A Reluctant Hero




OOC: This was originaly posted on the pre-release public board on 11/2/2001. I am copying it here to preserve it from being wiped as these boards replace the former ones. We had at the time had barely a month to get used to thinking about what a whole city full of superheroes would be like, what the implications would be. Despite a few typos I still look back on it as a darn good story and worth preserving.

Finally a disclaimer. Paragon City is a fictional world. I am including the names of real-world places (Fry's, Costco, etc.) as a common fiction device of providing refrences to well-understood archetypes, not to make any factual statements or comments about their real world counterparts. So please no "Fry's isn't really like that" comments.

I send you this file to ask you advice

Mark knew what the message was even before the virus scanner had finished. It had come from Harold Andersen in accounting who not only would never ask anybodys advice about anything but also probably spoke in whole grammatically correct sentences even when he stubbed his toe on furniture in the middle of the night. The virus analyzer described the file as having a previously unknown signature but a very unoriginal design. It was yet another mail worm, which used the victims mail book to send itself to people who would be inclined to trust a message from that sender. Mark had almost lost track of the number of these he had seen, although it still caused him to seethe. Of course to Harold yet another mail worm virus would be hardly bad news at all. Harold would say that just drives more sales of antivirus software for us and when they bring in their trashed computer it meant service revenue or even whole new system sales. Of course Harold had never had his life ruined by one of these.

Susan had been the first relationship in years that seemed to be getting beyond the "Gee Mark, you're such a good listener" stage. They enjoyed rockclimbing together and had a challenging day trip planned for a saturday. Then the first Red Alert virus struck the servers and he had to cancel at the last second. She decided to attempt their planned ascent solo. Well, what can be a simple problem when climbing as a team can be a disaster when going solo, and whe was left clinging to the rock in terror, unable to move up or down, for a half hour until another group could come to her aid. She never specifically blamed him for those thirty minutes of terror, but he knew that he should have been there, and she did too. They had not talked since.

The viral analyzer had completed decompiling the viralcode and Mark could tell what it would do. The virus would remain completely silent for one week and then the next time Windows was exited the shutdown code would replace every possible byte on the disk with the words "I own jOOu!" repeated endlessly, essentially trashing the entire disk in an unrecoverable fashion at a time when users expect their disk to be running for a while cleaning up temporary files. This may not be a very creative hacker but it sure was an exceptionally nasty one. Mark could picture the strained faces on the customers a week from now hoping that mister wizzard can somehow magically recover their data. But by actually writing over the data byte by byte it would be completely gone. Customer service could be a hard place if you cared about people, which is why so few of his workers did.

On the other hand it was a good candidate for something he had put together a few days ago. Since so many of these nasty yet uncreative programmers were using exactly the same method to distribute their code the same method could be used in reverse to distribute a fix. So he composed a quick little e-mail saying that there was a good chance that their computer had a very harmfull virus hidden in a file that they opened and that the attached program would not only remove the virus but also notify the person that you may have recieved it from and the persons that you may have inadvertendly sent it too. Moreover it would send diagnostic information to help learn more about the spread of the virus. It included a stern warning that the infection had to be removed within seven days and that while Fry's Electronics was providing this as a service they had no responsibility for creating the virus in question.

He hit the send key and walked across the street to the Hero Station where he ordered the usual #4 Ultraman (Turkey, swiss, tomato and avocado)

Halfway through the sandwich the alpha-pager feature of his cell phone chirped. It was an automatic warning that the mail storage space on the server had reached 90% of its allocated space. It was no more than mid-fifties the day before. Mark stuffed the remainder of the sandwich back into the bag and rushed across the street. The source of the flood of e-mail was, surprizingly, his own program. He had put in a feature that would copy the information about who had sent the virus and who it had been sent to in an e-mail to an address he has set up on the Fry's server. He thought that he had set it to only cover the first few levels so that he could see how the virus moved around within the Fry's server but did not take into account the fact that, since each recipient of the program got a fresh copy, the counter would allways be at 1. So here he was recieving a fairly complete history of how the virus was spreading across the entire internet! Mark quickly doubled e-mail storage allocation and set up a program that would purge the essential information to the massive SQL Server datacenter as it came in. He thought about telling his boss Gerald the store manager about it but when he first described the idea of the program to Gerald his reply was "The suits will hate it", which was his way of saying "I think it is a fine idea but if word gets out about it I won't be able to protect you". So since no apparent harm was being done he let it go.

That evening at home he created a program that could access the data and analyze it graphically over time. He could pick out a computer, like Harolds, and see the lines radiate out from it to other computers, many of which would then burst out other sprays of lines. When zoomed out far enough it looked like hundreds of little fireworks spreading out across his screen, Kind of beautifull in fact. He then decided to run the sequence backwards and the fireworks collapsed inwards on themselves over and over until there was just one point.

One point.

Mark blinked at it. Was that really what he thought it was? Out of nearly a quarter terrabyte of information not one single transaction occured earlier than the e-mails from this account. Looking farther he discovered that even though he sent infected e-mails to hundreds of people nobody sent one to him. Usually when you have someone in your e-mail address book they also have yours in theirs. Not this one.

The account was with a small local dialup service provider. Mark had helped set them up when they first got started. They allowed him an administrator access password for when he had to help them. Mark had helped a lot of firms on the side. A lot of the folks at Fry's did that to supplement the thin wages available in retail. Gerald said that "The suits would hate it". He connected and checked their membership records. The account had been opened a few days before the e-mails and closed the next day before the free month expired. Not only a nasty b#$%^!+ but a cheap nasty b#$%^!+. But he had to give a credit card number to get the account. Would he have been careless enough to give his name and address? Mark checked the Fry's customer database. There was a matching name and address. He ran a credit authorization using the credit card number and the address. The authorization was approved and the address was verified as matching the billing address of the card. It also meant that the card had not been reported as stolen. Cheap, nasty and careless.



He had the evidince. Now what? Go to the police? Maybe he might be able to get them interested but he was not even sure that he could get them to agree that a crime had been committed yet. Not only that but the last three persons who were arrested for hacking not only made bail quickly but were immediately contracted with Crey Industries as 'security consultants'. The last thing he wanted to do was to help land this guy a job that probably paid three times what he made. Maybe his carelessness with his real name and address was not accidental. Destroying thousands of people's computers was just his job application.

A superhero might be able to get this guy's attention, and maybe make others think twice about trying it in the future. But what superhero would think of defeating a wimpy computer nerd who destroys only with e-mails. They have their pride and fame to think of. But yes, a superhero in his face is exactly what this selfish, careless, cheap b#$%^!+ really needed. Someone to scare the hell out of him and all his black-hat hacker friends too. Something to make them think twice about hitting the send button.

Or maybe if they just thought there was a superhero out there? Could he put on a convincing enough show to scare this guy? The thought was delicious. He savored it. Oh how it would feel good to finally really DO something to them rather than just allways being on the recieving end of their malicious little hobby.

He drove back to the store before closing. In the bottom of a box in a locked closet were three tasers that someone in home office thought would be good if each store had in case customers started rioting (It showed what the home office thought about customers). It was a completely useless idea, particularly in Paragon City, where personal bravery had been outsourced to brightly clad subcontractors. "Why do anything dangerous? That is what superheroes are for!" Sometimes it seems that even the police think the same thing. The tasers were the reusable kind, where the spools of wire could be rewound and used again. He took two of them and hid them in his laptop case. He was one of only a handfull of employees who were not subject to search as they left the store. He also took a hundred large capacity capacitors and piezoelectric annuncitators. He bought a spool of heavier guage wire and a super-soaker water gun and a can of black spray paint. Most of the rest of the things he needed were already part of his gear at home. Next to the Fry's was a Costco. He bought a gallon of kerosene heater fuel and a gallon of maple flavored pancake syrup. This of couse was the normal size they sold.

He strapped the two tasers together to form a single weapon. The first taser he left as a standard issue item, where the combination of a battery and capacitor sent a steady stream of staccato jolts down the two wires that caused pain and involuntary muscle contractions. For the second taser he replaced the spools of long thin wire with a shorter length of heavy wire capable of carrying a lot more current. This phaser would be powered by a separate power source he would put into his climbing rucksack. He rigged each of the capacitators in parallel with one of the piezoelectric annunciators, just as they would in an electronic photo flash unit with a rising tone indicating that the capacitator was charging. This he then rigged to a whole pile of rechargable batteries that had been spared from old cell phones, laptops, etc. before they were junked at the store. Nobody else cared that they batteries contained toxic heavy metals that should not go to the landfill but he did. It was quite a pile of batteries. Rather than giving a series of electric shocks this setup would be designed to give a single huge shock. He then added a slider switch that could control how many of the bank of capacitors would be charged for a given shot.

He enlarged the nozzle of the super-soaker and then experimented with a mixture of kerosene and pancake syrup that would cling to surfaces without clogging the workings of the super-soaker and still be highly flamable.

