Watchtower II, Long Island, NY
May 5, 1961
“He calls himself the Futurist.”
Miss Masque and I exchanged glances. Futurist? Did he have something to do with Captain Future? I knew that she wasn’t too fond of her old comrade from America’s Best, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be interested.
“His real name is Jeremiah Bradley,” Commander Battle’s deep voice echoed across dimly lit room. “Eighteen years old, life-long Atlanta resident. My people are still looking through their files, but he doesn’t seem to have a criminal record or connections to any subversive organizations.”
The leader of Sentinels of Justice took a sip of water and continued.
“A few days ago, he went to his local Department of Paranormal Affairs office and submitted to a paranormal abilities test.” Commander Battle nodded his head. “He wants to become a wonder-hero.”
The slide projector clicked, displaying a color photo of a tall young man. He wore what looked like wonder-hero costuming distilled to its Platonic essence – dark blue body stocking with a bright blue “F” on the chest, slightly darker boots and gloves and a black belt with a silver buckle. The costume highlighted a runner’s musculature without revealing anything indecent. But it wasn’t the costume that caught everybody’s attention – it was his face.
Futurist was a Negro.
He had a strong jaw, a flat nose and head of kinky hair that was cut very short. The Negroes are not, by their nature, a handsome race, but the Futurist was spared the animalistic exaggeration all too common among his brethren. His gaze was steady and focused, and his posture was steady and forward. He had an easy smile, the kind of smile that suggested confidence and contentment.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Captain Right’s drawl interrupted my thought.
“If that’s a joke, its in very poor taste,” Doctor Richter said as he took a drag from his pipe. “Somebody must have put the poor boy up to this. They should be ashamed.”
“I don’t know, sweetie,” his fiancé, the deathly pale Miss Mist, said. “I think it’s adorable.”
Ricky Flash, who sat in the chair to the left of her, glared at her from behind his black mask and said:
“Commander Battle would never call a meeting over a joke.”
“I am afraid Ricky is right,” Commander Battle said. “This is very serious. As far as we can tell, the boy came on his own free will. He took every test DPA threw at him, and he never complained. He testified under oath that he would use his abilities for the good of mankind. So yes, I think the boy really wants to become a wonder-hero.”
“Is he insane?” Miss Masque blurted bout.
“I don’t think so,” I thought aloud. “I think he means every word.”
It was easy to see where Jeremiah Bradley was coming from. He was too young to really remember the 1940s. He had no idea what he was like to grow up with wonder-heroes and uber-villains dominating the headlines. By the time he started school, costumed heroes were few and far in between. Most of the older heroes either fought on the front lines or enjoyed their well-deserved retirement. All Jeremiah had were stories of times gone by; times that even I thought wouldn’t come back. So when new wonder-heroes started appearing and older heroes like Miss Masque started making headlines again, it must have seem like a dream come true.
In spite of the racial differences between us, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Jeremiah. I was only nine when I first met Bart Hill, the original Daredevil. When the wonder-heroes started to come back, I knew I couldn’t sit it out. So, with his blessing, I took up the Daredevil name, proud that he trusted me with his legacy and terrified that I wouldn’t be able to live it. But at least I had Bart’s reputation and over a decade of crime-fighting experience to fall back on. Poor Jeremiah was trying to start from scratch.
“You better hope he ain’t serious, Daredevil,” Captain Right said. “That boy has no business wearing a costume.”
“Well, it obviously wasn’t his idea,” Doctor Richter said as he took another drag from his pipe. “I still say someone put him up to it.”
“It’s the Commies,” Ricky Flash murmured “Bad enough they got all the Negroes riled up, now they have to drop this deuce.”
Besides me, Miss Masque rolled her eyes.
“The kid’s got guts,” the immortal Jon Juan said. “I’ll give him that. I just don’t think he has a whole lot of common sense.”
