We arrived in Steel Canyon, and Mr. Marcus got us a taxi. I didn’t fit well in the back seat, but it wasn’t too long a trip. The cab driver talked constantly, leaning around to look at us. I wondered how he drove without wrecking the car, but the trip was really without incident. A man in a dark suit and a large tigery man didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest. He agreed with Mr. Marcus that a cab was a good idea because the Tsoo were really working that part of town hard.
He dropped us off at Icon. I saw what he meant by the Tsoo. Tough looking men with tattoos and plainly visible weapons stood brazenly on street corners. They harassed people and mugged them, right on the street corners. Heroes repeatedly came by and rousted them, but there always seemed to be more.
Inside, Icon was tastefully lit and displayed several mannequins with suggested super-heroic uniforms on them. Mr. Marcus took me right to the back. A fit, dark haired man in a dark suit and a long-haired woman in a similar suit were conferring, going over a costume, on a tall, willowy heroine, who was wearing a mostly transparent skin-tight suit with a red-gold-orange flame pattern in it.
The man was fussing with the back of the heroine’s costume, saying to the woman working with him, “No, no, dear, you have to get the patterns to line up, or the hero just isn’t right. See? Like this.” (Considering how little costume was actually there, I wondered how much it would matter.) They were both looking at the heroineâ€™s back. She was facing us and smiling, perhaps a bit self-consciously.
I wondered how long we’d wait, but Mr. Marcus cleared his throat, and the two in the suits glanced up. The dark-haired man said, “David! How are you?” and came around the counter, unexpectedly quickly, and gave Mr. Marcus an enthusiastic hug. Mr. Marcus seemed discomfited by this, but did return the embrace, replying, “Uh, hello, Serge. I’m well enough.”
Serge stepped back and grinned widely, and introduced Mr. Marcus to his assistant and the customer, “Jenny, Blaster Babe, this is David Marcus. I think I mentioned him to you the other day, when we were discussing politics.” Jenny said, “Oh! Is this the fellow you said was the primary reason you still felt there was some good in paying your taxes?” David beamed, “Yes! His group does wonderful things.”
The heroine, apparently actually called Blaster Babe, looked at Mr. Marcus and said, “My, you must do something fairly amazing to earn Serge’s admiration. Can you share with us what it is you do?”
Mr. Marcus did. Blaster Babe was very curious about me, and seemed to want to be very friendly. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I was rescued by Serge who said, “This must be your latest lost soul, David! Will he be becoming a hero, too? Have you brought him here to me?”
“Yes,” is all Mr. Marcus said before Serge gave a hug. He seemed able to only give a very enthusiastic, welcoming hug. I didn’t know what to make of it, but it was certainly a positive thing, from a very upbeat and positive person. Serge said, “Oh, you’re a big fellow! This will be fabulous! What name are you using?”
I told him, “Ward Ohm.” All three of them, Jenny, Blaster Babe, and Serge seemed to approve. Serge said, “And what is it you do?” Before Mr. Marcus or I could reply, Jenny asked, “Are you a scrapper? Do you have those big claws like the Tiger Enforcers?”
I said, “Er, no.” and was interrupted again by Blaster Babe saying, “A big fellow like him has to be a tank. Impervious and super strong, right? Give the bad guys a walloping they’ll never forget!”
Again, I said, “Uh, no.” They all looked confused, but expectant. I said, “I make force fields.” I put one on Blaster Babe to demonstrate.
Serge laughed, delightedly, and said, “BB, sweetie, you must never team with this one. The teal bubble looks terrible with your costume.”
I did not really understand, but Serge took over the conversation. He said, “Now, Jenny, can you finish up with BB? I’ll take care of our new friend here and make sure he’s ready to take on the world.”
I expected to go in to the back, but Serge had no such idea. We did go to a different one of the computer terminals at his desk, but they don’t have offices or changing rooms. Apparently Serge has no shame, and feels heroes shouldn’t either. It didn’t bother me, but I think a couple of the other customers were uncomfortable trying things on in public.
Serge stood me in a corner, and a little camera ran around a circular track in the ceiling, and put me on Serge’s computer. He began working the computer’s keyboard and saying, “Let us see, we have a very big boy here to work with, lots of nice striped fur with good solid contrasting colors.” He was obviously enjoying the challenge.
Serge asked, “What do you want to tell people, Ward? What is it you want them to think when they see you? Do you want to impress them? To frighten them? To calm or reassure them?”
I didn’t have an answer, really. I did tell him I didn’t want to scare people. I was tired of nobody wanting me around. Serge made notes.
Soon, Serge started making suggestions, and showing me mock-ups on his screen. It was a little confusing, and it didn’t help that I apparently see colors differently than most humans do. Serge laughed, and said, “You trust Serge, then, and we’ll make sure the humans like you.” That sounded good to me.
The first suggestions he made were gaudy, to impress people. To make me look bigger, tougher. I didn’t think so much of that, and he got that right away. He patted my hand and said, “That’s just fine, sweetie. I start here, and it gets it out of the way. There are plenty of other things to look at.”