Next would have to come the question of costume. He searched several disks worth of clip art before finding an old 30's-ish logo of a fist holding a cluster of lightning bolts. He thought that seemed appropriate. He printed an iron-on transfer off of the inkjet printer and added the logo to a white turtleneck shirt. He then added his cool weather climbing pants, climbing harness and the rucksack. He then added several of the tools that he liked to have with him (mini-maglite in holster, leatherman tool, cell phone, coiled climbing rope) He looked in a mirror and saw...a rockclimber with a funny logo on his chest. It would not do at all. He had the lean, wiry build of a rockclimber and soccer player, not the huge football lineman chest that everyone associated with superheros. He needed visual bulk, and short of a plastic bodysuit the best way to get it was a cape. And thanks to being dracula last halloween he had one available. Of course the absurdly high collar needed to be removed, and once done so it was a perfectly normal cape. Thrown over all his other stuff it at least gave him something resembling a 'presence'. But the head on top was still him. He had a pair of wrap around sport sunglasses that were not too dark for night use and had a slightly mirrored finish. He adjusted the croakies so that they would be nearly impossible to fall off. The shades gave a nice sinister edge to his face, but his hair still said 'middle management'. A wig would have been one solution but he thought that a hat or hood might cause fewer problems. Mostly he had a collection of baseball caps with the emblem of his adult amateur soccer league team or tournaments they had competed at (and frequently won) did not seem suitable at all. Then there was the Tilley Endurables cloth hat that he had owned for years. Well anything that gets advertized about how often it can be sent through an elephant's digestive tract and still look good must be durable enough for superhero work. Like most Tillys the hat was unbleached cotton. There were dyed versions, but since any dye can fade over time in sunlight only the undyed hats had the unequivocal forever guarauntee. And the dual neckstraps will be handy too. He snapped the left side of the brim up since he thought it had more character that way. finally some soft black leather driving gloves so that he would not leave fingerprints. Well, that was the best he was going to do in one night and he was worried that if he took longer his better judgement would tell him that the whole notion was insane. His better judgement was usually right, of course, but often left him regretting what might have been. He poked his uncostumed head out of the door to see that the hallway was empty and then left via the stairs and back entrance of the apartment building, donning the hat and shades on the way.

He could not think of any form of transportation that would not raise a whole bunch of qestions that he did not really want to answer yet so he walked. It was only about a mile.



Fortunately the building's security was not particularly tight. The rear exit had no security cameras observing it and had a solid canopy over the door. Climbing up to that canopy gave access to a openable window at the end of the second floor hallway that was left unlocked by careless tennants.

Once inside the building he took the staris to the fifth floor where his destination was. He noticed that the hallways were lower than normal and there was an access panel above each door. He had seen that system in his college dorm freshman year. It reminded him of a prank that might prove usefull. From an unlocked janitor's closet he obtained a small stepstool. Quitely opening the access panel in front of the hacker's door he found exactly what he had hoped for. The building used a centralized four-pipe water system with individual air handlers for each apartment, just like the old dorm. The space above the hallway contained four pipes: hot water supply, hot water return, chilled water supply, chilled water return. The building constantly kept water flowing under pressure through those two pipes. The thermostat in each apartment was connected to a pair of valves that, depending on whether the apartment needed heating or cooling, would open or close to send hot or cold water to the coils that the air circulating fan for that particular apartment blew the air over. It was a good system for apartments where one unit might be needing heat while another needing cooling. All he had to do was to attach both wires from the thermostat to the blue labeled post on the electronic valve and wait.

The open access panel, near where the pipes passes through the wall, allowed a better path for sound to leak from the apartment. Soon he heard some cursing, a pause, some more cursing, another pause the sound of a phone being dialed and then some shouting "Its [censored] November, its forty degrees outside, and the bleedin heater is pumpin nothing but COLD air! Yes I adjusted the thremostat. Yes I'm SURE I adjusted the thermostat. Yes I'm Bloody Fugging Sure I adjusted the thermostat in the right direction! Just get the hell up here and fix it!".

Mark figured that he had maybe a half hour before the real building repairman would arrive. The building Super no doubt was certain that it was just a badly adjusted thermostat and would not want to have folks thinking that he could allways be there right away. But if Mark arrived too soon that might be suspicious too. He called from the stairwell "Uh, Sir, several other apartments have been having the same problem and we already have Jose already on site, I will radio it in, and there is no need to adjust your thermostat." He walked back to the apartment. With his head in the access panel sound would also transmit well into the apartment too. "Yah, I am at zee place." (bang on pipes) "Yep eet looks zee same. I make zee ayudjestment" (bang on pipes some more) "Be done reel soon." (several more banging on pipes with various length pauses, switch the wire back, followed by closing the hatch noisily). He pounded on the door with his fist "Hey Meestah, you heeter work now?". "Yeah, thanks" but did not open the door. "Hey meestah, I need joo sign the form say the work iss done. He positioned himself so that if they did use the peephole they would just see the hat. But he suspected the hacker would presume that since the heater had started working it was indeed just the repairman. He heard the deadbolts slip aside and the door to begin to crack open.

Mark did not wait for anyything more than that crack in the door. He wanted the initiative right from the start. He slammed his shoulder against the door with the full weight of his body behind it. It hit the hacker hard in the face and chest and sent him sprawling back into the apartment. Mark closed the door and threw one of the deadbolts. Flush with adrenaline he grabbed the hacker by the shirt and dragged him into the apartment and threw him on the couch saying "It is going to get a hell of a lot hotter here before I am done." Before the hacker could fully comprehend what was happening Mark pulled out the dual taser and, using the normal taser, delivered several seconds of shocks. To the hacker it must have seemed like forever as his entire body convulsed uncontrolably. Mark then pushed the slider switch on the larger taser from the lowest to the highest setting and glanced about the apartment. From the tiny sound of just one annunciator a hundred started their chreshendo whine. "Hey, you know that kind of sounds like the original Star Trek Serries when they put a phaser on overload, doesn't it?" But the hacker was shaking in terror and just said, barely above a whisper "Please Don't Kill Me". Oh, Mark realized, he thinks that there is just one Taser and I just upped the power on it to an ungodly level, although to be perfectly honest he had no idea whether the single jolt from the big taser could be fatal or not. He was about to begin to explain all this in precise detail to the hacker when he stopped himself and just said "I still have a purpose for you". He could survey the entire studio apartment from where he was standing. On a simple table desk was two computers hooked through a switchbox to a single keyboard and monitor. One case was open on the side as if the hacker wanted to easily be able to swap components. There were also some papers that looked strangely out of place among the manuals and magazines. On an impulse he grabbed them and slid them under a belt. The hacker seemed shocked at that. The capacitors had finished charging and the annunciators had switched to random beeps as the charge was maintained, sounding line a box full of insane crickets. He dediced to try the open case first. The moment that the two probes from the enhanced taser made contact with the case it erupted in a blinding flash as the entire charge built in the capacitors was released in a tiny fraction of a second, representing a momentary surge of thousands of volts. The familiar hum of the power supply, fan, and hard disks was replaced by a dull sizzle and whisps of smoke. Every electronic or magnetic component, most likely even the surfaces of the hard disks, was toast.

The capacitors began their ascending while. joined soon by the apartment smoke alarm. Keeping the tasers trained on the dumbfounded hacker Mark whipped out his climbing hammer with his left hand, slammed the pick end under the detector and sent if flying across the apartment to smash against the far wall. Like the hacker it knew when to shut up. Returning the hammer to his harness he swung up the super-soaker in his left hand and sprayed a good coating over the stacks of CD-R, Zip disks, and diskettes. A quick spart from the smaller taser ignited it. As the kerosene burned it carmelized the sugar in the pancake syrup that was left behind, forming a tough layer that then chared and burned itself. This would be then followed by the plastic itself warping under the heat and igniting. The disks were as gone as the computer was. The room was filling with an ugly stench and noxious black smoke.

The hacker, half-pleading and half-accusing said "What the hell have I ever done to you?

Mark's reply was the only thing so far that he had practiced. "You e-mailed me a file. You asked what I thought of it. Well this is what I think of it". Mark then pivoted with the enhanced taser and destroyed the second computer. This time enough of the jolt headed down the power cord to blow the circuit breaker. The blinding flash was followed by only the flickering light of the burning data filtered through the growing smoke in the room.

"The rules have changed. You hack, you crack, you screw up folks and soon or later I'll be visiting. When you get back online, and I know you will, get that word out. Let the others know that they need to think about that before they hit that send key, because I am out there now, watching.

"And who the hell are you?"

Oops, he hadn't thought of a name yet. He actually almost blurted out "I'm Mark, Customer Service Manager at the uptown Fry's Electronics". He bought time by advancing slowly. Maybe a cool, dark, menacing name like Dark Vector. No, hackers picked those types of titles and he did not want to be thought of as just an insanely violent hacker. Maybe a science fiction allusion like Commander Data? Nah, too corny. Come on, think! He was running out of space to stall with, the brim of the Tilly Hat was within inches of the hacker. That caused an idea to jump into his head that seemed better than the others, so he went with it. He punched out each word as he said them.

"I am White Hat"

Yes it seems like a lame name for a superhero, but the surprized and puzzled look on the hacker's face meant that he had gotten the message. White Hat hackers were just folks who came up with security programs. They were an obstacle and a nussiance to hackers, never a dangerous threat. Never someone that would nearly electrocute them and wreck their gear. The rules were indeed changing.

Mark ran to the balcony door and slid it open. Cool night air rushed in. He reached for the balcony railing and simultaneously tested its strength and clipped a carabiner to it. The rope and his harness were already rigged for rapelling. He leapt off the balcony, tossing the rope ahead of him in the same motion, and descended the entire five story height as quickly as possible. Much as he hated leaving a good rope there was no time to recover and coil it so upon reaching the ground he cut it and left it there and ran off into the dark.



Mark deliberately took a winding path home, intending to avoid the most traveled routes and to obscure his final destination. This unfortunately gave him time to think about what he had done. Assault certainly, also arson, valdalism, and petty theft if those papers had any value. Not the kind of crimes that get you a consulting job. Maybe even Impersonating a Superhero, although Mark seemed to recall that law required that you impersonate a specific superhero. Still it was an impressive act that really made its mark. Many years of frustration and anger at what had been taken from him by hackers had been relieved.

