Legend – Chapter 04
He dropped through what looked like solid rock but was actually a self-perpetuating light projection over the entrance. A flicker of darkness as he fell through the granite tunnel and then the light of the Eyrie blazed up around him.
Legend landed lightly, his boots giving an echoing click on the polished stone, and looked around. No one in the entry, so either no one’s in, or . . .
The entry area was in the center of the Eyrie, with four doors leading out. He took the north door and looked through.
Monitor Central had the dramatic, all-seeing design Legend associated with NASA control centers and the TV versions of NORAD, although it had far fewer seats and a lot more gadgetry. Most of which I don’t understand, he admitted to himself. Not my specialty . . . in either form, really.
A figure at the top stood and waved him over. “Legend! Nice to see you, kid. How’re you doing?”
“I’m doing well, Jack. How about you?”
Jack Morriman grinned, the white teeth a contrast to his dark, heavily-weather-beaten face. “Not bad, not bad at all.” Deep brown eyes twinkled in a sideways glance. “So? . . .”
“Passed with flying colors,” he said. “And I guess I did, too, because she took me as a client.”
“Good. Good! She’s done a hell of a lot for me, you know.”
Legend nodded. Morriman’s problems hadn’t really had much to do with his secret, except indirectly. Losing one of your kids to cancer wasn’t easy; when that got combined with your wife of 43 years deciding she wanted out . . . well, the Steel Sentinel had been a pretty moody hero for a while, and Legend remembered the one time he’d had to intervene before Steely did something he’d really regret.
“I know. Thanks for telling me about her.” He gave an accusing glare. “But you might have warned me!”
“Warned you?” Morriman’s face was the very essence of puzzled innocence. “About what?”
“Don’t try that on me! I rescue kittens all the time, Jack. You don’t have the cute to cut it. About the fact that she looks like a younger Michelle Yeoh, that’s what.”
“Heh. She is quite something in the looks too, isn’t she?”
“Yeah. And even smarter than she’s pretty, which is going a lot farther. I felt like she already dissected my brain before I’d been there a half hour.”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
He thought. “Um . . . no, not really. Oh, I did fill out forms that give her permission to talk to anyone she wants to about me as long as she keeps my key secrets. That means you guys, if any of you are willing to talk to her.”
“What?” Jack made a show of putting a hand on Legend’s forehead. “You don’t seem feverish, but you’re trusting her awfully damn fast.”
Legend shook his head. “You and the others just aren’t trusting enough. Most people are decent, and people like her are just there to help.”
The older man gave a cynical smile. “Damn, kid, it’s a good thing you are tough as a mountain, because you’ll need it when that clueless innocence gets you in it deep.”
They’d had this debate before, and Legend wasn’t up for another go-’round right now. He looked at the main screen. “Anything going on?”
“Nah, nothing much. Fireflux is out on patrol, she caught a couple regular crooks but hasn’t seen anything big. The Rat’s down in the big city with Crystal Visions, haven’t seen America today but he said he probably wouldn’t be in this week.”
“Trinary and Traveller?”
“Girl’s night out, I think, with Caracal. Didn’t invite me, worse the luck.”
“Hard to have a girl’s night out with a guy along.”
“I can always dream.”
“Any sign of the Five?”
“Not as a group. Fireflux thinks she caught a glimpse of Shadowblade earlier, though, so they’re around.” Jack chuckled. “I can read you like a cheap paperback, kid. You’re not into it today, just standing there asking questions. Go home, wherever home is.”
Legend sighed. “I would if I could. But this is my usual night out, and they know I never come back before about midnight to one o’clock.”
“Well,” Jack said, rubbing his chin, “if you wanna sit here and watch things, I could go out and join Fireflux . . .”
A part of him twitched at that, but he thought he managed to keep it from actually being visible. And that’s overall a pretty good idea, actually. “Why not? Been a while since you were out and about.”
“A week and a half. Yeah, you know, that sounds like just the ticket today.”
Jack Morriman concentrated, and with a flicker of silvery light he changed. Unlike many of their friends, he was still recognizable . . . if you knew who he was. But this Jack Morriman was thirty years old, smooth-skinned, in perfect health, and could do things that even his much older real self could never have done more than dream about. Things he had dreamed about, just like all the rest of us, Legend thought.
