The Super Man and the Bugout
From "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," a short story collection published in
September, 2003 by Four Walls Eight Windows Press (ISBN 1568582862). See
http://craphound.com/place for more.
Originally published in On Spec, Fall 2001
"It is certainly worth noting that the story in this issue which flagrantly
violates the length limit, Cory Doctorow's 'The Super Man and the Bugout,' at
close to 10,000 words, is also by far the best story... The story is both very
funny, and a portrayal of a quite believable non-human human being."
- Rich Horton,
Blurbs and quotes:
* Cory Doctorow straps on his miner's helmet and takes you deep into the
caverns and underground rivers of Pop Culture, here filtered through SF-coloured
- Neil Gaiman
Author of American Gods and Sandman
* Few writers boggle my sense of reality as much as Cory Doctorow. His vision
is so far out there, you'll need your GPS to find your way back.
- David Marusek
Winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award, Nebula Award nominee
* Cory Doctorow is one of our best new writers: smart, daring, savvy,
entertaining, ambitious, plugged-in, and as good a guide to the wired world of
the twenty-first century that stretches out before us as you're going to find.
- Gardner Dozois
Editor, Asimov's SF
* He sparkles! He fizzes! He does backflips and breaks the furniture! Science
fiction needs Cory Doctorow!
- Bruce Sterling
Author of The Hacker Crackdown and Distraction
* Cory Doctorow strafes the senses with a geekspeedfreak explosion of gomi kings
with heart, weirdass shapeshifters from Pleasure Island and jumping automotive
jazz joints. If this is Canadian science fiction, give me more.
- Nalo Hopkinson
Author of Midnight Robber and Brown Girl in the Ring
* Cory Doctorow is the future of science fiction. An nth-generation hybrid of
the best of Greg Bear, Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling and Groucho Marx, Doctorow
composes stories that are as BPM-stuffed as techno music, as idea-rich as the
latest issue of NEW SCIENTIST, and as funny as humanity's efforts to improve
itself. Utopian, insightful, somehow simultaneously ironic and heartfelt, these
nine tales will upgrade your basal metabolism, overwrite your cortex with new
and efficient subroutines and generally improve your life to the point where
you'll wonder how you ever got along with them. Really, you should need a
prescription to ingest this book. Out of all the glittering crap life and our
society hands us, craphound supreme Doctorow has managed to fashion some
- Paul Di Filippo
Author of The Steampunk Trilogy
* As scary as the future, and twice as funny. In this eclectic and electric
collection Doctorow strikes sparks off today to illuminate tomorrow, which is
what SF is supposed to do. And nobody does it better.
- Terry Bisson
Author of Bears Discover Fire
A note about this story
This story is from my collection, "A Place So Foreign and Eight More," published
by Four Walls Eight Windows Press in September, 2003, ISBN 1568582862. I've
released this story, along with five others, under the terms of a Creative
Commons license that gives you, the reader, a bunch of rights that copyright
normally reserves for me, the creator.
I recently did the same thing with the entire text of my novel, "Down and Out in
the Magic Kingdom" (http://craphound.com/down), and it was an unmitigated
success. Hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the book -- good news -- and
thousands of people bought the book -- also good news. It turns out that, as
near as anyone can tell, distributing free electronic versions of books is a
great way to sell more of the paper editions, while simultaneously getting the
book into the hands of readers who would otherwise not be exposed to my work.
I still don't know how it is artists will earn a living in the age of the
Internet, but I remain convinced that the way to find out is to do basic
science: that is, to do stuff and observe the outcome. That's what I'm doing
here. The thing to remember is that the very *worst* thing you can do to me as
an artist is to not read my work -- to let it languish in obscurity and
disappear from posterity. Most of the fiction I grew up on is out-of-print, and
this is doubly true for the short stories. Losing a couple bucks to people who
would have bought the book save for the availability of the free electronic text
is no big deal, at least when compared to the horror that is being irrelevant
and unread. And luckily for me, it appears that giving away the text for free
gets me more paying customers than it loses me.
You can find the canonical version of this file at
If you'd like to convert this file to some other format and distribute it, you
have my permission, provided that:
* You don't charge money for the distribution
* You keep the entire text intact, including this notice, the license below, and
the metadata at the end of the file
* You don't use a file-format that has "DRM" or "copy-protection" or any other
form of use-restriction turned on
If you'd like, you can advertise the existence of your edition by posting a link
to it at http://craphound.com/place/000017.php
Here's a summary of the license:
Attribution. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and
perform the work. In return, licensees must give the original author credit.
No Derivative Works. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display
and perform only unaltered copies of the work -- not derivative works based on
Noncommercial. The licensor permits others to copy, distribute, display, and
perform the work. In return, licensees may not use the work for commercial
purposes -- unless they get the licensor's permission.
And here's the license itself:
THE WORK (AS DEFINED BELOW) IS PROVIDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS CREATIVE COMMONS
PUBLIC LICENSE ("CCPL" OR "LICENSE"). THE WORK IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT AND/OR
OTHER APPLICABLE LAW. ANY USE OF THE WORK OTHER THAN AS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS
LICENSE IS PROHIBITED.
BY EXERCISING ANY RIGHTS TO THE WORK PROVIDED HERE, YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO BE
BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENSE. THE LICENSOR GRANTS YOU THE RIGHTS CONTAINED
HERE IN CONSIDERATION OF YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
a. "Collective Work" means a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology or
encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in unmodified form, along with a
number of other contributions, constituting separate and independent works in
themselves, are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a
Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work (as defined below) for
the purposes of this License.
b. "Derivative Work" means a work based upon the Work or upon the Work and other
pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization,
fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction,
abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast,
transformed, or adapted, except that a work that constitutes a Collective Work
will not be considered a Derivative Work for the purpose of this License.
c. "Licensor" means the individual or entity that offers the Work under the
terms of this License.
d. "Original Author" means the individual or entity who created the Work.
e. "Work" means the copyrightable work of authorship offered under the terms of
f. "You" means an individual or entity exercising rights under this License who
has not previously violated the terms of this License with respect to the Work,
or who has received express permission from the Licensor to exercise rights
under this License despite a previous violation.
2. Fair Use Rights. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or
restrict any rights arising from fair use, first sale or other limitations on
the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other
3. License Grant. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor
hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the
duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work
as stated below:
a. to reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collective
Works, and to reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collective Works;
b. to distribute copies or phonorecords of, display publicly, perform publicly,
and perform publicly by means of a digital audio transmission the Work including
as incorporated in Collective Works;
The above rights may be exercised in all media and formats whether now known or
hereafter devised. The above rights include the right to make such modifications
as are technically necessary to exercise the rights in other media and formats.
