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“You won't save yourself that easily, Foxman!”
I had a dozen pairs of designer jeans trying to choke the life out of me and the crudely welded neckpiece of my brand-new powered armor was creaking under the strain. I thought about flaming them with the rockets in my boots, but my Foxman suit was only
A seam slipped between my neckpiece and my helmet, putting sudden pressure on my carotid artery. Was this really how my short career as a masked hero was going to end? Killed by Michael Damian, my former best friend? Only a few months ago he'd been helping me build a rocket-propelled skateboard in our secret clubhouse. But that was before the Hero Bomb changed the whole worldÂ â¦
As my vision darkened I desperately tried to think of some way to transform the horrific Haberdasher back into my old pal.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
AndÂ â¦ I glared at the words on the screen. That version of the story wouldn't do at allÂ â¦
“No. Denmother, cut that last bit. It makes me sound too weak. If I'm going to do this whole stupid memoir thing, I might as well brag myself up.”
A smooth mechanical voice responded. “I think vulnerability might make you seem more human, sir. More relatable.”
Denmother is the voice in my headÂ â¦ literally. I have speakers surgically implanted in my skull so that I can hear her no matter what. She, or rather,
, is the AI that runs my powered suit, my home, and my life.
“You're a bodiless computer, what do you know from human?”
“Per standing order one-one-three-four, I reviewed all the appropriate literature when you told me you were embarking on a new project. Vulnerability as a means of building sympathy for a character who might otherwise come across as narcissistic or negative is narrative one-oh-one. Also, since this venture is
to be in lieu of cognitive therapy and other brain-reprogramming techniques, I think that lying might have a negative impact on your prognosis, sir.”
I paused. I've been having some problems latelyÂ â¦ and not so lately. But I'm finally trying to do something about themâthanks in part to my new sidekick, Meerkat. Unfortunately, the best ways to put your head right involve psychiatric professionals and talking therapy, or meditation.
Shrinks are a nonstarter. If I spill my guts to anybody who doesn't have the right security clearances, then OSIRISâthe delightful folks who regulate the whole masked hero worldâwill ban me for good. And, the kind of shrink that comes with an OSIRIS seal of approval also comes with special reporting requirements under the Franklin Act on Metahuman Activities. Since I can't afford to have the messier stuff in my head get back to OSIRISâthat way leads to banning too, or worse thingsâI'm out of luck on the psychiatric front.
So, I've decided that I'll guide my own damned meditation and do something like talking therapy at the same time by writing my autobiography. Well, dictating it anyway.
“Oh, all right. I still don't think I
to reprogram my brain, but I suppose if I'm going to make the effort, I should optimize the new code I'm imposing on my frontal lobes. Let's try again, only a step further back in time. Dim the lights and hold all my calls, we're going for a tour of my fundamental neuroses and the bomb that changed the world.”
I really didn't want to do this. Maybe if I pretended it was a screenplay? A major motion picture all about the fabulous Foxman? Yeah. Let's go with that. Foxman's story, not Rand's, notÂ â¦ mine. That would be easier, like talking about things that happened to someone else.
Establishing shot: Close in. A darkly handsome youth crouches on a skateboard in the classic pose coming off a jump, one hand lightly touching the deck which is tilted steeply back. The nighttime background is hard to read, but gives the impression he's hundreds of feet in the air. His face wears an expression composed of equal parts terror and wonder. His mouth is open as though he is screaming, but all is silence.
Focus on the skateboard: It's five times thicker than it ought to be and there's a bright point of nearly invisible flame at the oddly blunt tail. A white vapor trail leads back and down.
Freeze. Shift to bullet time for a fast tracking shot following that trail. It leads downward at a forty-five degree angle to the steel support of a railroad bridgeâthe ramp. Turn. Zip back along the rough rusty riveted surface to a sharp bend where it leads onto the top of a speeding train. From there it moves the length of a car. Then, the camera drops between two cars and plummets to the rails. The vapor trail continues along the right-hand rail toward shore.
Pan back to the boy and his board. This time the background is clearâMinneapolis, with the boy hanging in space high above the ice-rimmed Mississippi River. The rocket has cut out. He seems perfectly balanced in the air for one more momentÂ â¦ Then, gravity reaches up and takes him. As he starts to fall, sound comes in normally.
