly shuffled forward. At this moment before the reckoning of soles, even PC balked. Wh-wh-why are we doing this again, Captain? Hugh looked constipated by fear at the impending group bonding activity. Because this is a profoundly meaningful ritual whose significance dates back to time immemorial, Colorblind snapped, like a parent about to pull over the car if he has to say it again.

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And were really sorry to ask, but what, if you dont mind sharing, is the umm, meaning? gulped the Unoffenders. Lets not dally when time immemorial is of the essence, the captain concluded the Q&A by putting his bare foot down. Wait! Molten Pot threw in her last two scalded cents. She liked her populations melted, not herself. Uh, one last thingabout Asia Girl... Yes? Colorblind left his foot on the coals. Flames licked his toes. Molten Pot forgot what she was going to say, as she watched the captains foot begin to steam. This guy was good. OK, then. Everybody, you put your right foot in... Colorblind was in a magnificent mood. * Asia Girl didnt notice the dawn, so intent was she on sculpting each tendril on every branch. She woke from her reverie of mowing only when her father appeared by her side with a steaming cup of chai. Nice work, he commented, noting her meticulous cuts on a flowering pomegranate. Snip, snip. Asia Girl considered the tree, sipped her chai, and added bonsai artist to her list of second career options, after all-purpose dragon lady and stunt double for Chow Yun-Fat. Dr. Cho borrowed her shears and ambled over to his Nishiki Matsu. After examining it from all angles, he crouched down beside the tree, his back to Asia Girl. As all things great, you are difficult, my beauty, he clucked to the diminutive

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pine. So fine, so proud so dramatic. It would be easierno?to be ordinary. But you, you must be what you are. He shaved a nearly imperceptible length off the bottommost branch, Silly. Asia Girl knew a lecture by proxy when she heard one. Dr. Cho continued speaking to his potted charge, It is as difficult for those who love you that you are what you are. But it is no less the truth. Turning to his daughter, he returned the scissors and smiled. The truth, she thought grimly, is that Im the tail chasing the Banjara hound. And Im not sure what to do when I catch it. Confucius going work soon. Maybe say hello before he leave, her father nodded at the bamboo border they shared with the old sage, before shuffling back to the house, caressing and inspecting his newly shorn charges along the way. A moment passed before Asia Girl registered her fathers remark. Confucius, working? She couldnt picture her old teacher doing anything other than what he always did: namely, sit in the shade of the bamboo, stroking his wispy white beard. Confucius got a job? she called after her father. He shrugged and nodded, disappearing inside to boil the rice for breakfast. Asia Girl decided it was time to get the neighborhood news. * With a single bound, she was over the bamboo and in the midst of a sumi-e landscape, complete with waterfall and far-off mountain range shrouded in mist. She wasnt sure how the old man, whose most vigorous pace was a meditative meander, had built his own mountains, but she suspected that he had done it one handful of dirt at a

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time. She smiled. That Confucius. He could give the Buddha a run for his dharma any day. After all, he had taught Lois, hadnt he? Long after little Lois school teachers had given up on hershaking their heads at the sweet little girl who either refused to live up to her potential or didnt actually have anyConfucius was there, hollering math problems up into the treetops as she buzzed past (If plane leave metropolis at 3pm, going five hundred mile an hour, when you catch up with it?), assigning essays (No matter where you go, where you? Discuss), and insisting on a daily regimen of meditation (Clear mind like big sky. But no fly away in.) And always, even as he imposed a full curriculum of mind and body exercise upon his protg, he seemed to understand the importance of leaving Lois to her own daydreamy devices for at least a little time every day. As he habitually said, Never know what can be, unless can dream. Of course, sometimes daydreams turned into nightmares. Sighing, Asia Girl gravitated toward a generous pond where tadpoles chased each other. Although they were but commas in the book of amphibian life, they persisted, undaunted by what metamorphosis held in store for them. Suddenly, Asia Girl felt smaller than a tadpoles left eyeball. If they could deal with losing their tails, certainly she could bear a much less corporeal loss of job. It wasnt like heroing was a vital organ; she didnt need it. The sound of a door thwacking open interrupted her self-admonition. Yes. One Vivienne Tan robe. Please deliver. Confucius, Inc. She recognized the voice but not the words: Confucius, Inc.? Then her mentor stepped into view. One robe in hand worth 10,000 still at factory, Confucius chuckled into a cell

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phone. When he spotted Asia Girl, a familiar expression of joy illuminated his face. He waved her over as he flipped the phone shut. Ah! he embraced Asia Girl and ushered her into the house. A man of reserved words, Confucius prepared tea for them in silence, which was just as well, because Asia Girl was at a loss for pleasant banter. Sweet red beans! She looked around the kitchen, once notable for its sparse yet efficient simplicity. Now, it blinked, beeped, and whirred from tatami floor to ceiling with gizmos that definitely werent culinary. A clicking box spooled ticker tape out of one end continuously. Asia Girl glanced at the symbols: CNF 33 . Apparently,

business at Confucius, Inc. was good. As if to confirm, a short fortune-size slip of paper ejected from the other end of the box: What go up, may go up more. At least he was keeping it real, San Francisco-style. Seating herself cross-legged at a low table, Asia Girl found herself examining print ads for her teachers new enterprise: Confuciuslike Buddha, without the worship! Above the caption a toothy Confucius gave the thumbs up. Dont know li from yi? Special-trained Confucian consultants here to help! This time, Confucius grinned strenuously from a sunlit cloud. Confucius. The Other Asian Guy. He winked at her from a glossy page. Asia Girl was at a loss, like Tiger without his nine-iron. Just then, three-dimensional Confucius placed a tray of tea and lotus cakes on the table. What think? Asia Girl wasnt sure where to start.

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Recognizing her perplexity, Confucius offered cake and a conversational foothold, Sometime ask question better than tell. What are you doing? the question squirted out of her as she gestured at the promo shots. Confucius brow crinkled as he searched for the right words. Market research show Asia sweaty right now. When she cringed, he realized his misspeech and tried again, Asia bake now. No, Asia hot! Hot now. He relaxed, victorious. Must strike when sake still hot. But I think we both know thats a drink best served cold, Asia Girl countered. She wanted to say that she expected someone his age to be a little less trendy, but she stopped herself before she inked a scroll she couldnt take back. After all, sweaty or not, he was her mentor. She tried to cultivate big sky mind. So Confucius Inc. sells Asia? It wasnt exactly big skymore like stuffy closetbut it was the best she could muster. Asia chick. No, sheeeek, he corrected his pronunciation, pouring the tea. Interest in Asia mean opportunity import wisdom West. But you already do that, Asia Girl scrunched her face in the manner of little Lois on the verge of a tantrum. And anyway, youre supposed to Supposed to? Confucius set the teapot down with a clang. How soon we forget, my student. How soon learning becomes mere words we memorize and mouth. Uh oh. Confucius was speaking in the flawless ESL that he commanded, but rarely invoked. When he dropped the FOB diction, Asia Girl knew the moo goo gai had hit the pan. It was the equivalent of her mother addressing her by full name: Lois

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Haingja Jungae Inhae Moon Chin Cho! when she had done something very, very wrong. Asia Girl looked down into her teacup and braced herself for her comeuppance. Do you not remember? The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way, Asia Girl completed the opening verse of the Tao Te Ching, which she had memorized in its entirety under Confucius rigorous tutelage. Correct. There is no way you, I, or the world is supposed to be, he placed a hand on the pile of ads. There are the ways we are. But your work, Asia Girl protested, is to teach, not to sell You are quick to judge, my student. And judgment, Confucius shook his head, is no friend of understanding. After drinking from his cup, he closed his eyes, I have taught for centuries, and the world still suffers. So I must ask myself: now what do I do? Asia Girl empathized, feeling the question echo within her, like the clatter of a pebble tossed off the highest peak of the Himalayas. Confucius answered his own rhetoric, I observe what the world does. And with the wave of his hand, he whisked back a noren that decorated one wall, revealing a bank of television screens that blinked on simultaneously. Asia Girl watched as commercials for all things Asian flashed across the screens: food, clothing, furniture, massage, vacation, beauty supplies, and vitamins. Not to mention art, deities, themed cruises, and charitable causes. Asia Girl couldnt believe the commodity that was Asia. The Buddhist Home Shopping Network? CNN Oriental? And what wasnt saleable as Asian was Fusionwhich apparently was code for bastardized beyond recognition. She could hardly digest the parade of Westernized Eastern itemsForksticks? Ketchup soy sauce? And crucifixion of the Buddha statuary?