All rights not expressly granted by Licensor are hereby reserved.
4. Restrictions. The license granted in Section 3 above is expressly made
subject to and limited by the following restrictions:
a. You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally
perform the Work only under the terms of this License, and You must include a
copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy or
phonorecord of the Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform. You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work
that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients' exercise of
the rights granted hereunder. You may not sublicense the Work. You must keep
intact all notices that refer to this License and to the disclaimer of
warranties. You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or
publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological measures that control
access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this
License Agreement. The above applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collective
Work, but this does not require the Collective Work apart from the Work itself
to be made subject to the terms of this License. If You create a Collective
Work, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove
from the Collective Work any reference to such Licensor or the Original Author,
b. You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in
any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial
advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other
copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be
considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private
monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation
in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.
c. If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally
perform the Work or any Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright
notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the
medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if
applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if
supplied. Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided,
however, that in the case of a Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will
appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at
least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.
5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer
a. By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor
represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's knowledge after
i. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license
rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted
hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory
license fees, residuals or any other payments;
ii. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights,
common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute
defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.
b. EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED IN THIS LICENSE OR OTHERWISE AGREED IN WRITING OR
REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE WORK IS LICENSED ON AN "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT
WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION,
ANY WARRANTIES REGARDING THE CONTENTS OR ACCURACY OF THE WORK.
6. Limitation on Liability. EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, AND
EXCEPT FOR DAMAGES ARISING FROM LIABILITY TO A THIRD PARTY RESULTING FROM BREACH
OF THE WARRANTIES IN SECTION 5, IN NO EVENT WILL LICENSOR BE LIABLE TO YOU ON
ANY LEGAL THEORY FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR
EXEMPLARY DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE OR THE USE OF THE WORK, EVEN IF
LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
a. This License and the rights granted hereunder will terminate automatically
upon any breach by You of the terms of this License. Individuals or entities who
have received Collective Works from You under this License, however, will not
have their licenses terminated provided such individuals or entities remain in
full compliance with those licenses. Sections 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 will survive
any termination of this License.
b. Subject to the above terms and conditions, the license granted here is
perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright in the Work).
Notwithstanding the above, Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under
different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided,
however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any
other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of
this License), and this License will continue in full force and effect unless
terminated as stated above.
a. Each time You distribute or publicly digitally perform the Work or a
Collective Work, the Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the Work on
the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.
b. If any provision of this License is invalid or unenforceable under applicable
law, it shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remainder of the
terms of this License, and without further action by the parties to this
agreement, such provision shall be reformed to the minimum extent necessary to
make such provision valid and enforceable.
c. No term or provision of this License shall be deemed waived and no breach
consented to unless such waiver or consent shall be in writing and signed by the
party to be charged with such waiver or consent.
d. This License constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with
respect to the Work licensed here. There are no understandings, agreements or
representations with respect to the Work not specified here. Licensor shall not
be bound by any additional provisions that may appear in any communication from
You. This License may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of
the Licensor and You.
The Super Man and the Bugout
"Mama, I'm _not_ a super-villain," Hershie said for the millionth time. He
chased the last of the gravy on his plate with a hunk of dark rye, skirting the
shriveled derma left behind from his kishka. Ever since the bugouts had inducted
Earth into their Galactic Federation, promising to end war, crime, and
corruption, he'd found himself at loose ends. His adoptive Earth-mother, who'd
named him Hershie Abromowicz, had talked him into meeting her at her favorite
restaurant in the heart of Toronto's Gaza Strip.
"Not a super-villain, he says. Listen to him: mister big-stuff. Well,
smartypants, if you're not a super-villain, what was that mess on the television
last night then?"
A busboy refilled their water, and Hershie took a long sip, staring off into the
middle distance. Lately, he'd taken to avoiding looking at his mother: her
infra-red signature was like a landing-strip for a coronary, and she wouldn't
let him take her to one of the bugout clinics for nanosurgery.
Mrs. Abromowicz leaned across the table and whacked him upside the head with one
hand, her big rings clicking against the temple of his half-rim specs. Had it
been anyone else, he would have caught her hand mid-slap, or at least dodged in
a superfast blur, quicker than any human eye. But his Mama had let him know what
she thought of _that_ sass before his third birthday. Raising super-infants
requires strict, _loving_ discipline. "Hey, wake up! Hey! I'm talking to you!
What was that mess on television last night?"
"It was a demonstration, Mama. We were protesting. We want to dismantle the
machines of war -- it's in the Torah, Mama. Isaiah: they shall beat their swords
into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Tot would have approved."
Mrs. Abromowicz sucked air between her teeth. "Your father never would have
approved of _that_."
_That_ was the Action last night. It had been his idea, and he'd tossed it
around with the Movement people who'd planned the demo: they'd gone to an
army-surplus store and purchased hundreds of decommissioned rifles, their bores
filled with lead, their firing pins defanged. He'd flown above and ahead of the
demonstration, in his traditional tights and cape, dragging a cargo net full of
rifles from his belt. He pulled them out one at a time, and bent them into
balloon-animals -- fanciful giraffes, wiener-dogs, bumble-bees, poodles -- and
passed them out the crowds lining Yonge Street. It had been a boffo smash hit.
And it made great TV.
Hershie Abromowicz, Man from the Stars, took his mother's hands between his own
and looked into her eyes. "Mama, I'm a grown man. I have a job to do. It's like
. . . like a calling. The world's still a big place, bugouts or no bugouts, and
there's lots of people here who are crazy, wicked, with their fingers on the
triggers. I care about this planet, and I can't sit by when it's in danger."
"But why all of a sudden do you have to be off with these _meshuggenahs_? How
come you didn't _need_ to be with the crazy people until now?"
"Because there's a _chance_ now. The world is ready to rethink itself. Because
--" The waiter saved him by appearing with the cheque. His mother started to
open her purse, but he had his debitcard on the table faster than the eye could
follow. "It's on me, Ma."
"Don't be silly. I'll pay."
"I _want_ to. Let me. A son should take his mother out to lunch once in a
She smiled, for the first time that whole afternoon, and patted his cheek with
one manicured hand. "You're a good boy, Hershie, I know that. I only want that
you should be happy, and have what's best for you."
Hershie, in tights and cape, was chilling in his fortress of solitude when his
comm rang. He checked the callerid and winced: Thomas was calling, from Toronto.
