While Binny appreciated Katniss’ apology from the previous night, she woke up determined to make some changes in the way she conducted herself. Letting Katniss get her in trouble was the thing that bothered Binny the least about the last few days.
While Binny had been wowed by all the cool things that you could do in the Stacks, somewhere in the pit of her stomach they felt like they had been designed to distract.
The Stacks were like a picture where Binny could only see the edges. Michel’s unhappiness. Katniss’ disaffected attitude. The Keepers’ ban on creative acts in the Stacks. And of course, what happened to characters in the Stacks when people in the real world stopped reading their books, all painted this picture that Binny couldn’t quite understand.
Mostly though, Binny just had a feeling. All this freedom. All this possibility. Binny was able to visit in any book, every book, and experience everything. But it all felt so shallow – so two-dimensional, so pointless? Something wasn’t right. And Binny needed someone she could trust. Someone she could talk to.
Effectively, Binny saw her parents pretty much every day. But in here, in the Stacks, she never saw them. Katniss had said it would be impossible to find them. But every time she wanted to find a book, the Stacks provided. Why was finding people any different than finding a book?
Binny had to admit. She wanted to talk to her parents. She wanted to see how they felt. They would be just as new to the Stacks as she was. Certainly they would have an opinion, perspective. At the very least they would listen.
But if Binny couldn’t just hope to see them, how would she find them? Perhaps a special request? Something told Binny that was out of the question. Places? Yes. People? Not so much. Binny thought as she dressed, and walked to work with the girls.
And then, with just a couple of minutes before it was time for Binny to pop back into her book, the outline of an idea formed. While Binny couldn’t special request a person, she could special request a place. And what if Binny requested a place where one of her parents would likely be?
Binny’s mother might not be the right candidate. She was always so busy working, Binny had no real idea what fictional place she might want to visit. But her father, he was another matter. Somewhere superhero related of course. But that presented other problems. Superheroes were found in comic books and movies, not necessarily in books.
“Hey, quick question,” Binny asked Hermione and Arya.
“Hurry, I’m about to go in,” Hermione said.
“So, this place, the Stacks, all of us come from books, right?”
Hermione looked impatient.
“So do comic books count?” Binny asked.
Hermione’s expression went from impatient to disgusted. “Comic books?”
“I’ve seen some good ones with me in them.” Arya said.
“So they count?” Binny said excitedly.
“They certainly do not,” Hermione harrumphed.
“We can read them here, but they don’t count. Maybe there’s some other place where they go, but the characters from comics don’t come here.” Arya said.
“Oh.” Binny sighed.
“What could you possibly want with the cardboard cutout characters from those anyway?” The questions was clearly rhetorical as after Hermione said it, she promptly popped into The Half-Blood Prince.
“Don’t mind her. I like comic books. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. I for one would love to spend some time in Frank Miller’s Gotham. I’m pretty sure I could be the new Robin. But unless that version gets a novelization, I don’t think it’s in the cards.” Arya popped into her book as well.
Binny thought harder. Maybe there was superhero fiction? Binny’s father Jay Jordan was positively obsessed with superheroes. Knowing how her own book ended that made a certain type of sense now. But if there was a place where Jay could hang out with superheroes, or at least be in their world, Binny imagined her father would be spending all his spare time there.
Binny could feel her book pulling her in. She took one last glance at the nearby shelf and spotted a red spine. A familiar face, with a strong chin, and a black curl of hair across his forehead appeared on the top. A large “S” was emblazoned on his chest. And under the bust was the word “Superman”. Under that in smaller letters was the last name of the author – “Lowther”.
And finally, at the bottom of the spine, in the smallest letters of all, “Random House”. The book looked old. Binny didn’t know a huge amount about book publishing, but she did know this, Random House published books, not comic books. Sitting on the shelf in front of her was her answer – a non-comic-book about superheroes. If her dad was anywhere, he’d be in there. And with that realization, Binny Jordan disappeared back into the universe of the Madrona Heroes, completely unaware of the Stacks’ very existence.