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They might as well plant a new flag and rename the continent: the United States of Asia. While Asia Girl judged, convicted, and sentenced the capitalist takeover of her ancestral land mass, Confucius sat serenely, eyes still closed. Then sensing the return of her attention, he spoke, And I try. While Asia Girl understood the old adage, If at first you dont succeed, try, try, andno really, this time try, she was skeptical. OK, so you try. But what about everyone else? Are they trying? And what if their trying only makes things worse? Asia Girl was working herself into a froth like the head on a Tsingtao. What if they What if, Confucius offered, is by definition unknown. What is But, Asia Girl struggled with consequence, what if what is isnt enough? What if what is includes myou... she tripped over her word choice, making things worse, too? Then I ask myself again: now what do I do? he opened his eyes and held her gaze. Because justice is a long paddy to hoe, Asia Girl conceded. She had to look away. Tea cold, Confucius resumed his foreigners elocution, which Asia Girl took as a sign that the lesson had ended. Best throw out, he picked up the pot and started to rise. But its still perfectly fresh, Asia Girl protested. Why not just reheat it? Then she saw his smile, and realized the lesson was never over. * Asia Girl saw Confucius to his car. Perhaps, his window slid down as he backed out of the drive, think with head,

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instead of but. He chuckled, Head have best sense. Asia Girl smiled wryly. While it still unnerved her to think of him as a working man with all the trappings of modernity, she trusted him. A man who could pun in a second language? Definitely. But the question remained, like SPAM on a pantry shelf: did she trust herself? * With a bound, Asia Girl was back over the bamboo. Her parents had already left for work, leaving her to ferment in empty silence. Or not. She managed to keep herself busy for most of the morning: running a hundred kilometers, pickling a fresh batch of kimchi (then turbo-ripening it with her ggochu breath), and delivering a bundle of freshly cut bamboo to the giant pandas at the zoo. On a black belt level of honesty with herself, she knew that she wasnt so much doing things as she was avoiding doing something: namely, donning her hanbok and flying back to work faster than the captain could ask, Got Rice? Why she had, instead, tied on an apron and become Martha Stewart-sanable to putter about endlessly and make used tissues into fun party favors for everyone! The answer that Asia Girl was trying so diligently to housekeep at a distance was that Colorblind had beaten her once already, and she had no idea how in Naraka to stop him from making it a tradition. She appreciated Confucius help with her personal issues, but being more tolerant wasnt going to solve this problem. The captain had disarmed her. That was a fact, not a judgment. And he had done it by using the very fount of her powers against her. How was she supposed to fight back? Be less Asian? What good would that do? Asian was all she had. Without it, she would, in fact, be just a girl, no

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capitalization needed. Confounded thus with her helpess self-help project, Asia Girl turned her powers back to home improvement. But even SuperMartha had her limits; by noon, trimming the bonsai back anymore would have killed them, and the house was so clean that Asia Girl could have slurped her ramen straight off the floor. Facing inevitable quiet time, she turned on the TV. She flopped onto a zabuton, prepared to surf a satellites worth of channels. Instead, she found herself gazing at a grainy scene: a pair of thatched huts perched on the edge of a series of flat green fields. In the background, brown hills scalloped the skyline. Asia Girl recognized the Korean village where her father had grown up. Mom! Dad! Watch! a childs voice commandeered the attention of the camera. The lens veered around, past a small figure on the dirt road that bordered one end of the rice fields. Backtracking, it zoomed in on Lois, seven years old and gently out of focus. Two years before flight, Asia Girl thought. How could I ever forget? Ready? squeaked Lois. Yes, honey! her mother called from behind the lens. What she doing? her father whispered. She want show how far can she jump. Ohh... Are you watching? Lois demanded, hands on her hips. Yes, honey! the Drs. Cho replied in unison. OK, count to three, and Ill go. All right... One... her mother initiated countdown.

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Two... her father joined in. The camera panned right. Lois father was smiling with an attitude of unconditional, but placing no bets, support. Three! her parents cheered. The camera swung back to their sub-Olympiad. Lois was running to the edge of the road. Her pace, while respectable for a chubby kid, was an accomplishment only a parent would hooray. Asia Girl could hear Lois huffing over her parents held breath. Then, with a hop, step, nearly a trip, and a jump, Lois did the last thing her parentsas much as they loved herexpected. She leapt high, higher, and then twice again as high to land with a splash five paddies away. Fuzzy though the picture was, the camera did not lie. The tiny figure in the distance jumped and hooted with glee as the Drs. Cho shared a moment of silence. Then Mrs. Dr. Cho cleared her throat, Aigu. Maybe milk really do body good, Mr. Dr. Cho speculated. Come onnnn, Mom! Dad! Lois called faintly from across the wet fields. The camera jostled as Lois mother started walking. Yeobo, she called to her husband. A second pair of feet began crunching across the road. We should send gym teacher fruit basket. Mrs. Dr. Cho grunted her assent. The camera began tumbling, filming the blue sky and the red dirt of the road kaleidoscopically. Then the screen fritzed. Asia Girl clicked off the TV. That little girl had leapt five rice paddies in a single bound. She had defied the laws of gravityparticularly as they pertained to pudgy

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peoplewithout a stratagem, utility belt, or even a practice run. Then she started flying. And eventually, she became so fast and so powerful that she actually got into an institution of higher learning. Creating me, Asia Girl thought. Like a plump-cheeked pygmy god, Lois willed me into existence. But not by will alone. Lois acted, beyond anything that genetics, the world, and even her own imagination prescribed. Sometimes those actions werent so astoundinglike when she decided that she had super aquatic abilities and nearly drowned. Or when she tried to develop the power of invisibility, only to be cited for trespassing and generally creepy behavior. But failing to astound had never stopped or even decelerated Lois. She simply put it behind her, like the cape she aspired to wear one day. And then the industrial wattage rice paper lantern went on above Asia Girls head. She turned the TV back on, rewound the tape, and watched again as Lois speed-waddled down the road. Little Lois had known she was slow: she had always been picked last in Phys. Edeven after the kid on crutches. It would be years before she became faster than a speeding rickshaw. Before she became Asia Girl. Nevertheless, on that hot day outside of Seoul, with absolutely no reason to believe that she would perform anything but the most mediocre of feats, Lois went for it, unsaddled by any pre-judgment of herself or her possibilities. You are quick to judge. Confucius words echoed as clearly as if he were in the room repeating them. Quick, indeed. Somewhere along her way, judgment had become Asia Girls armor and arsenal. With one end snugged under her double-knotted obi, she had

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mercilessly lashed the world and herself, like an ascetic extrovert with a compulsion to share. And how exactly did this ssirum-size capacity for judgment help her to serve the cause of justice? She might as well have been wearing a straitjacket. Every criticism of Shocks, every dismissal of Hugh, and worst, every berating she gave herself over PC or the captain was a tightening of the straps that dictated her own ability to act: dont just sit there and whine, dont expect applause just for trying, dont confuse the best you can do with justice, and dont mess up again. All rolled up in her destructive criticism, like futo in her own maki, it was no wonder that Asia Girl was getting shaken like beef by the bad guys. And no wonder that the best any one else could do was never good enough, in her almond eyes. She had wanted to believe that judgment was the lackey that pulled her rickshaw of justice, but now she realized that the lackey had long since hog-tied and abandoned his load. And the rickshaw? Lying wheels up in a ditch. If anything, judgment had become her... Cocoon. She tasted the irony, like day-old squid on her palette. But just as her reflex to judge was about to do its thing, Lois nearly fell and then bounded up, up, and away across the TV screen. Asia Girl paused the tape and considered the little girl who, against all evens and odds, could. She had to wonder: in her bosun, what would Lois do? * Knock, knock. Entrez, Captain Colorblind invited, reclining in his chair. The door opened and closed as if someone had entered. But to the naked eye, the population of the room

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remained one captain. Colorblind regarded the door steadily, unflapped by the phantom activity. Sir, spoke the air, the aChroma aerosol spray, liquid gel caps, and zero-calorie sweeteners are all set. Excellent, smiled the captain. So were ready for mass production? Yes, indeed, the air enthused. A pause ensued. Anything else? Colorblind displayed both palms. Well, sir, I was hopingperhaps I mightwell, you see Complete thoughts, Hop. Yes, sir, the invisible Hop Singh apologized. What I mean to say is that my new condition Colorblind imagined the air gesturing at itself. has presented some workplace issues. People dont recognize me in meetingsor anywhere, for that matter. In fact, I was booted off payroll because HR assumed I wasnt coming to work anymore. And I get stepped on a lot Hop, Hop, Hop, the captain shook his head and curled a half-smile. You know its within your power to change all of this. How? the air asked, disbelievingly. I dont even know the secret ingredient in aChroma. An antidote is near-impossible without it. You dont need an antidote, Colorblind clucked. You just need to adjust your attitude. My attitude?

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Exactly. You spend so much time dwelling on your difference. Oh, no one sees me! Ouch, Im getting stomped on! the captain flung a hand to his forehead in mock distress. Meanwhile, you forget how good you have it. The air seemed to inhale itself in surprise. Thats right, the captain reproached, you have your health, a good job thats a whole lot more than many visible people can say, let me tell you. So how about getting over this trifling difference and working as part of the team toward the visionthe MetaVisionwe all have in common? But, sir the air protested, its hard to do my job invisibly. All Im asking for is a way to be recognized. Maybe a bell so I can get peoples attention during meetings. Or a golf cart to get around in so people dont walk right into me Colorblind sighed. You are determined, arent you, to cling to your difference? To let it define youdisable youas opposed to letting yourself be one of us. Because, of course, your difference doesnt make a difference to us. No, my friend. To us, youre just another valued member of the family. No different. At least not to our eyes. Your eyes dont see me! the air screamed. Thats the difference! The captain could see he was going to have to resort to drastic measures. Actually Inspiration bounced up and down for his attention. Drastic might be just what the captain ordered. They hadnt yet finished testing the concentrated version of SMOG with Bleach. How generous of Hop to volunteer. You know, Hop, Colorblind addressed the air with a conciliatory tone, youre right.

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The air, taken by surprise at the turn of perspective, fell silent as a windless day. Colorblind continued, Im sorry I wasnt listening to your concern. Tell you what, have a seat over here. He gestured at a less than comfortable-looking chair. Already sitting, Hop reported. Of course, of course. But Colorblind snapped his fingers as if suddenly inspired, I imagine you look tired. Why not lie down? He gestured at a bed in the corner, amid some potted plants. On closer inspection, it appeared to be a tanning bed. Hop hesitated. A bronze glow seemed an inappropriate remedy for his condition. However, the captain already had him by the armnot a difficult feat once he knew where in the room Hop wasand was steering him toward the bed. Just lie yourself down in here, the captain pulled open the lid. Ceramic tubes ran the length of the interior. Down, Hop, the captains tone suggested that this was an order, not an invitation. So, Hop Singh found himself lying down. He felt awkward trying to rekindle the conversation from his new position, until he remembered that he was invisible. So, you were saying, Sir, that, uh, you thought I was, um, right? Colorblind smiled benevolently down upon his employee. Sure, Hop. But before we get into all of that, I just wanted to say thanks. For wh but before Hop could finish his question, the captain had closed and locked the lid. Hop had a series of terrible thoughts: How would the captain know when he was done? What if he burned? Was it even possible to burn invisible skin? Scientific curiosity lost out to science fiction horror as Hop imagined himself darkened to a smudge and condemned to dodge spit shines and Windex for eternity.

