I Grew Up without Windows
Part One: The Room without Windows
It shouldn’t hurt me to be free,
It’s what I really need to pull myself together.
But if it’s so good being free,
Would you mind telling me why
I don’t know what to do with myself?
-Emiliana Torrini, “To Be Free”
Querl cannot remember a time before the room without windows. It isolates him from his home planet; he has always been kept hidden from Colu, just as Colu is hidden from him. When he was small, he didn’t notice so much, but now he is older and his curiosity is getting the better of him. He wants to know everything, but how can he know everything if all he has is a room he can’t even look out of?
First, he asks to go out. His guardians are amused by the notion and they brush him off carelessly from behind their spy mirror. Querl imagines them looking in on him as he stands before the mirror, trying to stand tall and strong. He is eight years old, and much bigger than before. Surely he looks more intimidating now? He stomps his foot.
“It’s not fair! Why can’t I go out?”
His question goes unanswered and there’s nothing Querl hates more than not knowing the answer to a question. It inspires a mean streak in him, targeted at his jailers; a newfound disregard for what they want or how they feel.
There is only one way to get out of the room, and that is through the Sleepnet. Each night, he is required to join the rest of Colu in the sharing of daily experience. If it wasn’t for the Sleepnet, Querl wouldn’t know half as much as he does about the world outside. But it’s not the same as actually being out there. He grows to hate plugging into the Sleepnet and learning about all of the things that happen out there that he is not allowed to experience himself.
One night, however, he catches a glimpse of one of his guardians. He latches onto that stream of consciousness, just on a hunch, and is delighted to find that the man thinks of his work in great detail. At first Querl is disturbed by the man’s attitude towards him, how he views Querl as a childish brat who will never live up to his mother’s genius (and Querl grasps at that word, mother, but it slips away). Mixed in with all the man’s mundane droning however, is the information Querl wants about the lock on his door.
He waits until early in the morning, before his jailers come in for the day, and he makes quick work of the lock. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that most people wouldn’t be able to do something like that, but for him, it’s easy. The door slides open and Querl steps out into the hallway. The inside of this building is not much different from the inside of his room, so he searches for the exit.
When he finds the exit, he is confronted by two tall glass doors that let light from the outside in. He stands before them, almost blinded by the light, and nearly turns away. Maybe the world outside is too big of a place. Maybe he should just go back to his room, where he belongs.
Querl shakes his head and swallows his fear. He’s come this far and he’s not backing down now. He unlocked the doors and pushes them open. A warm breeze blows past him as he leaves the building, ruffling his hair. His eyes adjust to the light and everything he’s been hoping for is suddenly right in front of him, starting with a big, empty parking lot.
In an instant, his curiosity takes over and so does he, sprinting across the parking lot to the street, where people are only just starting to move around. Querl sticks his hands in his pockets and tries to blend in with all the other people as he makes his way down the sidewalk, drinking in the sights.
There seems to be an endless supply of things to see and Querl is overwhelmed. Everywhere he turns, there’s something else. It’s nothing like his room, where everything was familiar. He has longed for the chance to explore all of this, but now he finds himself frozen in place. There’s so much out here and he feels vulnerable. Anything could happen to him out here. It’s not safe.
Wrapping his arms around his middle and trying to regulate his breathing, Querl backs up against the outside wall of a store and stays there, eyes downcast. He needs to get back to his room, but he’s not sure which way is back. He has walked a long way, and nowhere he looks now seems familiar.
“Little boy, are you lost?”
A beautiful voice makes Querl look up. There is a woman standing in front of him. Her hair is golden and falls in ringlets down her back, and her eyes are deep green like Querl’s. She smiles at him reassuringly and kneels down to his level.
“What’s your name, little boy?”
“Querl,” he answers quietly. There’s something about this woman – he can’t quite put his finger on it – that makes him want to trust her. She reminds him of someone. “My name is Querl.”
“What a lovely name.” The woman takes his hands in hers and squeezes them gently. “Where are your parents, Querl?”
“I don’t know,” he says and he quickly pushes that word, parents, away like he always does.
“Where do you live?” the woman asks then. “I can take you home.”