His course was taking him along a path through a park that was scarcely used at night. Suddenly from a dimly lit picnic area he could see silloutettes and sounds of struggle.

"Hey this beetch sure is a fierce one"

"Yeah beetch, just relax and take it. I'tll hurt less"

"Relax and enjoy it, At least it will be my turn sooner"

Mark searched the horizon and sky for any sign of a superhero who could rescue her. None were evident at all. He slowly moved closer while still scanning franticly for a real hero to call for help. As his eyes adjusted to the darker light he could make out. that there were three men holding the woman down to the picnic table. One was holding down an arm with one hand while the other hand was covering her mouth. The second was holding the opposite arm and leg, The third was at the end of the table holding her other leg while pushing down his pants and tearing away her clothing. Approaching quietly from behind and to the side of the one at the end of the table the three were too occupied to see him.

But she did see him. The look of desperate terror and hopefull relief in her eyes struck him to the core.

She just sees a costume. She thinks a superhero has come to save her. One certaintly sank deeply into his heart.

There was absolutely, positively no way he would be able to walk away and feel anything good about tonight.

Three armed thugs were way more than what he could handle with his gear. He would have to fake it. The regular taser might have been his best weapon but because of the physical contact between them it would shock the woman too. In addition there was a chance that the probes would not penetrate the heavy jackets the men were wearing.

So he placed his arms akimbo to increase his apparent size under the cloak and shouted in the most commanding voice his shaking throat could muster "Leave Her Alone". Still no bonus points for creative writitng.

He must have done it well enough because they paid attention to him, or at least they paid attention enough for the one holding the arm and leg to let go, pull a knife, and charge at him. Even worse the one who was holding her arm and mouth shifted both of his hands to her neck and begin strangling her. Her hands, though now free, desperately grabbed unsuccessfully to free her throat.

But first he needed some way to take care of the knife weidling thug closing in on him. The brute' pasty round face and black backwards-facing baseball cap suddenly reminded him of...an incoming soccer ball. So why not try a side volley bicycle kick? At least he certainly knew how to do one. Flinging himself up and sideways his instep landed squarely into the ear of the thug with a satisfying thud and popcorn crackle as neck vertebrae shifted out of position. Even better the opposite side of his face hit a park bench. Mark landed on his hip, rolled and came to his feet. Coach Mitchell would have been proud. He was not sure though that the dual blow of his foot and the bench would be enough to stop this first thug for long. He pointed the regular taser at the skin at the back of the neck that was exposed as the thug bent and clutched his head. A good long burst sent him flopping face-first on the ground. Near the end the spacing of the jolts declined rapidly. The battery for the regular taser was just about dead. The effort of reeling in the wires finished it. He pushed the slider of the enhanced taser from zero to the top. The whine began building again, but it too was much slower.

Now the rapist had turned and was fumbling at the pants around his knees. Mark first thought that he was just trying to pull them back up. Then Mark saw that the rapist was pulling out a gun instead. There was no time to think. Mark just shot the enhanced taser at the most exposed piece of skin available.

Mark had never wondered what it would be like to have a sudden jolt of several hundred volts sent through his privates. If he had, though, all doubt had just been removed. The gun dropped harmlessly as its former owner slowly slumped to the ground in a fetal position, emitting a single solid wail somewhere near high C. The backpack, however was barely making a sound. The batteries were almost exhausted. So Mark picked up the gun.

This had taken too long. The woman's face was blue and her eyes were starting to roll backward. Her hands had clawed several deep scratches into the hands and arms at her throat but now were beginning to slip off. Mark shouted "Let Go of Her", but the coward shook his head and held the slumping woman's body in front of him as a shield. An unconcious human is a lot of dead weight, fortunately, and in two leaps Mark had closed the distance and put the gun barrel square between the eyeballs of the thug. The determined set of Mark's jaw said 'I will blow your brains out to make you let go of her'. He absolutely meant it.

So the thug let go of her and stepped back with his hands in the air. The sound of gasping breaths from the ground assured Mark that her windpipe had not been crushed and that it had not been too late. His eyes and the gun never wavered. A moment ago Mark was 100% ready to pull the trigger, and his guts were screaming to go ahead and complete it. He very nearly did. But it really was no longer necessary. But still this jackal not only was helping to **** the woman but came within seconds of murdering her. There was no way that Mark was going to let him get away with a scare...and dirty underwear. A dark stain was growing in the center of the thug's pants. That gave Mark an idea. Holding the gun in his right hand he swung up the super-soaker with his left and emptied the contents onto the thug. There was not much fluid or pressure so it only covered the legs and abdomen. The thug at first cringed at whatever punishment was coming at him but then became puzzled when it was just this sticky fluid. Mark lowered the super-soaker, switched the gun to his left hand, and raised the tasers, hoping there was enough in the big one to make a spark. There was.

As the thug's legs erupted into fire he instincively brought his hands down to slap out the flames. This only meant that his cut and scratched hands became coated in the sticky, bubbling, charring flambe. He ran as a screaming flaming streak to the duck pond and hurled himself in, making kind of a sizzling sound as he entered the water. To nobody in particular he screamed "Man, no [censored] in the world is worth this!". His two partners, from the ground, made various groans of agreement.



The woman was breathing a little more steadily now. Mark helped her to her feet, saying "We need to get you to a safer place". Her purse was still intact. Apparently they were waiting until the end to search it for valuables. He grabbed it and helped her along. Her first few steps were shaky, but soon he had encouraged her into a slow run. In two hundred yards they had reached a well lit major street. Mark said "I think we are safer here". With those words she collapsed against his chest and began sobbing uncontrolably. He could not tell if it was relief or gratitude or delayed terror but he knew that she must be feeling as vulnerable as it is possible for a human to be.

The shivering, on the other hand, might be just cold. The rapists had torn her blouse open all the way down the front, her skirt was in tatters, and her panties and shoes and any jacket she had where missing somewhere back at the park. He knew better than to suggest going back for them. So he wrapped the cloak about the both of them and let her cry for as long as she needed. When she seemed ready to let go he slipped the cloak off of his shoulders and let her have it completely. He shifted the strap of the super-soaker so that it was now more on his back than his side and slipped the gun between this back and the rucksack so it would not be evident. "Do you want to go home or to a hospital?" He asked. "Home." "Want a Taxi?" "No, It is not far".

As they walked she began to recount the evening, scolding herself about how foolish she had been, drinking too much, not really knowing who she was leaving with, letting them lead her to a deserted area, not taking their initial joking lewd comments more seriously, not being more forcefull when they began pawing her.

He had to set this straight. He held her shoulders to face him. "Listen, nothing you did, absolutely nothing, justifies what they were doing in any way. You might have been able to avoid it but you did not deserve it. You did not ask for it. You did not cause it. I came within an inch of killing that man to make him let go of your neck. Don't tell me you were were asking for that. They deserved everything that I did to them. If they never consider doing anything like that again it will be a good thing for themselves and everyone around them."

She nodded agreement. They continued walking. She apparently still felt a need to speak so she talked about her crummy landlord, her up-and-down relationship with her mother, her thoughless ex-boyfriend who she still sometimes wishes she hadn't dumped in spite of it all.

This, Mark thought, was more like his typical relationship with women. Talk and listen. Talk and listen. Then when it came time to suggest more it would be 'gee Mark, you are such a good friend and listener, I wouldn't want to complicate that' which really translated to 'You help me unload just as good as my Therapist and don't cost anything. If we were involved romantically I couldn't share my problems about romance because that would be you. Besides, you're a geek, and not some cool cashed-out-millions-from-my-dotcom-before-it-failed geek but a geek manager of the geekoid department of the ultimate geek supply depot in the world.' It had been a long time since he had been in a serious relationship. He sort of doubted whether the women involved in any of them had regarded the relationships as serious.

Suddenly a large bright green object zoomed overhead and landed a dozen yards ahead of them. In her fragile state the woman shrieked and gripped his arm tightly with both hands. Mark quickly recognized it as Captain Turbonium. Turbonium glanced at them and gave Mark a look and gesture that Mark interpreted as being half 'Good work, fellow protector of justice!' and half 'yeah, these costumes really are babe-magnets, aren't they?'. Then Captain T. was down the street in a flash. The woman relaxed her grip, but continued holding his arm.

"Hah! Now a superhero finally shows up!" Mark scoffed.

The woman gave him a very, very, puzzled look.

She deserved the truth.

"I am not a superhero. No unexplainable mutations. No magical spells of ancient eldritch knowledge. No Mystic Artifact from the long lost civilizations. No genetic alterations. No super senses or strength. No implanted cybertechnology. This really is just a super-soaker gun with a homemade concoction in it. I am just..." He thought about saying 'a customer service manager at Fry's Electronics' but decided that it still might not be safe to be that specific about his identity. "...I'm just a guy that decided that he needed to wear a white hat. There was a hacker that had released a virus that was going to trash thousands of PCs in a week. I thought that if he believed a superhero were onto him he would never do it again."

"But...you rescued me..."

"Yes, and yeah it was dangerous, but..."

He had never really thought about what he said next. The words just seemed to pour out of hidden part of him. "...but it was just the sort of common courage that is found in any good person. Superheros have done great things for the city, but we seen to think now that courage and honor and nobility are things that should be left to the experts. But those things have been around forever, in everyone. They were with the people who came here and built this country. They were all just ordinary people."

"Ordinary people in white hats?"