Hershie's long-distance bills were killing him, ever since the Department of
Defense had cut off his freebie account.
Not to mention that talking to Thomas inevitably led to more trouble with his
He got up off of his crystalline recliner and flipped the comm open, floating up
a couple of metres. "Thomas, what's up?"
"Supe, didja see the reviews? The critics _love_ us!"
Hersh held the comm away from his head and sighed the ancient, put-upon Hebraic
sigh of his departed stepfather. Thomas Aquino Rusk liked to play at being a
sleazy Broadway producer, his "plays" the eye-catching demonstrations he and his
band of merry shit-disturbers hijacked.
"Yeah, it made pretty good vid, all right." He didn't ask why Thomas was
calling. There was only one reason he _ever_ called: he'd had another idea.
"You'll never guess why I called."
"You've had an idea."
"I've had an idea!"
"You'll love it."
Hershie reached out and stroked the diamond-faceted coffins that his birth
parents lay in, hoping for guidance. His warm fingers slicked with melted
hoarfrost, and as they skated over the crypt, it sang a pure, high crystal note
like a crippled flying saucer plummeting to the earth. "I'm sure I will,
As usual, Thomas chose not to hear the sarcasm in his voice. "Check this out --
DefenseFest 33 is being held in Toronto in March. And the new keynote speaker is
the Patron Ik'Spir Pat! The fricken head fricken bugout! His address is
'Galactic History and Military Tactics: a Strategic Overview.'"
"And this is a good thing?"
"Ohfuckno. It's terrible, terrible, of course. The bugouts are selling us out.
Going over to the Other Side. Just awful. But think of the possibilities!"
"But think of the possibilities? Oy." Despite himself, Hershie was smiling.
Thomas always made him smile.
"You're smiling, aren't you?"
"Shut up, Thomas."
"Can you make a meeting at the Belquees for 18h?"
Hershie checked his comm. It was 1702h. "I can make it."
"See you there, buddy." Thomas rang off.
Hershie folded his comm, wedged it in his belt, and stroked his parents' crypt,
once more, for luck.
Hershie loved the commute home. Starting at the Arctic Circle, he flew up and up
and up above the highest clouds, then flattened out his body and rode the
currents home, eeling around the wet frozen cloudmasses, slaloming through
thunderheads, his critical faculties switched off, flying at speed on blind
He usually made visual contact with the surface around Barrie, just outside of
Toronto, and he wasn't such a goodiegoodie that he didn't feel a thrill of
superiority as he flew over the cottage-country commuters stuck in the
end-of-weekend traffic, skis and snowmobiles strapped to their roofs.
The Belquees had the best Ethiopian food and the worst Ethiopian decor in town.
Successive generations of managers had added their own touches -- tiki-lanterns,
textured wallpaper, framed photos of Haile Selassie, tribal spears and grass
dolls -- and they'd accreted in layers, until the net effect was of an African
rummage sale. But man, the food was good.
Downstairs was a banquet room whose decor consisted of material too ugly to be
shown upstairs, with a stage and a disco ball. It had been a regular meeting
place for Toronto's radicals for more than fifty years, the chairs worn smooth
by generations of left-wing buttocks.
Tonight, it was packed. At least fifty people were crammed around the tables,
tearing off hunks of tangy rice-pancake and scooping up vegetarian curry with
them. Even before he saw Thomas, his super-hearing had already picked his voice
out of the din and located it. Hershie made a beeline for Thomas's table, not
making eye-contact with the others -- old-guard activists who still saw him as a
tool of the war-machine.
Thomas licked his fingers clean and shook his hand. "Supe! Glad you could make
it! Sit, sit." There was a general shuffling of coats and chairs as the other
people at the table cleared a space for him. Thomas was already pouring him a
beer out of one of the pitchers on the table.
"Geez, how many people did you invite?"
Tina, a tiny Chinese woman who could rhyme "Hey hey, ho ho" and "One, two,
three, four" with amazing facility said, "Everyone's here. The Quakers, the
commies, a couple of councilors, the vets, anyone we could think of. This is
gonna be _huge_."
The food hot, and the different curries and salads were a symphony of flavours
and textures. "This is terrific," he said.
"Best Ethiopian outside of Addis Ababa," said Thomas.
_Better than Addis Ababa_, Hershie thought, but didn't say it. He'd been in
Addis Ababa as the secret weapon behind Canada's third and most ill-fated
peacekeeping mission there. There hadn't been a lot of restaurants open then,
just block after block of bombed-out buildings, and tribal warlords driving
around in tacticals, firing randomly at anything that moved. The ground CO sent
him off to scatter bands of marauders while the bullets spanged off his chest.
He'd never understood the tactical significance of those actions -- still didn't
-- but at the time, he'd been willing to trust those in authority.
"Good food," he said.
An hour later, the pretty waitress had cleared away the platters and brought
fresh pitchers, and Hershie's tights felt a little tighter. One of the Quakers,
an ancient, skinny man with thin grey hair and sharp, clever features stood up
and tapped his beer-mug. Gradually, conversation subsided.
"Thank you," he said. "My name is Stewart Pocock, and I'm here from the Circle
of Friends. I'd like us all to take a moment to say a silent thanks for the
wonderful food we've all enjoyed."
There was a nervous shuffling, and then a general bowing of heads and mostly
silence, broken by low whispers.
"Thomas, I thought _you_ called this meeting," Hershie whispered.
"I did. These guys always do this. Control freaks. Don't worry about it," he
"Thank you all. We took the liberty of drawing up an agenda for this meeting."
"They _always_ do this," Thomas said.
The Quakers led them in a round of introductions, which came around to Hershie.
"I'm, uh, The Super Man. I guess most of you know that, right?" Silence. "I'm
really looking forward to working on this with you all." A moment of silence
followed, before the next table started in on its own introductions.
"Time," Louise Pocock said. Blissfully. At last. The agenda had ticks next to
INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, STRATEGY, THE DAY, SUPPORT AND ORGANISING and
PUBLICITY. Thomas had hardly spoken a word through the course of the meeting.
Even Hershie's alien buttocks were numb from sitting.
"It's time for the closing circle. Please, everybody, stand up and hold hands."
Many of the assembled didn't bother to stifle their groans. Awkwardly, around
the tables and the knapsacks, they formed a rough circle and took hands. They
held it for an long, painful moment, then gratefully let go.
They worked their way upstairs and outside. The wind had picked up, and it blew
Hershie's cape out on a crackling vertical behind him, so that it caught many of
the others in the face as they cycled or walked away.
