Wherein Our Hero Reconsiders Trading Keys With His Girlfriend
(This story takes place six months prior to Descendants #0)
It had been a very long day and I was suffering from a serious deficiency of vitamin sleep. Not only is playing prelate (I’ve given up on trying to get people to say ‘superhero’; the media has won this battle) tiring in and of itself, but it was October, meaning that midterms were coming up, and on top of that, the Hip Sing Tong criminal organization had smartened up and hired their own super strong muscle.
My body was aching with what would soon become bruises courtesy of a spark jockey bruiser with the oh-so-creative name of Tank, who had served up a punch hard enough to completely ruin several sections of the armor hidden in my namesake coat. It really sucks that Alan Roschard gets bruises when the Whitecoat gets punched.
Home was a distant, beautiful oasis where no one was trying to hit me, shoot me, ignite me, or otherwise annoy me. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about getting stuck in rush hour or sitting at the bus stop. For me, home is only a few leaps away.
Yes, leaps. Super strength is a wonderful thing; I can jump six vertical stories from standing and if I get a running start, I can launch myself almost sixty yards.
And no, I don’t call it ‘enhanced strength’. We, as a society, have called it super strength for well over a century; ever since the first graphic novels featuring characters sporting it appeared in the 1930’s. I don’t see the point in changing that now, just because in the past thirty of forty years super strength is a reality thanks to psionics being born and cybernetics taking big leaps forward and the media thinks that’s a reason to make it sound scientific.
I’m super strong. I’m not ‘enhancedly’ strong or whatever crap they want to call me.
But we’re veering away from the point. I can leap pretty much wherever I need to go and I’ve developed my costume just for that purpose. My boots and gloves contain powerful electrostatic generators that can adhere to most building materials. That means that if I can’t leap a given tall building in a single bound, I can stick to it and jump again rather than falling in an embarrassing and decidedly coyote-like fashion.
It may not be flying, but if you’ve ever tried to drive into Brooklyn during rush hour, you understand why I’m a fan.
“Whitecoat!” someone shouted from below as I sailed overhead. My adoring public. I must hear someone shout in recognition five or six times… a month. But every time, it makes a crappy day where people have tried to kill me seem less crappy.
Me and the handful of other prelates that smack around the Big Apple’s criminal element are just the junior varsity squad in the eyes of the people. The star quarterback as prelates go is John Harding, Infinity. He’s the heavy hitter; armed with flight, super strength and super toughness. Of course, he can’t be bothered stopping the mundane baddies that could make day to day life utter shit for everyone. He only fights escaped mutants, rogue psionics, and other ‘powered’ threats. Conveniently, he usually does this in view of a news camera or fifty.
God, I hate him. He’s even got a goddamn dimple in his chin. I can’t prove it, But I think they built the bastard out of parts of lesser prelates. You know, like me. Damn it.
Of course, my girlfriend is one of his biggest fans. I go over to her place and get to see every piece of merchandise Infinity is getting royalties on that the Whitecoat isn’t. I often wondered if she’d lay off worshipping him if she knew who I was.
Still, I think it’s pretty crumby for any guy to try and impress his girlfriend while in the shadow of Captain Dimple Chin.
But I digress; Janine’s a fan of all prelates. She has bootleg T-shirts with me and Sister Sacred and poor, deceased Firebug on them. Hell, she even buys the stupid Prelates of New York comic (which, I might add, recently pitted me against a fish monster I have never met and convinced me that I will leave any aquatic baddies to Johnny Harding).
I looked to wave at the guy that shouted my name, but he was gone; probably wandered off in the time I sat there, clinging to the wall, thinking about how much I hate New York’s greatest son. Damn, I think too much. Normally, that doesn’t bother me, but I really think I owe the people that support me at least a wave. Hell, I owe them an autograph and a hug.
Sighing, I gathered myself up and leapt to the top of the building. My building was the next one over. When I first moved in, I bitched and moaned about the fact that my window faced a blank wall. Now that I’m the Whitecoat, I couldn’t be happier; it lets me come and go as I please.
My first warning should have been the open window. I’m not a fresh air person even when I’m inside the apartment. Give me air that’s been cycled through fifty or elven dozen filters first and I’m happy. Call it a holdover from when I still had allergies.
So the window should have told me something was up, but I remind you that I was sleep deprived, overdosing on fists to the body, and stressing over exams. I demand absolution.
The second warning was that the lamp on the nightstand was on. I’m dirt poor; mostly because of the prelate gig. Even buying scrap parts and assembling all of my gear myself, most of the check I got from the University for the my traumatic experience the year before goes to keeping the Whitecoat on the streets and kicking Tong ass. I do not leave lights on. Ever.
Again, though, I reiterate: Alan want sleep. If it wasn’t for the fact that I really need to survey the damage Tank had done, I probably would have just collapsed on the bed and slept in costume. I’ve done it before.