“Can you take me to the Science Halls?” Querl asks her, willing to go back to his prison if it means the woman will take him there and save him from everything that is too much out here. He thought he was brave enough, but he was wrong and now he just wants to feel safe again.
Her arms encircle him and she picks him up and carries him to her cruiser. The ride back to the Science Halls is pleasant and the woman is full of smiles and kind words. But she doesn’t know who Querl is. She would probably be afraid of him if she did. He’s a Brainiac, after all. They keep him locked away so he can’t hurt anyone.
He asks her to let him out a little ways away from the building. She doesn’t need to know who he really is and he doesn’t want to see the look on her face when she realizes who she has helped and treated with such kindness. He thanks her and climbs out of her cruiser, then watches her drive away remorsefully.
Part Two: The World without Walls
Let’s get to work (let’s get to work)
Adventures in the Multiverse
Effervescent Candlelit closeness
Plus I feel like I’ve just
Got the hang of this living thing
-Imogen Heap, “Lifeline”
When Querl is eleven, he leaves the room without windows. A man comes and takes him away from Colu, and the brief view Querl gets in transit to Mr. Brande’s ship is only the second time he’s ever seen what life on Colu actually looks like. But he doesn’t tell Mr. Brande that, because such thoughts are private and have nothing to do with anyone but himself.
The new world that Mr. Brande takes him to is full of people and they’re all different. Earth is a busy place – there is something happening everywhere that Querl looks. To his relief, he has his own room in Mr. Brande’s mansion, and a private laboratory. If Querl had his way, he’d never go out into the world. Things are much safer inside.
However, Mr. Brande does not believe this to be acceptable for a “growing young man.” He encourages Querl to go out with him to dinner parties and conventions, where the old man searches for brilliant scientists and inventors to donate money to for the purpose of “bettering the universe.” He believes Querl to be an excellent judge of whether or not the scientific endeavors brought to him will amount to anything. Sometimes he donates even to the ones that Querl dismisses, because he says that he believes Querl needs to broaden his mind about certain things.
This is not the life that Querl wants to lead. He throws himself passionately into his experiments and research, trying to find something that Mr. Brande will allow him to explore fulltime. These attempts are usually explosive, but Querl would rather blow up a lab than go to a dinner party any day.
Finally, Mr. Brande seems to understand and he offers Querl an alternative option; he can go to the Time Institute to study, and he’ll be able to work alone most of the time there. That is all that Querl wants and he agrees readily.
Even though Mr. Brande has been good to him, Querl is not sad to leave him. The years in the room without windows taught him that people are of no consequence. The only thing that matters is the pursuit of science.
Though he locks himself away from everyone and keeps all interactions to a minimum, Querl no longer feels shut away. He has discovered a world of his own, a world without walls. The world of scientific exploration is made up only of window after window. Querl must open every window he finds.
Part Three: The Room of Closed Doors
I don’t want your future
I don’t need your past
One bright moment is all I ask
-Florence + The Machine, “Leave My Body”
Querl has a new laboratory. It’s all his own and it’s the biggest lab he has ever had. Mr. Brande says that he can do all of the experiments he wants here, on anything that he might be interested in. But Mr. Brande always tries to look on the bright side of things. To Querl, this is another room without windows and he’s being made to live here because everyone knows there’s only one way to get the most out of a Brainiac; keep them locked up and never let them know what it’s like to be free.
This time he rebels, because he can’t bear to be treated that way again. It has been four years since he left Colu, three years since he started working at the Time Institute, and in all that time, his only cage was the one he built for himself.
There are so many people here who want Querl to talk to them and tell them things about himself. They’re all children, and not even very smart children. It’s amusing that they think Querl is no better than they are, and more than a little infuriating. Querl is so much smarter than they are, there’s no way he can ever hope to relate to them.
It’s because he’s a freak. He’s a Brainiac. Even these kids, whom Querl has never met before, know that it’s bad to be a Brainiac. They act like he’s going to turn on them at any moment, and how could he be friends with people who don’t understand?
“Don’t you know who Brainiac was?” Invisible Kid jeers at him.