"Supe, let's you and me grab a coffee, huh?" Thomas said, without any spin on it
at all, so that Hershie knew that it wasn't a casual request.
The cafe Thomas chose was in a renovated bank, and there was a private room in
the old vault, and they sat down there, away from prying eyes and autograph
"So, you pumped?" Thomas said, after they ordered coffees.
"After _that_ meeting? Yeah, sure."
Thomas laughed, a slightly patronising but friendly laugh. "That was a _great_
meeting. Look, if those guys had their way, we'd have about a march a month, and
we'd walk slowly down a route that we had a permit for, politely asking people
to see our point of view. And in between, we'd have a million meetings like
this, where we come up with brilliant ideas like, 'Let's hand out fliers next
"So what we do is, go along with them. Give them enough rope to hang themselves.
Let 'em have four or five of those, until everyone who shows up is so bored,
they'll do _anything_, as long as its not that.
"So, these guys want to stage a sit-in in front of the convention centre.
Bo-ring! We wait until they're ready to sit down, then we start playing music
and turn it into a _dance-in_. Start playing movies on the side of the building.
Bring in a hundred secret agents in costume to add to it. They'll never know
what hit 'em."
Hershie squirmed. These kinds of Machiavellian shenanigans came slowly to him.
"That seems kind of, well, disingenuous, Thomas. Why don't we just hold our own
"And split the movement? No, this is much better. These guys do all the
postering and phoning, they get a good crowd out, this is their natural role.
Our natural role, my son," he placed a friendly hand on Hershie's caped
shoulder, "is to see to it that their efforts aren't defeated by their own
poverty of imagination. They're the feet of the movement, but we're its
_laugh_." Thomas pulled out his comm and scribbled on its surface. "_They're the
feet of the movement, but we're its laugh_, that's great, that's one for the
Hershie decided he needed to patrol a little to clear his head. He scooped trash
and syringes from Grenadier Pond. He flew silently through High Park, ears
cocked for any muggings.
He patrolled the Gardner Expressway next and used his heat vision to melt some
Feeling useless, he headed for home.
He was most of the way up Yonge Street when he heard the siren. A cop car,
driving fast, down Jarvis. He sighed his father's sigh and rolled east, heading
into Regent Park, locating the dopplering siren. He touched down lightly on top
of one of the ugly, squat tenements, and skipped from roof to roof, until he
spotted the cop. He was beefy, with the traditional moustache and the flak vest
that they all wore on downtown patrol. He was leaning against the hood of his
cruiser, panting, his breath clouding around him.
A kid rolled on the ground, clutching his groin, gasping for breath. His
infrared signature throbbed painfully between his legs. Clearly, he'd been
kicked in the nuts.
The cop leaned into his cruiser and lowered the volume on his radio, then,
without warning, kicked the kid in the small of the back. The kid rolled on the
ice, thrashing painfully.
Before Hershie knew what he was doing, he was hovering over the ice, between the
cop and the kid. The cateyes embedded in the emblem on his chest glowed in the
streetlamps. The cop's eyes widened so that Hershie could see the whites around
Hershie stared. "What do you think you're doing?" he said, after a measured
The cop took a step back and slipped a little on the ice before catching himself
on his cruiser.
"Since when do you kick unarmed civilians in the back?"
"He -- he ran away. I had to catch him. I wanted to teach him not to run."
"By inspiring his trust in the evenhandedness of Toronto's Finest?" Hershie
could see the cooling tracks of the cruiser, skidding and weaving through the
projects. The kid had put up a good chase. Behind him, he heard the kid regain
his feet and start running. The cop started forward, but Hershie stopped him
with one finger, dead centre in the flak jacket.
"You can't let him get away!"
"I can catch him. Trust me. But first, we're going to wait for your backup to
arrive, and I'm going to file a report."
A _Sun_ reporter arrived before the backup unit. Hershie maintained stony
silence in the face of his questions, but he couldn't stop the man from
listening in on his conversation with the old constable who showed up a few
minutes later, as he filed his report. He found the kid a few blocks away,
huddled in an alley, hand pressed to the small of his back. He took him to Mount
Sinai's emerg and turned him over to a uniformed cop.
The hysterical _Sun_ headlines that vilified Hershie for interfering with the
cop sparked a round of recriminating voicemails from his mother, filled with
promises to give him such a _zetz_ in the head when she next saw him. He folded
his tights and cape and stuffed them in the back of his closet and spent a lot
of time in the park for the next few weeks. He liked to watch the kids playing,
a United Nations in miniature, parents looking on amiably, stymied by the
language barrier that their kids hurdled with ease.
On March first, he took his tights out of the overstuffed hall closet and flew
to Ottawa to collect his pension.
He touched down on the Parliament Hill and was instantly surrounded by
high-booted RCMP constables, looking slightly panicky. He held his hands up,
startled. "What gives, guys?"
"Sorry, sir," one said. "High security today. One of Them is speaking in
"The bugouts. Came down to have a chat about neighbourly relations. Authorised
personnel only today."
"Well, that's me," Hershie said, and started past him.
The constable, looking extremely unhappy, moved to block him. "I'm sorry sir,
but that's not you. Only people on the list. My orders, I'm afraid."
Hershie looked into the man's face and thought about hurtling skywards and
flying straight into the building. The man was only doing his job, though.
"Look, it's payday. I have to go see the Minister of Defense. I've been doing it
every month for _years_."
"I know that sir, but today is a special day. Perhaps you could return
"Tomorrow? My rent is due _today_, Sergeant. Look, what if I comm his office?"
"Please, sir, that would be fine." The Sergeant looked relieved.
Hershie hit a speed dial and waited. A recorded voice told him that the office
was closed, the Minister at a special session.
"He's in session. Look, it's probably on his desk -- I've been coming here for
years; really, this is ridiculous."
"I'm sorry. I have my orders."
"I don't think you could stop me, Sergeant."
The Sergeant and his troops shuffled their feet. "You're probably right, sir.
But orders are orders."
"You know, Sergeant, I retired a full colonel from the Armed Forces. I _could_
order you to let me past."
"Sorry sir, no. Different chain of command."
Hershie controlled his frustration with an effort of will. "Fine then. I'll be
The building super wasn't pleased about the late rent. He threatened Hershie
with eviction, told him he was in violation of the lease, quoted the relevant
sections of the Tenant Protection Act from memory, then grudgingly gave in to
Hershie's pleas. Hershie had half a mind to put his costume on and let the man
see what a _real_ super was like.