“I’ll say,” Jester eagerly joined in. “Who does he think he is, trying to do his civic duty and fight crime? Why, we outta take him out back and lynch him! The nerve!”
“No one wants to lynch anyone,” Captain Right said. “But you can’t expect the good people of Atlanta to accept just anyone as their wonder-hero.” He turned around, tossing his cape over his shoulder with theatrical flourish. “They want a wonder-hero with good moral character. They want someone who appreciates their values…”
“In other words,” Jester interrupted, “they don’t want a Negro.”
“See, now, that’s just not fair,” Captain Right replied, “Trying to imply that the good people of Atlanta are racists. It ain’t about that. It’s about being able to choose who you associate with. You don’t want to force people of Atlanta to do what they don’t want to do. That’s just un-American.”
Normally, I tried my best to stay out of those arguments. Captain Right wasn’t going to abandon his beliefs any time soon, and neither was Jester. In the end, all they did was annoy the hell out of each other for… what, exactly? But this time, I couldn’t just sit the argument out. There was more at stake this time.
For the first time ever, a Negro decided to become a wonder-hero.
That changed everything.
“Captain Right, with all due respect…” I said. “I don’t think you give people of Atlanta enough credit. This is the city that prides itself on being able to solve it’s racial issues peacefully,” or, at least, pretend to. “I am not saying that everyone would be happy with a Negro wonder-hero, but I think that there will be plenty of people who would at least be willing to give Mr. Bradley a fair chance. It might take a few years, but sooner or later, I am sure cooler heads will prevail. ”
“Well, Daredevil” Captain Right’s mouth twitched a little. “I guess can see what you are saying. I suppose you might be right. I’m just not ready to bet on it. Look at what happened when they tried to integrate schools in Little Rock. Heck, look at New Orleans. If you ask me, that’s proof enough that race mixing brings out the worst in people. Maybe it will end peacefully, but do you honestly want to take that chance?”
“Gentlemen,” Miss Masque interjected with a gentle cough. “I think you are getting a little ahead of yourselves. We don’t really have much of a say in here. Besides, even if DPA clears Mr. Bradley, the Atlanta police still has to test him and approve his license. To be honest, I think Chief Jenkins will want to avoid any potential controversy.”
I hated to admit it, but she had a point. Everything I said assumed that Jeremiah would get a fair hearing, something which, let’s face it, was damn unlikely. In fact, it would probably play out exactly like Miss Masque described. The chief of Atlanta police would not risk facing the wraith of the city’s whites, even if it meant denying a promising candidate a chance at something everybody in this meeting room took for granted.
But what bothered me most was that Miss Masque seemed to assume that it would be the end of it.
“Controversy?” I tried to steady my voice “I am sorry, Diana, but ‘controversy’ is exactly what we’ll get if the Atlanta police department denies Mr. Bradley a license simply because he’s a Negro. After all the upheaval over Dr. King’s arrest, do you honestly expect the city’s Negro community to just accept it? There will be protests. There will be another round boycotts. It will be on national news so fast it would give Silver Streak a whiplash.”
“So what do you suggest, Daredevil?” Captain Right sneered. “That we let the boy have his license just because the some commie-loving lawbreakers might get upset? I don’t know how we do things in New York, but where I am from, we respect our laws and we uphold them with all our might. The people of Atlanta won’t be intimidated.”
“Oh, for God’s sake…” Jester let out an exaggerated sigh, “Stop speaking in third person!”
“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain!” Captain Right snapped back.
“Make me, sheet boy!”
I had to remind myself that underneath his brightly colored costume and his red mask, Jester was still a teenager. He was allowed to be a little immature. Captain Right, on the other hand… should know better.
“What I am suggesting,” I said, trying my best to keep the mounting frustration out of my voice. “Is that it would be in everybody’s best interest if Chief Jenkins lets Mr. Bradley have a fair shot at the wonder-hero license. If he fails, then at least everybody would know that he failed fair and square. If he succeeds… As I recall, Atlanta already has several Negro policemen. I am sure it can make room for a Negro wonder-hero.”
