Newsweek 7/20/07, My Turn: "I Was a Hero"




My Turn: "I Was a Hero"
by "Infamous Brad" Bradley

In the summer of 2002, I was a superhero.

My superheroics were neither long-lasting nor particularly impressive. My home town of St. Louis was barely hit, just a brief aerial bombardment of the airport and a few military facilities, with barely any Rikti ground troops committed to the mop-up. By the end of May, long before the Omega Team made their famous sacrifice and ended the First Rikti War, the fighting in St. Louis had ebbed, and all that remained was civilians like myself digging survivors out of the rubble and trying to manage the ongoing collapse.

In the wreckage, I found a Rikti Guardian force field generator with its power cell still working, and with some of its control circuitry intact. So, with the idea of helping my fellow refugees, I patched in some portable PC components, booted a rudimentary operating system, and started hacking at its command codes. By the time the war was over, I was probably operating at about the "security level" of what the Federal Bureau of Superpowered Affairs would call a level 2 force field defender. That is to say, I could make the force field generator repel itself (and a bulky PC) from the ground well enough that I could stand to wear the whole assembly on my wrists, I could use crude force bolts to bulldoze heavy rubble, and I could cast short-lived force fields around other people that were just barely good enough to deflect a knife, or if the Rikti had come back maybe some of the Rikti energy blade attacks. I wouldn't know for sure; it never came to that.

I never thought of what I was doing as super-heroics. I had no cape, no mask, no ballistic spandex unitard, no combat monicker, no vow to fight crime. All I had was a grim determination to use this scavenged technology to dig sanitary privies, clear debris, help re-open roads, help bulldoze shattered runways and landing fields for Red Cross supplies. Nor, after I'd modified it that heavily, did I think of my hand-held force bolt and force field generators as Rikti technology; I thought of them as old-fashioned MS-DOS technology to which a few weird parts had been grafted. I say this to explain why I never registered with the FBSA as a super-powered human, to explain why I never turned the gauntlets that I had built over to the UN as captured Rikti technology.

So as soon as the war was over, I was a supervillain. My career as an "unlicensed superhero" had lasted all of six months. When I was caught by Vanguard tech scouts, after three months of never turning the field generators all the way on again, I was placed on trial for failure to register and for illegal possession of proscribed technology, convicted, and sentenced to a life in hell.

I don't think that the American people have really wrapped their heads around what is actually going on in Ziggursky Penitentiary, even after TV specials like MSNBC's "Lockup: Inside the Ziggurat." For the whole 30 months that I was imprisoned in that miserable excuse for a third-world hellhole, in that sloppily run nightmare that never really lived up to the "standards" of a Zimbabwean or Burmese prison, I was forcibly drugged every day, against my will, with a drug that was designed to serve one and only one purpose: to lower my intelligence. They knew that I was smarter than the people running the prison; a low hurdle, that. So they knew they didn't even know what they were afraid I'd do: maybe pry a piece of concrete off the wall and use it as a screwdriver to turn the electronic lock on my cell into some kind of weird nanotech self-assembling giant killer robot, maybe brew a home made nuclear weapon from carefully hoarded spoonfuls of Beet Casserole. To prevent this, they drugged me to the gills with pills that lowered my IQ to about the level of the aforementioned beet casserole, while filling my dreams with the hallucinated torments of the damned.

When in October of 2005 the Etoile Islands responded with military force to the illegal internment in the US of some of their registered diplomatic personnel, they offered as a humanitarian gesture to evacuate as many of us victims of the US war on high abilities as would fit on their helicopters, yes, I am unashamed to say, I became something new again: not merely a supervillain, but an international supervillain. That's what they call me when I rescue civilians in the Port Oakes from the Hellions and the Circle of Thorns. That's what they call me when I rescue American tourists in St. Martial from US-based terrorist groups like the Freakshow and the Carnival of Shadows, or from demons from hell itself. That's what they call me when I give the press evidence I found that American religious-right congressmen are secretly selling US superheroes' secrets to the enemy. Because I accepted that humanitarian refugee flight from a foreign government, and because I teach information technology at that foreign government's elite university while doing such side jobs as I can to fund my research, jobs that include saving up to and including millions of innocent lives, I'm an internationally famous supervillain.