But his secret identity was sacrosanct. Even in the era of Pax Aliena, the Super
Man had lots of enemies, all of whom had figured out, long before, that even the
invulnerable have weaknesses: their friends and families. It terrified him to
think of what a bitter, obsolete, grudge-bearing terrorist might do to his
mother, to Thomas, or even his old high-school girlfriends.
For his part, Thomas refused to acknowledge the risk; he'd was more worried
about the Powers That Be than mythical terrorists.
The papers the next day were full of the overnight cabinet shuffle in Ottawa.
More than half the cabinet had been relegated to the back-benches, and many of
their portfolios had been eliminated or amalgamated into the new
"superportfolios:" Domestic Affairs, Trade, and Extraterrestrial Affairs.
The old Minister of Defense, who'd once had Hershie over for Thanksgiving
dinner, was banished to the lowest hell of the back-bench. His portfolio had
been subsumed into Extraterrestrial Affairs, and the new Minister, a young
up-and-comer named Woolley, wasn't taking Hershie's calls. Hershie called Thomas
to see if he could loan him rent money.
Thomas laughed. "Chickens coming home to roost, huh?" he said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hershie said, hotly.
"Well, there's only so much shit-disturbing you can do before someone sits up
and takes notice. The Belquees is probably bugged, or maybe one of the commies
is an informer. Either way, you're screwed. Especially with Woolley."
"Why, what's wrong with Woolley?" Hershie had met him in passing at Prime
Minister's Office affairs, a well-dressed twenty-nine-year-old. He'd seemed like
a nice enough guy.
"What's _wrong_ with him?" Thomas nearly screamed. "He's the fricken
_antichrist_! He was the one that came up with the idea of selling advertising
on squeegee kids' t-shirts! He's heavily supported by private security outfits
-- he makes Darth Vader look like a swell guy. That slicked-down, blow-dried
Hershie cut him off. "OK, OK, I get the idea."
"No you don't, Supe! You don't get the half of it. This guy isn't your average
Liberal -- those guys usually basic opportunists. He's a _zealot_! He'd like to
beat us with _truncheons_! I went to one of his debates, and he showed up with a
_baseball bat_! He tried to _hit me_ with it!"
"What were you doing at the time?"
"What does it matter? Violence is never an acceptable response. I've thrown pies
at better men than him --"
Hershie grinned. Thomas hadn't invented pieing, but his contributions to the art
were seminal. "Thomas, the man is a federal Minister, with obligations. He can't
just write me off -- he'll have to pay me."
"Sure, sure," Thomas crooned. "Of _course_ he will -- who ever heard of a
politician abusing his office to advance his agenda? I don't know what I was
thinking. I apologise."
Hershie touched down on Parliament Hill, heart racing. Thomas's warning echoed
in his head. His memories of Woolley were already morphing, so that the slick,
neat kid became feral, predatory. The Hill was marshy and cold and gray, and as
he squelched up to the main security desk, he felt a cold ooze of mud infiltrate
its way into his super-bootie. There was a new RCMP constable on duty, a
turbanned Sikh. Normally, he felt awkward around the Sikhs in the Mounties. He
imagined that their lack of cultural context made his tights and emblem seem
absurd, that they evoked grins beneath the Sikhs' fierce moustaches. But today,
he was glad the man was a Sikh, another foreigner with an uneasy berth in the
Canadian military-industrial complex. The Sikh was expressionless as Hershie
squirted his clearances from his comm to the security desk's transceiver.
Imperturbably, the Sikh squirted back directions to Woolley's new office, just a
short jaunt from the exalted heights of the Prime Minister's Office.
The Minister's office was guarded by: a dignified antique door that had the rich
finish of wood that has been buffed daily for two centuries; an RCMP constable
in plainclothes; a young, handsome receptionist in a silk navy power-suit; a
slightly older office manager whose heart-stopping beauty was only barely
restrained by her chaste blouse and skirt; and, finally, a pair of boardroom
doors with spotless brass handles and a retinal scanner.
Each obstacle took more time to weather than the last, so it was nearly an hour
before the office manager stared fixedly into the scanner until the locks opened
with a soft clack. Hershie squelched in, leaving a slushy dribble on the muted
industrial-grade brown carpet.
Woolley knelt on the stool of an ergonomic work-cart, enveloped in an
articulated nest of displays, comms, keyboards, datagloves, immersive headsets,
stylii, sticky notes and cup-holders. His posture, hair and expression rivaled
one-another for flawlessness.
"Hello, hello," he said, giving Hershie's hand a dry, firm pump. He smelled of
expensive talc and leather car interiors.
He led Hershie to a pair of stark Scandinavian chairs whose polished lead
undersides bristled with user-interface knobs. The old Minister's tastes had run
to imposing oak desks and horsehair club-chairs, and Hershie felt a moment's
disorientation as he sank into the brilliantly functional sitting-machine. It
chittered like a roulette wheel and shifted to firmly support him.
"Thanks for seeing me," Hershie said. He caught his reflection in the
bulletproof glass windows that faced out over the Rideau Canal, and felt a flush
of embarrassment when he saw how clownish his costume looked in the practical
Woolley favoured him with half a smile and stared sincerely with eyes that were
widely spaced, clever and hazel, surrounded by smile lines. The man fairly oozed
charisma. "I should be thanking you. I was just about to call you to set up a
_Then why haven't you been taking my calls_? Hershie thought. Lamely, he said,
"I was. I wanted to touch base with you, clarify the way that we were going to
operate from now on."
Hershie felt his gorge rise. "From now on?"
"I phrased that badly. What I mean to say is, this is a new Cabinet, a new
Ministry. It has its own modus operandi."
"How can it have its own modus operandi when it was only created last night?"
Hershie said, hating the petulance in his voice.
"Oh, I like to keep lots of contingency plans on hand -- the time to plan for
major changes is far in advance. Otherwise, you end up running around trying to
get office furniture and telephones installed when you need to be seizing
It struck Hershie how _finished_ the office was -- the staff, the systems, the
security. He imagined Woolley hearing the news of his appointment and calling up
files containing schematics, purchase orders, staff requisitions. It wasn't
exactly devious, but it certainly teetered on the meridian separating _planning_
"Well, you certainly seem to have everything in order."
"I've been giving some thought to your payment arrangement. Did you know that
there's a whole body of policy relating to your pension?"
Hershie nodded, not liking where this was going.