“This is ridiculous,” Doctor Richter lit his pipe as Miss Mist floated over to rub his shoulders. “This whole discussion – it’s ridiculous. The boy is a Negro. The Negroes are a strong, hard-working race, but they don’t have the mental fortitude to handle the challenges of modern crime-fighting.”
Jon Juan laughed. It was a gentle laugh, the kind you would expect from a father laughing at a precautious child.
“What?” Doctor Richter said. “What the heck is so funny?”
He kept smiling, but his posture went rigid and he clenched his fists so tightly they nearly bled.
“I lived for a very long time, Mathew,” Jon Juan said. “I remember when your people were a bunch of grunting, dirty savages who lived in wooden huts and hunted deer with bronze spears. I could drop a few silver coins and your people would declare me a God. And your women were so willing…” For a moment, the immortal adventurer seemed lost in thought, but he quickly recovered. “Meanwhile, the people you call Negroes already built cities and developed writing. But that was long ago… No race is born superior, Mathew. Not one. Sure, some races might get ahead of others, some might get left behind, but sooner or later, time will even the odds.”
Doctor Richter set down his pipe as Miss Mist carefully floated away.
“Maybe it’s true,” he said through clenched teeth. “I guess you have me at a disadvantage. You and your life experience… But even you would have to admit there are differences between races.”
“Of course there are,” Jon Juan said with an easy shrug, “I am not blind. But those differences don’t mean a thing when it comes to character… Or intelligence.”
Doctor Richter stared at Jon Juan. The immortal man met his gaze with cool disinterest. It wasn’t that Jon didn’t care about what Doctor Richter thought – it was that he didn’t care enough to be even remotely worried. Sure, the professor had the power to crush Jon’s bones into powder, but he faced things that were much more dangerous. Besides, I wasn’t even sure if crushing his bones into powder would kill him. If even half of what Jon said was true, he survived much worse.
“Gentlemen!” Commander Battle spoke up so suddenly I nearly jumped out of my chair. “You are Sentinels of Justice! Behave yourselves!”
“Yes, Jonathan,” the immortal man shrugged. “Sorry about that, Jonathan.”
“Commander,” Doctor Richter bristled. “He called me an idiot. Where does that oversexed Lothario get off calling me an idiot!”
Miss Mist flew over and whispered something in her fiancé’s ear. He seemed annoyed, but whatever he said must have had some effect, because Doctor Richter mumbled an apology and sat down.
“Now, where were we?” said Commander Battle after taking a sip of water. “We really seemed to have gotten off track.”
“To be honest, Commander,” said Miss Masque. “I am not sure what you want us to do. This is definitely something we should know, definitely, but like I said – Atlanta police has the authority to issue licenses. All we can do is advise.”
Commander Battle signed:
“Normally, you would be right. The Sentinels of Justice have no business meddling with local politics. But it’s not that simple. It’s never simple,” he looked around the room, scanning each and every one of us. “Jeremiah’s DPA tests came back positive. He is a paranormal.”
Everybody in the meeting room gasped. Even the normally unflappable Jon Juan seemed taken aback.
“A Negro paranormal?” Miss Mist blurted out. “Is that even possible?”
“Of course it’s freaking possible,” Ricky Flash sneered. “Ever heard of Merciless the Sorceress?”
“I thought she was white…” Miss Mist whimpered, causing Doctor Richter to glare at Ricky Flash. The younger wonder-hero looked at straight past him and sunk into his chair with a loud, exasperated sigh.
“Jeremiah has a very interesting ability,” Commander Battle raised his voice slightly as he continued. “He can create technological devices of thin air. According to DPA scientists, they are actually made up of energy fields, but they feel as real as it gets. And, as far as they could tell, they are fully functional. All he has to do is call out in object’s name and it will appear in his hand. Just like that. ”
My heart thundered under my costume. The implications of this were staggering. Just imagine – being able to create any tool, any tool at all, on the moment’s notice. I have to carry everything I need in my utility belt, so I always have to make sure I don’t carry too much. Jeremiah would never have that problem.