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As he opened his mouth to holler, he heard the gas. What in Ramadan? Light from a small square window by his head permitted a closer examination of the tubes that were now but centimeters from his skin: pinpricks at even intervals along their length emitted a high-pressure hiss. It was getting warm. * When the Drs. Cho returned home from work, they found the kitchen steaming like Hong Kong in August. Conducting the symphony of temperatures and timing was Asia Girl, wearing a Kiss the Iron Chef apronand her hanbok. As a stockpot started to boil over, Asia Girl shot a foot binding neatly through the handle and lifted the lid. Meanwhile, she continued slicing radishes. The doctors simply kissed her, one to a cheek, and poured an aperitif of soju for all of them. To family, paternal Dr. Cho raised his glass. And good food, maternal Dr. Cho coughed, guzzling her drink after tasting the kimchi jigae. And the Nishiki Matsu, Asia Girl tossed her glass back. Her father nodded, and drank. Dinner was ready in a Taipei minute. Over the clicking of chopsticks against bowls, Asia Girl announced, Im going back to work. That what you want? her father asked, patting his face with his napkin. Eating his daughters cuisine was tasty, but sweaty, work. Asia Girl paused, chopsticks arrested above the scallion-fried tofu. In all her

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reflecting and realizing, she hadnt thought to ask herself what she wanted. She rotated her third eye to look deep within. Past the fog of her doubt and dark of her fears, her answer hung, a ripe persimmon ready to drop from its branch. Yes, she wanted to get back to work. Sure as Shinto, yes. Returning her fathers gaze, she nodded, put down her chopsticks, and rose from the table. After all, justice was a banchan best served fresh. * Her parents saw her to the door. Thanks, Mom. And thanks, Dad, she stepped into her bosun. You be careful? Yes. And call? Yes, she hugged them both. And dont forget! Usually you no time to cook, her father handed her a stack of Tupperware bento boxes. Thanks, Dad. See you soon. One more thing, her mother handed her a rectangular box. Whats th Asia Girl opened it. Inside was a video tape, hand labeled Korea: 1977. She looked up. Forget Confucius powers of discernment. She didnt know whether her parents had set her up or figured it out afterwards, but it didnt matter. She went back for a second round of hugs. Then Fwing! She soared high in the night sky like a festival kite. Kick ass, honey! her father hollered.

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The Drs. Cho watched the sky until their daughter shot out of sight. * The captain peered intently through the window of the coffiner, box, he corrected himself. Yes, the MetaBox. Sometimes to begin thinking outside, you have to get in. Ah, they could use that in the promos. He patted himself on the back for a clich nicely renovated, and got back to staring. For quite a while, there was nothing to see. Just hot SMOG ricocheting off the sides of the SMOGerator, careening across the casket in transparent chaos. But then, just as his legs were starting to cramp up, the vaguest outline emerged from the thin, blasting air. Waving away tendrils of shadow that wafted up from his cloak of mystery, Colorblind observed the nascent form. He smiled and made a note: Bake at full power for six hours, or to desired chromaticity. * Asia Girl took a direct flight path back to the Hall. Backstroking through the crisp stratosphere, she reviewed her plan: she would run the air sample from Colorblinds HQ, formulate an antidote, and then introduce him to some Asian culture, up close and unavoidably personal. But what if the Abacus couldnt solve this sudoku? No, she chop-chopped the thought. She was not going down that slippery mountain slope. Now was not the time to make koans out of molehills, worrying about what-ifs and what-nots. She would handle whatever the captain had stowed away in his hatches. She rolled her wrists in anticipation. Yes, she would batten him down good. And with that, Asia Girl filled the sake cup all the way full. It was time for the

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Bollywood finale. Everybody sing and dancezing! * An advanced chemistry class later, Asia Girl was using the Chopsticks of Truth to scratch her ebony locks. Unable to identify the captains concoction, the Abacus was running simulations to determine the nature and extent of the mystery gas effects. Asia Girl feared that there was much more to this vapor than met the almond eye. Ping! A scroll popped out of the Abacus into her outstretched palm. Mother of all Mandarins! According to the analysis, the gas immediately annulled Asians to Caucasianor Caucasianizedeyes. And that was just the lay-up. The Yao Ming slam dunk was the fumes delayed effect: after an incubation period, the blind spot darkened. First yellow, then brown, and finally black were obliterated, until only the purest white was perceivable to the gassy eye. Call it an equal opportunity annihilator. Colorblinds achromic threat stuck in Asia Girls throat like an octopus tentacle. She hadnt encountered anything this scary since PCs attempt to exterminate free speech. The captains brew was a North Korean nuclear-level hazard toAsia Girl realized there was as yet an unknown variable. On a hunch, she decided to run her own diagnostic. Packing a gas sample into a mildly explosive firecracker, she went off in search of her boss. * It was a widely known fact that the Chief had been born on an island of Amazons. How this had happened was not clear, but no one was going to ask her. PC or no PC, risking an affront to the Chiefs lineage by inquiring into her sperm-challenged birth seemed imprudentespecially since that lineage was pure-bred for fighting. According

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to the legends of the Chiefs x-chromosome people, the queen formed her child out of the islands clay. This birth from dirt was another reason not to bring up ancestry with the boss, but it was of particular interest to Asia Girl at the moment because Paradise Island was in the direct path of trade winds blowing off the shores of East Asia. Asia Girl reasoned that there had to be some yellow in the composition of the Chiefs soil, even though the Amazon was just another white girl with a tiara to the average mainlander eye. With the Chiefs assistance, Asia Girl was hoping to discover whether the captains evil genius was only skin-deep. Her third eye located the test subject just exiting the bathroom. Fwing! She was there in two shakes of a snow leopards tail. As the door marked Super Womens swung open, Asia Girl lit, pitched, and stepped behind a potted palm. Pop! Smoke mushroomed from firecracker chaff, and a fine dust settled over the Chief, like the flour on a wonton wrapper. As the Chief coughed and windmilled her arms, Asia Girl did a quick scan: yup, she was fully gassed. Now Asia Girl just had to wait and see if Asians undercover were still visible. The Chief was standing in the arc of the bathroom door, wiping particulated gas off herself, when the door reopened with a well-muscled push. Thwap! The Amazon started to pitch forward, but caught herself and whirled around, taking out the door with a lightning combination kick and knifehand. Femme stood in the now permanently open portal, the door splintered at her feet. Her eyes ballooned into panicked subservience when she realized whom she had bumped. Oh my cervixIm so sorry, Chief! Are you OK? What am I saying Femmes chagrin at underestimating a fellow feminist was exponential in the Chiefs caseof

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course youre OK. Here, let me help! she began dusting off the Chiefs gold trim. Asia Girl left the Chief and her horrified subordinate to sort out the indoor fireworks and dashed back to the Abacus. The experiment had confirmed her suspicion: she could pass go and get out of erasure free, if she could pass for white. Asia Girl reached for the SPF. All those sun n oil-worshippers on the Riviera were going to be pretty surprised when their visibility was revoked. But tan lines aside, how was Asia Girlwho could only pass for white if everyone promised to keep their eyes closedgoing to dissipate the captains smoke screen? Flipping the calligraphic script, she supposed that if she kept her color under wraps, she could smuggle in a little lemon zest for round two with her pigmentchallenged foe. Asia Girl contemplated a vial of the Colorblinds gas. But how could she possibly The answer struck her like a temple gong. Of course. She must fight immunity with immunity. And where could she find the 100-proof insensibility she needed? She grinned. Great Tangun, she loved it when a plan came together. She turned to dart out the door, hoping, for once, to run right into Shocksbut instead ran face first into a flurry of feathers. Mitho? Asia Girl found it difficult to enunciate with plumage stuck to her tongue. What itth it, boy? Who? the owl blinked slowly. Pfft, she tried to spit out the feathers, but ended up wearing them on her lips. What?

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Who? the owl replied. Who? Asia Girl realized that Miso was speaking, not hooting. Who, boy? Whooo he craned his neck forward, eyes wide, even for a nocturnal predator. Whooo? she craned forward until their foreheads were touching. But she still didnt understand. Miso pulled back and regarded her through half-open eyes. Then from his snowy plumage, he pulled a single blue featherthe sort that might fall from a childs not-nonative costume. The owl blinked with the garish blue fluff in his beak. Jos! Asia Girl shut her eyes, allowing mortification to rush over her like the currents of the Yangtze River. Her conscience replayed the scene on the lawn of Open Arms when she had walked away from the boy in the very moment that he most needed an ally. Way to hero, her conscience clucked, shutting off her minds projector. Asia Girl sighed and opened her eyes. If only her conscience werent right so much of the time Leapin Lama, she just hoped that her neglect hadnt led to the abolition of literacy at the school. Checking the Abacus atomic clock function, she saw that the timing was perfect to brush up on some reading, writing, and righting of wrongs. With that Fwing, fwing! Asia Girl and Miso flew straight as true superheroes fly to Open Arms. * The school day was just beginning when they arrived. Circling the building, Asia Girl located the Bugles room and touched down amid the shrubbery. She was relieved to