In an instant, Binny was back. At least it seemed like an instant. But of course, Binny had been in her book the entire day. Before she could even feel her feet on the floor of the Library back in the Stacks, Binny was turning her head to find the book she’d seen that morning. Red spine. Guy with an ‘S’ on his chest. There it was. Waiting dutifully.
“I don’t think I’ve read that one.” Hermione watched Binny take the book from the shelf.
Binny turned, slightly startled. People had a funny way of just appearing out of nowhere, or rather out of books, at the end of the work day in the Library. “Oh. Hi Hermione. It’s Superman.”
Arya peered over her shoulder as Hermione examined the volume, scanning the first few pages. “You Americans sure do love your superheroes.”
“Well, it’s not like you’re not a superhero too you know,” Binny responded without thinking.
“I’m what?” Hermione closed the book with a louder than expected clap.
Binny realized she may have crossed a line reducing Hermione to being just a superhero. Binny had the feeling that wasn’t exactly a genre that was put on a pedestal here in the Stacks. “Don’t get me wrong, an awesome superhero, but a superhero nonetheless.”
Hermione softened a little. “How do you mean?”
“Well, what is a superhero? It’s basically someone who has special powers, uses them for good, and fights other people with special powers who use theirs for evil.” Binny tried her best to sound convincing.
“She’s got a point,” Katniss chimed in.
“Well, I’m not the hero of my story. At least not the main one anyway,” Hermione said.
“My mom always said you should have been,” Binny said.
“Well your mother’s opinion doesn’t quite count, does it. Let’s get going.” Hermione handed the red volume back to Binny.
“If you guys don’t mind –”
“Let me guess.” Hermione interrupted Binny. “You want to stay back and read your new book.”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Do you promise not to break any more rules and get us all in trouble again?”
Binny put her hand on the volume as if she was in court. “I swear.”
Binny hadn’t realized that Clark’s parents original names had been Eben and Sarah. Binny finished The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther in record time. At some point someone must have decided that Jonathan and Martha sounded better.
Binny wondered, were Eben and Sarah and Jonathan and Martha walking around the Stacks? Or were Jonathan and Martha walking around knowing that their names had at one point been Eben and Sarah? It was kind of confusing, and the kind of mystery that was probably best saved for another time. After all, she was looking for her own father. Not Superman’s.
That Binny’s father Jay would be somewhere in a superhero-related location was not in question. Binny had also done a little research on one of the smaller screens available in the Library. It amazed Binny that there was access to the internet here in the Stacks. It was like this portal to the real world. The world that the readers lived in. But it was only one way.
Binny could read or view anything, but she couldn’t write or post or communicate with anyone via the network. With so much literature coming in forms other than traditional books, there was no choice but to go with the times. Arya had been the most excited to show Binny the internet. Katniss and Hermione both said they’d long since sworn off looking at it, but both would only give vague reasons as to why.
Lucky for Binny, the internet wasn’t a foreign concept to her. In her book she spent a lot of time watching videos. Her author had endowed her with some good online sleuthing skills and they served her well now.
Just as Binny had suspected, The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther was the very first novelization of a comic book superhero. The beginning-ness of it all would appeal to her father. And the internet confirmed that it was George Lowther who created many of the details that everyone knew of Superman – and not Superman’s original creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Binny wondered. If her own author was effectively her real father, then did Superman have three fathers? George, Jerry, and Joe?
Binny thought long and hard. Her intuition was telling her that this was the book. It fit. It was the first superhero book. It featured the most powerful superhero of them all. The book, the characters, and the places described in the book would be like shrines to her father. Holy places. But where exactly in the book should she look. There were really only two choices. Krypton or Kansas.
At first Binny had worried that there would be countless instances of Krypton from this particular book, but apparently it wasn’t a frequently trafficked location by the residents of the Stacks. As such, there was only one instance. Binny took that as a sign that she was on the right track and went in.
The enormous structure was a blaze of light. Binny remembered in the book that the author had said it was Krypton’s Temple of Wisdom. Binny had chosen Krypton as her special request as it was Superman’s birthplace – really the beginning of all superheroes as it were. Binny was absolutely sure her father would be here.