“But that’s not the most interesting part,” Commander Battle continued. “When DPA scientists asked Jeremiah to create a telephone, he didn’t just create any old phone. Turns out he calls himself Futurist for a reason. Next slide.”
Once again, the lights dimmed and the projector clicked, displaying a rectangular, plastic-looking object that fit nearly perfectly inside the close-up of Jeremiah’s hand. It had a small display screen and four rows of very flat-looking buttons with glowing letters and numbers. It was hard to make out the details of the screen, but I could have sworn the letters in the middle said ‘no signal.’
“This strange phone dissolved after four hours, but it lasted long enough to let DPA scientists examine it and take it apart.”
“They could take it apart?” Doctor Richter said, incredulous. “Was it really that life-like?”
“Definitely. Jeremiah’s creations are very detailed, down to the smallest screws. The DPA scientists found incredibly complex circuit boards and a whole bunch of components they can’t even begin to make sense of. But more importantly, they found technical information. This device was made in 1994.”
Everybody in the room gasped. Jon Juan looked a little pale. Miss Mist fainted. her body dissolving as she fell. Doctor Richter didn’t even notice.
“DPA scientists asked him to produce more objects and took each one of them apart. Every one of them was built at least 30 years in the future. They were common household items. A television set. A radio. A teapot. A record player.”
Commander Battle showed us a few more slides, each one stranger than the rest. The future television was flat, almost like somebody nailed the frame to a plywood board. It had no knobs or buttons. The future radio turned out to be a black object with a string topped with what Commander Battle assured us were miniature headphones. The future record player turned out be to be a trapezoid-like box with two speakers on the sides and a whole slew of flat buttons in between. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly fit anything more than the smallest record.
“And then, some idiot asked him to make a gun.”
The slide projector clicked. What Jeremiah held had a general shape of a gun, but it was unlike any gun I’ve ever seen. Its barrel was wide and oval, and there was a slot for some kind of cylinder in the back. The slide projector clicked and Jeremiah pressed the trigger. The gun shot something that looked like a bullet but turned out to be what the scientists called ‘super-heated helium plasma.’ The barrel melted after one blast.
“I’ll be damned,” Captain Right whistled.
“Now you know how I felt when I saw my first musket,” Jon Juan looked on wistfully. “Ah, those were the days. The first muskets were explosive things, and they broke constantly, but Lords did they pack a punch.”
“Commander...” Doctor Richter said quietly. “Is there any limit to what the Futurist can create?”
“DPA scientists say that he can’t create anything that’s more than his body mass, so no cars or planes. He can’t seem to create more than one object at a time. Other then that… If he can call it by name, he can create it.”
Ricky Flash threw up his hands:
“Great. Bad enough we got Reds breathing down our necks, now we have to deal with an Negro who can make future weapons out of thin air. That’s just great.”
“I hope DPA had enough sense to lock him up,” said Doctor Richter. “We can’t let him walk around unsupervised.”
“Actually,” Commander Battle signed. “They let him go.”
“They did what!” Captain Right exclaimed.
“They determined that Jeremiah wasn’t a threat to society, so they couldn’t legally hold him.”
“Not a threat…” Doctor Richter moaned. “Oh, I forgot - those are the same incompetents who let Doctor Rumor apply for a license! Commander – we have to go and contain him before it’s too late.”
“With all due respect,” I said. “I don’t see why. Everything we know about Mr. Bradley strongly suggests that he’s a man of fine moral character. He has no reason to start causing trouble.”
“Not yet,” said Miss Masque. “But what happens when he doesn’t get his license? I don’t imagine he would be too happy about that.”
