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A Hero Named
If you ever want to be stared at, walk into a police precinct holding a gang member in each hand suspended only by their sweatshirts. That’s what I did. It really got everyone’s attention, especially with them kicking and screaming like they did.
“Get this guy away from me! Please!” one of them shouted.
To his credit, Schrader was all cop. “Shaddup!” he barked. “Or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Then to me, calm as could be, “Evenin’.” He’s seen this before, I thought.
I only nodded. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t know how closely the cybersuit would mimic my voice. I didn’t need Schrader recognizing me.
Schrader inclined his head to my right. “If you would please place those fine young men in the holding room until Officer Dewey can process them, I would be most obliged.” Schrader turned and yelled through an open doorway to his left. “Dewey! Processing!” I nodded again and walked them to the holding room. They seemed relieved to be let go and walked into the room rubbing their chests and looking back at me with grimaces more of embarrassment than pain.
I turned and regarded the lobby. A dozen sets of eyes were on me. Numerous cops and suspects stood near the double doors that led to the holding cells. Two or three drunks regarded me with eyes half closed by booze. Two young people, probably students, simply stared. A woman and her daughter slowly moved down the bench away from me. Faces began to light up with golden crosshairs as MAC began target acquisition. Not necessary, I whispered out of the side of my mouth. The crosshairs disappeared. Protocol terminated by user, MAC said quietly. He sounded….hurt.
Schrader said, ‘Normally, Dewey fills out the HC-A94 Form, but tonight I think I’ll do it. I like to do the new ones myself.” With a lick of his fingertips and a practiced flourish he produced a yellow sheet of paper from behind his desk. Grabbing a pen from his shirt, Schrader beckoned me over with a polite smile, a raise of his eyebrows, and a crisp click of the pen. My heavy steps were the only sound in the room as I walked – no, clanked – over to him. I put the purse on the desk. Schrader spoke to the yellow fluorescents above him. “Okay, people, back to work!” Slowly, life in the precinct returned to normal, but everyone kept at least one eye on me.
As he began filling out the form, Schrader said, “You’re new. You know how I know? Because I keep track of all the capes that come in here. Keep’em all in that little book over there to my left. You’ve never been here before. Oh, you might be from Atlas or the Row, but I don’t think so. We get a lot of new Heroes in Galaxy City, and after three years on the desk you get a feel for these types of things. You’re new. I’m sure of it. Am I right?” As I debated whether to answer, MAC said, Voice modulator enabled. Would you like to disguise your voice, Steve? “Yes,” I whispered. MAC said, Voice modulator enabled. Voiceprint transmog at twenty-five percent.
“Not exactly,” I said. I sounded different, like an older, more confident version of myself. The voice was full of calm energy. It sounded, well, heroic – in an electronic sort of way.
“Really?” said Schrader. If he was surprised he didn’t show it. “Well, you do have the chevron. And it did get you in here. You affiliated with GCPD? You can’t just walk in if our system doesn’t recognize you. But then you must have known that.”
No, I’ve just been walking into GCPD stations for the last 15 years.
Schrader continued. “This’ll be easy. Ever fill out one of these before?”
Sure. Hundreds, I wanted to say. “Not exactly,” I said.
“Not exactly,” Schrader repeated. He was getting skeptical. “This is the form HeroCorps uses to record your arrest and credit you the appropriate Prestige. I’ve already written in half the info. Just a couple of questions. I’m assuming you want to make a citizen’s arrest, yes?”
“Hero registration number, please.”
I didn’t have a HeroReg number because I wasn’t a real hero! Thinking fast, I stammered, “I --, I don’t remember it.” Pure genius.
Schrader seemed undeterred. He regarded me with the same politeness, but there was a test in his voice. “No problem. Just scan your ‘port chip.” He gestured to a small HeroCorps terminal in the corner. I could have kicked myself. The ‘port chip is the universal locater HeroCorps uses to lock onto and teleport Heroes away from lethal danger. I couldn’t scan it because I didn’t have one. I didn’t have one because I wasn’t registered with HeroCorps. I wasn’t registered with HeroCorps because I wasn’t a real hero.
I must have hesitated, because Schrader said, “Don’t you have one?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“And you don’t because you’re new, right?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
Schrader studied me for a moment, thoroughly satisfied with himself. Then he said, “Okay. We’ll do it together.”
“Thank you,” I replied, genuinely relieved.
“Don’t mention it. Everybody has a first time. And it’s the least I can do. After all, you brought in the two knuckleheads who took that woman’s purse.”
I turned and looked at the woman and daughter who had scooted away from me. She was talking to her little girl and didn’t see me. I watched them for a moment. I have a little girl, too, I thought. What am I doing?
