Avatar  Chapter Two
The Price of Life
In my continuing quest to unravel the mystery of Oleander, I went to the main office of the Los Angeles Times. They were the ones to first publish the picture of the missing little boy - the one that Diana Pierson connected to the report titled 'Oleander Test Subjects, Study MF-100.05.' By now he was missing for three months. I had found his picture and found his name. Now, I needed to find out more. If Oleander still seemed like a legit operation, under the surface things really began to stink like a lost fish that rotted under the floorboards of a packing plant.

As my plane descended to LAX, I worried for a second about my sinuses as I saw the thick layer of yellow-brown sit upon the city. I'd done this a few times before, but that was before my change. In truth, I didn't need to worry about the smog or any other air quality issue any more. Something in my body kept now kept its reaction to such things in check.

Freeway traffic was surprisingly good. I was able to actually zip along I-105 and then cut north on 110 with relative ease. If it wasn't for parking, I'd have arrived early. As it was, it was close enough to 'on time.'

The L.A. Times building was a familiar sight. Certainly in 1934 when it was built, it would have been considered a model for future architecture. Looking at the building gave one a sense of purpose-that important things were done within. It was unpainted concrete, with immense structures that seemed to push out against and pull in the rest of the world. Entering the Globe lobby just heightened that feeling with the giant globe and the large mural banners.

While sifting through the L.A. Times archives, I found the address of the family of the boy. The guy in charge of the Crimewatch Bureau, Kevin Souza, hooked me up with Christina Diaz, "She's the best investigative reporter I've got on my staff, Howard. And she knows the barrios of Easlos better than anyone else. She was born there and still lives there. She coulda moved to a better neighborhood by now, but she really wants to shape up the place. If you're gonna find the family of that Moraga kid, she'll get you there."

There was more than a moment of silence when I met Christina. Our eyes locked and stayed like that for who knows how long . . . a minute? Maybe five? We had a bit of a nervous giggle after that as we both realized what we’d done.

I've met plenty of women in my life, many beautiful ones, and a few whose looks could just knock you off your feet. I knew from the moment I saw her there was something special. It wasn't anything concrete-sure she was attractive and she had an air of assurance and purpose about her-but mostly, it was just something that seemed instinctive. Looking back, if I were the type of person that believed in fate, I'd probably say that my instinct was what told me that this was my soul mate. But, I'm not that type of person.

Finally, Christina broke the mutual fascination silence by getting back to business. "The Moraga kid? You mean Eduardo. You've got your hands full with that one. I guess that of the media just treated that like a missing kid report. There's more to it than that, but not a whole lot of people outside of the Easlos gangs know it."

"I'll take you there, to mi barrio." Christina strode down the hall quickly greeting a few people along the way, but it was clear that she wanted to get to East Los Angeles. There was a sense both pride and purpose in her. Educating the rest of the world on her home town was something that brought the fire in her to full blaze. As they walked through the corridors and into the garage, she continued to talk business with me, "Eduardo is the youngest of a family of six. His two older brothers, Tino and Jose, as well as one sister, Lupe, are all involved with Trece Azteca, a Latino gang in Easlos. Tino and Lupe have just been released on parole from Corcoran. All three have a street rep for being tough fighters, never having lost a one-on-one. Because of this rep, while in prison, both Tino and Lupe seems to have attained a high rank with the Sureños. Jose has been the leader of Trece Azteca since Tino was imprisoned. The oldest sister, Maria, seemed to have despised the gang lifestyle and ran away to a convent and has not been seen, although one of her childhood friends recently received a postcard from, of all places, Vienna, Austria.

"Either no one knows or no one is talking about why Eduardo is missing. But, there's been enough rumors flying about to fill the Coliseum. Some think it has something to do with the consolidation of most - I'd say ninety percent - of the Easlos gangs under the Sureños. Others say it's the La Raza gang or maybe Los Zombis. They are the other ten percent. Nobody seems to know much about Los Zombis. They pretty much keep to themselves. As for La Raza, they don't even want to negotiate, as if they've got a big trump card that can keep them from getting annihilated. And then there are those that think that all of the Moragas are mutants and it has to do with that." Christina depressed the security key to her low-rider, nodding her head to me in the direction of the passenger seat door. "And the other girl, Elena, was found dead at a playground a year ago. The coroner's office didn't release any of the documents to us. But, I intend to get them somehow. From my digging around, all I could find out was there was some evidence she died fighting but also there were some strange things about it. She was second youngest, only two years older than Eduardo."