"Well, that's just not sensible," Woolley said, sensibly. "The Canadian
government already has its own pension apparatus: we make millions of
direct-deposits every day, for welfare, pensions, employment insurance, mothers'
allowance. We're up to our armpits in payment infrastructure. And having you fly
up to Ottawa every month, well, it's ridiculous. This is the twenty-first
century -- we have better ways of moving money around.
"I've been giving it some thought, and I've come up with a solution that should
make everything easier for everyone. I'm going to transfer your pension to the
Canada Pension Plan offices; they'll make a monthly deposit directly to your
account. I've got the paperwork all filled out here; all you need to do is fill
in your banking information and your Social Insurance Number."
"But I don't have a Social Insurance Number or a bank account," Hershie said. Of
course, Hershie Abromowicz had both, but the Super Man didn't.
"How do you pay taxes, then?" Woolley had a dangerous smile.
"Well, I --" Hershie stammered. "I don't! I'm tax-exempt! I've never had to pay
taxes or get a bank account -- I just take my cheques to the Canadian Union of
Public Employees' Credit Union and they cash them for me. It's the
Woolley shook his head. "Who told you you were tax-exempt?" he asked,
wonderingly. "_No one_ is tax-exempt, except Status Indians. As to not having a
bank account, well, you can open an account at the CUPE Credit Union and we'll
make the deposits there. But not until this tax status matter is cleared up.
You'll have to talk to Revenue Canada about getting a SIN, and get that
information to Canada Pensions."
"I _pay taxes_! Through my secret identity."
"But does this. . ." he made quote marks with his fingers, "_secret identity_
declare your pension income?"
"Of course I don't! I have to keep my secret identity a _secret_!" His voice was
shrill in his own ears. "It's a _secret identity_. I served in the Forces as the
Super Man, so I get paid as the Super Man. Tax exempt, no bank accounts, no SIN.
Just a cheque, every month."
Woolley leaned back and clasped his hands in his lap. "I know that's how it used
to be, but what I'm trying to tell you today is that arrangement, however
longstanding, however well-intentioned, wasn't proper -- or even _legal_. It had
to end some time. You're retired now -- you don't need your _secret identity,_"
again with the finger-quotes. "If you already have a SIN, you can just give it
to me, along with your secret identity's bank information, and we can have your
pension processed in a week or two."
"_A week or two_?" Hershie bellowed. "I need to pay my _rent_! That's not how it
Woolley stood, abruptly. "No sir, that _is_ how it works. I'm trying to be
reasonable. I'm trying to expedite things for you during this time of
transition. But you need to meet me halfway. If you could give me your SIN and
account information right now, I could speed things up considerably, I'm sure.
I'm willing to make that effort, even though things are very busy here."
Hershie toyed with the idea of demolishing the man's office, turning his lovely
furniture into molten nacho topping, and finishing up by leaving the man
dangling by his suit from the CN Tower's needle. But his mother would kill him.
"I can't give you my secret identity," Hershie said, pleadingly. "It's a matter
of national security. I just need enough to pay my rent."
Woolley stared at the ceiling for a long, long time. "There is one thing," he
"Yes?" Hershie said, hating himself for the note of hope in his voice.
"The people at DefenseFest 33 called my office yesterday, to see if I'd appear
as a guest speaker with the Patron Ik'Spir Pat. I had to turn them down, of
course -- I'm far too busy right now. But I'm sure they'd be happy to have a
veteran of your reputation in that slot, and it carries a substantial
honorarium. I could call them for you and give them your comm. . .?"
Hershie thought of Thomas, and of the rent, and of his mother, and of all the
people at the Belquees who'd stared mistrustfully at him. "Have them call me,"
he sighed. "I'll talk to them."
He got to his feet, the toe of his boot squelching out more dirt pudding.
"Yes, Mama?" She'd caught him on the way home, flying high over the fleabag
motels on the old Highway 2.
"It's Friday," she said.
Right. Friday. He told her he'd come for dinner, and that meant getting there
before sunset. "I'll be there," he said.
"Oh, it's not important. It's just me. Don't hurry on my account -- after all,
you'll have thousands of Shabbas dinners with your mother. I'll live forever."
"I said I'll be there."
"And don't wear that costume," she said. She hated the costume. When the
Department of Defense had issued it to him, she'd wanted to know why they were
sending her boy into combat wearing red satin panties.
"That's a good boy," she said. "I'm making brisket."
By the time he touched down on the roof of his building, he knew he'd be late
for dinner. He skimmed down the elevator shaft to the tenth floor and ducked out
to his apartment, only to find the door padlocked. There was a note from the
building super tacked to the peeling green paint. Among other things, it quoted
the codicil from the Tenant Protection Act that allowed the super to padlock the
door and forbade Hershie, on penalty of law, from doing anything about it.
Hershie's super-hearing picked up the sound of a door opening down the hallway.
In a blur, he flew up to the ceiling and hovered there, pressing himself flat on
the acoustic tile. One of his neighbours, that guy with the bohemian attitude
who always seemed to be laughing at poor, nebbishy Hershie Abromowicz, made his
way down the hall. He paused directly below Hershie's still, hovering form,
reading the note on the door while he adjusted the collar of his ski-vest. He
smirked at the note and got in the elevator.
Hershie let himself float to the ground, his cheeks burning.
Damn it, he didn't have _time_ for this. Not for any of it. He considered the
padlock for a moment, then snapped the hasp with his thumb and index finger.
Moving through the apartment with superhuman speed, he changed into a pair of
nice slacks, a cable-knit sweater his mother had given him for his last
birthday, a tweedy jacket and a woolen overcoat. Opening a window, he took
"Thomas, I _really_ can't talk right now," he said. His mother was angrily
drumming her rings on the table's edge. Abruptly, she grabbed the bowl of
cooling soup from his place setting and carried it into the kitchen. She hadn't
done this since he was a kid, but it still inspired the same panicky dread in
him -- if he wasn't going to eat his dinner, she wasn't going to leave it.
"Supe, we _have_ to talk about this. I mean, DefenseFest is only a week away.
We've got things to do!"
"Look, about DefenseFest. . ."
"Yes?" Thomas had a wary note in his voice.
Hershie's mother reappeared with a plate laden with brisket, tsimmis, and kasha.
She set it down in front of him.
"We'll talk later, OK?" Hershie said.
"But what about DefenseFest?"
"It's complicated," Hershie began. His mother scooped up the plate of brisket
and headed back to the kitchen. She was muttering furiously. "I have to go," he
said and closed his comm.
Hershie chased his mother and snatched the plate from her as she held it
dramatically over the sink disposal. He held up his comm with the other hand and
made a show of powering it down.
"It's off, Mama. Please, come and eat."