Weary, I climbed through the window and sat on the sill and worked the controls of my boots. The blue glow of the electrostatic generators faded and there was a low hiss as the air cushions deflated around my feet. My best design ever. I may get smashed to bits, but damn it, my feet will be comfortable. If only I could submit those boots as my engineering thesis without totally blowing my cover.
Next came the gloves, with similar effects. The gloves are more complicated than simple gauntlets. With proper gestures, I can harden the armor in my coat, activate and deactivate the generators, and control the heads-up display in my very fine hat.
Normally, the coat would be next, but it was unusually warm and the bandanna that hid my face was stifling me. Why was it so warm? I normally kept the place cold, not only to keep heating cost low, but because that’s the way I like it. I’m a polar person by nature. If I had my way, I’d sleep in my skivvies in the arctic with a penguin for a pillow.
I only turned up the heat when I had Janine over… It was about that time that I really noticed the room around me. The bed was made—something I never did unless threatened—and turned down. The cases for all my flat format discs were neatly restored to their cabinet. And my ConquesTech Walkalong portable gaming system was on the bed. It was still on and paused, showing me that someone was playing Wolf War IV.
Compulsive cleaning, plus playing my video games equaled… I stopped untying my bandanna.
Fate is a smarmy bitch. If I had figured it out a split second earlier, I could have kicked my boots under the bed and skedaddled out the window (I’m sure I’d survive the fall). But I didn’t and as a result, the next thought that went through my head was drowned out by a scream.
I looked up to see Janine standing in the doorway. Janine Kazhdan, my girlfriend of the past year, is a vision most of the time. She’s about average height with frizzy, dark brown hair, big brown eyes and a body that I’d got ten rounds against Tank daily for. She’s also got other qualities, but seeing as she was dressed only in my #3.14 jersey, the body was pretty much all I could think of.
Also, the screaming. I had to do something about the screaming.
“Wait!” I said, throwing out my hands like that was going to convince her. I remembered I was still ‘the Whitecoat’ and put on what I like to call The Voice and tried again. “Wait, citizen, this isn’t what it looks like.”
I don’t know if it was The Voice, or the fact that she finally recognized one of the prelates she follows religiously, but she calmed down quickly in any event.
“Ohmigod.” She squeaked, eyes widening. “You’re… you’re you. I mean, of course you’re you, but…”
“The one and only Whitecoat.” I said with a confident nod and a tip of my Stetson.
She mouthed a few words I figured were ‘wow’, and then looked around. “But, uh… why are you in my boyfriend’s bedroom?”
One would think that being a prelate; which entails maintaining a secret identity (unless you’re Infinity), skulking about the city and generally being adept at deception would help with coming up with lies on the spot. One would be wrong.
“Uh… yes. Your boyfriend’s bedroom…” I stammered, looking around in hopes that someone had left a copy of One Thousand and One Reasons to Traipse Around Strange Bedrooms thereabouts. “Well, you see, I’m in the middle of an… investigation?”
I swear to god, I’m better at trading barbs with Tong goons. Seriously, I’d never figured on having to come up with an excuse for being in my own bedroom.
“He’s not in any trouble is he?” Fear flitted in Janine’s eyes. “Alan couldn’t have done anything. He’s a good guy and even if he wasn’t he wouldn’t even had time to. Right now, he’s off tutoring high school physics. He does that four days a week. And any time he’s not doing that, he’s with me or his friends.” The words tumbled out of her mouth. I suddenly felt guilty, hearing her use my cover story as an alibi.
“No, I’m… he’s not in any trouble. I just need to…” my eyes fell on my computer over in the corner. “…I need to access his files.” I took a step toward it, but it was about that time that Fate decided to pay me back for that ‘smarmy bitch’ comment.
I had been in the process of untying the bandanna around my neck when Janine interrupted me. Gravity now took over the rest of the job. Trooper that I am, I tried in vain to catch it with my teeth. But down it came and out came the cat I’d kept in the bag for over a year came yowling out.
We just stood there in silence for a while as the bandanna fluttered to the ground. Part of me was terrified. Part of me prayed that maybe, just maybe, the hat covering my eyes would fool her. A little part of me, outnumbered by the other two, was relieved.
I saw Janine’s eyes dart to the gloves I’d tossed on the bed. She was making certain I wasn’t just wearing some cheesy Halloween costume. Then she looked at me. Her expression was unreadable.
“Janine.” I said, just to break the silence. I really didn’t know what to say after that. Luckily, she did.
Taking the three steps it took to reach me, she reached up and pulled off my hat. My own light brown hair dropped almost to my shoulders. As usual, I needed a haircut something fierce.