"Yeah", he laughed, "Ordinary folks in white hats. Sorry if I was getting a little preachy there."

They continued silently until they had reached her apartment. "I will wait here outside for you to bring back the cape."

She opened the door a few minutes later dressed in a bathrobe and carrying his cape. He noticed that she had washed her face and arms and combed her hair. He thought that, psychologicaly, it was a good sign that she would be taking care of herself after a trauma like this.

She took a digital camera from her pocket. "May I have a picture? It isn't every day that a girl gets rescued by a superhero."

"Maybe someday you will get rescued by a superhero." Still he let her take two pictures.

"When folks ask me what happened, what should I call you? 'Some Guy in a White Hat'?"

"No, just call me White Hat. That is enough." No point in trying to come up with yet another name.

"Goodnight White Hat"

"Goodnight. Take care of yourself. You have been through a lot today."

"You too"

Indeed, he though as he left, he had been through a lot too. Hopefully that was all of it. But it was far from certain. The three thugs or their friends, or the hacker or his friends might be out looking for revenge on him. Even the police might have an arrest warrant out on him from his actions at the hacker's apartment. He tried to make himself an inconspicuous as someone in a costume can be as he headed home. When he was finally safe behind the locked door of his apartment he was immensely releved. He earnestly wanted tonight to be both the first and the last adventures of White Hat.



The next morning Mark checked around the usenet groups and some discussion boards. News had definitly managed to get around. Some were decrying that someone would really bust into someones apartment like that and others saying that it was about time that someone took notice of the jerks that hack the same way they paid attention to muggers and rapists. And some just disagreed with everybody because disagreeing with everybody was what they did. Others tried to analyze the situation thoughfully from a standpoint of civil liberties vs society's responsibility to create order. They had about as much chance of being heard as Ghandi in the middle of an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. The usenet and the discussion boards were their usual selves, but the hacker had not kept quiet. He had achieved the publicity effect that Mark had hoped for. The hackers had something new to worry about, even though he hoped to never be White Hat again.

He was just settling in at his desk that morning when a voice boomed behind him "Hey, there's the hero!". The shock almost caused him to dump his coffee cup in his lap. It was his boss Gerald. How the hell did he know!

"You would not believe the number of e-mails that have been pouring in thanking us for helping them clean up and notify folks about that virus. The suits still haven't decided whether they hate it or not, but it sure is nice hearing folks saying how nice we are to customers for a change."

He was a hero from the e-mail? Sure it helped a lot of people and that was nice, but compared to everything else that went on last night? He couldn't say that of course, but this was Gerald and scoring some extra points with the boss would not be bad if he handled it carefully.

"Not just that, but the dispersion data it collected identified the hacker that released it."

Gerald's eyes popped open. He spoke in a whisper "What are you going to do?"

Mark had to tell a little lie. "I tipped it off to a superhero to take care of."

That little lie was intentional. If someone, like the hacker, figured that the Fry's e-mail was the means that tracked him down and investigated he would learn that Mark had informed the superhero, rather than was the superhero.

Gerald gulped. "You know a superhero? Which one?"

Mark leaned over and whispered "It is best if I didn't say, and we had better keep this extra quiet. I am really, really, sure that the suits will hate this."

Gerald nodded agreement. Fry's corporate headquarters was in San Jose and it shared the rest of the country's reluctance and suspicions about having disguized persons with weird powers not only running free, but trusted with the public safety.

The rest of the day went by routinely, although Mark frequently found himself speculating about how this or that might have been used by White Hat. It was kind of a fun mind game.

That evening he dug out the papers that he had snatched off of the hacker's desk. He immediately realized why they had struck him as strange. They were written in German. He thought about trying some of the free translation sites on the web, but most were either horribly slow, limited fronts for pay sites, or just plain lame. Besides he would have no idea if the sentences that he was entering would be logged onto the server. The pages might contain information that he did not want associated with himself.



The next morning he checked the discussions again. They had simmered down to the same persons making the same points that they had failed to persuade anybody about yesterday, only more virulent and spiced with personal insults. In other words it the discussion boards as usual.

This morning his nearly coffee-spilling surprize came from Debbi in inventory. "So you hear about this White Hat guy?"

Contrary to popular myth being a techno-geek was not a requirement of working at Fry's. To Debbi it was all just SKU numbers, no different here than when she worked next door at Costco. Her passion was nightlife. She was one of those persons for whom no matter what was wrong around her the solution was to party more intensely to ignore it. Nuclear war would find her in the nearest disco for sure. No way she would be looking at internet discussion groups, and he had deliberately not mentioned the hero name to Gerald so that could not be the source.

"ummm, Who?" he tried to act dumb.

"There in today's Paragon Times" she gestured at the story in the newspaper folded at the side of her desk. It was the third page of the Arts and Living section. The headline was "Lessons in Going Out Safely Learned the Hard Way" It took him a moment to recognize the thumbnail photo next to the writer's name because dirt, bruises, smeared makeup, and absolute terror can do a lot to change a woman's appearance. But it was her. Sharee Huntington, Social Scene Reporter the byline read. At least he now knew her name, occupation, and where to find her other than hanging outside of her apartment like a stalker.

Mark tried to act only semi-interested while he read the article. It was a recap of the oversights she had made two nights earlier; drinking too much, not letting friends know where she was, leaving with people she barely knew, going into a place with low light and no people, not taking joking statements and contact more firmly. But it did not have the same tone of self-recrimination it had then. It did not go into the details of what happened on that picnic table, this was a family publication after all. It just said that she found herself 'in extreme peril' before being saved at the last minute by 'a remarkably humble and considerate superhero called White Hat' who cared for her and saw her safely home.

A two-line mention at the conclusion of an article in Arts & Leisure was not too much. "Well, anybody that rescues women in peril at night sounds like a fine fellow."

"Ah, that's nothing, check the editorial page." she replied.

The editorial page! Most people read the Times editorial page even before the front page, since they had already gotten the headlines from CNN. He tried to keep his hands from shaking noticably. There it was at the very top of the page, next to the picture that she had taken of him.

Wearing the White Hat

The Times editors, indeed the entire Times staff, would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to White Hat for bravely saving the life of our Times family member Sharee Huntington when attacked by three armed men. Moreover personal computer users across the country owe White Hat their gratitude for action taken against the creator of the vicious "I ask you advice" virus that was poised to destroy hard disks across the country five days from now. But beyond that we thank him for a simple message, that courage and honor are something that all good men and women have, not just those endowed with super powers. Our country was founded by ordinary men an women braving long, harsh, and dangerous sea journeys for the hope of something better. It expanded from cost to coast because ordinary men and women, when faced with threats both natural and man-made, stood up and stood together to overcome them. And today, standing beside the powerfull protectors of our city, we remain the descendants of those courageous and noble pioneers and that, when the need arises, it is our right, our duty, and our responsibility to wear the White Hat.

"Excuse me" Mark said. If he was going to faint he wanted to do it in the privacy of the Mens' Room.



Large quantities of cold water splashed on his face kept him from fainting, but the whole world seemed to be closing in on him. The Times hadn't just made him famous, it was making him an icon for a cause. He could just imagine the number of persons and organizations wanting to interview him right now.

On the other hand nobody, absolutely nobody, knew that he was White Hat. He didn't really expect to play the role of White Hat again. Did this really have to change that?

Although he did not really feel satisfied with that idea it was enough to let him regain his composure and leave the restroom. Gerald was waiting nearby "Are you OK? You looked a little shakey going in there"

"I think so. Something I ate really disagreed with me, but I think I feel better now that its out." Not only was that probably the most plausable explaination ever for running shakily into a restroom but Gerald was successfully detered from asking about the details.

"I think some fresh air would be good if you don't mind. Beep me if you need me."

"Fine Idea."

Mark began to think about why simply letting White Hat disappear did not seem satisfactory. Part of it was that the papers may be saying nice things now, but when White Hat never is seen anywhere, what would they say then? Fame in general, and the press in particular, were fickle mistresses.

But White Hat was a fictional character. He did not exist. He was only Mark, Fry's Customer Service Manager. Not White Hat.

Yes he could think of a few people who personally believed that White Hat was a real person, like the hacker, the thugs, and the woman (oops, Sharee Huntington, he knew her name now) but that was their problem. And millions of people throughout the city who read the news were thinking that White Hat was a real person, but that's what you get for believing everything your read.

He wandered over to the Hero Station, Not really because he was hungry but because it was usually where he walked to. They were just opening and he decided to get a soda and a chance to sit with his thoughts. The girl at the counter said "Hi, early today! See the new menu?" There at the bottom of the menu board above the counter was...

#14 White Hat (Honey Roast Turkey Breast, Swiss, Sprouts, Ranch Dressing).

Mark did not know whether to laugh, cry, demand royalties, or scream "Not Swiss! Jack!" Instead he decided to ask something of the girl. "But there have only been a couple of stories about this new character. How do you know he even exists?"

"Well, I guess there are a lot of things we have to believe exist because the newspapers say so. But someone like that, you just feel in your heart that they have to exist."

Sweet and sentimental, Mark thought, but irrelevant. He filled his soda and took it to a corner booth to relax. There was a TV mounted in the high corner of the seating area. It was tuned to the 'lite' news satation.

The talking-head 'newswoman' on the air, who apparently would be able to describe hundreds dead in a hurricane with a cheery smile and bouncy disposition, gushed 'Well it seems no sooner do we have a new superhero in town then come the juicy revelations. Just this hour 32 year old Elissa Muldavo held an impromptu news conference on the steps of the County Courthouse to announce that White Hat was the missing father of her two children, ages 5 and 7 and that she would be seeking a claim for paternity and back-due child support."