We looked at singlets and tights and pants and shorts and even a kilt. There was discussion of full body suits, shirts, and jackets. We talked about sandals and boots. I had no idea there was so many different kinds of clothes!
Serge had his first real surprise when he asked me to take off the gloves and emitters. I said they didn’t come off, and began to worry it would be like the airport again. It wasn’t. Serge said, “Oh, my poor dear!” then said, “Well, then, come here and let me see them.” He started with one of the gloves. He had me set my hand on the counter, and he took a very close look at it. He very gingerly worked off the outer covers, and saw how the circuits were tied in to the veins near my wrists. He had me sit down, and came and looked closely at the emitter antennae as well.
The other surprise was my feet. Serge was shocked by my feet, for a moment, and said to Mr. Marcus, “David, do you know who did this to him?” He sounded quietly angry. Apparently having the antennae screwed in to my skull, and the gloves bolted down so they can piece my veins didn’t bother him, but my feet did. Mr. Marcus said, “No, but if we find them, we’ll make sure they get what’s coming to them.”
My shoes came off with no trouble, but I can hardly walk without them. I didn’t think anything of it, but apparently the surgeries done to them to make me able to walk in a truly upright way bother a lot of people a lot. There are a number of scars, and they’re apparently not a “normal” shape. They’re not quite feline feet, and not quite human feet. They also don’t support me well, and I have special shoes that fix a lot of that.
Patting me reassuringly on the shoulder, Serge said, “Not a problem at all. We’ll have to leave them be, but we can change the colors, and perhaps a covering for the gloves. If we have to, we can do new orthopedics for you. It limits us a little, but not so much as you might think.”
Jenny was now free, and Serge had her go get “the sample suit” to try out. Jenny came back with a suit. Serge said, “Another hero, no longer with us, had this made, and we use it to try sizes and materials. Come, let’s put it on you.” I was dubious, but willing to try, and with Serge and Jenny helping, I clambered in to the full-body suit, and felt it clinging to me.
They sealed it up – the suits have a fastener in them, sort of like a zipper, but different, and it usually hides in the patterning – and stood back to look at it. Serge frowned, and both he and Jenny came over to try and smooth out the material, and get all the fur under it to lay the same way. I felt odd having two strangers put their hands all over me, but held still. It was not much of a success.
I also didn’t like the suit. I don’t like clothes. They rub the wrong way, and my fur wants to poke through them, or bunch up. They also make me too hot. Apparently I have a little tiny bit of musk as well, which the clothes tend to catch and leave me smelling quite a bit more strongly than I would otherwise. Serge mentioned some humans might find the odor unpleasant.
While we tried the suit and discovered that I didn’t like it, Mr. Marcus got a phone call. He talked to someone for quite a while, and seemed agitated and preoccupied after that.
Serge nodded, and observed, “Well, that just isn’t going to work at all. I know people who are going to be so envious of you. It would be a shame to waste that fur anyway.” and they helped me get out of the thing. I’d shed all over it when we were done, which Jenny thought was funny. She offered to brush me, and seemed a little disappointed when I declined, and just shook my fur smooth.
Serge had gone back to his computer and asked, “Ward, what about this?” The screen showed my gloves, with a dark color and a bright pattern of circuits. There was also the same color and pattern for new boots, which laced up tightly over my calves, and a belt with a lot of pockets and things, and a pair of the dark colored trunks.
I liked the patterns on the boots and gloves and told him so. I said I didn’t know what the belt was for, and he said, “Everybody needs pockets, Ward!” He was pleased when I agreed to try it.
The fabricators made the costume quickly, and I tried it on. The boots worked very well, although we needed to try a time or two to get it right. The covers for my gloves worked the first time. I felt a little clumsy for a while, but got used to it quickly.
The trunks and the belt were no good. There were always odd lines under the trunks where fur clumped up, and the belt kept whacking the base of my tail. We tried loose shorts, but Serge would not stand for it. He said something about “giant beach bum” and wouldn’t do it. Eventually, we just gave up on them. I might have worked harder at it if I’d have known how oddly people would look at me for not wearing pants.
Serge insisted I needed pockets, so he took the glove-coverings away and came back with some that have some small pockets, and some places a pouch can go if I need it. That worked fine.
Mr. Marcus was amused by the uniform we came up with, and I didn’t understand why. He reassured me, “Don’t worry, Ward. I’m sure you’ll be very popular.” Serge and Jenny agreed.
Serge had several sets of the new uniform made, and filed the plans and a picture of me in it with City Hall. Looking in his computer, he said, “David, when will you be getting Ward settled in to his new apartment?” He looked at Mr. Marcus and added, “You do have an apartment for him, don’t you?”
Mr. Marcus said, “The City Rep and I took care of that earlier. It should be ready by now.” Apparently, I have an apartment.
Serge and Jenny both gave me another hug, and wished me well. They told me to come by any time at all to let them know how I was doing, or if they could offer any advice. Jenny mentioned, “We know all the heroes!”
We left Icon, and hailed another cab.