Yorkshire, UK. 3:52 am.
I had tracked Arconna to just outside of Leeds, despite reports he'd been seen in Australia. The harrowing journey had made it obvious why he'd come here. 1) The satellite imagery in this area of the UK was crap. 2) I'd gotten unconfirmed reports of a romantic interest. Despite a superhero needing to keep such things tightly under wraps, I had managed to extract it from the guy who hooks up everyone's internet in exchange for a copy of Guitar Hero III. I was able to use the latter piece of information to triangulate the possible location of his hideout, and that's what had gotten me out of bed on the wrong side of the Atlantic this ridiculously early.
If I were going to make a sighting of Arconna, or "L'Arconne" as he was known in Switzerland, I expected it to be somewhere on top of a tall building, as most emotionally tormented good guys are usually found in such places.
4:41 am. I caught a brief flitter of dark blue, somewhere towards the spires of the basilica I was staking out. I quickly adjusted my infrared telephoto lens and snapped off a few shots. The digital display on my camera showed me I had gotten nothing that would sell any higher than the National Enquirer. If I photoshopped them a bit. I would have to get closer. I tucked the camera back into my supply case and flipped down my night vision goggles. I knew I looked like a dork, but it was so dark out here that it was unlikely anyone would see me anyway. I got to the base of the monument and looked up, trying to sight where I thought I had last detected movement. An icy chill crept up my spine.
There, silhouetted against clouds moving past a full moon, I saw a dark cloaked figure crouched against the side of the building. Two round glints of green reflected back at me, right where his eyes should be. Did he also use infrared visual enhancement? And if he did, how come his gear was so much cooler than mine? In complete defiance of gravity, Arconne stood up, perfectly perpendicular to the side of the building, turned and walked away from me. I ran to the side of the building and kicked open a door (OK, so it took me a few tries. And I hurt my foot.) then ran up the spiraling staircase until I reached a reinforced metal door, upon which were embossed the initials S.M.D. I knew I had found his lair. Of the three other superheroes I had interviewed, all of them had marked their secret hideouts in such a manner. He already knew I was here, so there was no point in pretending I wasn't. Just as I reached out to knock on the door, a quiet hum erupted from some hidden mechanism, and the door slipped upwards.
I stepped into a lush utopia of ferns, accented with tangles of hanging bromeliads, and was duly impressed. QuantoMan only had lame-ass potted violets in his secret underground base. Arconna was sitting in an oversized leather chair with his feet up on a lacquered wooden desk, facing a 52" screen and watching the unfortunately discontinued Firefly series. A copy of Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" sat on the desk.
"Mr. Arconna," I called as I approached.
"You can call me Shaun," he responded, indicating with a gesture that I should take a second chair. "And for the record, I'm not that emotionally tormented like those other super guys. It's just part of the image, you know."
I have to admit, he had a pretty good outfit. It was all done up in matching shades of blue, and looked like body armour designed by Dolce and Gabbana. AND . . . his mask was off! I scrambled for my camera, but he just laughed at me. "That won't work in here." Disappointed, I considered trying anyway, but knew that he probably wasn't fooling me.
"So, um. I guess you're going to let me interview you then," I ventured.
"Yeah, sure," he said.
"So what do you do when you're not saving the world?"
"I write. I contribute to blogs and I have some works of fiction that I'd like to get out there."
"Really?" None of the intel I had purchased had indicated this. I quickly got out my Axim and began jotting things down.
"Yeah. I want to be published. Legitimately published. Meaning, not a vanity press or Lulu.com or PublishAmerica or one of those places. I want a real press, big or small, to publish my work. Or a legit magazine to publish a short. My biggest hope for the future is to actually make a living writing. I'd love to do that. For now I'm going to continue school, keep writing, and get my degree. I might be a teacher one day, or an editor, or something else. Regardless, writing is in my blood somehow and I won't ever give that up, even if I spend my whole life trying to get published and never do. I keep coming back to it, so it's obviously something that I should do. Plus, I have thick skin. So, I'd like to be published and to be one of those guys that sits at home and writes books and stories for a living."
"Would you tell me about your stories?"