Querl is calm and contained. He glares at the boy and otherwise leaves the matter alone. If they all want to make fun of him, then let them have their fun. The joke is on them every time Querl is right, and the rest of them are wrong. Let’s see them make fun of the little green man when he’s saving their stupid asses.
It would be fine if Invisible Kid didn’t insist on using his lab. Mr. Brande told Querl that this lab was his, so why does he have to share it with such an annoying human? And Invisible Kid isn’t stupid like the others; he’s smart enough to keep up with Querl in some respects, though he’s not really on Querl’s level.
“You’ve been here a while and you still haven’t made any friends,” Invisible Kid says one day, while Querl is trying to work. “What’s up with that, Brainy? You could just be nice to people. It gets you pretty far sometimes.”
“People don’t matter.” Querl sets his tools aside and turns to look at Invisible Kid. “And my name isn’t Brainy, Invisible Kid.”
“Well, my name isn’t Invisible Kid.” Invisible Kid peers behind Querl to see what he’s working on. “I know you’re Coluan but how are you so sprocking smart? I’m jealous, you know. Well, I’m jealous in some respects. Your sheer intelligence is astounding but your technique has no finesse.”
Querl taps his foot impatiently. “Did you want something?”
“Oh, yeah!” Invisible Kid snaps his fingers, like he’s just remembered what he came here for. “Cham and I are going to Metropolis, just for fun. I thought you might like to come.”
“No,” Querl says flatly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d rather you were on your way now.”
“Come on, Brainy!”
“That’s not my name.”
“Look, even you must get tired of being shut up in here all the time,” Invisible Kid reasons. “Everybody thinks you’re a stick in the mud, but I don’t believe that. There’s a whole world waiting for you outside! Don’t you want to explore it, in the name of science?”
“Absolutely not,” says Querl. He turns his back on the other boy and goes back to his experiment. “Enjoy your outing. Please don’t pester me with this sort of foolishness anymore.”
“Fine. Can’t say I didn’t try.”
The door opens for Invisible Kid and then slides shut with a sound like finality.
Part Four: The Skeletons in the Closet
You’re from a whole other world
A different dimension
You open my eyes
And I’m ready to go, lead me into the light
-Katy Perry, “E.T.”
Invisible Kid does not stop bothering Querl. At some point, Querl decides they’re locked in a battle of who’s smarter than who (which is just ridiculous, really), and he reacts to Invisible Kid accordingly. Things don’t stay that way. A tentative friendship eventually builds between them. The friendlier they are with each other, the more Querl thinks that this is what Invisible Kid wanted all along.
“When I was a kid, my parents were never around,” Invisible Kid – Lyle – tells Querl one time when they’re working in the lab together. “I always kind of hated them for that. They could have been there, you know? They just decided not to be. I wasn’t important enough.”
Querl absently sips tea that Lyle prepared for them and listens but doesn’t say much. There are things he could say, but what’s the point?
“You feel like that sometimes, don’t you?” Lyle asks him suddenly, peering at him over the top of his coffee cup. “You feel like you’re not good enough. You can tell me about it, Brainy.”
“I could tell you about it but it wouldn’t change things.” Querl shrugs his shoulders. “Maybe you would understand, but then what? You’d treat me differently, like knowing something intimate about me somehow changes how you should interact with me. It’s not important, anyway.”
The other boy moves a little closer to him so that their sides are barely touching. “I think it’s important. Look, I know your mom hurt you. I’m sorry I wasn’t really there for you when that happened. I just want you to know that you can tell me about all those skeletons in your closet. It won’t change how I feel about you.”
A silly thought comes into Querl’s head. He wants to kiss Lyle. Or better yet, he wants Lyle to kiss him, so it’s not his responsibility.
He laughs softly and turns away from his friend. “I appreciate the thought, I really do. But those things are my burden to bear, not yours. Just leave it alone, Lyle. Whether or not you know what my life was like doesn’t change how I feel about you either.”
The kiss takes him by surprise. One minute Lyle is just looking at him as though trying to decide what to say, and the next minute the boy’s lips are pressed against Querl’s. He doesn’t know what to do at first, but then he gives in and lets his lips part like an opening window.