"I've been thinking of selling the house," she said, as they tucked into slices
of lemon pound-cake.
Hershie put down his fork. "Sell the house?" While his father hadn't exactly
_built_ the house with his own hands, he had sold his guts out at his discount
menswear store to pay for it. His mother had decorated it, but his father's
essence still haunted the corners. "Why would you sell the house?"
"Oh, it's too big, Hershie. I'm just one old lady, and it's not like there're
any grandchildren to come and stay. I could buy a condo in Florida, and there'd
be plenty left over for you."
"I don't need any money, Mama. I've got my pension."
She covered his hands with hers. "Of course you do, bubbie. But fixed incomes
are for old men. You're young, you need a nest egg, something to start a family
with." Her sharp eyes, sunk into motherly pillows of soft flesh, bored into him.
He tried to keep his gaze light and carefree. "You've got money problems?" she
said, at length.
Hershie scooped up a forkful of pound-cake and shook his head. His mother's
powers of perception bordered on clairvoyance, and he didn't trust himself to
speak the lie outright. He looked around the dining room, furnished with faux
chinoise screens, oriental rugs, angular art-glass chandeliers.
"Tell Mama," she said.
He sighed and finished the cake. "It's the new Minister. He won't give me my
pension unless I tell him my secret identity."
"So?" his mother said. "You're so ashamed of your parents, you'd rather starve
than tell the world that their bigshot hero is Hershie Abromowicz? I, for one
wouldn't mind -- finally, I could speak up when my girlfriends are going on
about their sons the lawyers."
"Mom!" he said, feeling all of eight years old. "I'm not ashamed and you know
it. But if the world knew who I was, well, who knows what kind of danger you'd
be in? I've made some powerful enemies, Mama."
"Enemies, shmenemies," she said, waving her hands. "Don't worry yourself on my
account. Don't make me the reason that you end up in the cold. I'm not helpless
you know. I have Mace."
Hershie thought of the battles he'd fought: the soldiers, the mercenaries, the
terrorists, the crooks and the super-crooks with their insane plots and
impractical apparati. His mother was as formidable as an elderly Jewish woman
with no grandchildren could be, but she was no match for automatic weapons. "I
can't do it, Mama. It wouldn't be responsible. Can we drop it?"
"Fine, we won't talk about it anymore. But a mother _worries_. You're sure you
don't need any money?"
He cast about desperately for a way to placate her. "I'm fine. I've got a
speaking engagement lined up."
There was a message waiting on his comm when he powered it back up. A message
from a relentlessly cheerful woman with a chirpy Texas accent, who identified
herself as the programming coordinator for DefenseFest 33. She hoped he would
return her call that night.
Hershie hovered in a dark cloud over the lake, the wind blowing his coat
straight back, holding the comm in his hand. He squinted through the clouds and
distance until he saw his apartment building, a row of windows lit up like
teeth, his darkened window a gap in the smile. He didn't mind the cold, it was
much colder in his fortress of solitude, but his apartment was more than warmth.
It was his own shabby, homey corner of the hideously expensive city. On the
flight from his mother's, he'd found an old-style fifty-dollar bill, folded
neatly and stuck in the breast pocket of his overcoat.
He returned the phone call.
The super wasn't happy about being roused from his sitcoms, but he grudgingly
allowed Hershie to squirt the rent money at his comm. He wanted to come up and
take the padlock, but Hershie talked him into turning over the key, promising to
return it in the morning.
His apartment was a little one-bedroom with a constant symphony of groaning
radiators. Every stick of furniture in it had been rescued from kerbsides while
Hershie flew his night patrols, saving chairs, sofas and even a scarred walnut
armoire from the trashman.
Hershie sat at the round formica table and commed Thomas.
"It's me," he said.
He didn't want to beat around the bush. "I'm speaking at DefenseFest. Then I'm
going on tour, six months, speaking at military shows. It pays well. Very well."
Very, very well -- well enough that he wouldn't have to worry about his pension.
The US-based promoters had sorted his tax status out with the IRS, who would
happily exempt him, totally freeing him from entanglements with Revenue Canada.
The cheerful Texan had been _glad_ to do it.
He waited for Thomas's trademark stream of vitriol. It didn't come. Very
quietly, Thomas said, "I see."
"Thomas," he said, a note of pleading in his voice. "It's not my choice. If I
don't do this, I'll have to give Woolley my secret identity -- he won't give me
my pension without my Social Insurance Number."
"Or you could get a job," Thomas said, the familiar invective snarl creeping
"I just told you, I can't give out my SIN!"
"So have your secret identity get a job. Wash dishes!"
"If I took a job," Hershie said, palms sweating, "I'd have to give up flying
patrols -- I'd have to stop fighting crime."
"_Fighting crime_?" Thomas's voice was remorseless. "What _crime_? The bugouts
are taking care of crime -- they're making plans to shut down the _police_!
Supe, you've been obsoleted."
"I know," Hershie said, self-pitying. "I know. That's why I got involved with
you in the first place -- I need to have a _purpose_. I'm the Super Man!"
"So your purpose is speaking to military shows? Telling the world that it still
needs its arsenals, even if the bugouts have made war obsolete? Great purpose,
Supe. Very noble."
He choked on a hopeless sob. "So what can I do, Thomas? I don't want to sell
out, but I've got to _eat_."
"Squeeze coal into diamonds?" he said. It was teasing, but not nasty teasing.
Hershie felt his tension slip: Thomas didn't hate him.
"Do you have any idea how big a piece of coal you have to start with to get even
a one-carat stone? Trust me -- someone would notice if entire coalfaces started
"Look, Supe, this is surmountable. You don't have to sell out. You said it
yourself, you're the Super Man -- you have responsibilities. You have duties.
You can't just sell out. Let's sleep on it, huh?"
Hershie was so very, very tired. It was always hardest on him when the Earth's
yellow sun was hidden; the moon was a paltry substitute for its rejuvenating
rays. "Let's do that," he said. "Thanks, Thomas."
DefenseFest 33 opened its doors on one of those incredibly bright March days
when the snow on the ground throws back lumens sufficient to shrink your pupils
to microdots. Despite the day's brightness, a bitterly cold wind scoured Front
Street and the Metro Convention Centre.
From a distance, Hershie watched demonstration muster out front of the Eaton
Centre, a few kilometers north, and march down to Front Street, along their
permit-proscribed route. The turnout was good, especially given the weather:
about 5,000 showed up with wooly scarves and placards that the wind kept
threatening to tear loose from their grasp.