The cup of soda spilled on the floor. **** that had been happening a lot lately. But Mark was furrious. He had never seen this woman before. Fiction or not, White Hat was his, and he was not going to let greedy opportunists sully the hope he gave to folks like Sharee Huntington and this girl... He looked at her nametag as she came with the mop bucket to clean his spilt soda off of the floor. It said Virgina.

This had gotten completely out of control in so many different ways. He was not sure how to get it back under control but he knew where the path started. He flipped open his cell phone and hit the speed dial "Gerald, I think that I am going to need to take a sick day. Yeah, not only that but I am starting to wonder if it has anything to do with some spasms that I have been having in my shoulder. I thought it was just overworking with rock climbing. Yes I will get it looked at."

Mark closed the cell phone and said "Sorry about the spilled soda."

"Oh it happens all the time." She looked at him. "Do you think that he exists?"

He couldn't resist the irony of it. "Don't believe anything just because it is in the papers...But yes Virgina, there is a White Hat."



A black-cloaked figured strode purposefully from the taxi that pulled up to the Paragon Times building. In all directions persons were stopping and staring. Those ahead of him stepped cautiously aside from his no-nonsense demeanor. He did not even have to say hello to the man at the security desk.

"Good afternoon Sir. Russel here will be your escort. If you follow him he will take you wherever you need to go. Russel headed toward the elevators, reaching inside his suit jacket pocket to press a button on an automobile alarm style keychain remote control. An elevator door behind a velvet rope opened. Russel unhooked the velvet rope, allowed White Hat to enter the elevator, and then followed himself, replacing the rope behind him.

"Would you like to see Ms. Huntington first?" White Hat nodded in agreement.

Russel pressed the button for the correct floor and spoke into his sleeve. "Inform Ms. Huntington that her expected guest is on his way." The Paragon Times was known as a very sharp organization and Russel was doing a very credible immitation of a Secret Service agent. "Will you be wishing to speak with Ms Huntington Privately?" Another nod of the head. "Yes we will need the conference room." went into the sleeve.

When they arrived at the conference room Sharee was already there. She was looking in a pocket mirror while adjusting a scarf that was undoubtedly covering a ring of bruises on her neck. Russed checked that nobody else was there and then returned to the hallway, closing the door behind him. It was now just the two of them in the room. He considered screaming something at her, he was just not sure what first. She walked up, put her arms around him and held him close for several seconds. That certainly took the edge off his anger but it did not cause him to forget why he was there.

"I told you I was not a superhero."

"I report what I see."

Dammit women can be so irritating at times.

"The mention in your column wasn't too overdone, but that editorial was completely over the top."

"I did not write the editorial."

"But you sure did tell whoever did write it everything so they would."

"You never said that I had to keep a secret about that. I even said that I would talk about it."

"I didn't know you were a reporter."

"You never asked."

This was going nowhere. Time to get back to the real problem.

"You must realize that you have put me into a situation that is out of control and that I am unprepared to handle. I was hoping that maybe you could help get it back under control but I guessed wrong."

"No, you guessed right." She leaned over to the speakerphone on the table and dialed an extension. "Hello Frank, White Hat is ready to have a talk with you."

In the few seconds before Russel opened the door Sharee explained that Frank Esposito was one of their senior writers covering local crime and law enforcement.

Frank entered, took a seat, and gestured to White Hat to do the same. "So you want to be a superhero, hey?"

"I never wanted this."

"No but you wanted people to think you were one and you succeeded too well." Mark had to admit that Frank had a reporter's gift of being able to sum up an entire story in one sentence. He sort of nodded.

"Nobody plans on being a hero. It is not something that you can take night classes at the community college to earn an entry level position. Were you thinking of trying to join a hero team?"

Join a hero team? When they found out he was nothing but a spray-painted super-soaker squirtgun filled with flamable goo and a homemade taser he would be laughed right out of the place! "Maybe when I can do so more of as an equal." Was the best way he could frame that sentiment.

"...and you were expecting to keep your civillian identity secret and not be White Hall every hour of every day."

"Yes, I plan of spending relatively little time as White Hat."

"Then have you considered the advantages of having myself and the Times be your designated official contact." No, he had no idea what a designated official contact meant or why Frank was going to be such a good one, but everything since his arrival here had been a bit too well prepared and scripted. This was no doubt why.

"No, I hadn't thought about it. Why do I need a designated official contact?"

Frank sighed. "Maybe they really do need a introductory course at the community college. Lets suppose someone wants to give you a reward, make you an offer, whatever. Who are they going to make the check out to? White Hat? Where will they mail it to? Your home address? You can create extra phone numbers and post office boxes but folks will see you coming and going and phone bills need billing addresses and such. A superhero team can have a headquarters and staff and such that can recieve and handle that stuff without spilling the beans, but an individual stands hardly a chance with out an independent institution to act as a intermediary."

That made sense. Now for the real question. "Why you and the Times?"

"Because of freedom of the press. The Supreme Court has said that the news media does not have to reveal the identity of our sources. No legal power can force us to say who you are."

"Why not Sharee?"

"No offense to Sharee, but in general the courts have given the strongest protection to traditional news areas. The courts are less willing to make sacrifices for the sake of society's need for strong, independent, and unintimidated reporting of where the best nightspots are. In practice however Sharee will be your contact. It usually is best if your contact is someone whose loyalty you trust."

Did he trust Sharee's loyalty that much? Could he trust anybody's loyalty that much? He wasn't sure, but at least he knew that Sharee had a reason to be gratefull, and that would have to do. There was one big question still though.

"What is in this for you?"

"News" Frank replied. "There is dancing in the boardroom when this paper prints a story that the Post has missed and there is cheering all over when CNN has to give credit to an old-style print newspaper for breaking a story. Can you think of any better way to get scoops than to be the contact for the superheros that drive the breaking news in this town? When we tell some court that you are a critical news informant we won't be stretching the truth one bit. I'll be honest with you, other news organizations would make you a similar offer but I think you realize that the Times is really on your side."

"Did you write that gushing editorial to get me in here?"

"I don't write editorials, I was told to be ready if you came. Newswork is intense, you get close to everyone around you. I can say that nobody had to exaggerate about being gratefull about saving Sharee."

"Ok, I agree." Sure they had their own angle on this. It actually made Mark more comfortable knowing what it was rather than wondering what it might be

"Excellent. Sharee, let Bernie from legal into the room."

Bernie was sort of short, rotund, and had wiry hair. He had sort of a nervous energy about him. "So Mister Hat...Is Mister Hat OK? we have a few legal requirements that must be filled before we can finish up here. I presume that you have filled out none of the essential paperwork to be a hero?"

"Being a hero requires paperwork?"

"Mr. Hat, farting in this town requires paperwork, it is just most people can ignore it." He flipped open his laptop computer and took a digital camera just like Sharee's out of his case. Must be company issue. "Mr. Hat, I need to take front, back, left and right side pictures of you, leaving off anything that you might be replacing soon."

Mark decided that the weapons were nonpermanent. Just the cloak, white shirt with emblem, climbing harness, glasses, and of course the hat 'defined' his appearance'

Thanks to a wireless network Bernies laptop caused a page to eject from the laser printer on a counter in the back of the room. Bernie retrived it, brought it over to him and said "Sign this, Mr. Hat"

Mark paused. "Sign it how?"

Bernie replied "Sign it White Hat. This document is essentially a birth certificate. Ms. Huntington will sign as witness and Mr. Esposito will sign as the equivalent of attending physican. I will then notarize it saying that I have verified that all three signatures were executed by the actual parties."

"But how do you know that about me?"

Bernie looked at Sharee. She nodded. "Sharee says that she can positively identify you." I will trust that.

Mark was impressed at how much trust mattered in this organization. He could also understand why they cared about each other so much.

Mark's pen hesitated over the line. After this there would be no way of saying that White Hat was a fictional character. He signed.

Bernie dug out his notary stamp and completed the transaction. "Congratulations Mr. Hat." It seemed less silly now.



The papers now started spitting out of the printer in rapid succession.

"Application for trademark of the White Hat name and image, sign here."

"Registration for protection under the Impersonating a Superhero Act, sign here."

"County Business Name registration, sign here."

"S-corp formation (for tax purposes of course), sign here and initial here and here."

"Domain name registration for thewhitehat.com, .net, .org, and .pro (whitehat.com was already taken by a e-mail marketing firm outside of Phoenix), sign here"

"Affadavit for the Paragon Times to act as your official contact, sign here."

"Welcome aboard, Mr Hat." Bernie pulled out one of the newest ultrathin Nokia phones. "Here is how we keep in touch with each other. Encoded digital multiband so pretty much anybody short of the NSA can't touch it. Speed dial 1 will connect you with the our 24/7 tracking center. Let us know whenever you begin or end any action as your official self."

"And that is how you get your scoops?" Frank just grinned and shrugged.

Bernie was more serious. "The best way that we can deny that you were not someplace doing something is to have a rigorous independent log that shows that you were someplace else doing something else. Even the Statesman almost landed in jail a couple of times from what imposters did."

"Speaking of needing to prove that I wasn't someplace doing something..."

"Ah, yes we heard about that on the wire, I can't offer you legal advice."

"Why not? You're a lawyer."

"No, just a paralegal, I take the bar exam next spring. On the other hand that is good because otherwise I would have to charge you $200 an hour for saying this. Did you notice the attorney that was standing behind her?"


"Always see who the attorney is." Frank interjected. "It will tell you what is really going on."