When we stepped into the truck all talk of business stopped. On the drive over to East Los Angeles, we formed a friendship more quickly than any that I've seen. By the time that we took the off ramp from the freeway, we knew nearly everything about each other. But that was when things went a bit haywire.

There was more in the air than smog. Christina's low-rider easily cruised through the barrio with little traffic. Nearly all of the businesses had closed their doors, many hung out signs that read 'Cerrado'. There were a lot of people on the streets - some lounging on stairs of buildings and houses, others standing seeming tense. But they were not pedestrians. Most were adolescent boys and young men with a hardened looks on their faces. Some wore blue jeans, others some form of white, gray or black pants. Some wore Dodger jerseys or jackets, others wore that of the Dallas Cowboys, many with the number thirteen or three. Those who did sported other attire that was prominently blue. "Sureños," muttered Christina. "Something's up."

She drove the truck up to the sidewalk, spotting someone she clearly knew. The man appeared in his mid-twenties, with sun-darkened complexion and hair greased back. He smiled briefly and swiped his hand across his mustache then looked very serious, "Salga de aqui. Es peligroso... No permanezca. Cada uno esta aqui - Tino, Lupe, Jose... Va a ser apuro con de La Raza. ""

There was a loud multiple rumbling noise and about thirty motorcycles and pickup trucks raced down the street, seemingly coming from a dense patch of smog. The forty or so riders and passengers, wearing head bandanas of dark red and golden yellow jackets, all carried pistols of some sort, a few bore automatic weapons and they opened up. The confident attitude of the Sureños wavered a bit, but wasn't lost. Some opened up with their own weapons, others took cover and extracted their weapons - all of the Sureños had submachine guns. Clearly not only were La Raza out numbered by at least five times, but they were outgunned as well.

Two of the La Raza gangsters fell as did several of the Sureños. But, the element of surprise for the La Raza was momentary. A hail of bullets flew over the streets. Three struck Christina's car, but, luckily she did not get hit. She quickly drove down another street, attempting to get away from the violence, just as a motorcycle careened into the truck, toppling it onto its side.

I helped Christina out of the truck and told her to run after she scrambled down onto the asphalt. I then pulled myself out of the truck and saw that she was still standing nearby. Sure, she was in cover behind the corner of the wall, but she was watching. Seeing that I was out, she turned to continue to get away from the killing zone but did a double take and then just stared slightly upward.

As I turned to see what it was that held her transfixed, I also realized just why the La Raza gang thought that they could take on a conglomerate gang quite a bit larger in number and with greater firepower than they. Standing in the middle of the street was a man, as tall as an eight-story building, in full regalia befitting an Aztec priest - or, perhaps, in this case, an Aztec god. He stamped at the Sureños and hurled cars at them. What was a killing zone a minute ago had the makings of a bloodbath now.

It was time to take action before too many people were killed, willing the Avatar to emerge from within me. In truth, I felt no different, but I knew that there were lots of changes that took place in the space of a single breath. In an instant, I was flying and saw a car, thrown by the villain that rebounded off the pavement and was flying right at Christina. I guess that I could have caught the car or deflected it, but instead I chose instead to scoop up the woman that, in this short time, I had already realized I loved. My heart swelled with pride as I saved her from certain death and held her in my arms.

"Avatar?" she asked in surprise. She was clearly as afraid as someone doing a bungee jump for the first time. But she showed little of her fear. She merely clung to me for a few seconds before she added, "Thank you for saving me . . . But, there are lives to be saved."

She was right. And despite the warmth that I felt from holding her so and her tight grip on me, I set her down on a sturdy looking building far away from the battle. Then I turned back. The rest was fairly routine to me by now. The Aztec was surprised by me, clearly not expecting anyone with that level of power to be around. So, when I flew into him, fist first, he fell to the ground and groaned. With all of the power that I put into that, he was bleeding from his jaw where I struck. His gangsters scattered and the street became quiet.

Me matas no se que me estas haciendo
que tu me estas envolviendo
y por ti me estoy muriendo....

Me matas
no se que me haces
Te miro y ya quiero tenerte
Dime que vas a complacerme
Nene ven aca...
Que te quiero tocar
Ven conmigo, atrevete a volar
Te quiero besar

Porque yo soy tu gata
Tu mujer, Tu diosa
Tu Flaca....
Verte sonreir a mi me mata
Cuando estoy lejos de ti
Yo te pido y te digo....

