Dashed off in about two and a half hours in the guest room of my grandparents' place in northern Maine, after a conversation with my grandfather about the two of us being writers. Make of it as much, or as little, as you will.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
CITY OF HEROES:
Benjamin D. Hutchins
Based on "City of Heroes"
by Cryptic Studios and NCSoft
(c) 2006 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
DECEMBER 31, 2005
GRAHAM HILL, MAINE
The sidewalks roll up early in northern Aroostook County, even
on New Year's Eve. The sparse houses and scattered farms of the rural
communities outside Presque Isle were dark and silent by 10 PM. Those
few residents who were still awake were in for the night, televisions
tuned in to the festivities in livelier parts of the world.
Along one of the dark country roads, beyond the reach of the
streetlights, stood one such quiet house, its occupants long since
turned in for the night... except one. Without turning on any lights,
a man emerged from the house, shut the door gently behind him, then
turned and walked a few paces into the driveway before pausing to look
up at the night sky.
A moment later, apparently liking what he saw up there, he
decided to get a better look - by lifting off the driveway and
effortlessly taking flight, his blue and white cape rustling softly as
it fanned out behind him.
Dan Hudson, also known as Captain Photon, wasn't going far; he
rose only a thousand feet or so, enough to clear the landscape and get
a nice, long view over the rolling countryside of Aroostook County.
Beyond the wooded hills and snow-covered farm fields, the lights of
Presque Isle glowed against the sky; even the streets of the county's
biggest town were all but vacant. All else was bathed in a moonless
darkness, lit only by the stars.
Here in the County, where the light pollution was low and the
atmospheric pollution even lower, the stars jumped out on a clear
night in their thousands. Though Dan had grown up not so far away, in
a slightly more southerly county of Maine, he had lived for the past
several year in a place where the night sky was much less impressive,
so he savored opportunities like this one.
Dan wasn't cold. His superpowers meant that he was never
really all that cold, and his winter costume was heavy enough to
insulate him from what little chill could penetrate the aura of energy
that surrounded him. No skimpy spandex for Captain Photon; his
preferred costume these days had a good, solid jacket and
old-fashioned baggy trousers tucked into sturdy lace-up boots.
"Today's hero, yesterday's style," as a Paragon Times headline had
once described him. The fuzzy-fringed stocking cap he wore, a gift
from a grateful city for his part in saving the municipal toy drive
for underprivileged children from the forces of villainy, contained
any body heat that might try to escape through the top of his head,
and warmed his ears nicely to boot.
He lounged in the sky, hands in his trouser pockets, for
perhaps fifteen minutes, just stargazing and woolgathering, when he
suddenly realized that he was not alone. Turning, he saw another
costumed figure hovering a short distance away.
The newcomer wore a costume very similar to Captain Photon's,
right down to the blue and white sunburst logo on the upper left chest
of his jacket, but the jacket was of a different cut - cavalry-buttoned
and flat-collared - and the man wore a domino mask rather than the
high-tech goggles Photon sported. Mask or not, though, there could be
no hiding his identity from Photon. A man could be expected to
recognize his own grandfather, after all.
"Pretty up here," Wallace Hudson remarked quietly, a smile
playing at his lips. "You know, I've been all over the world, and I
never did find anyplace where the night sky was prettier than this."
Dan smiled. "Found your old costume, I see," he said.
"Yep, in a box in the garage attic, just like Mother
predicted," Wally replied. "Still fits, too. Jacket's a bit big for
me now, though."
Dan nodded. The conversation lulled for a few minutes as the
two men hovered and watched the sky. The only sound to break the
companionable silence was the whispering of their capes in the light
"I'm not used to seeing the stars so clearly," Dan said after
a while. "In Paragon the glow from the War Walls washes everything
out but the brightest stars. On a good night in winter I can maybe
make out Orion."
"Mm," said the elder Hudson, nodding. "I remember. It was
like that when I was there, too, back in the '50s."
Dan turned and looked - really looked - at his grandfather,
cape, mask and all, and suddenly, in his mind, they weren't just Dan
and Wally Hudson, out to take the evening air. They were Captain
Photon, one of Paragon City's up-and-coming young heroes, and one of
his many predecessors, the noble Neutron Knight, talking shop.
It was a surprisingly uplifting experience, given that Dan
hadn't known his grandfather -was- the Neutron Knight until a few
"Do you miss it?" Photon asked.
The Neutron Knight considered the question. "Sometimes," he
said. "It was a good time. I have a lot of good memories. But it
was time to give it up." Turning, he put a hand on Photon's shoulder
and said, "That time comes for almost all of us, Dan. Only a few,
like Statesman and Shalice, are lucky enough to be able to carry on
until they decide they've had enough. For the rest of us, the time
comes when the decision's made for us. The smart ones, and the lucky
ones, listen and get out. The rest... " He let the statement hang.
Photon nodded. "Paragon's full of monuments to the rest," he
"Mm. I knew some of them," said the Knight. "Best not to
dwell on it, though. Hell, you're young. You've got years and years
yet - the best part of your career still to come. And who knows? You
might meet a nice young heroine, settle down, and raise your own
successor. What's that girl's name who you team up with all the
time?" he added, raising an eyebrow.
