From the Past: Part 5

To judge from length alone, this probably should have been two posts. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a convenient end point in the middle.

Haley stood next to me. I don’t know when she appeared.

Man-machine said, “You’re one of Night Wolf’s grandkids, right?”

Haley looked up at me for a second. When it was obvious I didn’t have any advice for her, she said, “Could be.”

“He didn’t fight fair either.”

“Fair?” Haley said, “You were blowing up innocent people’s cars with a laser cannon. When is that fair?”

“Forget about it,” Man-machine said. “You win. Just get me an ambulance. My chest hurts.”

We stepped away as the police surrounded him. Officer Van Kley read him his rights while Man-machine told the paramedics how to remove his armor.

I kept on watching him the whole time. By reputation, Man-machine would have slipped away by now, having hidden a mini-jetpack or smoke grenades inside his armor.

Instead he just looked old as they pulled the armor apart and lifted him onto a stretcher—just a gray-haired man wearing t-shirt and jeans.

The armor lay open on the ground. I wondered how long it would be before the FBI picked it up.

It got crowded after that. Now that the violence was over, the people in Lavender West came out to gawk. The journalists in News 10 rushed out the front door of the studio, cameramen in tow.

As Haley and I were being interviewed, I saw blur appear at the edge of the crowd. It turned into Jaclyn.

“Sorry,” I said, “I’ve got to talk to someone over here.”

The crowd opened to let her through.

“I am so sorry,” she said. “My dad caught me on the way out and wanted to know where I was going. It took a long time to get away. Where’s everyone else?”

“You’re the first one here,” I said.

“You’re kidding.”

Vaughn and Daniel flew in after that. Vaughn was in a black leather outfit that I can only describe as superhero bondage gear. Marcus flew in, having taken the form of a faceless, bat-winged man. Travis and Cassie arrived last—probably because they’d taken cars and parked two blocks away to avoid being identified.

I decided it was safe to conclude that this test of our alert system was completely unsuccessful.

By the next morning, it was all over the news. Man-machine turned out to be the secret identity of Gerald Cannon, owner of “G’s Auto Parts” a small chain. Apparently he’d been having a heart attack the entire time we’d been fighting.

It was his second. The first had happened in 1981, the year Man-machine had disappeared.

Gerald had survived the night, but was in Grand Lake University’s Hospital under guard and not allowed visitors.

I had time to read about it on a Tuesday morning because school had been closed for the day. Central High had received a bomb threat. The FBI was investigating it, but I had good reason to believe they weren’t investigating very hard.

I got a call on my cell phone at 6:30 AM, practically at the moment my alarm went off.

“Good morning, Nick. It’s Isaac Lim,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

His voice oozed cheerfulness.

I managed to get out a “Hi.”

He gave me an address. “Be there at 10:30 in the morning, fully dressed and ready for action. You’ll want to see this.”

“I have school,” I said.

“We’ve taken care of that.”

Four hours later I landed on a lawn in a subdivision just south of Grand Lake. The house I was in front of stood out for a number of reasons. First, it was a hundred year old, white painted, wooden farmhouse in a neighborhood of nearly identical, aluminum-sided McMansions with three car garages.

Second, because this house had ten cars and a semi-truck in front of it. Four of the cars were police cars. Most of the rest had government plates.

Third, because of the yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” that held back more than twenty members of the media with their cameras, trucks, and satellite uplinks.

Isaac stood in the middle of the lawn and shook my hand almost immediately after I touched down. “Good to see you, Rocket. Follow me in.”

He turned and started toward the house’s front porch. “Don’t mind the civilians,” he said. ”They’re having a bad day.”

The inside felt comfortable, a place where needlepoint versions of Norman Rockwell paintings hung on the wall with pictures of grandchildren.

A grey haired, older woman sat in the living room in front of the TV. It was shut off. A red haired woman in a flannel shirt sat on the couch next to her, holding a cup of coffee. “Two teaspoons of sugar, Mom?”

We walked through without a word and stepped into the kitchen. A teenaged boy stood behind the counter eating a ham sandwich. He was watching a small TV that hung from the bottom of a cupboard. Over its tinny speaker, I could hear a voice say, “The Rocket just entered Cannon’s house.”

I knew him. His name was Chris Cannon and he was a sophomore. We’d both been on the school’s Science Olympiad team together last year.

I’d never felt more grateful for the helmet.

He watched us, saying nothing, as we opened the door to the basement and walked downstairs.

The basement was little more than concrete walls, a furnace, tools and a workbench. Cans of paint, two by fours, pipes, and plumbing fixtures lay next to the workbench. Evidently Man-machine was a bit of a do-it-yourselfer.

At the far end of the basement, a piece of the concrete wall swung outward. Had it been shut, I’d never have looked at it twice.

It opened up into a room three times the size and one that seemed oddly familiar to me. Man-machine used some of the same tools and machines as my grandfather. At least eight recognizable versions of Man-machine’s armor filled the space.

The older ones all had broken faceplates.

FBI personnel were everywhere in the room, documenting, photographing, investigating…

Isaac turned to me. “I think this may be the best moment of my career.”

One of the nearer agents, a short, dark-skinned man said, “Nah, just of your childhood, Isaac.”