Bernie said "In this case it was Hugh Ardead, from Rosencrants, Guildenstern, Ardead. He handles the stuff that the two old-school original partners wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, particularly his specialty which is celebrity nussiance lawsuits. His style is to look for a target who most prizes their privacy (and who would be more nervous about privacy than a superhero wanting to maintain their secret identity) and use the threat of a court trial to intimidate them into a quick out-of-court settlement. They could put you on the witness stand and get you into a position of either having to identify yourself or be jailed on contempt of court."

"But what about protection from self-incrimination?"

"It is a civil case. No crime is involved. Neither is freedom of the press."

"I don't have the kind of money that they would accept for an out of court settlement, besides nothing would stop them from just launching another."

"Normally the recommendation is never to comment on pending litigation, but their main tool against you is negative publicity so saying nothing just lets them be the only one heard. Let them know that you are not going to be a pushover on this, that you are not scared of their negative publicity. Usually if you make them talk enough it will give them enough rope to hang themselves. Is there anything you need at the moment?"

"I really need to upgrade my equipment."

"I thought so" Bernie said while sliding across a fat envelope. It contained a stack of Benjamins. A really thick stack of Benjamins. "Sign here to acknowledge reciept."

"Um, what is this for?"

"Advance on future earnings. We have already been getting mail for you and I would not be surprized that there were several opportinities in them. We understand that your survival may be dependent on getting your equipment upgraded, so we will lend you the seed money."

Bernie said "Wait here while I get the processing of these things underway and make copies for you."

Frank added "My bosses are also no doubt curious about what has been going on in here so let me go fill them in."

That left just him and Sharee in the room. She said "So do you feel like you have things under control now?"

"I feel that Frank and Bernie have things under control. That makes two out of three including me, a definite improvement from zero."

Mark asked Sharee "But what makes you certain that you can identify me from an imposter?"

Sharee stepped forward and put her hand on his chest. "I spent what seemed like forever with this as the only spot of support and comfort in the universe. I would know if it were different."

Whoa! Another thing getting way out of control. It was not that he didn't find Sharee attractive, or even that he had some other relationship to get in the way, but that it was evident that her emfatuation with him was based on the act of his rescuing her rather than any personal characteristic. Taking advantage of that temporary vulnerability would be wrong. Besides her emfatuation was for a hero, not a customer service manager. How far could a relationship between them go until that truth had to be addressed, and then what? 'Gee Mark, you are a really good listener, I wouldn't want to spoil that'. Sure Lois Lane could learn that Superman was also Clark Kent, and not change anything but hey, this is real life.

"Umm, don't you think the bosses would prefer that it was something a little less, umm, subjective?"

"OK, lets exchange secret passphrases." She whispered one in his ear, and he did for her. Hers was just risque enough to prevent him from feeling any better about this arrangement.

There was a warning knock at the door followed by Russel letting Frank in. "Well, except for telling me about a dozen times to remind you that the money was just a loan the bosses were excited that you agreed to cooperate with us." He handed across a box that was tucked under his arm. "Here is the handsfree kit, charger, and manual for the cellphone. In addition to the tracking speed dial on number one I put Sharee's direct dial number on two and mine on three. There is also speed dials for all the other heroes that work through us. You might wish to familiarize yourself with them and train the voice dialing feature. Let me tour you to the dispatch center where you will picking up your mail and the basement garage entrance that is the easiest one to get into and out of without being noticed, though you might not want to use it today."

"Why not?"

"You were seen by hundreds coming in here. There is someone from every major news organization out there. If you don't answer their questions they will find their own answers or use the ones that Hugh Ardead is giving them."

"Couldn't I just do an exclusive interview with you?"

"On a matter of basic access like this it looks cowardly on your part and selfish and a lack of objectivity on our part."

Mark considered asking Russel in particular, but also Frank, Sharee, heck even Bernie, to be there for moral support. But that was not the way to do it. If he was going to gain the respect of the press and send a message that he is not scared of negative puplicity he had to face the entire crowd by himself. He saw them past the door. He had no idea what they would ask. He had no idea what he was going to say. Facing armed thugs suddenly seemed easy and simple. Spraying this crowd with flamable goo and setting them ablaze, while simple, would not be helpfull. With a false air of determination he flung open the door and walked up to the outstretched cameras and microphones.



White Hat, Do you have a a statement to make?

At least it started with an open-ended question. I'm sure the harder ones will come in a second.

"Thank you for being here. I know that when a new crimefighter makes his appearance there are a lot of questions. In order for the public to be able to reach me I have designated the Times to be by official contact point. Questions and requests can be directed through them."

Many of these reporters are looking extremely disappointed in this.

"Let me assure you though that I understand that a functioning freedom of the press requires that multiple sources of news must exist so that no single viewpoint, neither that of the government or that of a single corporation, exclusively control the flow of ideas and information. You can expect me to be well accessible to you."

As long as I can keep this urge to pee in my pants under control

Some of the statements attributed to you would indicate that the city does not need superheros. Is that true?

"Then what the heck am I doing here in this cape?" (laughter) "If this city ever does not need crimefighters then I will be more than glad to stop throwing myself in harm's way. What I am saying is that there is a difference between powers and heroism. The flaw in our thinking is that only persons with great powers can be a hero, that the world is divided between 'heroes' and 'ordinary people'. Heroism is what enables someone to use their powers, great or little, to do courageous and noble things. Far from needing fewer heroes the country needs everyone to see the hero that lives in them."

What do you say about the allegations of abandonment of your children.

Children? Oh, yeah, they did say two, and they weren't twins.

"The allegations are completely false. She is accusing me of fathering two children over a two-year period of time. An extended relationship, not simply some one-night fling. So show some proof! Surely over two years there would be photos, people who had seen us together, all sorts of evidence of a relationship. So show it! Any of it! And if any of it would reveal my true identity go ahead! Tell the world who is really behind this mask! Because whoever the father of these children is, it is not me! Go ahead, ask her to reveal my true identity! She really must know it, shouldn't she?"

Several cell phones were being dialed. You don't challenge news organizaitons to ask someone a tough question and expect them not to rise to tha challenge, and even race to be the one to ask it first.

Well, Mark thought, that seemed to be enough of that. Time for me to just press through the crowd of reporters and get in the cab at the curb. Except for two things. First of all, the reporters were not giving him any ground or an opening to walk through them. Second, there was no cabs at the curb.

The Alpha-page feature of his new cellphone chirped, it was Captain Turbonium, who evidently used the Times as his contact too. The display said 'Need a lift outa there?'. Mark hit the 'yes' quick reply button.

The reporters and cameramen scattered backwards as a huge bright green form came crashing down beside White Hat. Mark, the only one expecting it, made an effort not to show any reaction. In a motion most likely missed by the majority of them Mark clipped a carabiner onto Turbonium's belt. "Make it look good" Turbonium whispered just befort the two of them shot up into the sky. Accustomed to heights and to trusting his safety to his climbing gear Mark did not flail about in terror as an amateur might.

"Reason number 43 for having flight as a power, leaving press conferences whenever you want."

"So are we off to defeat villiany and protect the innocent?"

"Actually I was thinking of a Reuben Sandwich and a Brewski."

"Great, the villians can wait for later!"



They soared towards the top of the Homewell Pharmaceuticals Tower. To one side was a small observation deck where they landed.

"The quick entrance to Maxwell's, reason number 18 for having flight as a power."

When the Homewell Pharmaceuticals Tower was one of the tallest and newest buildings in Paragon City, Maxwell's was the place to go for fine cusine, exotic beverages, and stunning city views. Now that the views consisted mostly of the top ten floors or so of the surrounding buildings it had become a cosy, clubbish bar and grill catering to the building tennants...and superheros. The reason for the latter clientelle was that there were only two ways in. The first was the single express elevator and the second was the balcony.

"Thanks for getting me out of there."

"No problem, actually you were doing me a favor."

"How So?"

"Well, when the news covers that interview, what shot do you think they are going to finish with?"

So they settled themselves at a table in the bar with a view of the TV, which was tuned to CNN Headline News. Mark followed Turbonium's example and phoned in that that they were going 'off-duty, in-costume' at Maxwells.

"In sports, this just in, Captain Lightning has defeated Megaman 3-2 in their Island Ruins Battlezone Arena match."

The bar erupted in equal proportions of cheers and groans. A burly hero in yellow and black came over to their table. "Hey pay up, Turbonium. I told you there was no way he could stand up to the focused energy blasts!" Captain Turbonium fished a fifty out of his suit and gave it to him.

As he left the hero just gave White Hat a scowl and a grunt.

"What has he got against me?"

"I think that it is the impression that you are against the public needing superheros."

"But that is not what I said at all! You know that!"

"Yes, but still you are the new guy, competition for the public's attention, and appearing to discount their importance."

Mark groaned "Yet another problem. I never wanted to be a superhero."

Captain Turbonium replied "Don't give me that crap."


"Never wanted to be a superhero? Don't tell me you never put a towel across your shoulders and ran around jumping and pretending to get all the bad guys."

"But I was just a kid then."

"And when you grow up your conformist adult intellect tells you that you can't be a superhero so stop wanting it. But the fact is you never stop wanting it. Sure the real thing is different. But you never stop wanting to be a superhero. I could tell it was in your expression when I surprized you with that reporter gal you rescued."

"I did not go out expecting to save her, or anybody."

"But you did, and loved doing it. You may want to watch out, though, I get the feeling she may be a TM."


"Trouble Magnet. Don't know what it is but you wind up spending 90 percent of your time rescuing the same dozen or so folks. My guess is, she's gonna be a trouble magnet for you."

