Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure



Ever wish you could own your own superhero?  From the mind of Howard Martin comes this cleverly funny but oddly poignant adventure featuring the next best thing to a superhero -- a life-size, artificially intelligent toy that thinks it's a superhero.  As highly collectible as he is courageous, P&D proudly presents...

"Mightyman" in

The Action Figure
(Part One)
 

By Howard Martin
About the Author



 
In the year 2050 the VirtualToys Toy Company released a new line of highly advanced, highly expensive action figures.  One thousand were made, of various male and female superheroes and super-villains, all based on the popular Mighty Comics heroes.  The line was called Virtual Heroes.

These were very special action figures.  They were, in fact, life-sized working replicas of their comic book counterparts.  They boasted the most powerful artificial intelligence of that time and came with artificially simulated super powers that matched those of their namesakes.  Most of the models were given average level IQs and they were all capable of independent thought.  They were as smart as humans, but they could think with the speed of a micro-supercomputer.  They were designed to be anatomically correct.  They had total recall.  They could even eat.  Actually, they had to ingest matter, periodically, to fuel their power source.  These creations were closer to androids than robots, even down to their realistic looking, and feeling, skin and hair.

The most significant way in which these action figures differed from true humans, however, was that they were incapable of harming humans, unless their lives or the lives of other humans would be endangered by not doing so.  Due, largely, to this unique quality, in 2052 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these toys were individuals with rights, and could no longer be owned.  They weren’t cheap, so most of their former owners were understandably upset to find out that they had to give them up.  Fortunately for them, many of the Virtual Heroes decided to stay with their former owners and their families.  They had grown attached to them, and in some cases, thought of their former owners as family.  This is the story of one of those action figures.
***
THE MORNING SUN HAD ALREADY CREPT ACROSS the immaculately manicured five acre lawn and was just breaking through the breakfast room bay window, as Mightyman and his pal Tommy sat down to eat their breakfast of Super Sugar Satellites cereal.

“So, Tommy,” said Mightyman when he was done chewing, “do you have any big plans for school today?”

“Not really, M.M.,” said Tommy. “It’s class picture day, which kind of sucks.  There’s this photographer coming to our school to take the pictures.  He’s supposed to be some kind of artist or something.”

“Please, Tommy,” said Mightyman, “don’t refer to me as Mightyman when I’m in my Trent Barker disguise!  That’s how secret identities are compromised!”

“Oh, yeah.  Sorry about that, Trent,” said Tommy.”

Just then Mightyman’s ultra-acute hearing picked up movement from the other end of the palatial mansion that he was happy to call home.

“Sounds like Mom and Dad are finally up, Tommy,” said Mightyman.

“Yeah, I better get ready to go, too, Trent,” said Tommy, as he placed his empty cereal bowl, one with Mightyman’s picture on it, in the sink.

“Well, have a great day at school, Tommy,” said Mightyman, as he cleared the rest of the breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  “After school, maybe we can have some fun with my short range flight capability.”

“Okay, Trent, that would be cool,” replied Tommy, as he peeled off to get ready for school.

“Good morning, Dad,” said Mightyman, as Tommy’s father entered the kitchen. “I hope you and Mom slept well.”

“Good morning, Trent,” said Joshua Hawkins, the richest man in town, and one of the richest in the country.  “Kill any bad guys yet this morning?”

“Of course not, Dad,” said Mightyman, as shock widened his ultra-blue eyes.  “Real heroes never kill!”

“That’s right, I forgot,” smirked Joshua Hawkins.  “You’re not just an extremely expensive toy, Trent, you’re a hero.  Say, how would you like to help me repair the section of the house that was damaged in last night’s storm?”

“I would enjoy the chance to help immensely, Dad!  Just tell me what you want me to do.”

“Get me my money back,” whispered Joshua Hawkins to himself.

“You know I can’t do that, Dad,” said Mightyman.  “The Supreme Court ruled that I am a United States citizen, with all of the rights due a citizen.  There is nothing I can do about that.  But you know I appreciate your letting me stay here and be part of the family.”

“Never mind, Trent,” replied Joshua Hawkins, a bit shaken up that Mightyman could have heard him when he whispered it so quietly, and was standing on the other side of the room.  “I know it wasn’t your fault.”

The autumn sun hung directly overhead, presiding over a cool, bright afternoon.   Mightyman worked on the mansion’s roof.  Joshua Hawkins directed the activity from the lawn, periodically gesturing violently and cursing.

Mightyman, who was still in his Trent Barker disguise, was wearing blues jeans and a white tee shirt.  He gave the impression of being an approximately twenty-five year old male model or movie actor, except with the musculature of a superhero.  He wore no shoes.