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see pencils, paper, and books arrayed before the students at their desks. At the moment, all twenty heads were bowed in the deep concentration of sculpting cursive symbols. Broken pencil points accumulated like amputated commas next to some of the more compulsive students. Recalling the pressures of this academic hurdleLois had failed penmanship for a hopeless left-slant to her letteringAsia Girl flew a few prayer flags: May all students incline to the right angle of inscription and at least passable legibility. At the chalkboard, the Bugle was conducting a demo of the exercise, talking her young charges through the looping of vowels and consonants like a literacy aerobics instructor, and reach up, up, up to the top linethats right, stretch all the way up, and then curve back down, down, downget down to that bottom line, but just touch it. Thats right, now breathe through the line When the Bugles back was conveniently to the class, Asia Girl shot a fortune cookie through the window and onto Joss desk. He looked up but didnt need to crack the cookie to know what to do next. Ms Van Bugle? May I go to the restroom, please? Why, of course, Jos. You may go, go, go to the bathroom, and then loop all-ll-ll the way back, back, back. Class, without picking your pencils up from the paper, lets continue our lines. And again, up, up, up the Bugle danced as the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Jos exited the room to discover Asia Girl and Miso already waiting for him in the hall. To her surprise, he smiled toothily. Jos! I wanted to stop by and apologize. I I see you still have books, Asia Girl nodded toward the classroom, Im so relieved. But the regret creasing Asia Girls

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forehead belied her words. She knelt down to meet Joss eyes. And I wanted you know that Im back. That I have your back. He flung his arms around her. Its OK. You were tired? The muscles around her mouth relaxed into a smile. Yeah, she admitted. But I got some rest. Good, he turned to Miso and patted the owls head. You didnt have to worry. I took care of things. I see, Asia Girl didnt have to pretend that she was impressed. Maybe you can share your secret with me. Jos shrugged casually, but Asia Girl caught his quick, pleased smile. Ms Shocked and Appalled cares a lot, he observed. Asia Girl thought that was a nice way to phrase it. So before she could burn the books he busied himself petting Miso, who was enjoying the attention I suggested something else to care about. Something else? Asia Girl encouraged. I told her they serve fish in the aquarium cafeteria, Jos pressed his lips together and looked up. For a long moment, superhero and kindergartner regarded each other. Then they burst out laughing and collapsed on the floor, imagining Shocks storming the aquarium, demanding dead land animals only on the menu. Fearing discovery and perhaps detention for interrupting classes, they finished their conversation between smothered giggles. It turned out that Jos had handled the situation perfectly. After he had sent Shocks sprinting to get Flipper off the specials board and back in the tank, he decoyed the

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Bugle, suggesting a more worthy project for her revisionist energies: the nutritional content of school lunches. Before Jos had finished his plea, the Bugle was already campaigning for a more equitable food schemaperhaps a sphere to replace the rigidly hierarchical pyramid. I was hungry, he explained the theme of his switch and baits. And the BuMrs. Van Bulge took it? He nodded, Hook, line and gummy worm? Asia Girl suggested. He giggled. Well, my friend, she tousled his hair. Looks like you have a handle on things here. Good work. She rose and helped Jos to his feet. Do you think he was suddenly bashful. I try to, Asia Girl teased. Jos smiled at her silliness and tried again, Do you think someday I might have two costumes, too? he ran a hand over the silken bulletproof weave of her skirt. Asia Girl knew precisely what he was asking. She knelt down and averred, I know you will. He flashed another pleased grin and chucked Miso under the beak. And if I need you or just want to say hi Asia Girl offered. Jos held her gaze again then I do this. He honked the crane call that would unfailingly summon Miso. The owl blinked, at full attention. You do that, Asia Girl echoed. All right, back to your cursive. Give a big

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flourish when you get to Z, OK? Jos nodded and slipped back inside the room. Asia Girl stood in the hall a while longer, bemused. While her next and presumably permanent retirement was something she ranked just below the flaming oil version of Chinese water torture, obsolescence wasnt so horrible when she considered the world in hands like Joss. Miso cooed softly and then poofed his feathers as if to remind her that there was injustice to be gutted, filleted, and thinly sliced like a big fat shiro maguro. OK, boy its time to bring on some Yellow Hulk, she revved up. And whoosh! They were on their way to intercept Shocks, wherever she might be appalling * and make sure to zip it up all the way. It wont work if any air gets in. Deliriously joy luck happy at her colleagues interest in the My Reality line, Shocks was about to zip up the neck, when Asia Girl pulled the hood off. Although she had sought out Shocks for exactly this purpose, Asia Girl was hardly enthused to discover that the cocoon fit like white on rice, just as advertised. Maybe she needed a new epidermis for this gig, but she didnt have to like it. On the other hand, My Reality was a perfect fit for its inventor. Dancing about her first live model, Shocks was already nestled in the fantasy of her new status at the Hall: when her Reality hit, citizens would clamor for her unique and entirely effective brand of justice! Fellow heroes would humbly ask her advice! And villains would beseech her merciesno, anything but the Shock treatment!

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She was smiling brighter than a roadside flare. Yes, shed been down in the dumps when Asia Girl found herjust dropping off some yard waste, no need for all the hugs and drama. (OK, the hugs had been nice, but really, sometimes a dump was just a dump.) But Shocks had knowndeep down in her faintest of heartsthat she was on to something with My Reality. She just knew it! And to think shed almost donated the prototype suits to the local community theater. Just goes to show, good things come to those who stick around long enough. She began whistling. Enveloped in the postage-paid bliss of her new reality, Shocks was unaware of any Chiang Mai butterflies that her model might be having. She stepped back to admire the air and skin tight fit. You have about a two hour supply in there, Shocks advised. But Ill work on a portable replenisher, so you never have to leave your Reality! Asia Girl paused before stepping back into her bosun. If you dont have anything non-judgmental to say, be the avatar of silence, she reminded herself. What is it? Shocks pressed, finally noticing Asia Girls reticence. Cmon, what? When Asia Girl looked up from her steeled toes, Shocks had donned a familiar expression. Eyes and mouth agape, the look recalled exam time at the Super Academy, when Sarah would turn to Lois for help cramming her sparrow-size brain full of the semesters morsels. For four years, despite Sarah falling progressively behind, Lois had tried to bring home the worms, creating endless mnemonics to prime Sarahs cranium for a little stick-um: the protocol for disarming weapons of mass injustice? WONTON. How to optimize utility belt utilization? NAAN. When is a dynamic duo the men and/or women for the job? FOOYOUNG.

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And what did all those hours amount to? MUNG BEAN. Today, face to epiglottis with Shocks, Asia Girl realized that this chick had never left the nest. Why fly, after all, when she already had all the regurgitated eats she could ever want? The gaping mouth spoke, No, really. What? Despite Asia Girls best intentions to respond mindfully and compassionately, the inclination to Boxer Rebellion Shocks on the head returned. Peering into the black hole of her colleagues incomprehension, Asia Girl knew that she could hustle up an answer, kiss it for good luck, and then huck it into the abyss. But to what end? So far, feeding Shocks the answers to all of lifes quizzes had only encouraged her to grow bigger, hungrier, and more dependent. The kanji on the wall was clear: Shocks had never really learned to stand on her own two clogs. And what was that old saying about teaching a consumer to fish instead of buying her cans of tuna? Indeed, the ever-intervening big Pablums, who seemed to think that shooting koi in a barrel counted as fishing, didnt contribute much to the howto manual. And by furnishing a veritable supermarket of answers and assistance sometimes even before Shocks had asked a questionAsia Girl had hardly encouraged Shocks to catch her own filets of understanding. Asia Girls conscience rumbled up for a Tiananmen-style tte--tte. As for the Halls blind spot wherever an endowment occurred no wonder Shocks didnt know rod from reel. But now, it was time for her to learn to bait a hook. Or at least to operate a can opener. No. Mindful of her own recent kneecapping by judgment, Asia Girl tossed the syllable like a yen into the deep maw of Shocks need. What? Never, in several semesters of co-dependence, had Asia Girl ever

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rebuffed Shocks cry for assistance. Understandably, the junior hero was shocked. I just want You just want to understand? Shocks nodded, If you could just sit down and talk you through it? Asia Girl suggested the old school routine. Make some flow charts and diagrams, help you color code your note cards, and maybe pop quiz you before the final exam? Shocks looked hopeful and ready to highlight. Then what? Asia Girl considered the fish in hand and gently placed it back in the cool running waters of its stream. Tomorrow or even five minutes from now, youll be asking me about the next thing you dont get. And were back to flashcards. Shocks shook her head, But I just need You just need to understand, I know, Asia Girl steered Shocks to the waters edge. But while youre trying to understand, and Im trying to help you understand, injustice is still having its truly appalling way with the world. Theres no timeout while you do your homework. And while I want to help you, if its between you and the world Shocks hadnt made a peep, but she looked ready to crawl into her own cocoon and zip it up once and forever. The view from the waterfront wasnt pretty. She couldnt spy any fish in the rushing stream. Just crumbled bits of embankment falling into the froth. And anyway, Asia Girl handed Shocks the rod, understanding is something you have to make yourself. Its not like a cup of noodlesjust add water and a packet of

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someone elses opinion. Great Manjushri, she was beginning to sound like ol Confucius himself. But while Asia Girl was enjoying her glimmer of enlightenment, Shocked and Appalled only wanted to repress hers. The admission that her parents means had always been her safety bobbed to the surface like a rubber ducky on the choppy waters before her. All she wanted was to beat a familiar retreat to their protection. Then ducky took a dive, and Shocks saw its moldy underside: she hadnt ever needed to be anything more than shocked from within the Pablums well-insulated nest. So she hadnt. But did she want to be more? Slowly the wide O of her mouth eclipsed, and she stood firm-lipped, if shaky-kneed. Asia Girl put a hand on her colleagues shoulder. You OK? Shocks looked at her soberly, I think. By the beads on Asia Girls wrist abacus, it was time to wrap this after school special and do a little fishing of her own. But first, Asia Girl did a discreet scan of her companion. The handheld indicated that while Shocks was significantly shaken and stirred, the wobbling would subside. Satisfied with the patients prognosis, Asia Girl did a final check of all the cocoons seals and zips, and swept up her hanbok. Thanks, she said, gesturing at the armored cocoon. Thenfwish! She shot out the door, a vacuum-packed sac de reality. Youre welcome, Shocks mumbled in Asia Girls wake. For some time after her colleague left, Shocks sat on the floor, fingering the collar of the My Reality Cocoon beta model and wondering what to do with a fish once she caught it.