“Or, maybe,” said Jester, “just maybe, he’ll try not to take it personally and do the right thing anyway. But what do I know? I’m only speaking from experience.”
“Bruce,” said Commander Battle “This isn’t the same thing. You had someone you could turn to. Jeremiah has no one. When he gets rejected, he will be vulnerable. Suggestible. There are plenty of people who’d love to take advantage of that. Dr. King may be as non-violent as he says, but there are plenty of trouble-makers in the so-called civil rights crowd.”
“And the Reds!” Ricky Flash interjected.
“And the Reds,” Commander Battle nodded. “You can bet your ass they’ll just love to get their hands on a paranormal who can make future technology.”
“That would be a disaster!” said Captain Right. “We can’t let this happen, Commander.”
“Don’t worry, Captain Right,” our leader replied. “We won’t. But we can’t just fly in powers blazing. We are a federally sanctioned team, and Atlanta is already nervous about the federal government intervention. We need to be subtle.”
“What if we send one Sentinel to keep an eye on Mr. Bradley?” I offered. “If anything goes wrong, he can radio the rest of the team for help.”
“Good idea, Daredevil,” Commander Battle said. “Let’s see… It has to be someone who won’t cause too much stir. Someone with moral authority.”
“It should be someone with paranormal abilities,” said Doctor Richter. “Someone who would have enough power to fight back no matter what.”
Miss Mist emerged from the floor and gloated beside him. Her fiancé didn’t even notice.
“I’ll go,” said Ricky Flash. “With my nuclear powers, the Reds don’t stand a chance.”
The air around him crackled as he summoned the power stored within his cells. Doctor Richter jumped out of his chair and backed away. Miss Masque reached for her gun. Even I couldn’t help but reach towards my boomerangs.
“No,” Commander Battle said. “I need you to stay here.” Ricky’s face flashed with indignation. “You are our trump card, just in case things get real nasty.”
And just like that, the anger was gone. The crackling stopped. Ricky Flash straightened up and nodded:
I breathed a small sigh of relief. Ricky had plenty of power, and he used it quite well, but he was too rash and short-tempered to be subtle. I didn’t hold them against him – I don’t know what I would do if someone killed Bart and pulverized Manhattan – but I couldn’t in good conscience send him anywhere near Atlanta.
“Captain Right,’ said Commander Battle. “I want you to…”
“No!” Jester cried out. “Absolutely not! Anyone but Captain Racist over there!”
“Bruce,” Commander Battle gave the teen hero a stern glare, “behave yourself. Now, Captain Right – I want you to save your strength, so you’ll be taking a flyer. Pack as much as you need and be ready to leave at sixteen hundred hours. ”
“Yes sir. I will just call my manager and I’ll be on my way.”
“This isn’t one of your publicity stops,” said Commander Battle. “I need you to take this seriously. No glory-hounding.”
“I understand that, sir. It’s just that the good people of Atlanta will want someone to reassure them the Sentinels of Justice are there to uphold the law,” he shot a quick glance in Jester’s direction. “And a nice chat with the public will make that perfectly clear.”
“That’s true,” said Commander Battle. “Just… Make sure you don’t go overboard.”
“Yes sir. Won’t happen, sir.”
“Doesn’t anybody else see a problem with this?” Jester waved his arms. “Anyone? Daredevil?”
“I am afraid the Commander is right,” I said. “Captain Right is very popular in the South and he never took that for granted. He spent most of his life in the South. This gives him credibility. And while I think some of his views are… misguided, he is a good man. When push comes to shove, he will do the right thing.”
Besides – I would rather have him than Doctor Richter and Miss Mist.
“Thank you kindly, Daredevil,” Captain Right beam. “See, Jester – there’s really no need to get nasty.”
Jester shook his head, sending the bells on his hat into a jingle:
“Sure there is, Captain my captain. You are a very model of a shameless modern hypocrite. You blather on and on about will of the people this and state rights that, but everybody can see you shaking in your pearly white boots. Have you ever even talked to a Negro? I mean, really, truly talked to a Negro? The way you would to a real man?”