"Gramp! Jeez," Photon said, making a "lay off" gesture.
"It's nothing like that with Tasha and me. She's like my sister."
"Hn," the Knight mused; then he shrugged. "Well, like I say,
you're young. What about that other one you're always writing to on
Photon snorted. "Jen's a computer programmer, Gramp."
The Neutron Knight chuckled. "And Maiden Justice was a
newspaper reporter," he replied.
Photon chuckled, and silence prevailed for a few more
minutes. Then the Knight turned to Photon again, put his hand back on
the younger hero's shoulder, and said,
"Dan... you're doing a lot of good down in Paragon. Your
parents worry about you... your grandmother and I worry about you,
doubly so because we know first-hand what you're up against. But
we're proud that you answered Statesman's call, and proud that you're
doing so well at it." He grinned and added, "Your grandmother's
already made a place on the wall for your Hero of the City photo."
Photon gave a modest snort. "That's a little premature, don't
"Not from what I hear." The Knight's eyes twinkled behind his
mask. "I still have connections down there, you know."
"Psyche. It was Psyche, wasn't it? She called and told you
about that city dam thing some friends and I did for Positron."
"You're damn right she did. She's been keeping an eye on you
for me since you got to town."
"Nice of her to tell me about you," Photon grumbled. "I had
to find out from a reporter."
"Nobody can keep secrets better than someone who can't avoid
learning them," the Knight said with a shrug. He sighed, letting out
a cloud of breath. "I'm sorry I kept it from you, Dan. It seemed
like the best thing to do at the time. Your parents were worried as
hell that you'd take after me, so they made me promise not to tell
you. Then you took after me -anyway-, and... well, it was just best
not to talk about it until you were grown up and out on your own.
After that... I don't know, the right moment never came along."
"Well, OK, old man," Photon replied, grinning. "But I want
all your war stories now that it's out."
"Only if I get yours." The Knight laughed, then yawned.
"Hum. Too late for me. I'd better get back to bed before your
grandmother thinks I've gone off to fight the Winter Lord or
"Heh. Good night, Gramp. And thanks."
"Happy New Year, Dan," the Knight said, clapping Photon on the
shoulder. "Great days are ahead for you. Great days!"
"I hope so. Happy New Year, Gramp."
The Neutron Knight gave his grandson a smiling salute, then
swooped back down toward the house and left Captain Photon alone with
It was quite a while before the younger hero returned to earth
himself and went into the house.
The next morning, Dan Hudson said goodbye to his grandparents
and packed his things into his car for the long drive back to Paragon
City. He was just making to close the trunk when his grandfather came
out of the house with a bundle under his arm.
"Hey, here, I almost forgot," he said, extending the bundle.
"This is for you."
Dan took it, unfolded the rustling brown paper, and blinked at
what he saw within - blue leather, black satin lining, shiny silver
buttons and all.
"I... jeez, Gramp, your -jacket-, I can't take this," he
protested, but Wally cut him off with a smile and a strong hand on his
"Take it," he said. "Hang it on your wall, put it on a dummy
in your secret base, do whatever you like with it. Of course," he
added with a twinkling grin, "I'd rather you just wore it. That's
what it was made for."
"I... I dunno," Dan said, looking down at the jacket again.
"I'm not... I mean... " He folded the paper back together, looked up
at his grandfather's face, and said, "Maybe when I make Justice
Incarnate I'll feel like I've earned it."
"You've earned it already - but do whatever you think is
right," said Wally. "Now you drive carefully, OK? That hospital
teleporter thing doesn't work outside the city, you know."
"Heh. Not this far outside, anyway," Dan agreed. "I'll be
"Sure you have to go back today? Your grandmother can do up a
roast for us."
"Yeah, unfortunately I do," Dan said. "I got a call from Pos
this morning. Synapse wants to see me when I get back to town -
sounded important. I mean, Pos did say whenever, but when a member of
the Freedom Phalanx says 'whenever'... "
Wally nodded, smiling. "I know," he said. "Good luck. Keep
us posted. We don't get the Paragon papers up here, and you know
Mother likes to keep her scrapbooks current."
"If anything gets printed, I'll send it," Dan promised.
"Come again when you can," Wally said. "We're always here.
And see if you can get your friend to come up sometime."
"Whichever," Wally replied, twinkling again. "Take it easy,
"You too, Gramp. Love you."
Several hours later, driving south on Interstate 95 through
Portland, Dan was moderately surprised when the cassette he was
listening to suddenly popped out of his car's tape deck. Surprised,
at least, until he noticed that the display read "FBSA INTERRUPT" and
heard the gravelly voice of the Federal Bureau of Superhuman
Activities dispatcher announce,
"Attention. Attention. This is an FBSA bulletin. All
registered heroes in the vicinity of Portland, Maine, be advised that
the aquatic entity codenamed 'Lusca' has been sighted in Portland
Harbor. All heroes above Security Level 20 are requested to assist."
Dan smiled and signaled for the next exit.