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* Aloft, Asia Girl gave herself an Ayurvedic massage to loosen up for her reencounter with the captain. While unsure how well Shocks would do with a new modus to operandi, Asia Girl was relieved not to feel the rage, frustration, and hopelessness that had become the accustomed aftertaste of their encounters. No, instead she felt heartened. Shocks might yet stumble and need the occasional bento box thrown her way, but Asia Girl felt confident that her colleaguewho had, after all, worked doggedly if not so capably to remain at the academy rather than drop outwould prevail in the ultimate showdown between Shocked and Appalled versus So Now What. Yes, Shocks would be OK But what about four billion Asian people on the erasers edge? Asia Girl put her zoom lens back on the present moment. She was almost in the captains vertical sovereignty. Taking one last, greedy gulp of uncocooned reality, she banked in preparation for what she hoped would be a controlled descent. It was time to wok and roll. Swoosh! * A figure as pale as polished rice stumbled into the brightly lit hallways of MetaVision, Inc. Need water, Hop Singh thought. And must purchase stocking stuffers. The season was months off, and Hop had never bought into the commercial holiday spirit before, but holiday wreaths and mistletoe were inexplicably of his essence at the moment. Like the water cooler down the hall. He staggered forward. And camping, he thought, I should go camping more

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Colorblind watched as Hop collapsed in front of the cooler and began guzzling straight from the tap. Meanwhile, MetaVision employees continued to bustle around him, as if nothing could be less attention-worthy than an albino secreting smoke. Welcome to the new invisibility, the captain thought. He felt magnanimous. Back at his desk, Colorblind began typing his notes on this latest development in SMOG research. He tittered as he summarized, Concentrated SMOG with Bleach works not only on the eye of the beholder, but also on the world that is being beheld. He hadnt been this jazzed since he was a young megalomaniac, back when the ways and means of global dominance seemed boundless. With the added capability of concentrated SMOG, MetaVision could redefine the known visible spectrum into a single hue and ultimately create something even better than world harmony: a global monotone. He giggled again, giddy with the sheer omniety of it all. Returning his attention to the computer monitor, he got as far as Homogenization: Not Just for Milk Anymore, when Knock, knock. Surprised that Hop had returned to room temperature so quickly, the captain was nonetheless interested in further observation of the scientists new pigment-light experience. Ooh, pigment-light. Thats a marketing keeper, he thought. Entrez, he yodeled, still typing. The door opened and closed. Colorblind inquired genially, Hows that new skin working out for you? While an accomplished villain with many certifications, CEUs, and self-decorated ranks, the captain had never been a strong student of practicalities like keyboarding. Thus, he was

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still hunched over his tray of letters and symbols, searching for the hyphen key when a voice that was definitely not Hop Singhs answered, Its a wee tight, thanks. Anyway, its just a loaner. Before Colorblind looked up, he slid one hand under the desk and flipped a row of switches. Then with an assured smile, he pushed back his chair and rose to greet his guest. Asia he stopped short. Standing before him was a sock puppet wearing a hanbok. Girl? Like I said, its a loaner. The captain smiled more broadly. Sock or no sock, she was no match for SMOG. He offered her a chance to come along quietly. So youve reconsidered my offer of employment? Like Gandhi reconsidered violent disobedience, spoke Asia Sock Puppet. Her confidence in the cocoon got a boost when she realized that the captains formerly irresistible charm now held as much sway over her as a kazoo over a deaf python. She got right to the point and assumed Woman Warrior pose. It occurred to the captain that he might get the chance to run a second SMOG trial today. Why fight? he shrugged. Have a seat, he motioned toward the chair Hop had recently vacated. Or care to lie down? Detecting the faintest wisps of smoke still emanating from the corner where the SMOGerator stood, Asia Girl shook her head. Lets go, she slid into White Tiger Whup-ass stance. Colorblind bit his lower lip and opened with White Man Dancing. Why do you

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insist on making things so hard? Always resisting? Protesting? Stirring the pot when the soups already on? Maybe I dont like whats cooking, Asia Girl took a step toward the captain and shifted into Yul Brynner Rules. She meant business like a Taiwanese manufacturing plant. The captains expression simulated the appropriate gravity as he lowered himself into Generous Patriarch. Maybe you would, if youd just try it, he coaxed. Theres more on the menu than rice gruel, you know. Juk. Gesundheit. Asia Girl rolled her almond eyes. No, juk. Thats what your gruel is called. Oh yes, well, the captain cleared his throat and sidestepped into Suit and Tie. My point is that your shtickthis Asia thingits antiquated. Were past the days of tribalism. And if youre serious about your heroics, which I believe you are, its time to embrace a modern vision. Tomorrows vision. When being Asian and being a woman, no longer matter. But I am Asian, and I am a woman, Asia Girl pointed out, stepping into Not Your Manicurist. Thats immaterial, Colorblind insisted, waving his hands in dismissal of her socalled identity as he extended into Ivory Tower. He was tiring of her minority voice. Youre just attached. The fact is theres no need to tote around all that oppression and blame! Who said anything about oppression? Asia Girl rankled. Or blame?

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No one needs to say it! the captain snarled. In the snap of his temper, he transformed from cool and couth CEO to raving just this side of lunatic. We all know that color is just code for whos to blame for everything! Who killed the Indiansexcuse me, the Native Americans? he rolled his eyes. Who enslaved the Africans? Whos the man keeping everyone down? Who? Who? It was hard to take Colorblind seriously as a threat to justice, decency, or anything for that matter, while he was hooting and flapping his arms. But Asia Girl tried. Ill tell you who, the captain spat, Ole Whitey! Thats right! Give the boy an A for the right answer! Super Sanrio! His raison de nefariousness dawned on her, like the sun in an ozone-depleted sky. Colorblind wasnt concerned with anyone elses color, despite his ample talk of alleviating peoples suffering. It was his own color that he wanted unseen. His whole dastardly plotblinding half the populace and erasing the otherwas an egomaniacal campaign to save the good name of his own sallow skin. Having catapulted to the conclusion that his whiteness condemned him to a life of guilt over a global history of inequalities, he was escaping that sentence the only way he could conceive: by negating all possible shades of culpability. Asia Girl solemnly paused to appreciate the captains perversely self-fulfilling prophecy. OK, then, she rose to Economic World Power stance, Thanks for sharing, but its time for you to start repressing your issues. Wiping beads of spittle from his mouth, Colorblind planted his legs wide in Whos Your Daddy stance. Then, he beckoned her to bring on the spicy mustard.

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Kampai! Asia Girl raised two riceballs in honor of the captains imminent toasting. Colorblind, smug in his SMOG, didnt budge untilfoomp! foomp! The Hello Kitties knocked him off his feet. I gotta thank Shocks, Asia Girl thought. Wh he wheezed, What in tarnation! The SMOG must not have filled the room yet! He sprang to his feet in Weebles Wobbling stance. Nice parry, my dear. Backward somersaulting to his desk, he flipped the switch to full blast. That should stop the five feet of kung fu that was hustling straight at him. At the sound of the SMOG rolling in, he shimmied boldly into Crme atop Crme posture. Did you say tarnation? Asia Girl asked. She was taken aback by the captains corn. Mistaking her expression for the incipient effects of SMOG, he smirked and reached into his cape of shadow. With a flourish, he withdrew a long white paintbrush? Asia Girl cocked her head. The paintbrush dripped a dab of white goo. No, it couldnt be. White out? Brandishing the correction fluid like a saber, Colorblind crouched in White Picket Fence, En garde! Prepare to be blotted. But Asia Girl was not about to be whited out, in, on, or off. She nose-dived into Bombays Away and shot to the far side of the room. You think covering me up is going to solve your problem? Youll still be white, no matter how much yellow, black, and brown you erase. Maybe you ought to come to terms with that she shrugged, stepping into Partition Me Not or consider a more Oedipal solution.

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The captain whirled, flecks of white spraying off the brush. He teetered unsteadily in White Knuckling. Oh sure, he snarled. On top of everything else, gouge my eyes out! Why not? Whats a little more penance while Im down here on my knees begging for forgiveness for someone elses sins? Thats rightsomeone elses. I didnt invent racism, you know! This color thing isnt my fault! Why should I have to pay the price for injustice I didnt even get to enjoy? Asia Girl excelled at fill-in-the-blank questions. She balanced in Pacific Tide Rising. Its not fair, he muttered through gritted teeth. She was on him like stripes on a Bengal tiger before he could continue. Grasping him by the shadow, she growled back, And it is fair to nullify peoples existence to make yourself feel better? You know, people in glass pagodas The captain erupted in maniacal laughter. Accustomed to villainous theatrics, Asia Girl indulged him, allowing Colorblind to collapse to the floor, where he continued to crack himself up like lacquer on an antique. After several minutes and an episode of near-choking, Colorblind managed to sputter, Just stay there. Then he was on his feet and across the room before she could say, Dim sum, anyone? Asia Girls slant eye vision shot upwards. Too late, she detected the trapdoor. Great genmai cha! She steeled herself in Samurai Blade stance just as the ceiling opened and A torrent of erasers poured down on her.

