MachinstWhat am I doing here?

Occasionally, as a hero, I ask myself, “What am I doing here?” Usually this happens in a sewer, with a crowd of zombies puking on me, but last night it was in a warehouse full of mages and undead that had me asking myself this.

It’s not a bad question really. What am I doing there? It’s often unpleasant and dangerous, not to mention painful with moments of embarrassment and humiliation thrown in for good measure. Why do I do this? Why didn’t I just sell out and be done with it?

It’s sometimes easy to forget what made me become a hero in the first place. Let me put it here so I don’t forget.

I was working late – something I did often – and I had just had the breakthrough that let me throw electricity through the air without supporting medium. I was elated. It was a wonderful find, and something I knew a lot of people would be interested in. As a freelance inventor that’s the Holy Grail, to find something that someone will want. Want enough to pay a lot of money for, and I thought I’d just found the way to hog heaven.

I had saved my work and locked up, and walked out to the corner pub for a celebratory drink. I had one or two, and was feeling quite relaxed, when I left. Just outside the pub, hiding in a shadow, a mugger demanded my wallet and all my money. He had a gun, and seemed serious. Even as he robbed me, I thought, “Man, if only I could electrocute this jerk!” What a use for my new invention!

I made it home, sans my cash, and thought about this with dark thoughts full of vengance. I built the gloves and boots that I still use today that night, working far in to the next day to build something compact, rugged, and powerful enough to stun without killing. The tuning was tricky, but I did it. I also figured it’d make a darn fine demo for the money-men who’d want my new invention.

After some much needed sleep, and some phone calls to my lawyer, I began work on the patent application. It took several days – longer than it had to turn the prototype in to a portable unit, yes – to write it, and I submitted it with great joy.

My agent tried to sell the product, and no one was interested. That isn’t quite right… lots of people seemed to be, until at some point, they’d give us the cold shoulder.

My patent was, eventually, granted. This took months. In that time I was trying to license the patent, and had continued to fail.

I took my prototype to the streets, and began my plan of wreaking vengance on the small crimes of the city. I zapped muggers and rapists and housebreakers. I signed up, under my real name, as a local vigilante. I was having fun, and I was doing good, and I was refining my invention at the same time.

This led to a problem. Usually, I didn’t kill people. The electric bolts sap the target’s energy, and leave them stunned. Eventually, they pass out, much like a taser works. However, I managed to zap a guy who was breaking in to a shop, who fell over dead. Apparently the electricity managed to push him in to a heart attack, and he died on the spot. I phoned an ambulance, and did my best, but he was still DOA to the hospital.

Naturally, his family sued me. After a long, drawn-out court battle, they lost. He was doing something visibly wrong, and I was following my licensed ability as a local vigilante to stop him. My methods were deemed “safe” and the circumstances unusual and beyond my control. It was, however, a trying event, and made me seriously reconsider the choices I had made.

Shortly thereafter, I got a cease and desist from Crey Industries, and a nasty letter from them claiming I infringed on their work. My lawyer and I replied, asking for prior art and for the patent numbers that were infringed.

The reply was truly frightening. Two people turned up in my house in the middle of the night, and made it clear to me that it wasn’t a patent Crey was unhappy about, and if I didn’t drop this research, I would wind up having a terrible accident. I can’t say if they were men or women, because of the concealing uniforms they wore, and I never figured out how they got in or got out, but it was darn scary. (And this is coming from a man who shoots lightning bolts out of his gloves.)

Another option was, apparently, that I sign on with Crey, and sign my work over to them. They’d take it and … do whatever it was they do with things … and I wouldn’t have any say in the matter. My nocturnal visitors hinted at this, and I found a large employment package, including an offer letter for a reasonable salary but with an unreasonable employee agreement the next day.

That day I didn’t do much. I thought a lot about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted my work to be used for. Did I care that it became property of the Company and that I would do what I was told? Apparently I did, because being pushed around so much really bothered me. And I missed being able to stop crimes and right wrongs. That had really appealed to me. Nearly losing it over the greedy claims of a criminal’s family bothered me a lot.

It was that day that I decided to keep doing what I was doing, but to hide, and do it right.

I vanished. I left a note for Crey, telling them I would be doing no further research and would not be selling a license, but that the patent was filed and would remain so. I closed out accounts and shut my life down. It was odd.

Eventually, I cashed out all my insurance and savings, and put it in my pockets in good old US currency and took a bus to Paragon City. I knew I could work there as a hero and be wanted, and nobody would much want to know why I was there.

That first day, when I was a brand-new Hero in Paragon City, and went around the city rescuing little old ladies from purse-snatchers, and laughing insanely as other heroes flew overhead, that’s the day I knew I chose right.

And that’s what I have to remember when I’m knee-deep in sewer muck, or, as was the case yesterday, hiding behind a crate from a room full of shuriken-throwing martial artists who are out for my blood.