Dale....Tu eres mi negro .....
Es a ti a quien quiero
Mi angel caido del cielo

Tu a mi me llenas pa'
Tu a mi me llevas
Tu a mi me pones mal
Tu me desvelas
Atrevete a volar
Yo soy tu nena

A mi me pones mal
Tu a mi me llevas
Tu me desvelas
Atrevete a volar
Yo soy tu nena (ey...ahh)

Nene ven aca
Que te quiero tocar
Ven conmigo, atrevete a volar
Te quiero besar
Nene ven aca......

Yei ye...ahh...Yei ye
A mi me pones mal........
Yei ye....A mi me llevas.......Yei ye...

   Angel Caido by Ivy Queen
When the giant arose, he warned me, "Do not interfere with the affairs of a god, mortal." Then through a cloud of smoke, he disappeared completely. I landed, changed back to Howard and made my way to find Christina. We decided to visit the Moragas another day and headed back to the Times Building. We spent three wonderful hours together at dinner. If that day was the best day of my life-the one that I had met the true love of my life-the next morning certainly was not.

We had planned to meet bright and early to discuss how best to approach the Moragas especially given the gangland war that just happened. But, when I arrived, I was at first disappointed to find Christina was not there, yet. She had seemed to be the type of person who was very prompt with appointments and, if she felt to any amount the feelings I had for her, I'd have guessed she might show up early. I myself was at least fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. After the first half hour, though, I decided to ask around. Nobody had seen her that morning. Kevin Souza was also curious. If she was sick she called first thing in the morning. And her cell phone went to voice mail without a ring, so it was either off or in a bad zone. Her home phone was much the same, three rings and then an answering machine.

I couldn't take it any longer. I headed out to her apartment. She had given me her address also. Both she and Kevin had my cell number in case she came in while I was gone.

As I drove through the barrio, evidence of the battle abounded throughout. There were numerous pockmarks left from bullets, large chunks of building damage from the giant and yellow paint body outlines and numbers left by CSI. There were people milling about, but only a few were young men or young women with blue 'insignia'. At last, I came to a vacant lot at the end of some district within East Los Angeles. Only, there were cars and motorcycles parked in front and numerous yellow and red-jacketed youth wearing red bandanas. They crowded the front of the lot like an audience of Deadheads at a Grateful Dead concert. Only, what was going on resembled a music concert only if one could imagine the most gruesome punk or heavy metal stage sets.

The Aztec giant, now human sized, stood at the apex of a very small pyramid of rocks, board, and hollow tile blocks. He was saying something in an ancient language and then spoke in Spanish. But most horrifying was what I saw upon the top of the pyramid on a table next to the Aztec.

I ran through the crowd that was the La Raza gang, pushing my way through easily, yelling, "Christina! Christina!"

"No, Howard, stop," she called out. Tied as she was, she looked at me and said, with tears coming from her eyes, down her over her cheeks and nose. "Howard. Please. I had not told you of this because I didn't want you to worry about me."

"Of course I worry." I spoke to her softly, "I love you Christina. I won't let them do this to you."

"No," she replied quickly. "I do this of my own decision. Yesterday, when Avatar came and broke up the fight, I was heartened. Here, finally was somebody who wanted to save the people of the barrio . . . most of the world, they are blinded by the news. They think that everyone here is a gangster. They turn their heads when someone in this rough neighborhood dies. They forget. But, this is my home. They are my people. It is why I became a reporter-to expose the world to mi barrio.

"When I returned home last night, I heard word on the street that the La Raza gang was going to come back and tear up the place. They were going to seek a victim to replenish the blood lost by Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war." Christina breathed and sighed, "I could not let this happen. So I came here."

"They can't do that!" I cried out. "They have no right to take victims for a barbaric cult practice. I . . . I can get Avatar. He'll put them away for good."

"Silence, mortal!" shouted Huitzilopochtli. "This one is pledged to me. Her heart is mine as sacrifice to replenish the life of the god."

"No, mi amor, I have made a promise," she added to me. "And, Avatar is not here. Please, leave. I did not want for you to see or even know of this."

"But, I love you, Christina," I pleaded.

"And I love you, too," she replied. "But, the people of the barrio, they are more important than one love. The sorcerer-god will have my blood. But my heart will always belong to you. Please. Just cherish what we had yesterday."

"Take me in her place, Huitzilopochtli," I said.