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As the soft pink rubber rectangles bounced off her forehead, she thought of something Confucius had often said to her, Sometimes sticky bowl of rice not so sticky. Indeed. Was this guy serious? If Colorblind couldnt beat or white her out, he was going to old school erase her? With a flick of her wrist, she sent a pair of shuriken whirling upward into the attic; in less time than it takes to drop an egg in soup, the air was suffused with a confetti of pink. As his last offense shredded like twice-cooked pork all around him, the very last of the captains composure mutinied. His next move may have been ill-advised, especially given that hed failed to make so much as a diphthong in Asia Girls Engrish. But logic had fled with the other deck hands from the sinking ship of his sanity. Thus, he charged full blind speed ahead, spritzing a canister of SMOG at his target. Shurikens back in hand, Asia Girl took a moment to consider her impending foe. Oh yes, she had this one in the pink plastic bag. Fffft! Before Colorblind even realized what had happened, she had him stopped, dropped, rolled, and bound. H-h-how he huffed, compressed for breath. Capn, she lowered herself into Old Man Squatting on Street Corner, if you refuse to see me, what makes you think that Im going to bother seeing youor any of your gassy little tricks? Colorblind grunted. Isnt there s-s-something in the do-do-gooder handbook about plagiarizing? Dont you guys have he gasped for air an honor code?

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Sure we do, she reached into her utility belt, but the funny thing about an honor code is that it requires a mutual basis of honor. Now why dont we chat before I take you away for some rest and isolation? She pulled out the Chopsticks of Truth and leaned in. Lets start with whoever might be hiding in the shadows beyond your shadow. Whoor whatis behind all this? Guilt complex, he gasped, eyes dilating. Asia Girl didnt need to be told that the captain had issues with the color of his power, but that was as far as the interrogation got before the door crashed open. Asia Girl sprang into Yakuza Redux, prepared to take on all of MetaVisionincluding tempsif need be. A pile of sod fell through the door. Vaulting atop the greenery, Asia Girl waited for the siege. But no one or thing crossed the threshold, other than some Muzak and the faint aroma of reheated lasagna from a nearby cubicle. Then, from beneath her feet, Oof. Uh, Asia Girl? In one fluid motion, Asia Girl leapt to the carpet and scooped up the sod, holding it by the scruff of its turf. Shocks? Between limp blades of grass, Asia Girl discerned the soiled face of her colleague. What happened to you? She could only imagine what other scheme the captain might have hatched to make the world pay for his self-loathing. Live burial to put the brakes on population growth? I-Im fine, Shocks assured her. Other than you stomping on me. Sorry about that. But what in the tom yum soup Asia Girl set Shocks on her

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feet and gestured at the sod which Shocks wore toga-style around her otherwise nude form. Shocks took a couple of deep breaths to get her carbon cycle going again. Then, brushing the loosened dirt from her blades, she beamed, I get it! I dont. I understand about understanding! Shocks beamed, before noticing the silence. You know, I have to figure things out and act. We all do! So ta-da! Ta-da youre a lawn? No, sillyIm Grassroots Girl! Need a petition signed? A sit-in sat? Always near, Grassroots is here! Ready to get down and dirty on you! Grassroots frowned. I mean, with you. Then turning toward the captain, I mean, ready to get down and dirty with you! Uh Now flushing, she consulted a piece of paper hidden between her blades of living vegetation. Oh, clumping clods Lewd tagline notwithstanding, Asia Girl smiled. Congratulations. It was the perfect reinvention. And nice sod. Thanks. So, anywayMighty Maple! Grassroots noticed that Colorblind, who had been politely prone throughout her solicitation, was not rapt in attention but rather in Asia Girls notoriously constrictive bindings. Rustling her tendrils, Roots inquired, How can I help? Well, I was just asking the captain a couple of questions Excellent. I shall take notes, Roots produced a twig, inkpot of chlorophyll, and paperrecycled, of coursefrom her vestments. Tickled green, Asia Girl nodded her approval and turned back to Colorblind, who

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didnt look thrilled that the Swamp Thing had joined the party. Grassroots Girl will take your detailed statement for emphasis, Asia Girl prodded the captain with her steel-reinforced bosun, on the composition, existing quantities, and current distribution of SMOG in just a moment. In the meantime, Ill be rounding up your colleagues Ooh Grassroots interjected, any chance I can join in on that for some Grassroots action? Asia Girl hesitated. She wasnt worried about Colorblind, who lay anemically on the floor. No, her real reluctance stemmed from Shocks, notwithstanding the young heros new name and get-up. Underneath the Mother Earth mantle, wasnt she still the Shocked and Appalled who had fainted at HUH TV and nearly torched a school library? In actively hostile territory, Asia Girl had no need for that kind of back-up. Of course, she never wanted any kind of back-up. But before she could decline the offer, Roots was gone. Through the open door, Asia Girl could hear the rustling of grass as on a breezy spring day. This is why I work alone, she griped, narrowing her eyes. Thenfwing! Asia Girl followed the trail of dirt down the hall... * Asia Girl caught up with Roots under a flashing red strobe light. So much for a quiet takeover. She figured it was a matter of moments before MetaVision security was on them like tourists on a rickshaw. It turned out to be less. At first, the noise was no louder than the gushing of water filling a tub. But before Asia Girl could ask who in Acalas temple was taking time for a soak, the frothing had

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frenzied into a torrent. By the time she turned to face the cacophony, the wall of liquid was upon her. Interestingly, instead of surging forth and sweeping her away, the deluge hung, undulating just centimeters above her head. This presented Asia Girl with the optimal vantage point from which to examine the fluid. Under its fizzing surface, murky waves crested and crashed. And there in the roiling watersAsia Girl turned up her slant eye vision to penetrate the cloudy surf bobbed a lipsticked coffee mug. Asia Girl had no way of knowing about MetaVisions mandated group bonding. Indeed, she had no way of knowing that the captains most reactive employee had been catalyzed to a new level of literalness. But unaware as she was of recent MetaEvents, Asia Girl somehow sensed that the behemoth au jus confronting her was none other than a literalized Molten Pot. Thus, it was no surprise when the lipless liquid gurgled, Asia-glug-Girl. Wiping the spray off her face, Asia Girl wondered precisely where to direct her response. She settled for somewhere above the high tide line. Molten Pot. A wet burbling emanated from the watery wall. Something funny in the depths there? Asia Girl was thinking about pulling the plug on this over-sized tub. Just-blub-enjoying my new freedom-glug-glug, a chuckle rippled MPs surface tension. I dont know why-blub-it took me so long to shed-glug-all those pesky bonds collegial, molecularwho needs em? she let out a sopping burp and swelled menacingly at her puny calcified foe. Yeah, solidity. Im so over it, Asia Girl kept both almonds on MP while her

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third eye scanned for a way to contain her enemys new flow. Blorp-youll excuse me if I get to the point and-blub-inundate you now. Lots of places to flood-glug-glug and people to ab-blurp-sorb, you know, MP started to seep toward Roots. The sapling hero was frozen with a composted look on her face. Asia Girl had to act faster than a speeding rickshaw. But how to stop an aqueous enemy? She checked her utility belt for a super-size sponge. Nope. Then, she remembered the advice that had guided her out of many a tsukemono: rice harvested one grain at time. So too, Asia Girl suspected, water. She donned her goggles and checked them for a tight seal. Then, before MP could wonder what in the Adriatic Asia Girl was doing, the superhero dove in for a little deep sea exploration. She hit the flood running. In her fluid state, MP was like an old-style nigori-zake; Asia Girl couldnt have seen her hands in front of her face if shed been holding them there. It was just as well, since both hands were at her sides, pumping to the rhythm of two quick-trotting bosun. Like a calligrapher practicing the enso, Asia Girl described MPs perimeter again and again. With each revolution, she quickened her pace. Sometime around Asia Girls tenth lap, MP began to feel queasy. And perilously bloated. This would not do. It was time to undertow this Asian flu. MP tried to focus her energy, but it was too late. Just as she hunkered down to rip tide, she exploded. A tremendous crackling sound, not unlike shrimp hitting a hot oiled wok, shattered the Neptunian silence as MPs already loosened molecules wrenched apart, strewing the length and width of the hall. In the wake of MPs centrifugal undoing, beads of the neer do good clung to the

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walls, doors, ceiling, floorand to Asia Girl and Roots. Asia Girl shook the particles of foe from her hair. Stay, she ordered, spotting two drops trying to combine. If you know whats best, youll stay unbound, like big ol size ten feet. The droplets obediently rolled apart. Asia Girl turned away. Then she whirled back around. The beads were still petrified like two dewy pearls. But in case they had any thoughts of pooling, she gave them one last warning, Theres always vaporization. Now thatll hurt! Meanwhile, Roots continued doing her impression of frozen yard clippings. But there was work to be done, so Asia Girl grabbed her unintended protg by the stalks and uprooted her. * It turned out there was little left to combat. Without its Chief Executive Offender, MetaVision was a pepper without its heat. Most of the employees were just average follow-captains-orders types who didnt ask about the toxins they were handling, the liability waivers theyd signed, or Hops sudden case of Caucasian. Thus, all it took to shut down operations was a game of Captain Says: The captain says, Put the SMOG down and step away with your hands in the air. Now, ask questions and refuse to cooperateuh-uh, I didnt say The captain says OK, now the captain says, Take the rest of the day off, but first hand over all the passwords. After Asia Girl dismissed all the workers except Hop, whom she quarantined for racial restoration, the hunt for the former heroes-turned-MetaVisionaries was on. *

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Roots, who had recently regained animation, heard the grunts first. She and Asia Girl tracked the noise to the lab. Flinging open the door to the walk-in freezer, they discovered Hugh huddled and shivering, his feet buried in piles of chilled SMOG samples. Ahstill burning! Stupid firewalking! Asia Girl went with a dont-ask-dont-reprimand policy while Roots went in search of first aid. But after restoring HughMan to room temperature, she had to ask. What were you thinking? He made it look easylike the coals werent even hot! Hugh blew on his blistered toes. No, what were you thinking? Asia Girl waved at MetaVision at large. Oh, HughMan tried to recall having a thought other than, Sweet anthropology, the pain! He offered, Colorblind made sense. He talked my language. And when the rest of the world abandoned me like an ancient civilizationdid they have to blow up the HughManity?he was there for me. Was he? Asia Girl asked, producing a leather journal from the folds of her hanbok. Embossed in gilt on the cover were the letters CC. She flipped to a page in the middle and handed the book to Hugh. There in the captains handwriting was an Injustice: To Do list with all the items neatly crossed off: Approve MV logo. Blow up HughManity. Discuss terms of employment with PC. Hugh stared at the page and, for a while, even forgot the searing of his soles. Well talk later, said Asia Girl as she foot and hand bound him, but not too