Captain Right looked away, refusing to meet Jester’s eyes.
“You can’t stand it, can you?” the younger man chuckled. “I can see it on your face. You are just as bad as Doctor Richter, but at least Doctor Richter freaking admits it. But you keep lying and fibbing and trying to fool everyone, all because you are supposed to be this ultimate gentleman, this great big bundle of goodness and purity. Oh, how I’d love to see it all come apart. I might just see the real you. And who knows – I might even respect you.”
“I don’t have to listen to this,” Captain Right said through gritted teeth. “Commander, if you excuse me…”
Captain Right swept his cape through the air and walked out the door.
“Bruce Charles Lane,” Commander Battle stared at Jester sternly. “You are suspended for the rest of the week. I keep warning you I will have to suspend you for the rest of the month.”
“I am a Jester, sir,” he shrugged. “It’s what I do. Every Jester worth his salt tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Suspending me won’t change that. Sir.”
“He is right about that, Jonathan,” Jon Juan spoke up. “There’s a reason why most count jesters didn’t live to see retirement. Besides, Chuck Lane wasn’t that
“Fine,” Commander Battle looked almost pained. “Go. I’ll figure out what to do with you later.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you oh so very much, sir.”
And with that, the young man leapt over the table and stormed out.
“Thank God!” Doctor Richter proclaimed. “It’s about time somebody put that windbag in his place.”
“You are absolutely right, honey,” Miss Mist cooed. “He is so rude, insulting Captain Right like that. Honestly, he has no shame.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Ricky Flash. “I like him. He makes these meetings interesting.”
Miss Mist made an indignant sigh and turned her back against the atomic-powered hero. Ricky smirked. Jon Juan looked on it all with a knowing expression.
I sank back into my chair’s padding.
They don’t care. They didn’t care about a good young man will soon have his heart broken, even though he did absolutely nothing wrong. And now, Captain Right is about to descend on Atlanta. An avowed super-powered segregationist tossed into the frying pan of racial tensions. I hoped he wouldn’t do anything good, but could I really trust him?
Of course, it was too late now. If I wanted to object, I should have said something when I had the chance.
Sentinels of Justice are a team, I tried to reassure myself. We have to be able to trust each other. We have to be able to compromise…
Damn it. We are heroes. We are supposed to help people. We are supposed to stand up for the helpless and weak. We are supposed to fight against injustice. Race shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
Maybe this is why Bart never joined a hero team.
“It’s alright,” a soft voice interrupted my thoughts.
I looked up. Miss Masque offered a slight, weary smile.
“It’s alright. You should feel upset. It means that you still care,” she adjusted her hat. “Don’t ever lose that.”
I felt hot under my mask. I was surprised she could read me so easily, especially since my mask covers most of my facial features. Then again, there were plenty of other things that could have given me away. Posture, for one.
“Stop it,” I said. “It makes you sound old.”
Her smile got a little wider, but only for a second.
“I am old, Jock. I will be thirty-five in two months. I don’t have a husband, I don’t have kids and this face isn’t getting any fresher. Thank God for the mask – so long as I have it on, I don’t have to hide my crow’s feet.”
“You want to know the truth, Jock? I am scared. I am terrified out of my mind. The whole world is spinning out of control and I feel like I can barely hang on…. But don’t listen to me. Just keep doing what you know is right. God knows I can’t say that anymore.”
Commander Battle’s voice brought our attention back to the meeting. We discussed some old business and considered a few potential trouble spots, but my heart wasn’t really in it. My eyes kept returning to the empty chairs where Captain Right and the Jester were supposed to sit and I wondered.
As the meeting came to a close, I realized what I had to do.
Looks like I will be using my personal leave a little early this year.
© 2010 Strannik01.