"I'll just mention some of my favorites. The World in the Satin Bag: A young adult fantasy novel about a boy who discovers that his home town has a mysterious past with a magical land inside a satin bag. When his best friend is kidnapped into the world he resolves to go after her, because nobody else will, and his presence begins a war that has been waiting to start for hundreds of years. Here's what I imagine the World looks like." He punched a few buttons on his desk, and the TV image changed to show the following map:
"And then there's Marx Ignatia: A cyberpunk novella. Marx Ignatia is a detective in the Third Domain, one of the fourteen AI controlled levels of a Matrix-like virtual world where you can literally live any fantasy life you can imagine, as long as you're willing to work for it. When a man named Palmmarrow, a hated man by a lot of people, including the AIs, is murdered she finds herself dealing with a violent rogue AI named Rapture and the threat that the Third Domain may collapse and destroy everyone jacked in. The Lies of Venicia: SF novel. Actaeon is a backwater world left to fend for itself after mysterious entities known as the White appear and begin terrorizing the populace, forcing Actaeon to become a world of illegal tech just to survive in a vast human empire. But things are not what they seem when the Elders of Venicia begin wiping out citizens under the guise that an infection of the White has taken hold, and three innocent people are thrust into an interstellar conspiracy to spread that infection to the rest of the human empire."
"Cool! And what about your blogging? Why do you do that?"
"You know, I have no idea. I enjoy it I suppose. I don't even remember why I started blogging. I think I started to make my little blog novel (The World in the Satin Bag). I've sort of moved on to other stuff now, but I am going to write the second book in the series...starting this month. I think now I write because I have a place I can write about things I enjoy. I like science fiction and fantasy and I can use my blog to discuss them and share what I know or what I find with other people. It's fun that way. I love comments on my blog because it's like an open dialogue with people of similar interests."
"Speaking of interests, I'd like to know what helped develop yours. What was your favourite book, comic or TV show as a kid?"
"As a kid I didn't really read very much, to be honest. I was one of those kids that hated reading because I never was allowed to read anything fun in school, or what I thought was fun. It was always the same stuff over and over. But for TV, goodness. Anything on Nickelodeon! I fed on Nickelodeon like it was candy! Probably my favorite show was The Secret World of Alex Mack or Doug (the original). Sliders was awesome too!"
"Did you like the movie Transformers?"
"Actually, I did. It was a fun movie. I can't say it was the best movie ever, but I enjoyed it. Shia Lebouf was pretty hilarious."
"What is your opinion of Wuthering Heights?"
"I don't have one. Never read it or seen the movie."
"What is your opinion of Star Wars? LOTR?"
"Both are completely awesome. I love Star Wars and have since I was a kid sitting at home with Asthma. It was the first SF movie that just pulled me in. I was quoting Darth Vader for half my life. The originals still make me smile and I still can't help remarking at how amazing the effects were for a move so old . . . LOTR, however, is just as amazing. Peter Jackson managed to take a highly influential fantasy series and turn it into one of the best movie trilogies ever. I love them all and all the special features and documentary stuff on the extended box sets is awesome."
"And do you have any heroes? If you could meet anyone, who would it be?"
"Oh good lord. That's a hard question. Right now I'd have to say Tobias S. Buckell. He's kinda my hero right now. Well, at least someone I look up to. Either that, or some big shot director who wants to turn some idea I have into a movie...but I think the first is the more realistic one."
"What about your superhero origins? According to the Database of Superheroes, you're not a spontaneous mutant. You inherited your powers. Who is the strangest person you're related to?"
"My Grandma. She is the most bizarre and amazing woman I have ever met. Literally, she's absolutely insane. She's the only person I know who would sit down and say 'we're having octopus eyes on toast'."
"What's your favourite planet?" (Yeah, I ask weird questions. So?)
"Earth, because I live here and because it's the prettiest from space. Let's face it, this planet rules."
"Who taught you the most valuable lesson in your life? What was the lesson?"
"I did and I'm still trying to figure out what I taught myself...I know it's important, I just don't know what it is..."
"What do you think is the most important quality a person should have?"
"Intelligence. That's not to say you have to be a genius or know how to do calculus problems, but if you are able to think for yourself and be able to do something that not everyone else can do, well that's intelligence. Isaac Asimov remarked on the IQ test that he thought they were really stupid because they were designed for those with a problem solving, academic type mind. But if his mechanic were to create an auto-mechanic's IQ test, he (Asimov) the genius would fail it miserably. Intelligence is varied, I just think many people lack it or hide it, which is stupid."
An alarm sounded, and Arconna leaped to his feet.
"Well, that was kinda fun, but I've got to go rescue some very important politicians. By the way, I reviewed your book on one of my blogs."
"What? You know who I am?"
"Of course. Do you think I'd have let you in here otherwise?"
A domed section of the ceiling was sliding to one side, revealing the early morning sky in varied shades of pink and orange. Arconna ran towards a springboard and made a graceful flip out into the burgeoning dawn. It looked like it was going to be a nice day.