Sunday, 29 August 2010

This Old Man, Once Mighty

I am the last hero.

The new generation I was promised never came. I just sit in here, in this old chair, listening to the crime outside; an unrelenting crescendo. This chair is a relic of the League of Truth, like me; it is the chair I sat in when we met, when we discussed how to save the world. To my right the Lady Lasso sat, to my left the Atlantean. They told me to leave it behind that day, to leave no evidence that I was once one of them. I could not.

The League gave themselves to save the world. And I could not join them. And without them my powers mean nothing. If people knew... I could not save myself, let alone the world.

All I can do is listen as more and more crime is broadcast. More and more the world communicates the intended pain of others. Radio waves, then electron conduits, now photon highways; all rushing to spread the word, and the word is so often violence. I could shut it all down, all the blocks around me, but they would find me and what good would that serve? In my youth I could have shut the city down and they would never have found me, but now? Now I grow old, and the new generation refuse to step up.

I was to pass on the League’s legacy, but there is no one to pass it on to. So I hide in my apartment. I have my food and drink delivered. I exercise on machines. I drink to block out the noise, but with the rationing, staying drunk is impossible. I reminisce. I grumble.

That is what I am doing when someone starts banging on the door. Too early in the day for the groceries, which are not scheduled for today anyway, too fiercely for it to be the neighbours.

I concentrate. There is so much noise. But just outside the door. There is something, someone, and he is broadcasting. The signal is easier to pick up than it should be.

“You see,” the stranger seems to be talking to someone, but there is no one with him, “If ya start banging it gets the older folk flustered straight in, they’m likely to make a mistake, open the door in irritation. Not always, mind. But it’s an easy opener. Always worth trying.”

What is this? As if he is talking to a class. Or an audience.

Visual streams on his signal, from head height. C-goggs then, or just a scratch built headset; c-goggs are probably just so cheap now. There’s more data too. I can already feel a headache coming on, just need to concentrate, it’s been so long. There are augments on the signal, data overlaid onto the image, a ping and return. I recognise the details of my door lock, notes on how to flash it. Enhanced reality via cyber-goggles, crime made easy via the power of the extranet. Step one, I scramble that.

“Well fucks,” he might have said ‘folks’, but I don’t think so, “seems I might be having a few technical difficulties so we’ll just demo the alternate access. Few a ya’ll get a bang out of this.”

I can feel the building comms are out; the inline could just be faulty, but I doubt it – an old building like this is easy to cut off. Wait. Other than this guy outside, there is nothing broadcasting locally. Some kind of localised dampener, probably. I hadn’t noticed because the rest of the city is still roaring away. That’ll be why I managed to pick his signal out so easily, then.
There is a flash from the front door and a loud bang. I send a signal through to the police from a neighbouring building. His dampener is worthless against my human:plus biology.

“Woo, fucks, that’s how ya do it! Hi honey, I’m home!”

He steps through the smoking doorway. I am slow, and out of practice, only just standing up when I should have been waiting for him by the door. He’s young enough to be my grandson. He’s not wearing c-goggs. He has something in his hand that looks like a gun, except there’s no hole in the end of the barrel. Definitely a weapon though, I can feel the tension inside, growling and pent up; insta-violence on demand. I don’t understand it well enough to stop it firing. I have moments. Less.

I suddenly understand why he has no c-goggs. I am old. They are a part of his eyes, camera and display, augmented reality without the need for bulky peripherals. New tech, but obvious.

I blind him.

Too easy. He has seen where I am. He fires his caged danger.

He fires at where I was. And I am moving now, not as slow as I thought, reactions returning, daily exercise serving me well. I have to take him down fast or he will fire again, and he might get lucky next time. I throw the chair. It was once a part of the League; it is a good chair, a solid chair. It serves me well one last time and he goes down hard.

Now I just need to wait for the police. Carry on grumbling.

But there is something familiar about his weapon.

It takes me a moment. Then I know. It is Jack Lightning’s technology. Jack Lightning who died that day; whose technology could not be replicated, or reverse engineered, or disrupted by me. It is not exactly as I remember, he always had a flair for design and this seems to me too plain, too utilitarian. But someone has his power, or they have him.

This is not right. And I am done waiting.

I am the last hero.

(author's commentary)

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