Not taking her eyes from mine, Janine held my hat with an odd reverence. The Hat; almost as much of a trademark as my cheap, plastic trench coat. Janine had been delighted to find a strip mall in Jersey that sold fake Stetsons that looked exactly like the Whitecoat’s. Little did she know that that was the place I ordered mine from.
Finally, my voice came back. “About now would be a good time for truth, right hon?” I tried to give her one of the cheesy smiles I give her when I do something stupid. Whatever she was thinking, it didn’t stop her from thinking it and it didn’t get her to say anything either.
“Well, obviously, I’m not doing any tutoring. I’m the Whitecoat.”
Maybe I can change my name to Blindingly Obvious.
Janine nodded slowly and looked down at the hat, noting the organic LED I put in there to let me see even with the brim pulled all the way down. “Yeah, I gathered.” She said sarcastically. Idly, she flipped the hat over onto the bed. “But… I mean, how?” Her soft hands reached up and touched me on either side of my face. “You said you were a psionic, is this…?”
Psionics. Another media trumped up term for people born with weird physiologies that give them even weirder powers. I shook my head. “No, I was telling the truth; the only psionic power I have is a supped up immune system. I didn’t lie about that.”
“I wouldn’t call keeping this secret a lie.” Janine said, trying to sooth my guilt. “But now that I know, a little explanation is in order, Alan. If what you do isn’t a psionic power, what is it?”
I sighed. I really didn’t want to discuss that, even with her. But she was right, I did owe her this. I stepped back from her and shrugged out of my coat, tossing it aside. It made a loud thump sound as it hit the floor. Thanks to the titanium and ceramic armor plates, the thing weights around one hundred pounds. “You’d better sit down; it’s a bit of a story.”
“I’ve got plenty of time.” She said. “I was going to sleep here anyway; my roommate is having a party.”
I nodded and waited for her to make herself comfortable on the bed before sitting down beside her. Letting out another sigh, I started at the beginning. “Remember Professor Caldwell?” It wasn’t much of a beginning, but I had to ease her into this.
She nodded. “You were his lab aide last year, before we started dating. He got a grant and left for Sweden, right?”
“Not right.” I said gravely. Funny, I usually adore all this ‘dark secret’ crap when it’s happening to a fictional character. Not so much when it’s my dark secret. Normally, I can push it to the back of my mind, even though Caldwell is the reason pretty much everything in my life has happened the way it has. Even getting together with Janine. “He’s dead.”
Holy hell, why did I just drop it like that? In my head, I had planned on tip-toeing around it, maybe glossing it over wholesale. My adrenaline must have been having a field day with my speech center.
Janine gasped. Caldwell had been her advisor as well as my professor and part time boss. “What?! How? And why didn’t you tell me? That has nothing to do with you being—“
“It has everything to do with me being the Whitecoat.” I interrupted her. Hesitantly, I put a hand on her shoulder. She was near to tears. Caldwell had played a big role in her life. Both our lives. The shoulder just wasn’t cutting it. I put my arm around her and drew her close.
“Then why, Alan? What happened?” She almost pleaded. Janine doesn’t plead. She tells you to do something or she tricks you into doing it. Hearing her getting close to that broke my heart.
“The Prof…” I started. Oh sure, now I was able to dance around saying things straight out. “He… The University denied him an extension on their grant for his nanite research. He had already invented a new type—Type VII to be exact. They were amazing, hon; they got their instructions from electrical impulse transmission instead of being preprogrammed. They were ten times as efficient and could be reprogrammed on the fly.”
“Alan, please…” Janine started. She must have thought I was going off on a tangent.
“It’ll be important later.” I promised, a bit more bitterly than I would have liked her to hear from me. “The point was, he knew he was on to something big. All he needed to do was figure out a way to fit them with a failsafe. As it stood, if the impulse control was lost, Type VII posed a very real threat of going uncontrolled and starting a grey goo scenario; end of the world stuff.”
“So he made a deal with the devil. The Hip Sing Tong would give him the money to continue in exchange for getting some nanites of their own to play with. I honestly don’t know why they wanted them, but there we were.”
“Did you know about that?” Janine looked up at me and I felt a dagger in my chest. In retrospect, the evidence had been there. I should have put it together and stopped the Prof before this whole mess started. Hell, I probably should have encouraged him to trash Type VII the second we realized they were potentially Armageddon in a jar. But the student doesn’t question the Master and in Prof’s own words, ‘throwing potential away instead of doing good with it is almost as bad as doing bad with it’. Thanks, Prof.
“Not then.” I replied. “Not until…” About that time, I choked up a little. The events of that night were still burned in my mind. They always will be unless I manage to find and pay off a mentalist to erase them for me. And don’t think I wouldn’t do it in a New York minute. Finally, I collected myself, hugging Janine a little tighter. Not too tight though; I can bench a half ton after all.