Too Late the Hero
Gareth D. Jones
"Hold all my calls and reschedule all my afternoon appointments," Martin instructed his distressingly unattractive secretary through the deskcom.
"Yes, Mr. Manner," her disembodied voice filtered back.
Martin flicked the audio switch off and pushed a second switch that operated the ‘remote door-locking mechanism’, as it was termed in the accompanying manual. The next button he pressed, cunningly disguised as a redundant ‘spare button’, was not connected to anything in the instruction manual, not even under ‘Optional Extras’, because its use was actually illegal. Against all safety regulations it unlocked the outside window -- a window overlooking a forty-storey drop.
Pushing his chair back from the desk, he stood purposefully, strode toward the window, a full five paces across his executive office, and pushed the window pane wide open. A gust of icy air flipped his tie up over his shoulder but did nothing to deter his momentum as he pushed himself away from the frame and into open air.
Only ten storeys further down Mighty Man pulled out of his dive and swooped majestically skyward, dark blue cape streaming behind. He marvelled again at the wondrous technique that allowed his pinstriped business suit to transform into the costume of a superhero, complete with blue boots and shorts and a brilliant white all-in-one suit underneath. Not forgetting the golden M that glistened gloriously in the noon sun.
Gaining height he turned toward the harbour, his infallible sixth sense tugging him toward the scene of trouble as it had so many times before. He waved at the crowds of pedestrians in the streets below, but no one seemed to notice. Probably he was too high up or travelling too fast for them to realise that the white flash above their heads was actually a real, live superhero.
As he sped onward the sense of general alarm that had alerted him initially began to resolve itself into more definite feelings. There were quite a number of people involved, and many of them young. There was an underlying panic that seemed to be held in suspension, as if everyone were holding their breaths. It was obviously going to be a tricky operation.
A light mist still clung to the harbour, kept chill by the cold depths of the water. The sun was too weak this late in the year to have much chance against it. The mist, though, did not rise as high as the harbour bridge that shone with reflected luminescence. The yellow school bus that balanced precariously on the edge of the bridge was caked in too much dirt to shine at all. It just sat there, jutting rudely through twisted metal railings that wavered inelegantly in the wind. The vehicle too swayed slightly in time to waves of terror that assaulted the approaching hero’s mind. He tuned out his danger sense so as to concentrate more on the rescue now that he had arrived.
After hovering for a few seconds to assess the danger he went into a smooth diving curve towards the accident site, only to be suddenly blocked by the appearance of a Rescue Police trooper directly in his flight path. The trooper was facing the bus and did not notice the valiant superhero’s dramatic increase in altitude and dizzying sideways roll that took him over the policeman’s left shoulder and in among the girders that criss-crossed their way above the bridge. After a couple of mad twists and turns he managed to come to a stop without hitting any part of the bridge and causing further damage.
By the time he had regained his composure, another five rescue troopers had materialised around the accident site and were being cheered by the typically excitable crowd that always coalesced on such occasions. Mighty Man saluted a traffic-monitoring camera before descending to join the rescue.
Four of the officers were now positioned under the front of the bus, anti-grav packs straining to give the lift necessary to bring it level with the bridge, while the remaining two were on the road using the increased strength of their exoskeletal suits to drag the vehicle back to safety. Wailing sirens announced the arrival of patrol officers in their ground cars and the approach of both ground and air ambulances. Mighty Man tried to decide which area it would be best to help in.
With a loud screech the bus was suddenly back through the tortured railings and on the road, and the police officers turned to the task of helping the passengers to disembark. Medical personnel were quickly swarming all over the place and traffic police tried vainly to get the surrounding vehicles to move on. Mighty Man alighted on the bridge between the bus and the dangerous edge to attend to the vital task of repairing the guardrail before anyone fell over the side.
Mighty muscles hardly bulged at all at the task of bending steel railings back into position, and it was a simple job to hold them steady while they were welded together by the laser-like heat beams that Mighty Man could project from his eyes. In a short time all of the various lengths of metal were back where they belonged.
"What are you doing round here?" a sharp voice demanded.
Mighty Man turned slowly, puffing out his chest to its magnificent proportions and smiling benevolently at the traffic patrolman.
"Get away from those railings."
Martin suppressed a momentary surge of irritation. This is the thanks I get?
"It’s okay, they’re safe now," he informed the officer.
Another two officers, one a Rescue Trooper, came around the end of the bus at that moment in the midst of an earnest conversation, but they broke off at the sight of a man in a billowing blue cape.