The transformed Morriman reached under the console and brought out the metallic backpack, put it on, and pressed the button. Glittering silvery armor extruded, covering chest, arms, legs, curling up and around to encase the head in a shining helmet with a stylized V-shape above the eyes, almost like eyebrows. The armor thickened to plates on the chest, shoulder-guards, and poleyns and coulters, giving the suit the air of an old-fashioned knight while being streamlined and containing accessories for the twenty-first–or maybe twenty-third–century. “Steel Sentinel–ready for patrol!”
“I will, kid, especially with Fireflux around.”
He didn’t rise to the bait. Besides, he’s actually always a perfect gentleman, and if he ever did try anything . . . well, a guy wearing steel armor annoying someone who controls magnetic fields would be pretty stupid.
It was . . . weird, being in the Eyrie alone, watching for everyone else. He knew how to run the observation, of course, they were all trained in it, but he was always the front-line type. But tonight . . . Nerving myself up to go see a shrink really took a lot out of me. Lot more than I would have ever thought. He laughed out loud suddenly. “Darn, I swear, I’ve had battles that took less out of me!”
It was true: the more he thought of it, and even though he was still feeling tense, the more he realized that meant he’d made the right choice. I need to deal with this. WE need to deal with it, he corrected, and felt his other side . . . not exactly separate, not exactly the same . . . agree emphatically.
Sitting at the console, it dawned on him that there was another drawback to being alone. With no one else in the Eyrie to take over, he couldn’t do any exercises or practice runs or, well, anything to distract himself. He was half-tempted to change to his ordinary form; Ben would appreciate it.
But even here, almost no one knew who he really was. There was one, and only one, other hero he’d trusted with that secret. It was funny – most of the others he knew both sides of their lives, but he had never told them his . . . and none of them had asked, as though they felt it wasn’t appropriate.
Maybe it’s because I was there first. It’s like asking Superman to tell you his secret ID . . . not that I’m anything like as good as all that.
But America had been different. He was as good as all that. The tall, anachronistic figure in red, white, and blue carried the sharp, patriotic air of the old-fashioned recruiting posters of Uncle Sam, and his face had much of the kindly, craggy warmth of Abraham Lincoln. It had never occurred to Legend not to trust America.
And the same, strangely, had applied to America and Legend . . .
“Legend! Glad you could come meet me, son.”
He took America’s hand, felt the other’s – maybe as strong as his own – grip and release his warmly. “Did you think there was any chance I wouldn’t?”
“Well, not much, no. Still, you’re a busy man and taking any time out of your day is quite a favor to ask.”
Legend glanced around. The late summer light danced over the forest floor and shone more brightly in the clearer areas, where picnic tables and charcoal grills were scattered about. The nearby stream (or maybe small river) chuckled cheerfully over smooth stones. A little ways upstream, Legend could see a jet of water hissing regularly skyward from the center of a tiny island, one of the only geysers east of the Mississippi. “So why here? Not that there’s anything wrong with Saratoga Park, but seems about as peaceful as anything gets.”
“Nothing wrong with peace, son. Take it when you find it, especially in our line of work.” America’s eyes were momentarily somber under the brim of his tall, tri-colored stovepipe hat. “The Good Lord knows we don’t see it much.”
Legend couldn’t argue. “Still . . . ?”
The taller hero smiled. “Yes, you’re right, more than my trying to get you to take a break. You made a right touching gesture to me the other day, trusting me with your biggest secret. Seems to me the only polite response is to show you the same trust.”
Legend blinked. “You mean . . . um, look, sir, that’s an honor, but you don’t have to –”
“Son, I think maybe I do have to. See, the way my . . . well, existence works, Legend, I don’t always know why I do things, leastwise not until after I’ve done them–see what I mean?”
Legend thought about it. He’d observed America since he’d first appeared and had come to some general conclusions about the patriotic hero’s abilities. “I guess I do, sort of. You get a sense of what you should be doing, but not the explanation.”
“That’s just exactly right. So until you got here, all I knew was that I had to tell you the truth about myself, same as you did about your own origin. But wasn’t ’til we started talking that I got an inkling as to the whys and wherefores.”