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tightly. I still have to take you in. Hugh nodded. He would accept his comeuppance like a man rejustified, if only mortal mother of all! Let the agony end! He balanced gingerly on the tips of his toes, where he suffered only light braising. In a flash of foliage, Roots was back, aloe in fronds. She rustled past Asia Girl and ingeniously applied some of her blades to bandage Hughs tender feet. Nice job on the first aid, Asia Girl stepped back to let the healing begin. Roots brushed some greenery out of her eyes and smiled, And heres an inventory of the freezer. Quiet pride tinged her voice as she handed over her clipboard. Thanks, Asia Girl didnt have to fake appreciation. According to Roots, a sizeable shipment of expired vials had been labeled Send to CHINA with appropriate bulk postage already pasted to the boxes. Asia Girl rolled her eyes at this new insult on top of erasure. But even more alarming than the SMOG gone badder were the two fresh-batch vials that Roots had counted missing. Asia Girl asked her eco-colleague to guard the freezer from all postal employees until back-up arrived. Asia Girl was mentally lining up the likely suspects when she heard Roots gasp from her post by the freezer door, Political Correctness? Asia Girl whirled around. PC stood defiantly in the doorway. The former colleagues stared at each other, like rival sumo wrestlers gone too long without a matchor a meal. But Roots hadnt finished her announcement yet. PC? Oh my tendrils, I studied you in school! II mean, we, she gestured at Asia Girl in acknowledgment, wrote our

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term paper on you! You have a hostage, Asia Girl observed. Indeed, PC had her hands full. In one, she held a pair of vials that matched the description of those that had gone MIA. In the other, she embraced the neck of I. I, Asia Girl nodded. Atha Grrrl, I choked. Hi, Roots waved tentatively, unsure about the etiquette when your thesis is threatening someones life. Asia Girl had no such concerns about protocol. What do you want? And no diabolical laughter, please. She was in no mood for more archetypal behavior from the bad guys. PC looked disappointed. Clearing her throat, she affected a poisonously breezy tone, Well, seeing that this enterprise is ending, I was just cleaning out my desk And helping yourself to some office supplies? Asia Girl indicated both the teen and the vials. PCs sneer said more than any of the words left in her carefully chosen vocabulary. If you want to put it that way... And now you escape with the SMOG and reproduce it for your own stifling ends? Just thought youd stop in and say goodbye on your way out? As she spoke, Asia Girl did a quick scan of PC. Her slant eye vision detected no weapons, other than PCs stock tools of trade: arrogance and intimidation. The residue of dried corn in both front pockets, while odd, didnt seem to constitute a danger. You think I need this pollution? PC shook the samples in her fist. This sand-

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in-the-eyes? The captain can stuff it in his treasure chest. I dont need his SMOG. So theyre party favors? Sentimental trinkets? In response, PC tightened her hold on I, who gagged accommodatingly. Not so sentimental, she hissed. But I thought they might be of interest to you, and, therefore, that you might extend certain courtesies to me that you might not otherwise. You know, in case you wereahem, stuck in the past or something. Asia Girl was about to tell PC precisely where she could stick the past when Roots spoke up. What makes you think she cares about a cracker? Excuse me? PC spun around to face Roots, dragging I with her. The grass does grow greener, Asia Girl thought, when we get over our shock. She sidled closer to PC and an increasingly blue-faced I. Straightening up like a defiant weed in the path of a power mower, Roots enunciated very carefully, I said, What makes you think she cares about a cracker? Every censory-attuned nerve in PCs body snapped to attention. Please tell me youre referring to saltines. Nooh, is cracker a bad word? Roots feigned innocent confusion. PC popped like a kernel ignited. You cant say that! Maybe you think its OK because shes white she dangled I forward at arms length or because you are. But neither one of your whites makes it right! Glass clinked and I slumped to the floor as the once-hero leapt. Letting out an involuntary yelp, Roots nonetheless held her ground as one hundred-thirty pounds of unction flew furiously at her.

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Right before impact, Asia Girl braced herself in Faluns Gotta Gong. Aigu saesungae! she shrilled, hurling the syllables and flames of her ggochu breath at PCs airborne form. PC plummeted, falling flat like a half-hearted protest. Crumpled before Roots, she panted, Wh-what did you say? Asia Girl smiled. PC, fierce vigilante of language, was still Claire when it came to foreign tongues. And Asia Girl was still a hero who enjoyed nothing more than being a chink in injustices armor. She couldnt resist a final roundhouse while PC was down. Ill give you a hint: its often followed by Asia Girl leaned forward in No Speakee English and screeched, Yi saeki ya! PC gurgled and clapped her hands over her ears. Asia Girl silently thanked Vishnu for language barriers. Then, satisfied that any corrections, political or otherwise, were on hold for the time being, she turned to Roots, who had petrified into a defensive posture that she would later dub Baled Hay. Good thinking. Without moving, Roots chirped, Yeah? Yeah. You played her like a rebab. Through her entwined blades, Roots looked confused. Like a grand piano? Asia Girl modified the expression to fit the culture. Well, Roots offered a smile as she emerged from her huddle, I paid attention, even if you did most of the research. Asia Girl felt a blush of pride for both of them. But how did you know how to stop her? Roots asked as she untangled her

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stalks. Oh, I did some extra credit work back when PC first went wrong. Her old Spanish teacher had a lot to say about her, Asia Girl grinned, recalling Seor nfasis bilingual disapproval of his former students accent and attitude. Then, remembering how Political Correctness had nearly suffocated I, Asia Girl asked, Hows the kid? Roots bent over the prone form, I? I? Can you hear me? No response. I? Asia Girl joined Roots at the girls side. Kelly? Ungh, I-Kelly moaned. Well, it sounds like she knows who she is. Lets keep an eye on her and Asia Girl turned to indicate PC. But her nemesis was gone. So were the vials. Great Gautama, no! Dashing into the hall, Asia Girl spied PCs farewell for now message: a red feather pinned to the wall. What under the bodhi tree was this supposed to mean? Asia Girl felt uneasy. PC hadnt just happened to scoop up the SMOG on her way out. No, she was rehearsed as a Suzuki student in everything she did. So if she said she didnt need the samples but took them anyway Asia Girl let out a deep breath. PC must have plans to blind and dumb the general populace. Butshe plucked the feather from the wall and studied ithow? Then her third eye spotted them: the last dregs of MetaVision. She whirled around.

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Were sorry! Soooo sorry! The Unoffensive were splayed in their signature arrival prostration. Get up, Asia Girl sighed. Rightsorry! they sprang to their feet, smoothing their matching t-shirts. Roots, can you watch the crew? Ill shanghai the captain, turn off the lights, and then well sherpa everyone back to the Hall. Roots nodded, and Asia Girl was off to ready the captain for his not-so-bon voyagefwing! * Back at the Hall, Asia Girl was grimly reconsidering quitting. They had barely gotten Colorblind behind monochromatic bars when an even more pernicious foe emerged to sour the plum wine sweetness of justice accompli: Official Report, and its greasy sidekick Processing Papers. It was almost too much for an action-loving hero to bear. But Asia Girl realized that the work of justice was hers, for better, worse, or bureaucratic. And so she became one with her prana, and joined Roots in the heroes lounge, where Her Verdancy was trying to complete a rainbow of paperwork. What do you think: lilac or lemon for the captain? Asia Girl was about to fold some origami out of the sheaf she was leafing through. Gee, I dont know, Roots looked illmaybe from the stench of pulp. But I dont think its salmon. Asia Girl decided on cranes. Traditional and classic. She was making the first

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crease when the Chief poked her head in. Nice job with MetaVision. We have the captain in a special air recirculation cell to diffuse any lingering traces of SMOGnot to mention that creepy shadow of hisand the Caucasian I has been shut down pending a thorough investigation of the secondary effects of its treatments. The lab is working on an antidote as we speak. What color form does that require? Asia Girl muttered. Maybe plaid? Oh! the Chiefs expression went Connie Chung. About the paperworkjust forget it. I dont know what came over me. Were not the Hall of Justice and File Cabinets, if you know what I mean. Asia Girl tossed the stack of unborn cranes straight into the recycling bin, In fact, I do know what you mean. Welcome back, Chief. With a puzzled smile, the Chief nodded and, adjusting her tiara, continued down the hall. Well, that was convenient, Roots seemed to breathe easier without so much dead plant matter around. I had no idea what color an APB was. Red, Asia Girl offered, standing up. Umm Roots half-rose and seemed to search for words. Asia Girl waited. So we did pretty well out there, huh? Yes, Asia Girl responded sincerely. Together, I mean Oh Shibuya, Asia Girl saw where this was going. So, uh, I was wondering, you know, what you maybe might think about us,

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umm, working together again like as partners. Maybe even a duo? Roots trembled like wheat before the thresher. Asia Girl regarded her fledgling colleague, who had finally launched from the nest. The reinvented hero had a long flight path ahead of her. And while she could certainly use a co-pilot to help her navigate the currents and cross-breezes of justice, Grassroots could flap on her own two now. It might not be graceful, but with practice, shed be fine. And anyway, Asia Girls woodblock was already carved for one. So, our solo hero responded with a clear conscience and, if not tough love, then tough selfinterest. Is that an activist who doesnt know what a petition is? she pointed out the window, aghast. Where? Roots rushed to see. And Asia Girl was off, like MSG from an ingredient label. Zing! * Lois boss was hunched over the layout for the next days comics page. While Ed was generally a sympathetic boss, he had certain professional standards. Timeliness was the first priority. And the second, third, and fourth, according to the poster on his wall. Yet the five blank squares stared at him without apology or explanation. I told her she couldnt be late again, he thought, reaching for the phone. But just as he started to dial the extension that he dialed every week like clockwork because Lois wasnt, a gust of wind skidded the page off his desk. As he reached to pick it up, he noticed that it had slid under a very shiny, very pointy shoe. Straightening up abruptly, he tore the paper.