"What’s that man doing in the crash area?" the trooper snapped. He was a sergeant and had a sergeant’s voice.
"I’m about to remove him," the first officer replied, and glared accusingly at Mighty Man as if it were his fault that she would now be in trouble.
"Don’t worry officers," Martin said. "I’ve just repaired the railings for you."
The sergeant began striding over with the traffic officer in his wake, looking like a man who had had a hard day. An angry order sent the other trooper over the edge to inspect the underside of the bridge.
"I’m Mighty Man. You’ve probably heard of me. I came to join the rescue." The sergeant did not seem particularly awestruck.
"This city does not sanction vigilantes," the sergeant said flatly, and then stalked off to inspect the wheels of the bus, leaving Mighty Man and the traffic cop staring at each other.
"Well sir, if you’d like to come with me and make a statement regarding your involvement in the accident…"
"I just flew in for the rescue," the superhero corrected him, "I wasn’t here for the accident."
The officer glanced round for some sign of a vehicle, then glared suspiciously at the cape.
"I’m sorry sir, but antigrav units are strictly for official use only, I shall have to ask you to hand the device over." He held out his hand expectantly.
"I don’t have an antigrav unit, I’m a superhero." His explanation was interrupted by a loud bang from the coach that was reminiscent of gunfire. The expertly trained police officer had his gun drawn and was half spun round before his foot connected with some spilled diesel and transformed his calculated turn into a wild fall.
Mighty Man gave a concerned glance to the sergeant, who was lying on his back amidst scraps of rubber from the unexpectedly blown tyre, before deciding that the situation was probably more serious for the traffic cop who had just cartwheeled over the railings toward the bay. He dove after him.
It was difficult to decide whose face showed more emotion. The traffic cop's face had gone from alarm to panic as she started to fall, but had relaxed in relief at being caught. But the Rescue Trooper had been surprised at having a fellow officer fall into her arms -- only to realize that she was in the path of a superhero in full flight. Her face decided on annoyance as it was whipped by a dark blue cape as Mighty Man corkscrewed by, avoiding a collision by mere inches.
Martin winced as he heard the Rescue Trooper's curses followed him down toward the water below. It wasn't his fault that she had started to ascend just as he had decided that he might as well rescue the gun that was still dropping toward the water.
The weapon was reprieved from an icy dunk with only feet to spare, plucked unerringly from the air with the aid of mist-penetrating x-ray vision. A flattening of the ripples marked the downdraft of wind as the rescuer swooped back bridgeward.
At the side of the bridge a small crowd of emergency service personnel had gathered to see what was going on. The retrieved gun was accepted gratefully and they all got on with the important business of getting the bridge open again. Mechanics were already replacing the wheel while two troopers held the end of the bus up.
Mighty Man waved acknowledgement to the two people who were looking his way, and one of them waved back as he launched himself into the air and headed back to his office.
Another job well done.
Martin's office was just beginning to warm up again. Even in mild weather, the breezes forty storeys up made things chilly when he opened the window. He didn't feel the cold, of course, but people had complained more than once when they visited after Mighty Man had been out on patrol; the maintenance staff were beginning to wonder what was wrong with the air conditioning in there.
The more he thought about the incident at the bridge, the more annoyed he had become. You'd think I'd caused the accident, instead of volunteering to help, he mused. People just don't appreciate superheroes any more.
He hoped that the bottle of whisky from the bottom drawer of his desk would help him to accept the attitude of the authorities, but downing half the bottle barely even gave him a buzz.
Just my luck that my powers manifested after the Rescue Trooper tech was approved, he thought bitterly. And just my luck that I'm immune to alcohol!
He downed the rest of the whisky in one long gulp -- not having to stop to breathe speeded things up quite a bit -- crushed the bottle to dust, melted the debris with a carefully-metered glare, and molded it into a rough facsimile of a Rescue Trooper in full armor. Then he tossed the crude glass figurine into the wastebasket, put his feet up on the desk, and settled in for a good afternoon's sulk.
Exoskeletons and anti-grav -- ha! Let's see 'em play hero when their fuel cells run dry.
© 2005 by Gareth D. Jones
Bio: Gareth is a British writer who keeps busy in between writing by playing lego with his three small children, working in waste management and studying part-time for a degree in Environmental Studies. His previous appearances in Aphelion were The Gray Hole (April 2005) and Fool Britannia (August 2005).
Links to all his published stories can be found at:
Gareth D. Jones Science Fiction
E-mail: Gareth D. Jones
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