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Sunday afternoon in Manhattan....



Unfriendly Pillagers

It is a chilly autumn Sunday afternoon in Manhattan. The week has been an eventful one. Britain was refused entry into the Common Market. Fidel Castro is visiting the USSR. JFK called out 3000 troops in Birmingham after the arrest of Martin Luther King. Fighting in Vietnam is escalating, and the news that America's number one soldier, Captain America, is MIA has just broken. Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts. It has also been an eventful year. Robert Frost and Theodore Roethke died, and Barbara Tuchman and William Carlos Williams won Pulitzer prizes for nonfiction and poetry, respectively. Pope Paul VI now sits on the throne in Vatican City. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are the most popular singers around. For the first time, an artificial heart has been used. New York lost the World Series to Los Angeles. A military coup overthrew the South Vietnamese government, leading to increased US involvement in the region.
    But perhaps none of this is important right now, this particular Sunday, a day of rest, a time for you to do what you want to do....

Adrian rolled out of bed bright and early, the day full and fresh before him. It was Sunday. The business was closed and he had time to work on his projects. Heaven.
    Cereal and toast were no substitute for the eggs and pancakes he'd had as a Sunday morning ritual on the way to 1st Methodist, but until the business got better or something else came up, money was just too tight for breakfast out. He missed the guys at the diner, and the waitress who always saved the crossword puzzle for him. He smiled, calling up the looks on their faces every week when Adrian finished the Bugle Sunday while carrying on a conversation and eating pancakes and eggs. Then church, which he just couldn't find the time for—not with important project work limited to the weekends now. It had been six months since his last visit and the Easter newsletter was yellowing on his refrigerator door. At least he hadn't had to drop out of any committees, to let anyone down.
    Somewhere in his reverie his corn flakes got soggy. He ate them quickly, with distaste, and unlocked the door to the back stairs—the ones that led to the lab. He was humming as he ambled down the cramped circular stairwell. What to do today, what to do?
    His apartment was the 2nd floor of his electronics shop, and he had made some changes: the open work area had been reduced by a third, the missing space becoming Adrian's private lab (accessible only by the locked stairs from the apartment, or through the 'secret door'). He had debated over that, but couldn't resist—the workroom partition had a sliding segment. The entrance was blocked by a cluttered table that looked like it could never move, but actually spun out on a pivot when you pressed the hidden button that unbolted its leg from the floor. He hadn't made any permanent modification to the building (how could he? it was leased), but Adrian made do. What to do? The radio seemed the most likely... Adrian pulled out the tools he needed, and the plans he sketched the day before. It would be simplicity itself: the armor itself acted as a receiver, after all (he was glad he was able to do away with the original model—the one with the aerial coming off his helmet—since it lacked dignity), the helmet had room enough for a small speaker (at half an inch from his left ear, it needn't be powerful) and the controls for the radio could be fitted into the cybernetic controls of the rest of the suit, for precision tuning. Well, he could do the last if he could afford more of the cybernetic circuits, which he couldn't. It was so frustrating—he could see the problem, and how to solve it, but he just hadn't the tools. Hadn't the finances. Adrian snapped on the radio and began to make do. Again.
    Eventually the news reports interrupted the classic music. Adrian pulled a deli pickle out of the cooler and took a break, munching thoughtfully as the outside world percolated though his haven. When the announcer reached events in Southeast Asia, Toomes nearly fell from his chair.
    Captain America missing in action? But...But...That's not possible.
    Adrian remembered, clear as day, the Captain's firm handshake, gentle grin and voice destined to command. He was a young man, but with a presence an, an air, and it seemed likely that he would never grow old. Not in the way that Toomes had grown old. He just couldn't be gone.
    Adrian tried to lose himself in his work but it wasn't going to happen, and he knew it. Far from a haven, his workroom was a coffin, with walls oppressive and close. He needed to get out.
    He managed to attach the radio to the suit's exterior, running the wires through the chain mail and up to the helmet connections. They'd attach there to the speaker. Sure, he'd have to change the stations by hand and the radio might get damaged but it was the best he could do right now.
    The whole time he entertained fantastic notions of donning the armor and flying to Vietnam. He'd find the Captain holed up on a cave, still holding off the enemy who blocked his path but couldn't capture him. Together they'd rout the troops and return triumphantly to the States. Adrian laughed. It would only take him, umm, four days to fly to Southeast Asia, nonstop. Then, naturally, he'd stumble right across his quarry. Sure. Face it Ade, being a hero is one thing. Starring in a Republic serial is something else entirely.
    Following a whim—the urge to feel like Captain America again, if only for a little while—he put the cybernetic suit on, then his street clothes over it. If the radio was right it was cool enough out there: no one would question the long sleeves. Its activation put 'a spring in his step and a glide in his stride' as Astair would put it. Adrian had vague plans of taking the subway into Manhattan, getting away from Queens, and wandering the park—watch the children play with the boats, confer with Alice and the Caterpillar, maybe pick up a Bugle and do the puzzle on a park bench—before finding an open bar and raising a toast to the Captain. The gloves, armor and helmet went in his bag. He'd do some flight tests over the city tonight. If he was lucky, he might get Glenn Miller on the radio.

Captain America

    "I'm still not sure about this, Doc."
    "Well, I'm no tailor, son, but it should hold together. Besides, fabrics within your immediate bio-aura seem as impervious to harm as...."
    "C'mon, Doc! You know that's not what I mean." The young man turned to face his only friend, the only person in the world who knew the insanity that had been the last few months of his life. "I mean this!" His thumb indicated the white star in a sea of blue on his chest. The outfit wasn't an exact match. The skintight headpiece would never work over his thick hair, and the cape seemed to balance out the lack of a shield. "What right do I have to take this name, this costume. I mean, shouldn't it at least go to somebody born on this planet?"
    "Calm down, you're shaking the building again. I've the tenants convinced last week's incident was a problem with the furnace, but I'd rather not deal with any structural problems. If I'm the superintendent of a pile of rubble, who knows how we'll get by?"
    "Superintendent." The young man couldn't suppress a grin and a chuckle. "Weren't you some kind of big-league government scientist?"
    "That was a very different government." By his tone the older man, still making adjustments to the red and white stripes on the abdomen of the costume, might have been idly commenting on the weather. "But yes, I was one of the State's best researchers, not that individual recognition was ever high on their list of values. Dealing with basic electrical and plumbing problems may be dull for me, but it keeps a roof over our heads. Without a job history, official credentials, or even ID, this was the best I could do for us, for now. How's your job hunt going, by the way?"

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© 1999 Mark L. Chance et al