He began walking along the edge of the clearing. Legend noticed that strange aura that America gave off: a sense of belonging that was so strong that no one gave the two of them a second glance, despite the costumes that stood out brilliantly in the sunshine. He doesn’t want anyone else to see us, so they aren’t. “So, are you just trying to keep me in suspense?”
A low laugh rippled out, melding with the water’s own eternal cheer. “Oh, forgive this old man’s sense of humor and drama, son. Comes with our territory, don’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I suppose it does.”
America looked serious now. “Legend, I just got myself a feeling–a deep-down, absolutely-certain, one-hundred-per-cent gut feeling–that one day you will have to know who I really am. Don’t know why, don’t know when, but I do know that it’s going to happen.”
He looked up and a broad smile creased his face. “Now looky there.”
Legend looked in the same direction. He saw three people around one of the picnic tables: two adults and one child. Legend didn’t need to use any special powers to see that this was a family having a wonderful time at the park. The little girl–tanned, dark-haired, with intense eyes that Legend could see with his own superhuman sight even at this distance–was talking with bouncing animation about what she’d seen in the park. Her parents were busy getting the picnic dinner together, the father laying out the table while the mother carefully grilled hamburgers. It was nearly certain the little girl was adopted, since her father was black and her mother a golden blonde, neither of their features echoing the straight, black hair and narrow face of their daughter, but it was also just as certain that this didn’t matter to any of them. “You saying that’s your family?”
America smiled again. “In a manner of speaking, yes. Though in some ways, all families are mine; bet you’ve already guessed that. The little girl yonder is Virginia Dare Jefferson, and that’s her mom Sunny and her daddy Malcolm.”
“So they’ve got another kid. Who happens to be next to me, right?”
“I’m not quite like the rest of you, son. That,” he pointed at Virginia, who was now being directed by her father to bring the rocks she’d collected back to the stream, “is my muse and author, my creator if you will.”
Legend stared, then reached out with his ki senses.
America fairly blazed before Legend’s spiritual eyes; the hero’s very ki seemed to flicker in the three colors of his namesake.
And that was, literally, all there was to America. He wasn’t a transformed being like Legend or most of the other Heroes. He wasn’t someone wearing a mechanical or magical disguise, like Steel Sentinel or Crystal Visions. He was a pure spirit, a creation of nothing but the essence of who he was – a resonant product, Legend thought with stunned awe, of every single human being in the nation, infused somehow into a statue that should never have moved . . . but now not only moved, but lived, lived with an intensity nothing else on the planet could match.
But there was a stronger resonance, a pulse, at the core of Legend’s sense of the hero, and that resonance echoed back and forth between the toweringly tall America . . . and the tiny, black-haired little girl bending over the stream.
“She . . . created you?”
“That she did. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the details, or she will. But she is to me as Ben is to you . . . except she believed in me first and only, so she made what she believed into reality itself.”
Legend stared at Virginia Dare Jefferson and then began to grin himself. “That’s . . . well, that makes her more a hero than me, I guess. She didn’t think of being a hero herself; she just wanted the best hero there could be, so she made you.”
“Don’t run yourself down, son; you’re the first, the one every single one of us looks to as an example. But I will surely agree that Virginia is one special young lady.”
He came out of the reverie feeling a little better, a bit more focused on who he was, who they all were. All of us are special, he admitted. And I guess I should look in the mirror and accept that, once in a while, as long as I don’t get . . . arrogant about it.
He got up, walked around the room–keeping an eye on the telltales, of course, but his ki sense would almost certainly let him know if something was badly wrong anyway; he could sense Fireflux right now – over the New Mall, he thought – and Steel Sentinel was catching up to her.
No one else seemed active, for which he was grateful. Every day that goes by without a new Fenris or Endgame or Valameon is another day that I don’t have to worry how many people won’t get to the Shelters, how many might be hurt because I’m not quite fast enough, strong enough, smart enough to do the job I was created to do.
The part of him that was Ben did, sometimes, try to argue that everyone – even Legend – couldn’t do everything right all the time . . . but he never argued it long.
They both knew that Legend had to do everything right, all the time. That was what being a hero meant.
That was what being a hero was.