"One for another will suffice," the evil god replied, shaking his dagger in the air. "I bind the both of you two that one must provide nourishment to the god."

I turned to look her in the eye with frustration. Why couldn't she just go and let me take care of things? Her stubbornness was going to make things much more difficult. But I really couldn't be angry at her. Love always flooded through me when I looked at her. I whispered, "Christina. I have something to tell you. I . . . I am Howard. But, I am also Avatar."

She looked in my eyes, searched for some time and then nodded to me. "I believe you. You are who you say."

"And you will go?" I asked. She nodded and Huitzilopochtli signaled to his disciples.

They quickly unbound her and then bound me in place on the apex of the pyramid. "Run, Christina," I called out. "Go to a safe place."

Several minutes passed and then the obsidian knife descended quickly and I felt it prick my skin. But then it stopped. And that was certainly not because the blood-thirsty god had stopped his stab. Not only could I feel the pressure from the strength of Huitzilopochtli, but I could see the expression on his face change from one of triumph to one of anger.

"You dare not break your word, mortal," the Aztec god said with seething hatred.

I fought hard to will Avatar away, to leave only Howard again. What had happened? I had not willed the change to Avatar with the first killing stroke. Why had I transformed?

Again Huitzilopochtli raised the knife and again, he brought it down. "A life must be forfeit that the god is nourished and replenished, that the god's wounds heal."

It had been months since I had been in this place, but I recognized it easily: whiteness all around but for myself and the gentleman in the gray suit.

"What's happening?" I asked. "Why am I here again?"

"Your part of the bargain is unfulfilled, Howard," the man said. His eyes, mouth, and cheeks showed compassion and sadness. "I cannot let you die just yet, Howard . . . oh, you can die, certainly, there are things that the powers granted to you cannot protect against. But, physical harm to you is difficult."

"But, Christina . . . If I don't die..." I replied with an urgency verging on pleading.

The man placed a soft hand on my shoulder and sighed, "Could it have been otherwise, you would be able to die in her stead at the hands of that bloodthirsty creature. Alas, there are greater things at stake. At some point in the future, you will have much more free will regarding your death. But, for now, the powers granted to you will do their best to keep you from dying."

"I love Christina," I slumped to the 'ground' even though there seemed to be nothing really that could be called the 'ground'. "If she dies . . . I can't go on living."

The man continued, "Yes, your compassion was one of the criteria for your selection. Surely, you don't think that every human who is on the verge of death has been offered the same choice I gave you. The other criterion was your courage. And that is what will help you to move onward. Your powers grant you abilities beyond that of all of your kind. You must be alive to use them. A hero must be a hero to all not just to one woman."

I knelt feeling unsteady and overcome by a mix of thoughts and emotions. If I had died in that car wreck a few months ago, I would never have met Christina. I would not have saved a hundred lives already. I would not have known the real meaning of loving or of being loved - not in the way I had with her. I would not have put behind bars many criminals including a handful of those that were difficult even for most superheroes to stop, vile people who took advantage of people. I wouldn't truly know what a 'soul mate' was. Who knows how many lives I could save; how good a place I can help the world to be with these powers. Because the choice between life or superhuman powers that I had made then, I could not now sacrifice myself that the love of my life might live. How could I go on with her gone?

"It is unfortunate this has not happened before the vessel was full, Howard. To at least grant you a choice in this matter. I am not without feeling, but my words will not console you. Even the fact that this sacrifice is necessary for bigger things than you can imagine will not console you. I am sorry for your loss and for the woman."

The dagger bit at me once again, and, once again, my body hardened and transformed into the Avatar. Huitzilopochtli screamed again in anger. "As powerful as you are, mortal, you will rue this day that you have reneged on your promise. I know your kind. You say anything to save your woman, and then fail your part of the bargain when she is freed. It shall not be . . ."

The bloodthirsty god quickly raised and then plunged the knife at my chest once again, saying, "for with the effect of the Spell of Binding, if this knife pierces not your heart, it pierces that of your woman."

This time, I did not feel the bite of the obsidian. I saw the dagger sink to the hilt, but no part pierced my skin. A scream broke through the night from the distance. A feminine scream. A death scream. A scream that agonized me like nothing else could. And blood began to cover the hilt of the dagger and the hand of Huitzilopochtli. The iron scent of death flooded my nose. I had just lost the love of his life. A second scream shook the city, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

"You evil, bastard," I muttered. The 'kryptonite' bike locks that held me to the table snapped like toothpicks, the cables that bound my limbs frayed and broke as I flexed my superhuman muscles. "Christina didn't have to die. And it's not because of my powers that she did die. It is because evil men such as you believe that anything is yours for the taking. And you have no consideration for anyone or anything but your own greed and lust for power."