"In at least one way she already has been."

"See, face it, Your childhood fantasy is coming true, don't deny it."

"OK, but it is true that I never expected to be a superhero."

"I doubt anybody here did. I sure know that I wasn't looking to become a superhero when I dived into that dumpster behind the research lab looking for recyclable trash but finding a weird goo that I could use to transfer forces from one direction to another."

"Really? Dumpster-diver to superhero?"

"Yep, but Psychotropic Toxic Goo Man probably wouldn't attract the ladies very well so I called the goo Turbonium. At least I didn't have to worry about whether to give up the day job or not."

Day job? Oh yes, he had taken a sick day today, but there were only so many of those. Just when he thought that this was getting simpler new complications arrived.

Turbonium's head popped back to the TV. "Hey, It's that broad of yours."

Mark's eyes shot to the TV too, but it was Elissa Muldavo, not Sharee. Microphones were being thrust towards her nervous face. Behind her Hugh Ardead grinned smugly.

Offscreen the reporter shouted "Ms Muldavo, White Hat, who you claimed fathered your two children, has challenged you to reveal who he really is. Who is he?"

She replied "I don't know...he...umm...he...he never took off his hat and mask!"

The place erupted in howls of laughter, complete with various comical imitations of engaging in sex while still wearing one's hat and glasses.

Mark was following Frank's advice and watching the attorney. The smug grin had suddenly been replaced with what must have been the purest possible expression of 'I can't believe she just said that'.

The yellow and black hero came back to their table. "That snake Ardead took me for nearly a hundred thousand. Thanks for making a fool of him."

Good had triumphed a little over evil again. Mark, perhaps for the first time in days, genuinely relaxed and felt comfortable whith who he was. He knew that it would not last. He did not know how he was going to find time to be both White Hat and his regular job. He did not know whether he would be able to keep his identity secret for long. He did not know what trouble, emotional or otherwise, Sharee was going to bring. He did not know what that German note taken from the hacker said. He did not know how he should upgrade his gear. He did not know how he would repay the loan. He did not know what offers, good or bad, the satchel of mail that they gave him back at the Times contained. But at least for this moment, at this place, he could relax.

When he first put a towel across his shoulders as a child he climbed the big maple tree behind their house, slipped, fell, and landed in the next yard over, where the neighbor's German Shepherd chased him into a corner and trapped him there sobbing and wimpering for his mommy to come and take the bad dog away. He had not mentioned that to Turbonium because, even though his desire to be a superhero had been chased out of him rather abruptly, he understood the point that Turbonium was trying to make. It was a good one.



White Hat leaned back in his chair. "Well, since it is agreed that I did not expect to be a superhero I have all sorts of questions about what to do, starting with getting better gear"

Turbonium replied "Well then the best thing to do would be to find another light gadgeteer. All I could recommend was to keep looking in a particular dumpster for fluorescent green goo, but I am already doing that". Turbonium scanned Maxwell's examining who was there.

"Light Gadgeteer?"

"That is the term for a hero of your type. A heavy gadgeteer would be someone in a power armor suit. If your technology were a part of you then you would be considered cyberware, which there is also light and heavy versions of. I by comparison, am considered a mystic artifact hero even though this goo is quite modern in origin. The reason is that I use it rather than having it change me."

"Gee, a whole taxonomy of heroes, maybe there really will be a college course on how to be a superhero."

"There already is an entire minor in it at Paragon U., just nothing about how to be one. Hmmm. I only see Supersplat. Hey Splat! Come on over and we'll buy you a round"

Mark had heard the name Supersplat before but had not really recalled where. Splat was wearing what appeared to be sort of motocross racing gear plus a few an arrangement of other canisters, packs and tubes. The color scheme would be considered camoflage were it not for the numerous logo patches.

"So Splat, this is White Hat, you may have heard of him, he's just starting as a hero and I figured you might have some advice for him."

Mark first wanted to find out who the advice was coming from. "So how did you get started heroing?"

"Ever hear of the NPPL?"

Mark had to admit that he hadn't.

"Nobobody has. National Professional Paintball League. They hardly ever got any coverage and the last of it, was dropped by ESPN2 when Nightly HeroArena Wrapup went to a full hour. The league folded as a result, just like the WWF did, so I figured if you can't beat them join them. Funny thing is I was able to tripple my sponsorship fees immediately."

"You fight superheros with paintballs?" Mark exclaimed.

"Well if they were still filled with paint that would be a bit of a problem." He said, swinging up his gun. "Tippman Pro-Carbine with Tippman 203 grenade launcher, standard over-under configuration with a high capacity bacpack pressure cylinder. Four chambered hopper with a quick thumb lever to switch between chambers. Chamber one contains the reds. Now most personal use pepper sprays have less than ten percent cassien. Ten percent is considered 'Police Grade' and 20 percent is certified to stop any species of bear. This...is almost pure. Chanber two contains the yellows, filled with the most concentrated sulfuric acid money can buy. Of course no plastic shell could hold that so we switched to a thin shell glass ball, which of course lacerates the skin upon impact, helping that acid hit tender flesh. Chamber three contains the greens. These contain a napalm like chemical with a tiny inside bladder of a reactive chemical which, when combined with the first and exposed to air, ignites. Little incindiaries, these are. Finally chamber four contains the blues. These little devils contain smaller portions of the two chemicals that are in the greens plus a ball of military grade C4 plastic explosive. The chemicals combine, ignite, and detonate the explosive. Nice little boom. And of course if none of those work there are allways the grenade-size canisters of each." He said, pointing to the cylinders arranged around his belt.

"Impressive." Mark said and he meant it. Supersplat seemed extrordinarily better equipped to be a crimefighter than he was. "How well do these work against most criminals?"

"How would I ever know?"

Mark was puzzled. Turbonium explained "I thought I mentioned that Splat here is an arena hero only."

"Listen, in the arena everyone knows that we will stop short of actually killing anybody. There isn't any rule like that on the street and nobody in the arena is going to get a grudge on your for life because they had to go through five years of being buttraped in the state penn for you catching them. I have to keep my sponsors happy by regularly climbing into an arena and go no-holds-barred with a superhero. That's more that enough bravery for me in a week. Take on criminals too! Bah!"

Mark of course found this answer disappointing, but Splat clearly knew how to put together some monster gear. "Pure pepperspray, military grade explosives, self-igniting pyrotechnics. This isn't stuff you pick up at the local Fry's." (That was an understatment.)

Splat guessed the rest of the question. "That is all from Q. G. He put this all together top to bottom. He makes the balls and made the four chambered hopper assembly too."

"Q. G.?"

"You don't ask him his name and you don't ask him where the stuff comes from, but he is the best outfitter in the business. I I figure that he worked for one or another of the agencies (my guess is either CIA or Mossad) or maybe he stilll does. But he not only has the stuff but really understands how to put it together into a coherent package. Call this number and leave a message. He can then arrange a meeting if he thinks that you have promise.

"Thanks, and another question, how do you get around without everybody in the whole town knowing and following you?"

"Since I don't have enemies all over town like a crimefighting hero I can be a little more open. Q. G. arranged a sponsorship with Kawasaki that gave me a KLR650 street-legal dirtbike so if I had to take off down the sidewalk or across a public park or through a supermarket to get away from folks it doesn't create quite so many problems."

"Well Reason number three for having flight as a power....but those that do not have flight, and even when I need to be discreet, usually the solution is to use a chauffeured towncar service. Limos are a bit too flashy unless you are taking a whole team somewhere. Bernado's Towncars is a popular choice because they have very good drivers who know all the alternate routes and back entrances. They also have a range of cars so if you want something really ordinary looking like a camry or something they can. Also they are very discreet and know how to keep a secret. I keep them programmed on my speed dial. Here is the number."



Mark Started looking through the return addresses of the satchel of letters that he had, occasionally opening one and skimming it. there were generally four kinds: Nutcases, offers to appear here and there, requests for interviews, and more vaguely worded solicitations for business relationships, endorsements, representation, movie rights, etc. "How on earth do you wade through all of this? Some of these entertainment industry offers have a lot of terms that I can only infer the meaning of."

Splat replied "Well you can make a whole extra career out of trying to learn the trade and manage your career and interests and schedule, or you can let a professional handle it and get an agent."

That sounded good to Mark because he was already seeing enough trouble managing being just White Hat and a Customer Service Manager, much less a talent agent. "What kind of an agent does a Superhero use?"

Turbonium replied "Well, there are basically two types. Some heros use sports agents, the kind that represent professional athletes. They will be best at getting you major tournament gigs and exhibition arena matches, as well as the usual product endorsement and personal appearances. Others use talent agencies, the kind that represent actors and actresses. They will be better at arranging TV show appearances, movie rights, as well as the usual product endorsements and personal apprearances. It depends on what you really want to emphasize."

Mark thought. He really had been a bit smitten with acting since his one, although somewhat embarrasing, high school drama performance. "I think the talent agent is right for me." Supersplat was obviously disappointed by that choice. Mark could understand why a sports agent was the right choice for Splat, but he was not the same as Splat.

Turbonium said "Well, Creative Scpecialites Inc. has a Paragon City office near the Times that has a department for Superheros. Here is the number. Ask for Janice. Tell her that I sent you.

"Will she treat me better for it?"

"No, I was hoping she would treat me better because of it. One piece of advice. Be firm about how much time you can put at this. They make their percentage off of everything you earn in appearances, so they will want you earning something all the time."

"It seems like I have quite a number of calls to make tomorrow. Time to head home. Should I call Bernado's Towncars or can you give me another lift?" Turbonium agreed and landeed Mark on the roof of his apartment building.