Isaac laughed with them.

After a little while, he said, “You’ll want to take a look at this for sure. We’ll have to classify most of it, of course.”

He led me to the far end of the room. Newspaper clipping and photographs covered the wall. A few showed Man-machine with other villains, the products of short-lived teams set up to oppose the Heroes’ League.

Photographs of the Rocket covered the rest of the wall and overflowed around the corner to the next. The pictures went as far back as World War II up to this year.

Up to me.

Maps of the city hung on the wall, Grandpa’s patrol routes drawn on them and dated. Photographs of Grandpa’s armor had been enlarged nearly to full height. Each redesign’s picture was covered with scribbled speculations about weak points and improvements.

The speculations written about the redesign I wore were unnervingly close.

Not as unnerving as some of the pictures though. Starting in the late 1960’s the photographs included pictures of my grandfather even when he was out of costume and they continued past 1983 when the League disbanded and he retired.

I recognized pictures of my mom and her older brothers playing in the front yard of my grandparents’ house. I found a picture of myself as a toddler swinging on the porch swing with my grandfather.

I don’t remember hearing of him ever attacking Grandpa out of costume or kidnapping any of the kids. I can only guess that he would have thought that unfair.

I left after that. Told Isaac to let me know if he found anything important. Flew back to HQ, took off the armor and left it in the lab.

Then I sat on the porch swing for a while.

14 thoughts on “From the Past: Part 5”

  1. I think it was a bit rude for Isaac Lim to just pluck him out of school like that. Rather irritating (but that’s good since it means you wrote it well).

  2. For better or for worse, I wasn’t thinking about whether it would be irritating or not. I just thought that that’s how Isaac would handle it.

    Which may make Isaac inherently irritating…

  3. lol, irritating it may be, but it lets him know without overstating it that they know who he is, good writing in my book.
    also, i guess man-machine wasnt so bad, he never went after the family, even though he knew who they were.

  4. I agree with Charles. I love it when villains demonstrate a kind of honor code that only they themselves know or follow.

    After blowing up random stuff just to get at the new Rocket, turns out he had the chance to stomp the whole family, but didn’t…..

  5. I like villains that are more than just “evil people because they’re evil.” There’s got to be a reason they ended up on the wrong side of the law and stayed there.

    I also don’t like to waste characters. Figure we’ll see a little more of Man-machine one of these days…

  6. Honestly, I’ve never really been able to believe a secret identity could remain secret for very long. Man-machine fought the Rocket for years and it’s a given somebody like that would figure it out (at least from my point of view).

  7. Yeah, like when Tim Drake figured out who Batman was when he was like 10 years old.

    “Batman saved Dick Grayson at the circus when I was there! Now Batman suddenly has a Robin!”

    “Hey, Dick Grayson went to university, and there’s no Robin in Gotham!”

    “Hey, there’s a new Robin — and Bruce Wayne adopted Jason Todd!”

    I think Spiderman is even funnier — J. Jonah Jameson never wondered where Peter got those amazing pictures?

    I love Superman, but don’t get me started on Lois Lane. And Lex Luthor was supposed to be a genius?

  8. Hmm…just re-reading some older episodes…How did Isaac know that Nick was the Rocket, it’s a bit of a leap to connect pictures of Nick in Man-Machine’s lair with him being the new Rocket, isn’t it? Even if he is the right age?

  9. They knew about it long beforehand. The FBI knew his grandfather’s identity and kept tabs on him after he retired, largely just to keep him safe. It didn’t take much for them to notice how much time Nick was spending with him by comparison to anyone else. Also, the lessons with Lee combined to make it fairly obvious to them.

  10. Hmm…It all seems a bit…creepy, I guess. I mean, a shadowy organisation watching you all the time, making notes. I would have imagined heroes like the Rocket not being so keen on that kind of thing.
    I can see why they’d do it, but it must be a hell of a drag on resources…

  11. Superman has a number of really great excuses. For one thing, Clark Kent’s entire life has been spent holding back, avoiding physical exploits, and keeping himself from accidentally hurting people, which makes him look like a big clumsy doofus for completely natural reasons. Plus, whenever something exciting happens he makes an excuse about a heart condition or leaving the oven on and totally misses the scoop! This is a sharp contrast to Superman’s perfect hair, winning smile, feats of heroism, media darling status, etc.

    The second thing is that Superman has no secret identity. He doesn’t wear a mask, he has his own house (at the North Pole), his own friends (the Justice League) and family (Supergirl, Krypto), and he’s told his birth name and origins to the press. Why would anyone go looking for him among us mere mortals at all? Genius means nothing if you don’t ask the right questions.

    I will grant you that all the Silver Age Lois Lane “Clark Kent is Superman and I’ll prove it” stories are completely ridiculous, but frankly until people started really thinking about what it would be like to grow up with that sort of power, nobody quite got who Clark Kent would be as an adult, and so he came off as much more similar to Supes in full cape-and-tights, which made the secret that much lamer.

  12. Enjoyed this arc!

    Thank you for making villains who are more complex than “I’m evil”

    I wonder if we’re going to hear more about Man-Machine and the original Rocket’s history soon!

    (well, soon for me. Almost six years ago for the series)

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