But as she walked under the many chandeliers, their light projected through a dome and exploding into countless shards of brilliant light throughout the great hall, Binny was starting to have second thoughts. Binny’s footsteps echoed against all the stone and glass. Binny scoured the hall, her gaze passing over the dais fit to hold a hundred of Krypton’s greatest leaders. It sat empty. This was where Krypton’s rulers had ignored Jor-El’s warnings that the planet was about to explode.
Suddenly, Binny heard footfalls. Someone running behind her. Binny spun and saw a young woman rushing towards her. The woman was in a hurry.
“Come. Hurry. We don’t have much time.” The woman motioned for Binny to follow her.
Not sure what else to do, and finding no one but the woman in the great hall, Binny followed.
“Hey. I’m Janet. Sorry for the rush,” The woman introduced herself.
“I’m Binny.” Binny huffed as she ran. “Why are we running?”
“There’s not much time if you want to see it. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to spend a huge amount of time here as it always ends the same way.” The woman explained.
Binny trailed Janet through the streets of the Kryptonian city. They gleamed under her as she ran. Binny made a mental note to be careful not to slip. Everything looked so shiny.
As the streets got narrower, it seemed like they were getting closer to Janet’s target, and then they had arrived. A heavy metal door with intricate carvings and textures whooshed open silently as Janet and Binny approached.
“We’re here!” Janet tried to catch her breath.
“Where exactly is here?” Binny did her best not to sound rude or ungrateful.
“The house of El. This and the Great Hall are really the only sites to see. Well at least in this version of Krypton.”
“The house of El?” Binny asked.
“Jor-El’s house? Superman’s father?”
“Right. Of course.” Binny tried to remember her Superman mythology, oft-repeated by her father.
“Follow me.” Janet walked into the home.
It was larger than Binny had suspected from seeing it from outside. After a short hallway, Binny and Janet ended up in a large room. A glass ceiling, high above them, similar to what Binny had seen in the Great Hall, but much much smaller covered the room and let in light. In the middle of the room was a spaceship. But small. It was the model Superman’s father was building.
“Cool huh?” Janet had a glint in her eye.
“Well, it would be cooler if it would fit more than a baby.”
“Yeah. But then they all would have gone to Earth and that would have been a totally different story. Sort of an alien invasion thing, instead of a superhero thing.” Janet mused. And then almost as an afterthought Janet added, “And of course, if it were bigger, then I could hitch a ride.” Janet winked.
“You do that often? Hitch rides in spaceships.”
“It’s kind of my thing. That and being in places where the clock is ticking on my survival.”
Binny nodded unsure of just how to respond.
Thunder. Binny heard it in the distance. Then again. Louder.
“And that’s our cue.”
A tall cabinet filled with tubes and measuring glasses started to shake.
“It’s happening. Krypton is doing its thing – turning into millions and millions of molten fragments.” Janet’s eyes sparkled at the prospect of Krypton’s terrible and beautiful destruction.
“Of course, I can’t believe I forgot. It’s gonna explode!”
“That’s what Krypton does. Unfortunately, there’s no ship here for us to stow away on, so we’ve gotta make a run for it.”
Binny didn’t need any more encouragement. She took the initiative and ran. Binny ran so quickly, it was soon clear she’d lose Janet if she didn’t slow down.
“You go without me.” I want to see the finish in the Great Hall. The shattering ceiling is always quite the sight.”
“But you’ll…” Binny caught herself before she finished the sentence. Janet would die, but she’d be back good as new the next day. Binny wasn’t quite ready to experience what counted as an extreme sport in the Stacks no matter how many assurances she heard that she’d be just fine the next day. “You sure you’ll be okay?”
“Go, go on. Or you won’t get out,” Janet urged Binny.
“OK. Thanks.” Binny turned and tried to quell the guilt she felt in her heart as she ran. She repeated to herself over and over, “The rules are different here. The rules are different here.”
She didn’t stop even as she heard the distant cracks of concrete rending itself from the earth in pieces. Binny made it to the exit just in time. The passage between the Stacks and George Lowther’s vision of Krypton closed behind her but for a couple of seconds Binny could still hear the tinkling of broken glass like rain over the thunderous crashes of the planet tearing itself apart.
Binny hoped Janet found what she was looking for. As for what Binny was looking for, she would have to keep looking.