So, for years, I’ve intended to periodically publish excerpts of my writing on my webpage. Stuff which was published ages ago, or that I’m no longer trying to get published. I write stories, so it always seems a bit odd that my web page is filled with writing that ISN’T stories. All that to say, the following is excerpted from a short story I published in GUD seven years ago. It seems sadly topical …
Frequent Flier (first published in Spring, 2007)
When third generation superhero, Walter Bennett Remington III, swooped down from the sky, supporting the 747 on his back, no one applauded. Not the people in the airplane, not their worried relatives on the ground. Everyone knew about the second law of thermodynamics. They weren’t sure of the details, but they knew the basics: all power has to come from somewhere. Each time power changes hands, you lose a little of it.
And they knew where the power that had Walter swooping in the sky, grinning and pirouetting, had come from. It had come from them. The passengers felt little and diminished as they climbed down the stairs to the cement landing pad. One older man pressed his hand into his back. “I already had a slipped disc,” he told no one in particular, “But it hurts worse now.”
Walter pretended not to hear, although his super hearing made it impossible not to. Instead he flew off to his family’s Ski Chateau of Solitude in the mountains of Switzerland.
“The world doesn’t appreciate us,” he told his mother. She was halfway down the mountain on her new short skis, but she heard him just fine. She skidded to a halt, kicking up a plume of the untouched powder. “Great skiing today, Wally,” she told him. “Really great. Pure powder.”
Walter flew past her to the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. The view would have been spectacular for anyone, but with Walter’s super-vision it was incredible. He could see most of the inhabited world. Billions of humans going about their business. Working in factories, farms, offices. Sitting on the street begging for pennies, and walking down the sidewalk in their business suits. And they all hated him, and the rest of his type.
“What if they didn’t know the power came from them?” Walter said.
His mother, executing a perfect spin as she finished the slope, shrugged. “Who cares?”
“I care,” Walter said. He looked down with his extra-perfect vision, looked straight into brains of the people for thousands of miles around and watched. It took him eighty-three days, seven hours and forty minutes until he finally understood the way their brains worked.
For a moment he just smiled. If he had wanted he could have written a book that would have got him tenure in every brain and cognitive science department in the country. But people still would have hated him. They would have known where his genius came from. It came from them.
Instead, he did what he had to do. Or at least what he wanted to do. He burned the knowledge of where his power came from right out of the cerebral cortexes of every human being in the world. About 2.7 billion people paused, and looked at each other. About 500 million people commented in about 43 languages, “Do you smell something burning?” About one tenth of these checked to make sure they hadn’t left their ovens on.
And then they went on with their day. Every once in a while they caught a bit of motion in the sky high above them. Sometimes they would look up and see Walter Bennett Remington III, or someone a lot like him, soaring through the sky. They would stare for a few moments, admiring his chiseled muscles, his noble face. Although his muscles weren’t really that chiseled. Although his face wasn’t particularly noble.
Sometimes – this world being the pit of irony that it is – they would even say, “Hey. That guy really deserves what he has. That guy really has it coming.”
And far, far away – even further away then it looked to them, because it’s hard to gauge distances when you’re on the ground looking up – the person flying through the sky would smile.