Bewildering Stories

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Change of Perspective

by Paul McManus

You may think me an extremist or even a racist; that’s up to you. Not so long ago I would have agreed. You see, until recently I was a superhero — to my mind I still am — but there are many who disagree. Just read the newspapers and you’ll see me branded as a bigot and a murderer. The problem is that until you’ve really seen what they’re like, what they’re capable of, you just don’t get it. I did see and now I have a different mission. Before I had my eyes opened I was known as Steel Eagle, on account of my armour. I’m not a mutant but I am a skilled electrical technician and I have a lot of money.

Since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of fighting crime alongside superheroes. The problem was that I had no superpowers, so I had to make them. Obviously, it wasn’t that easy; I spent a lot of time and money getting the armour built. Even so, if it wasn’t for a freak discovery by one of the scientists working for me it would never have been more than a dream. But as luck would have it, I got what I’d hoped for and the shining defender of justice was born!

Right from the start I worked closely with the police and they liked me; I found out that the reason was that I was an ordinary guy just like them. Okay, I could laugh a stream of bullets off or lift a truck above my head if the need arose; you’d be surprised how rarely that actually happens. But basically — underneath it all — I was like them. They wear kevlar and I wear a super alloy.

A lot of the cops just weren’t comfortable with people so powerful; the men particularly had a dislike of the female heroes. I used to think this was bigotry. The superheroes were there to help fight the super-villains and it was as simple as that. I put their distrust down to envy; I mean I should know, I’d spent enough of my life wanting to be able to do the hero thing.

Two weeks ago I was called to an abandoned factory on the outskirts of town, the place was surrounded, but all of the cops were concealed and so we had the upper hand. It turned out that a crazy by the name of De Sade, who had been extorting money by kidnapping, had finally been found. Nobody knew what he looked like, but this time he’d made a big mistake: he’d grabbed Ladyfist — a fairly low-level superhero who’d been masquerading as the daughter of a very wealthy businessman.

Somehow word had reached the police that the daughter was the next target. Ladyfist was told to play along and wait for the cavalry to arrive just in case this guy was super-powered and too much for her. The SWAT team was behind me, and cameras had been carefully inserted through door cracks and anywhere they could find. That’s what I like about working with normals: they don’t rely on anything but planning and brains.

We had a good picture of the first storage room, behind which was a staff cafeteria; the cameras showed everything. The storage room was pretty big, and there were five gunmen spread around the room. Three were playing cards and two were reading. A sixth gunman was more alert, occasionally peering through a window in the reinforced door.

The cafeteria was where De Sade was located and I immediately understood where his name came from. Ladyfist was chained to a girder above her head; she was sagging forward with her arms taking the weight. The dress she had on had been yellow but was now almost black with blood. A slick chain was laid on the floor. If he’d done this to someone with her physical resistance, he either knew she wasn’t a normal, he’d been trying to kill her, or he was a real crazy. It soon became clear as De Sade strutted into shot cracking a capsule under his nose and spinning around, eyes closed and mouth gaping: Psyke Dust!

Another look at the suffering girl and I knew he was going to be sorry. He didn’t look like that much but you never can tell; their strength doesn’t come the natural way. He was blond and might have had a normal face if it wasn’t for the drug-induced stare. Physically he looked of medium build and was dressed smartly, a smooth psychopath. He wouldn’t look smooth for long, super-powered or not.

I went through the plan with the police and then it was down to me. The distance from our area of cover to the doors was about forty meters and I’d be spotted immediately, but that didn’t matter. Weapons were checked, we shared a few jokes, and I ran. I saw the whole scene on tape afterwards. Awesome! The guard at the door saw me almost as soon as I broke cover. I keep the armour polished and it was a moonlit night; I don’t need to hide.

As I neared the door I saw the guy’s eyes widen as he looked through the security window. My helmet’s internal display outlined the predicted position of the rest of his body based on the angle of his head. I hit the door with controlled force and at the correct point to throw the guard back without killing him. I was in! My charge continued as the doorman’s colleagues fumbled for guns or just turned around. I noticed one guy stare stupidly, his cigarette falling from his mouth.

People often think that the armour slows me down, that’s until they see me move. The cerebral network within the helmet increases mental response time by two hundred percent. The armour itself responds to the commands, taking my body with them — it took quite a bit of getting used to, to begin with.

My focus was on the door ahead, to get to De Sade before he could respond. I didn’t have time to waste dealing with the henchmen, so as I passed I ejected a cluster of stun grenades from micro-launchers at the base of my spine. The SWAT team were seconds behind me and more than capable of dealing with the disoriented gunmen.

I increased my speed as I hit the second door and allowed my targeting system to take me to De Sade, saving vital seconds. He was obviously anything but normal: he evaded my first strike — not easy. The static burst I released as I neared him seemed to just jolt him slightly. The madness in his reddened eyes was horrible to face; that poor girl.

He swung a lightning fast fist to my jaw — I felt it slightly. The armour is designed so I can judge the damage received and an opponent’s strength. That was all I needed; I knew I could go to work without killing him. He followed his first blow with another to my head just as I hammered a solid fist to his ribs. He careered across the room, his body slicing through fixed chairs and tables in a spray of wood, plastic and metal.

I strode ominously towards him as he choked and coughed in a foetal ball, laughing between clotted splutters. You might say he didn’t seem that tough, but the blow I delivered would have dented an armoured car. By this point the police had arrived with the powered restraints. From the start of my run to the defeat of De Sade it had taken twenty-five seconds.

I turned my attention to Ladyfist; she was looking crazed through a mess of hair and swollen eyes. This guy must be a psycho or he’d have realized she shouldn’t have been able to live through the beating. I spoke soothingly to her; she looked like a little girl compared to the bulk of my metal-covered body. The chains were undone easily and I laid her gently on the floor, calling to a medic for a cloth to clean her face. I knew she’d heal soon, but it seemed the thing to do. I unclipped my right gauntlet, put it on the ground and wiped the cloth carefully over her eyes. I didn’t want to run the risk of hurting her any more; I’ve told you how powerful the armour is. My mistake.

Suddenly, she screamed something incoherent and grabbed my hand in a grip that I can still feel now, in my dreams and waking moments. I’ve watched the scene countless times on the police cameras. My impressive frame bent forward, her arm lashed out and I crumpled to the floor legs kicking, wriggling comically. My high-pitched agony was also picked up on audio. Apparently, she held on for a matter of seconds before she realized I was one of the good guys — it was and is, a lifetime for me.

You see I’ve fought much stronger than she and felt the pain of the blows, but it was never directly on my flesh before — it was always buffered and measured first, filtered by my machine. It was never so raw, so personal, so horrific. All of the bones in my hand were broken, several splintered and pierced the skin. De Sade saw it happen and spat blood as he giggled. She apologised.

As I said, until you’ve seen it up close or felt it, you can’t understand. It’s something primal, just like the fear or hatred of snakes, spiders or sharks, there’s something so alien, so wrong that it makes your flesh creep. They don’t belong here, and they need to be removed. Ladyfist was the first. She must have wished she was still with De Sade before she flopped off the wall for the last time. They call me a murderer, but I’m not: I don’t kill people, just those things.

Copyright © 2005 by Paul McManus

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