Part Five: Throwing Windows Open
I wandered through fiction
To look for the truth
Buried beneath all the lies
And I stood at a distance
To feel who you are
Hiding myself in your eyes
-Goo Goo Dolls, “Hold On”
The first time they have sex, Querl nearly changes his mind several times before anything actually happens. He and Lyle are reclining comfortably in Lyle’s bed, and Lyle is draped over top of Querl, pushing him back against the pillows.
At first they just kiss, and Querl doesn’t mind that, but then Lyle moves down from his lips and to kiss along the length of Querl’s neck, it sends nervous chills down his spine. He sits up, pushing Lyle away. Lyle doesn’t say anything. He lies next to Querl and waits.
This happens two more times, and by the third time, Lyle is exasperated. He rolls off of Querl and looks him in the eyes.
“If you’re not ready for this, we can wait,” the human tells him gently. “But I think you’re just scared and you’re not going to get over that fear until you just give in and try this. I would never hurt you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Querl swallows hard and looks away from Lyle. “It’s not that. I trust you with my life. It’s just that this is… a really big deal for me.”
Of course it’s a big deal for him. He’s still a virgin, after all, though most of his teammates (Lyle included) lost their virginity years ago. He’s probably the only boy in the Legion who hasn’t taken that step.
“Okay, but it’s like this,” Lyle says. “This is like a window that you’ve never opened. You need to just open that window and let the experience in; you know what I’m saying?”
Actually, that does make perfect sense to Querl. All the windows and doors that he has managed to open since joining the Legion were scary at first. This is just one more thing to try, and who better to try it with.
“Let’s try one more time,” he suggests.
He throws that window wide open, and finds he’s never been happier to lose something.
Part Six: The Room with a View
You’re standing on the edge of something
Tell me I was right to car
Well, you know that I’m in love with you
Stepping out into the thin air
-Aqualung, “Thin Air”
It was very nice of Mr. Brande to pay for the Legion to spend their break at this resort, Querl thinks lazily as he lies in bed and watches sunlight slowly creeping under the curtains covering the huge hotel room window. Beside him, Lyle is just starting to stir. Querl has been awake for a couple of hours just thinking about things.
No one questioned why Lyle and Querl chose to share a room, let alone a honeymoon suite. Livewire was a little pissed that Ultra Boy and Apparition got the only other one available, but Saturn Girl had promised to make it up to him. It secretly delighted Querl to have one of the best rooms, one of the rooms meant for serious relationships.
“Call room service and order coffee,” Lyle moans, still half asleep. He rolls over and snuggles close to Querl. “Hey babe,” he smiles against Querl’s skin. “How long have you been awake?”
“A while,” Querl answers contentedly. “We should get up.”
Lyle leans over him and kisses him briefly on the lips before taking Querl’s suggestion and climbing out of bed. Querl follows suit reluctantly and dresses in the casual clothes that one is supposed to wear when on vacation.
When they are both fully clothed, Querl goes to the window and throws open the curtains. Light floods the room and Querl can’t see anything for a moment. Then his eyes adjust and he is greeted with a view of the ocean that could not be any more perfect.
“I love this window but we definitely have to close the curtains if we want to have any fun,” Lyle says, coming up behind Querl. He wraps his arms around Querl and kisses him on the cheek. “People could see everything we do if they happened to look up.”
“And that would truly be terrible,” says Querl with a smirk. “Lyle, privacy doesn’t really matter to me, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.” His jailers on Colu watched every moment of his life; he doesn’t care now about random strangers accidentally seeing him having sex.
Lyle snorts in amusement. “Okay, but humor me on this one. You don’t really want to leave the curtains open when we’re making love, do you?”
Querl considers this for a moment. “I grew up without windows.”
“Yeah?” Lyle lets go, but then gently turns Querl to look at him. “Hey, B? What does that mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” Querl says honestly. “You’ve always wanted to know about what life was like for me before Mr. Brande found me, so I’m telling you. There weren’t any windows.”
He can tell that Lyle doesn’t quite understand but that doesn’t matter. One day, maybe he’ll explain it. For now it’s good enough that he has said it at all.