The next day was a welcoming temporary return to the routine of Fry's electronics. Gerald of course asked if he was feeling better and Mark fibbed that he was being given some muscle relaxants for the shoulder but that the nausea was jus a routine 24 hour stomach flu. But he noticed that folks were looking at him differently. Was he paranoid, was it just being back from a sick day, or was he acting different? Was there a difference in his gait, his manner, his tone of voice? He did not think so, but would he even be able to notice?

He found a quiet corner to make a phone call to set up an appointment with Q. G. for that night and with Julie at Creative Specialties for the weekend. Persons who work with superheroes must be used to working unusual hours.

On the way back he noticed a small circle of repair techs looking with amused fascination at something. One said "Man it looks like somebody set off a bomb in there!"

Mark came up and saw that it was indeed the hacker's computer. The first one, not the second. "What did he say happened to it?"

Paul Haggarth said "He says that it was a fire in his apartment. There is some smoke damage but if you look at the patterns of charing and fusing of the components and traces it looks like a jolt of extremely high voltage electricity was applied here and here. There also would have, at the time, been a controler board in this slot which he removed before bringing it in here. My guess is that an angry wife or girlfriend deliberately sent house voltage into the motherboard."

It wasn't exactly right but Mark was pleased with Paul's good sense of observation and diagnosis. "Is he actually expecting us to repair this?"

"No, he mostly wants to get the data off of the hard disk. He says that the backups were lost in the fire."

"Can anything be?"

"Well, the drive electronics is shot, but I could swap out the electronics from an identical Maxtor drive. I have gottent the motor to spin and the arms to move. Now I just hook it up as a slave drive and see what parts are intact."

"Umm...I have some old DOS utilities that were very good at sector by sector disc recovery. Mind if I give it a shot first?"

"Sure, can't help being the hero, can you."

There was a bit of resentment in Paul's voice, and Mark felt bad about taking a challenging problem from him, but this could be important. Back in his office he did find many parts of the drive intact. What he was looking for, of course were documents, spreadsheets, databases, and such, easy to search for by file extension and, being the methodical hacker that he was, all stored a separate work directory tree. Many of the files had german sounding names. Mark copied an image of the contents and then wiped the folder. Mark noticed a german-english translation program was in the system. He also took an image of the registry as it might mention what sort of a board the missing component was.

He then returned the disk to Paul saying "That old utility was just so great with FAT16 filesystems but this baby is FAT32 so no dice, go ahead and use the utilities that you were planing on using." He was glad to let Paul still get the credit for fixing the impossible to fix drive. He had earned it.



That evening after informing the Times dispatcher that he would be in-costume, off-duty with Q.G. (they recognized the name) he called Bernado's towncars and requested a discreet car to Q.G. (they recognized the name and already had the address). What arrived was a black PT Cruiser. Ernesto the driver explained that they had just added it to the fleet. The Limited's all came with deep tinted rear windows so they just darkened them a little more an nobody would notice that it was not just an ordinary model. Besides for a small car it had a big rear seat and wide opening rear doors. The address was a very plain looking old townhouse in a modest part of town bordering on a warehouse district. The older man that answered the door was dressed in courduroy slacks and a cardigan sweater. He seemed like someone who would be more comfortable running a deli than trading in high tech equipment. The townhome was decorated in dark woods and a wide collection of antiques and trinkets.

"So, son, come on in, have a seat here in the parlor. Would you like some tea or something to nosh? Tell me about yourself. Tell me about the adventures you have been having."

So Mark told the entire story about how he put together his current equipment and took on the hacker and the three rapists.

"Well, son, lets start with your super-soaker gun. The mixture you put together was clever, but my guess what you really wanted was the real stuff military napalm, right?"

"Yes." Mark was sure that, considering what Q.G. did for Splat that this was just the start.

"Of course. Now a genuine militiary flamethorower, on the other hand, would be way to big and heavy for your type of work. On the other hand this thing..." gesturing to the super-soaker "is just a toy. You realize how it works, right?"

"Sure, the pump compresses air in the small cylinder,which then uses the pressure to force out the fluid."

"And how much pressure does that little ball hold, maybe fifty psi? Now this (pulling a 4 inch diamater cylinder about a foot long out of a cabinet) is one of the cylinders that Splat fellah uses. It contains 61 cubic inches of air at five thousand pounds of pressure. We rig it in your backpack along with the fluid container, run a high pressure hose to the nozzle and fit it with a sparking device that is activated by the trigger to ignite the stream as it leaves. Instant lightwieght flamethrower."

"How about the Tasers?"

"Well the standard issue taser is good as far as it goes, but we can get it to work from your regular power supply instead of its own limited batteries. But there were times that you were worried about how it could hurt the reporter girl and whether they could get through their coats. You need something with a bit more penetrating capablity. A good agent, er, hero. also sometimes needs a way to strike quickly and silently. You ever study any sort of hand-to-hand weaponry?"

"Well, I playerd Cyrano in the high school drama department"

"Oy Ve! He plays Cyrano, wears a cape and dashing hat, and has no rapier! We will do it one better though. We will coat the handle with rubber insulation and make a connector so that you can connect your power source to the blade. A thumb switch can control whether the blade is charged or not and whether it is charged with the many short jolts or one bit jolt. So you can strike with the blade alone or with the electrified weapon."

Marked liked this image somewhat but had to point out that he had only practiced theatrical fencing, not competitive.

"No matter, a competitive fencer is interested in merely the rules and gaining tiny touches. A dramatic fencer is interested in the whole range of what can be done with the weapon and how to use it with force. Still I will give you the name of a good fight trainer I know. He knows all forms of armed and unarmed fighting from a practical rather than a competitive standpoint. Oh and you can go as your civillian self. He will not ask why I sent you or what you plan on doing with your skills. It is enough that I sent you that he knows that you are not a criminal."

"You keep mentioning my power source. One of my biggest problems was the batteries running low."

"Yes, batteries are a problem, they are mostly a low density electricity supply. You need better than that. Step into the workshop and let me show you something." He said as he motioned Mark to follow him to the back of the townhouse.

Based on the rest of the house Mark was expecting the workshop to be some bench and a collection of tools in the basement. Rather the townhome had a secret entrance into one of the warehouses in the adjoining block, in which there was a state of the art laboratory and manufacturing faciltiy. Compared to the townhome the white enamel, polished aluminum, and bright sodium lights were nearly blinding.

"Those high pressure air bottles are a wonderfull energy source, but how to turn them into electricity? I thought about a tiny turbine, but those are really hard to produce on a tiny scale and tend to be noisy. What I struck on was the design of a tiny steam engine, but based on high pressure air rather than steam. The most efficient steam engines used a dual design, where the exhaust from the first cylinder was used to power a second cylinder because it still had quite a bit of pressure left. This tiny marvel has three stages. It runs very cool because there is no combustion. Also no need for any sort of carbureation or ignition and a simple valve can act as the throttle. It is made of high strength ceramics with graphite bearings. Combined with a gearbox and small generator you have a package that can beat any batery pack pound for pound."

"Impressive, looks like I will need a couple of those bottles at least."

"Three to start. The nice thing is that you can have extras stashed at various places and as an off the shelf item there are plenty of places that can recharge them. Now maybe we should do something about defense. Have you ever considered a bulletproof vest?"

Mark thought about how Sharee said that she could identify him and said "Can't, how about doing the cape instead?"

Q.G. thought for a moment and said "Sure it can be done, but rather than just adding to this cape, which is already to heavy with that velvet lining, we will just make a all-new cape. That way it can have a kevlar outer lining and get you the extra benefits of Kevlar."

"Extra Benefits?" Mark asked.

Q.G. replied "In addition to its famous high tensile strength and elongation without breakage Kevlar is resistant to chemicals, flame resistant, and self-extinguishing, all good qualities to have. But don't get stupid just because you are wrapped in kevlar. even if it stops the bullet from penetrating you still take all of the kinetic energy yourself, and they can always shoot you anwhere that the cloak does not cover."

So they talked about price and delivery time. It pretty much depleted the loan that the Times had made him, but that was fine since they had made the loan for him to upgrade his equipment, not to stash away for retirement. Q.G finished with "Do we also want to talk about a vehicle?"

Mark had thought about how hard it was riding in the car with the backpack on. He needed something less awkward with it. "Harley" was out of his mouth before he realized it.

"Put your name on a list like the rest. Every nebbish wants a Harley and they are in no generous mood with them for anybody. On the other hand I know the local Kawasaki regional manager and those bodies need and know the promotion advantage of having visible folks riding their bikes. I think I can set you up with a promo bike by the time you come to get the rest of the stuff. I bet I can set you up with a Vulcan, which looks and sounds just like real thing."

Returning home in the PT with Ernesto the comment about looking and sounding like the real thing haunted him. He thought that just looking and sounding like the real thing was all that he was really doing. Sure all this new stuff was an improvement but would he be able to stand up to say Supersplat with it, much less even half of the heroics everyone sees on the evening news and Nightly HeroArena Wrapup. Rather than feeling empowered by his meeting with Q.G. it make him realize how short of being a real superhero he was. Other superheros wore distinctive garb to display the fact that they were powerfull from their mutation/alteration/nanotechnology/training/whatever. For him it really was just a costume. Underneath it he was utterly ordinary. Well tomorrow he would meet with Julie the agent, put together a plan to repay the equipment loan and to manage a gradual return to obscurity for White Hat, getting out of this alive and with something resembling a happy ending to the story.



Great story. =)