Huitzilopochtli took in the nourishment, healing the wounds that he had suffered from my flying punch yesterday. Blood from Christina replaced the blood lost and renewed his strength fully. I didn't want to think . . . about anything and just did what came to me as natural. I cranked back my fist and connected with an uppercut to my enemy's chin.

As the Aztec god flew into the air and then descended as gravity pulled him, I leaped into the air and struck hard with another blow, sending Huitzilopochtli on a more horizontal arc right into an office building. The power behind the blow knocked the villain straight through brick wall and out of sight within the building.

I looked down the street to where I had sent Christina to flee the scene of death. I just had to find her. Perhaps, she might not be dead. Perhaps I could fly her to a hospital. Perhaps...

Then the area around me, the street, suddenly was overcast by a shadow. No clouds were in the sky, but as I turned to look, I saw that there was no need to look hard. The bloodthirsty god has assumed immense proportions and toward over the barrio. The crumpled remains of the building lay scattered at his feet and he hoisted another at me shouting, "I am the God of Sun and War. You cannot stand against me, mortal."

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!" I shouted at the top of my lungs in pain as I spread my arms and crashed through the building that Huitzilopochtli used as a weapon, breaking it into dust and pebbles. But the pain was not from anything physical. Much worse, it was an indelible pain in my soul. The vile god was standing tall, but clearly had suffered from my two punches. Blood trickled from his face and chest.

Flying past a utility line, I took it in and wrapped it around the sorcerer’s ankles as I dodged hands the size of tanks. From in front of his face, I yanked at the cables and the giant began to fall. Before he even made a tenth of his arc downward, I rushed at him, flying at full speed slamming my fist into his chest.

The bloodthirsty Aztec god thumped soundly against the asphalt and pavement, his head striking against another building as he fell with increased velocity. Through flying dust and debris, I grasped the unconscious evil god by the feet. No longer the size of a high-rise building, Huitzilopochtli was much easier to handle. I spun about twice then catapulted the Aztec sorcerer-god into the air.

I had something far more important to do than to watch as he flew north in a magnificent arc toward the Angeles National Forest and out of sight.

"You are still alive?" I asked as I cradled her in my arms giving her a gentle hug.

"Only for a moment, mi amor," Christina said. "I was dead and visited . . . somewhere. A man in the gray suit said that I would soon be on my way to where my soul shall go. I asked him if I could wait . . . just long enough to see your face again and to tell you . . ."

My eyes watering and tears trickling down my cheeks, I felt far from powerful. I felt far from brave.

"You must go on, Howard," she said, gasping for breath. Her body felt cold from blood loss. She struggled to grasp my hand and hold it firmly as she continued, "The world needs a man like you who knows right from wrong and can do something about it, a man like Avatar. Sea valiente, mi amor - be brave my love . . . I will forever be watching you and waiting patiently to hold you again. Make me proud, mi amor."

The strength waned from Christina's hand, but I kept a firm grip on her. The life waned from her body, and I felt a chill inside myself knowing that she would soon be gone from the Earth. As she slipped away, I whispered in her ear. "I love you, Christina . . . I love you, forever."  










Hay amores que se esfuman con los años
Hay amores que su llama sigue viva
Los inciertos que son rosa y son espina
Y hay amores de los buenos come tú?
Hay amores que se siembran y florecen
Hay amores que terminan en sequía
Los que traen desengaños en la vida
Y hay amores de los buenos como tú?

Mi amor, mi buen amor, mi delirio
No prentendas que te olvide así? no más
Que tu amor fue mar cuando sedienta
Me arrime a tu puerto a descansar
Que tu amor, amor solo el que un día
En tu pecho vida mía, me dio la felicidad
Hay amores que nos llevan al abismo
Hay amores que jamás se nos olvidan
Los que dan toda ternura y fantasía

Son amores de los buenos como tú?
Mi amor, mi buen amor, mi delirio
No pretendas que sea poco mi penar
Que tu amor fue luz de pleno día
Cuando todo era oscuridad
Que tu amor, amor solo el que un dia
En tu pecho, vida mía... me dio la felicidad ...

   Mi Buen Amor by Gloria Estefan