When I turned back, Schrader was studying the cybersuit. “Nice armor. I see a lot of Heroes in this job, you know. Lots of armored guys. Roadblock. Steel Shield. American Knight. Sir Defendalot. I’ve never seen anything like you. This armor of yours, it’s different, isn’t it? I spent four years as a field armorer in the Marines and I’ve never seen anything like this. You our new secret weapon or something?”
“Not exactly,” Schrader repeated to himself. Then he leaned closer. “It’s humming. Is it powered by something? An ancient magic amulet? An alien power source? Little tiny robot hamsters?”
“No. It’s an alloy. It’s cybernetic. It’s designed for mob control.”
“Very nice. How does it work?”
“I’m not sure I can answer --.”
“Top secret, huh? Can’t tell me or you’ll have to kill me, right?”
“No, uh, it’s just --.”
“Ah, I’m just kidding you. You don’t have to tell me.”
“It’s hard to explain. I’m basically a one man police force.”
“Nice,” Schrader nodded. “A cybernetic police force of one. A cyber force.”
“Something like that. Look, can we get back to this?”
Turning back to the form, Schrader said, “Name of arresting party. That’s you.”
“Can we skip that one?”
“Do I have to give a name?”
“It is customary for the arresting party to give a name, yeah.”
“Can’t I do an anonymous arrest or something?”
“Sure, you could, but you’d be wasting good Prestige credits.” Schrader stole a look at the two Hellions. “Why go to the trouble of bringing those guys in here if you don’t want credit for it? That’s not very heroic, at least not these days. Dewey! Get that goofball a tissue. He’s still crying!” Schrader fixed a hard look at me. “And you’re not anonymous anymore, pal. You are officially in the game.”
I realized this was true. “I can’t be in the game. I think this was a mistake.”
Suddenly, the whole charade began to play itself out in front of me and I was filled with the urgent need to get out of there. I began to panic. I was a cop, not some nutcase in a suit! This isn’t the way I imagined it, jumping from buildings and getting shot at over a purse! What was I thinking? That I was some kind of hero? Some kind of world-changer? I must have been insane to imagine I could do this. Fight for the little guy? I couldn’t. That was clear now. This wasn’t me. I wanted out and I wanted out now.
“Look,” I said. “I need to get going. I can’t do this right now. Just book them on petty theft and return the purse to the woman, okay? I --, I have to go.”
“Go? What do you mean, go?” said Schrader. “Don’t you want credit for the arrest?”
“No,” I said, starting to move toward the door.
Schrader called after me. “Well at least return the purse yourself.”
That made me stop. The lobby stopped, too.
Schrader stood with the purse in his hand. “Look,” he said, and I could tell from his face he was being serious. “This Hero stuff. It ain’t for everybody. I seen it all, right from this desk. I know this. If you decide to hang up the armored boots, that’s up to you. There’s a lot of scary crap in this town. But let me tell you something. Tonight you did a good thing. Whatever else you may choose, tonight you made a difference. And I think you deserve to be the one who returns the purse.”
He was right. I walked over and took the purse. I walked up to the woman, and noticed for the first time her black eye and tearstained mascara. “Ma’am, I believe this belongs to you.”
“Yes. Thank you,” she said, offering a tired smile.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get there before they took it.”
“Could have been worse, I guess,” she said.
Her daughter spoke in a clear, intelligent voice, like Cassidy. “Are you a Hero?” I looked down at her, her round face tinted amber by the night filters in my blast shield, and suddenly I felt as scared and vulnerable as the day my father died, as I did less than an hour ago when I was shot at by Hellions, as I did the night my Cassidy was born. “No, miss,” I said. “I’m just a man.”
“Darn it,” she said. “I wanted to tell all my friends I met a Hero.”
Then it hit me. Why was I doing this? Why did I steal top secret technology from the City? What made me put on that suit, power up that helmet? Why did I go up on that roof? For Cassidy. For Cassidy and everyone like her. For this woman. For her daughter. For those students. So they might feel safe for once in their lives. So they could say something good actually happened to them. So they could survive long enough to get out of this city and go someplace where plasma bombs don’t fall from the sky and pseudo-soldiers don’t terrorize decent people on street corners, a place where mutant thugs don’t shoot drugs made by madmen and gangs don’t exist, much less burn everything they get their hands on. For them.
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Clara,” she answered.
“Clara, tonight you met your first Hero.”
Her eyes lit up and her smiling face shined like gold in my blast shield. “Really?”
“Really.” And I walked toward the doors and the Galaxy City night, knowing and accepting all that was going to come to pass. And I heard Clara behind me tell her mother, “But I don’t know his name. What do I tell my friends?”
I turned. “Tell them you met Cyberforce,” I said.
There was a flash of light. One of the students was holding up her cell phone. “Cyberforce,” she said. “Cool.”
“Bye, Cyberforce,” said Clara as I walked out of the precinct and into the night.
Behind me I heard the click of Schrader’s pen.