Except now I'm not an international supervillain again. Now the same organization that turned me over to the US "justice" system, that bears the guilt of sending me to Ziggursky Penitentiary, calls me a superhero once more. Because the Rikti are back. And suddenly my force field generator gauntlets are needed again, in White Plains, Rhode Island, in the desperate fight to keep the Rikti from widening the newly re-opened portals from their world to our own. Fortunately for the whole world, those gauntlets do a whole heck of a lot more tricks now, tricks they could never have done if they were still locked in an evidence locker in Paragon City, including providing me with instantaneous control of a whole fleet of standardized Aeon Corporation combat robots.

But it's all very confusing to me, because every morning when I wake up, I have to decide what to wear. Do I wear my black cargo pants, a button down shirt, a vest and a hat, and defend the Etoile Islands from (for example) attempts by Freedom Phalanx to destroy an experimental anti-Rikti air defense weapon that Statesman paranoiacally claims will be used against him? If I do, then I'm a supervillain again, for fighting Statesman, even when he's in the wrong. Or shall I put on my Vanguard uniform and go fight the Rikti in White Plains, even if it sometimes means having to defend myself from "rogue" agents working for Statesman's famous grand-daughter, "Ms. Liberty?" If I do, then I'm a superhero again, no matter what some individual NATO Longbow officers think. Unless during lunch I get called back to defend civilian scientists in the Etoile Islands from opportunistic attacks by the Malta Group, in which case I have to change clothes and be a supervillain again for a few hours, before going back to White Plains and being a superhero for the rest of the day.

I suppose my confusion won't last forever. I've been asked by my superiors in Vanguard not to tell you everything I know, but I don't think that they'll object to my telling you this much. The war is going very well. I do not think that it will outlast this calendar year. And since we know so much more about the Rikti already than we knew in the last war, I can confidently predict that this time, the peace will be permanent. Which means that I'll no longer be needed to fight the Rikti. So I guess they'll go back to calling me a full-time supervillain again.

If you're expecting this to be an impassioned defense of technocracy, the political ideology of the Arachnos Party in the Etoile Islands, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm far from convinced that it would even work in the United States, or maybe even anywhere else in the world except for in the Rogue Isles. If even here. But I do know that until the land of my birth rediscovers the principles that they let Statesman talk them into discarding decades ago, they'll keep calling me a supervillain. I can't go back to being a superhero, or even what I really want which is just to be an ordinary American citizen, until America once again lives up to its promise to be one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

Since the destruction of the Well of the Furies, the world has now had almost eight decades to learn to live with the widening gap in human potential. Put up against the tens of thousands of years we lived with the Well of the Furies bleeding off our top potential, 80 years isn't very long at all. So it's not terribly surprising, I suppose, that our first reaction was reactionary and cowardly and, worst of all, ad hoc. But we're going to spend the rest of the lifetime of the human race in a world where the range of magical ability stretches all the way from none up to nearly godlike, where the range of human intelligence reaches from barely conscious up to to the level of Hamidon Pasilima or Dr. Aeon or Reichart Von Gehirnsturm, where the range of natural in-born human physical abilities stretches from klutzy up to levels we think of as trans-human. Are we going to extend to everybody on those continua the same freedoms, the same rights, the same privileges? Or are we going to keep arbitrarily declaring a third of our top performers "supervillains" for as little as paperwork screwups or Statesman's personal dislikes?

I sincerely hope that we choose the former, and not just for myself. The Rikti are not the last threat to human survival we will see; not even the last threat in my lifetime. Through the miracle of experimental time-travel technology, I've seen at least a possible future, one in which the current unjust system continued and free mankind failed to safely harness the talents of a third to half of its best. It was a world where, after several waves of planetary war any one of which would make both Rikti Wars look like they were fought with wet firecrackers, almost all of humanity's billions of lives were lost. And the few remaining living envied the dead, having been degraded physically to the level of sub-intelligent slaves to the aliens, the monsters, and the machines.

(Retired computer programmer and part-time event promoter "Infamous Brad" Bradley was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison for failure to register as a superhero and for trafficking in prohibited alien technology, and escaped from prison in 2005. Vanguard has neither confirmed nor denied his claim of membership, although he did show Newsweek convincing-seeming documentation of his claim and film footage of him fighting the Rikti in White Plains in Vanguard uniform alongside other Vanguard members. Vanguard's official spokesperson Incandescent reminded us that "Infamous Brad" speaks only for himself, and his views are not to be interpreted as reflecting in any way upon the opinions or policies of Vanguard.)




Statesman said let there be heroes, and there were heroes.

Lord Recluse said let there be villains, and there were villains.

NCsoft said let there be nothing, and there was nothing.