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GoshdarnLois? She bent to retrieve the rest of the paper, Sorry about that, Ed. Didnt mean to scare you. What in the early edition kind of get-up was she wearing? Ed, whose idea of bold fashion consisted of tweed without the elbow patches, was overwhelmed by her colorfulness. And something elsewhat was different about her today? Lois? he repeated. The look on his face conveyed a traffic jam of frustration and astonishment. As anger whizzed by in the carpool lane, the temptation to laugh honked and waved. Actually, boss, I am Asia Girl. Faster than a speeding rickshaw! Able to leap ten rice paddies in a single bound! And more powerful than the smell of ripe kimchi! She fanned the pleats of her hanbok and curtsied. Ive come to tender my resignation. Its been realactually, its been kinda fakeworking here, but thats not a reflection on you or anything. She looked flustered, What I mean to say is thanks. Lois? Asia Girl could see that Ed was going to need some retraining if they were going to keep in touch. And this is for you, she handed him the other half of the layout. Lowering his gaze, he studied it intently. The five squares were no longer blank. Zanily costumed characters scurried across a bed of hot coals as bubbles rose from their lips: Why are we doing this? Because its very spiritualnow run! He looked up, confused. But she was gone.

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* Meanwhile, across the metropolis, PC strode into a dark but warmly-lighted room. Claiming a plump leather chair, she tried not to look like she was having a heart attack. Whatever Asia Girl had said, it still hurt. Damn those foreign tongues! Still, PC put her most invulnerable face forward. It wouldnt do to convey any weakness in this brass and polish sanctum. Guilt Complex, a husky alto parted the rooms velvety curtains of ambiance. May I help you? Yes. I need to see the directors, PC swung one long leg over the other. Do you have an appointment? No, PCs smile was not exactly friendly. I am PC. Colorblinds been taken to the Hall of Justice, Equity, and Empty Banter. My sincerest apology for not recognizing you, Ms C, the voice dipped even lower to meet the gravity of the visitor and the situation. And MetaVision? Done. Thank you. Please hold for a moment. Then several light clicks, and the voice dropped to a murmur. PC sat back in her chair, one hand reflexively checking the vials in her pocket. Two were stolen samples of SMOG. The third, which PC had concealed from Asia Girls squinty vision, contained what appeared to be a moldy unshelled walnut. Floating in formaldehyde, the gray, wrinkled orb bumped the walls of the vial as PC tilted the flask first to one end and then the other. Pretty boy, she murmured. You may head up to the conference room, the voice had regained its timbre of

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calm reception. Thank you PC replaced the walnut in her front pocket all. She addressed not the voice but a spot just beneath the ceiling in the corner. On the other end of the discreetly positioned camera, the directors of the Guilt Complex nodded appreciatively. Shes sharp. Seated around a long oval table, they watched PCs approach across a bank of surveillance screens. The Guilt Complex was a huge, hive-like compound, housing a myriad of non- and for-profit agencies dedicated to the same relentless cause. It would be all too easy for the uninitiated to get lost within its labyrinthine design. But PC wended her way through the mass transit system of escalators, elevators, and walkways as if she were a daily commuter, instead of a first time visitor. Maybe too sharp. Yes, lets keep all eyes on our guestand our backs. The directors nodded in agreement. The door opened. One long leg and half a tantalizingly short sueded Lycra supersuit stepped through. All around the table, eyebrows rippled like furry caterpillars in an April breeze. Good evening. Although polite, PCs tone clearly staked her claim as new master among these minds. She held the vials of SMOG in her hand. For now, the other vial was her little secret. Show-and-cant-tell-time would come soon enough * Somewhere not so far away, Asia Girl balanced on one stiletto. The other was poised to filet a perp who called himself the Gentrifier. She had caught him hiking rents

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penthouse-high all across the city, and before he had the chance to ensconce yet another coffeehouse in the over-frothed metropolis, she and Miso were planning a little renovation on him. The owl had an especially predatory look in his eyes. But just as she was about to perforate the Gentrifiers well-groomed exterior, Chopsticks started playing. Asia Girl here, she kept eyes and heel on the Gentrifier. Hi, honey! Mrs. Dr. Cho chirped. Hey, Ma. Whats happening? Just check in. How go? Like a walk in the Zen garden. You and Dad? We fine. Ohtime for spin class! Ride like the East winds, Ma. Miso says hi, and well see you soon. OK. Be careful and drink lots fluids. As Asia Girl tucked the phone back into her utility belt, the ringing started again. This time, though, it wasnt the phone. And it was giving her one amah of a headache

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Glossary A
Angry Little Asian Girl: Comic strip by Lela Lee. Check her out at: http://www.angrylittlegirls.com/ Asia: Largest continent, not to be confused with China. It goes farther west than you think.

B C

Bosun: Worn traditionally with hanbok; see hanbok. Colorblind: Unableor unwillingto distinguish certain colors. By implication, perfectly able to see others. Culture: Look around.

Dichotomy: When the peanut butter is peanut butter and the jelly is jelly, and the twain shall never meet.

ESL (secondary definition): Engrish as a Second Language, otherwise known as English Language Fusion or ELF. Equality: Principle of sameness. Read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, a tale of equality achieved. Equity: Principle of fairness; see justice. Ex. Whereas No Child Left Behind attempts to ensure the equal opportunity to take standardized tests, the Small Schools Movement attempts to provide an equitable education for each student. Ethnicity: Often confused with race, ethnicity is to race what conversation is to parts of speech.

FOP: Fresh Off the Plane, step-cousin to FOPJ [Fresh Off the Private Jet] Frank Miller: Creator of the Dark Knight. Miller resurrected comics when he exhumed Batman.

Gaijin desu: Loosely translated, Honorable white host. Trust us.

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Hanbok: Worn traditionally with bosun; see bosun. Hello Kitty: Enigmatic deity of trinketry, worshipped by Asian girls and women. HUH: The sound of the media when only one hand is clapping.

Icici: Zulu for earring. Suck the roof of your mouth for the c sound. Incorrect (as in, That is politically incorrect, buster): Code for Taking freedom of speech a little too literally, arent we? Individualizer, The: As-yet unencountered by Asia Girl, the Individualizer has nonetheless been active, exempting herself from collective reality (and thereby shirking all social responsibility) with an impervious claim of uniqueness. Her trusty shield of Not me has never yet been breached.

J K

Justice: Principle of fairness; see equity, not equality. Kimchi: Kimchi is to Koreans, what hair was to Samson. Koan: Heck, try to figure it out

L M

[See R.] Manga: Translated from Japanese as irresponsible pictures. Used widely in Japanese textbooks. Meaningful diversification: As opposed to applying magic marker to fabric and watching the color fade over several rinses, choosing the threads and weaving them together sturdilyundoing what was woven before if necessaryto produce a new tapestry. Melting Pot: Multicultural theory that figures if we all lose our identities, then well all get along. Monoculturalism: Tacit effort to maintain cultural homogeneity, usually manifested through the insistence that the dominant culture is just the
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way things are. Why do you guys always have to be different? Cant we all just get along? Multiculturalism: Promotion of many diverse cultures, usually manifested through the designation of a day when egg rolls and tacos are served.

N O

Noodle: In usage, noodle is to pasta as gender is to European male. Offended (as in, I am so offended!): Code for uninclined to do anything. Oriental: Rug.

Permanent: See Kim Il Jungs hair. Political correctness: A system of social governance in which censorship is the law and enforcement. Note: Correct derives from the Latin root regere, meaning to rule.

Quan Yin: Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion and model for garden statuary. Quixotism: The Achilles heel of many do-good movements. See Van Bugle.

Race: To diversity, what China is to Asia. Identity based on common, but not exclusive, phenotypical traits shared by a group. Often confused with ethnicity.

Secret Asian Man: Comic strip by Tak Toyoshima. Check it out on-line. Spandex: Dont try this one at home, kids. Stiletto: Modern Western-style foot binding (c. 1955).

Tao te Ching: Teachings of Lao Tzu, anticipating the works of A.A. Milne.

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Thousand year egg: Just say no. Token: Something that serves as proof of something else. So if a subway token serves as proof of payment of the fare, then what does a token female employee serve as proof of?

Unoffensive: Precision-blended for universal harmlessness and acceptability. The more unremarkable, the better?

Vestigial Man: Washed-up hero whose superpower was discovering convenient but useless solutions to problems.

Western: Younger sibling of Eastern. White: Currently under contentious debate in the crayon community, which is divided into three schools of thought on the nature of whiteness: 1. Its a color; 2. Its not a color; 3. It comes in the box with the rest of the crayons, doesnt it? So just make the damn crayons.

X-ray vision: Once the keenest sight possible, x-ray vision is now largely considered within the superhero community as a quaint claim to notblindness. Its more modern cousin almond-eye vision is approximately a bajillion times more perceptive and is, in fact, seeing what youre doing right now.

Yin-Yang: Opposite yet complementary forces that keep each other and the cosmos in balance. Note: A diet of only yin or yang would make the cosmos queasy. So it seems that conflict has some nutritional value, even if it shocks the taste buds. Yoga: Originally, a Hindu discipline that trains the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. Now, a U.S. industry that has surpassed Sweatin with the Oldies in video sales. Note: Often confused with Tai Chi, Pilates and that new workout, whats it called.

Zabuton: Meditation cushion. But when said with flair, easily mistaken for a French expletive.

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