The veterans marched out front, under a banner, in full uniform. Next came the
Quakers, who were of the same vintage as the veterans, but dressed like elderly
English professors. Next came three different Communist factions, who circulated
back and forth, trying to sell each other magazines. Finally, there came the
rabble: Thomas's group of harlequin-dressed anarchists; high-school students
with packsacks who industriously commed their browbeaten classmates who'd
elected to stay at their desks; "civilians" who'd seen a notice and come out,
and tried gamely to keep up with the chanting.
The chanting got louder as they neared the security cordon around the Convention
Centre. The different groups all mingled as they massed on the opposite side of
the barricades. The Quakers and the vets sang "Give Peace a Chance," while
Thomas and his cohort prowled around, distributing materiel to various trusted
The students hollered abuse at the attendees who were trickling into the
Convention Centre in expensive overcoats, florid with expense-account breakfasts
and immaculately groomed.
Hershie's appearance silenced the crowd. He screamed in over the lake, banked
vertically up the side of the CN Tower, and plummeted downward. The
demonstrators set up a loud cheer as he skimmed the crowd, then fell silent and
aghast as he touched down on the _opposite_ side of the barricade, with the
convention-goers. A cop in riot-gear held the door for him and he stepped
inside. A groan went up from the protestors, and swelled into a wordless,
Hershie avoided the show's floor and headed for the green room. En route, he was
stopped by a Somali general who'd been acquitted by a War Crimes tribunal, but
only barely. The man greeted him like an old comrade and got his aide to snap a
photo of the two of them shaking hands.
The green room was crowded with coffee-slurping presenters who pecked furiously
at their comms, revising their slides. Hershie drew curious stares when he
entered, but by the time he'd gotten his Danish and coffee, everyone around him
was once again bent over their work, a field of balding cabbages anointed with
high-tech hair-care products.
Hershie's palms were slick, his alien hearts throbbing in counterpoint. His
cowlick wilted in the aggressive heat shimmering out of the vent behind his
sofa. He tried to keep himself calm, but by the time a gofer commed him and
squirted directions to the main ballroom, he was a wreck.
Hershie commed into the feed from the demonstration in time to see the Quakers
sit, en masse, along the barricade, hands intertwined, asses soaking in the
slush at the kerbside. The cops watched them impassively, and while they were
distracted, Thomas gave a signal to his crew, who hastily unreeled a
stories-high smartscreen, the gossamer fabric snapping taut in the wind as it
unfurled over the Convention Centre's facade.
The cops were suddenly alert, moving, but Thomas was careful to keep the screen
on his side of the barricade. Tina led a team of high-school students who spread
out a solar collector the size and consistency of a parachute. It glinted in the
Szandor hastily cabled a projector/loudhailer apparatus to the collector.
Szandor's dog nipped at his heels as he steadied and focused the apparatus on
the screen, and Szandor plugged his comm into it and powered it up.
There was a staticky pop as the speakers came to life, loud enough to be heard
over the street noise. The powerful projector beamed its image onto the screen,
bright even in the midday glare.
There were hoots from the crowd as they recognised the feed: a live broadcast of
the keynote addresses in the Centre. The Patron Ik'Spir Pat's hoverchair
prominent. The camera lingered on the Patron's eyes, the only part of him
visible from within the chair's masking infrastructure. They were startling,
silvery orbs, heavy-lidded and expressionless.
The camera swung to Hershie. Szandor spat dramatically and led a chorus of
Hershie hastily closed his comm and cleared his throat, adjusted his mic, and
addressed the crowd.
"Uh. . ." he said. His guts somersaulted. Time to go big or go home.
"Hi." That was better. "Thanks. I'm the Super Man. For years, I worked alongside
UN Peacekeeping forces around the world. I hoped I was doing good work. Most of
the time, I suppose I may have been."
He caught the eye of Brenda, the cheerful Texan who'd booked him in. She looked
"There's one thing I'm certain of, though: it's that the preparation for war has
never led to anything _but_ war. With this show, you ladies and gentlemen are
participating in a giant conspiracy to commit murder. Individually, you may not
be evil, but collectively, you're the most amoral supervillain I've ever faced."
Brenda was talking frantically into her comm. His mic died. He simply expanded
his mighty diaphragm and kept on speaking, his voice filling the ballroom.
"I urge you to put this behind you. We've entered into a new era in human
history. The good Patron here offers the entire Universe; you scurry around,
arranging the deaths of people you've never met.
"It's a terribly, stupid, mindless pursuit. You ought to be ashamed of
With that, Hershie stepped away from the podium and walked out of the ballroom.
The camera tracked him as he made his way back through the Convention Centre,
out the doors. He leapt the barricade and settled in front of the screen. The
demonstrators gave him a standing ovation, and Thomas gravely shook his hand.
The handshake was repeated on the giant screen behind them, courtesy of the
cameraman, who had gamely vaulted the barricade as well.
The crowd danced, hugged each other, laughed. Szandor's dog bit him on the ass,
and he nearly dropped the projector.
He recovered in time to nearly drop it again, as the Patron Ik'Spir Pat's
hoverchair glided out the Centre's doors and made a beeline for Hershie.
Hershie watched the car approach with nauseous dread. The Patron stopped a few
centimetres from him, so they were almost eyeball-to-eyeball. The hoverchair's
PA popped to life, and the Patron spoke, in the bugouts' thrilling contralto.
"Thank you for your contribution," the bugout said. "It was refreshing to have
another perspective presented."
Hershie tried for a heroic nod. "I'm glad you weren't offended."
"On the contrary, it was stimulating. I shall have to speak with the
conference's organisers; this format seems a good one for future engagements."
Hershie felt his expression slipping, sliding towards slack-jawed incredulity.
He struggled to hold it, then lost it entirely when one of the Patron's silvery
eyes drooped closed in an unmistakable wink.
"Hershie, I just saw it on the television."
He cringed back from his comm as he shrank deeper into the corner of the
Belquees that he'd moved to when his comm rang.
"Mama, it's all right. They've signed me for the full six months. I'll be fine
"Of course you'll be fine, bubbie. But would it kill you to brush your hair
before you go on television in front of the whole world? Do you want everyone to
think your mother raised a slob?"
Hershie smiled. "I will, Mama."
"I know you will, bubbie. You're a very good-looking man, you know. But no one
wants to marry a man with messy hair."
"I know, Mama."
"Well, I won't keep you. Do you think you could come for dinner on Friday? I
know you're busy, but your old mother won't be here forever."
He sighed his father's sigh. "I'll be there, Mama."