Before he can finish speaking, an enormous bright flare starts below the packed deck of the freeway bridge that has come into focus behind him. It looks like a nuke going off, only with strange arabesques of black light, and neon-green edgesâthe Hero Bomb. For a moment we can see his bones as shadows against the light shining through him, then the noise of the explosion engulfs the scene and the boy begins the long fall to icy black water below.
I tell myself it's not working dramatically, that my choice to shift gears has nothing to do with the way my heart is filling with lead. I tell myself I'm no good at this screenplay garbage. That, if it ever makes it to the big screen, the ghostwriter will deal with making it cinematic. That I'm going to focus on what happened. I'm good at lying to myself. So very good at it that I almost believe my own nonsense. I turn my thoughts to the idea of a ghostwriter. That's safe. My breath comes easier. Yes.
What? You didn't think I was going to let this go out into the world in the rough, did you? I've got a reputation to maintain, or the tattered remnants of one anyway. If it ever leaves the server it'll do so after some serious massaging by someone with some major literary credâwriters are cheap and plentiful, even the award-winning ones. Yes, much safer ground. Time to begin again.
So: Rocket board. Bridge. Train. Falling to my doom. The bomb.
That's more or less how it happened. I mean, the Hero Bomb might have actually gone off a couple minutes earlier, but moving it up into the moment makes for more drama. It makes it more real than reality, right?
Bone-numbing impact that drives the breath from my lungs. Icy black water closing over my head. Panic!
The voice in my head whispers.
“What's that, Denmother?”
“Don't forget the effect of your powers on the rocket, sir. Also, your breathing and heart rate suggest extreme distress. Perhaps, if you put on your armor?”
“The rocket? Yes, butÂ â¦ Oh, all right. I'll put that in too.” Damned AI, keeping me on taskÂ â¦ keeping me honestÂ â¦ saving my soul. “You're probably right about the armor. Rand is tooÂ â¦ vulnerable and squishy and close to the problem. Let's let Foxman handle it.”
I spread my arms as I stepped up onto the armor platform. Nothing happened. Right. Breathalyzer. I've been clean and sober for over a year, but what OSIRIS wants OSIRIS gets. After I finished breathing into the tube, there was brief interlude with automated power tools as I slipped out of myself and into something a bit more comfortableÂ â¦ red-and-white powered assault armor with a grinning fox mask and fluffy-looking tail, all rendered in a poly-ceramic composite of my own invention.
Now, where were we? Right. Without the Hero Bomb and the powers it gave me, I could never have survived the fall. Even if I had, I'd probably have gone hypothermic and drowned before I could swim ashore. On the other hand, the rocket on my skateboard would never have been half so effective, and I'd have gotten off the track long before meeting the train. That would have precluded the need to use the bridge strut like a jump. But the point is still the bomb and the powers it gave me. No, not
“All right, all right, I'll go back a bit further.” This
supposed to be therapy, which demands honesty. Perhaps if I went with something earlier, something saferÂ â¦
It maybe started with my sixteenth birthday present from my dadâArchibald Hammer of Foxhammer IndustriesâGod, how I hated that car.
My relationship with my father wasÂ â¦ difficult, what with him dumping my mother and using a whole herd of his fancy corporate lawyers to prevent her from getting so much as a penny in the divorce. He thought he'd end up with me too, but when the judge asked who I wanted to live with, I chose Mom. I think that might have been the first time in his whole life my dad lost out on something he wantedâbillionaires rarely do.
The carâa brand-new '88 Corvetteâwas his latest attempt to buy me back, and I'd sworn never to drive it. Which is why I was messing around with rockets and skateboards. A guy's got to get around somehow. Besides, gutting that shiny new engine for parts to build the rocket felt like the perfect kick in the balls for the old man. And so it wentÂ â¦
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“Rand, when are you going to schedule your driver's test?” My mother knocked on the locked door of my room in our little apartment. “It's been more than a month. Think of all the things you could do if you could driveâ¦”
“I've almost got the Triumph running!” I glanced guiltily at the half-rebuilt carburetor sitting on the corner of the worktable I'd welded together from wheel rims and an old security doorâbut I'd long since lost interest in the project and had started quietly gutting it for parts along with the 'vette.
could rebuild a car. “I want to take it in my own car.”