He had ascended to the roof of the four-story mansion by using the short-range jets concealed in the bottoms of his feet.  At the moment, he was using his fingers to pry roofing nails out of the broken shingles at the spot where a falling tree had hit the house the night before, during a storm.  It was a huge, old oak tree, which had been on the property for at least twenty years, but Mightyman had lifted it off of the roof and replanted it as if it were made of balsa wood.  The tree had left a hole in the roof about five feet in diameter.  It was this hole that Mightyman was repairing.

“Careful, Trent, dammit,” exclaimed Joshua Hawkins. “Don’t just throw those broken shingles anywhere.  Make a pile. That’s right--hold on, I’ve got a call.”

Joshua Hawkins removed the flat, credit card-sized device from his shirt pocket, and attached a tiny earplug-shaped receiver to his ear.  The credit-card sized communicator switched on at his touch.  He began to talk to it.  On its tiny screen was the image of a prematurely gray-haired man wearing a blue tie and a gray sports jacket.  He looked worried.

“Hello, yes this is Hawkins.  What can I do for you?  Oh, Principal Chalmers?  Well, how’s my son doing in school?  What?  Missing?  What do you mean missing?  You think someone took him?  You can’t be serious?  Are you telling me that with all of the money I pump into your fancy private school, you can’t even keep my kid from getting abducted in your parking lot?  You’ll be hearing from my lawyers, Chalmers.”

Mightyman had been listening to the conversation from his rooftop perch as he worked, but when Joshua Hawkins hung up and abruptly ran into the mansion, he stopped what he was doing and leaped the four stories from the roof to the lawn. His feet left six-inch depressions in the otherwise perfect lawn, but, uncharacteristically, Mightyman paid no attention.  A look of shock mixed with disbelief was fixed on his normally perfect synthetic face.

“This can’t be,” said the artificial man.  “My Tommy--kidnapped?”

Suddenly Mightyman’s expression changed.  He regained the unlined, unmarred visage and piercing eyes of a determined comic book superhero.  With a number of muffled crackles and snaps, all of the muscles in his hyper-developed android body flexed at once.

“I must save Tommy.”

Ten minutes later, Mightyman stepped into the breakfast room, where the rest of the Hawkins family was currently in heated debate.  He had changed into his Mightyman costume.

“Of course I’ve called the police, “ said Joshua Hawkins to his wife, Eleanor, while Katherine, their fourteen-year-old daughter, looked on with fear in her eyes.

“But you know how useless they are. By the time they figure out who took Tommy, it could be too late.”

“Joshua, don’t even think that,” said Eleanor Hawkins.  “Our baby’s got to be alright.”

“Mom, Dad, Kathy,” announced Mightyman.  “Don’t worry anymore.  Set your minds at ease. I will save Tommy.”

“Trent, this is not the time,” growled Joshua Hawkins.  “We don’t need Tommy’s favorite toy getting lost or abducted too.  You will stay right here.”

“I’m much more than a toy, Dad.  And may I remind you that I am also now an independent citizen of these United States and not property.”

“I don’t give a damn what the Supreme Court says, yelled Joshua Hawkins.  “You’re an overly expensive toy that I can’t get a refund on, and I don’t want you putting my son’s life in further danger by running around pretending to be a super hero.”

At this, the tall, muscular man in the red tights and purple cape stiffened.  Abruptly, he turned to leave the breakfast room.

“It’s alright Trent,” called Eleanor Hawkins.  “I know you love Tommy and you want to see him safe.  We all feel the same way.  But what purpose will it serve if you go out there and get yourself lost?  Then we’d have two kids to find.”

“I’m not a kid, Mom.  I’m a hero,” whispered Mightyman, as he left the room.

Armed with an 8x10” color portrait of Tommy that was taken at school the year before, and all of the information contained in both the city yellow pages and the city street map, both of which he had just memorized, Mightyman stepped out the front door of the Hawkins mansion. As he stood there on the front porch, arms akimbo, planning his next move, a breeze blew up, causing his purple cape to billow out behind him.  After several seconds he smiled.  His teeth glistened in the sun.

Having decided on his first course of action, Mightyman began running. Within seconds he was moving at a rate of fifty miles per hour, which, according to the specifications in his User’s Guide, was his top speed.  Being a good citizen, Mightyman used the sidewalks and bike lanes, when they were available.

As he approached the intersection of Tulley and Walnut, Mightyman noticed that a car had ignored the red traffic light and was speeding on through.  It looked like the driver would get lucky and not hit any other cars, but then Mightyman noticed a disheveled-looking young man with chin whiskers who had chosen that inopportune moment to step into the crosswalk.  Putting on a burst of speed that the User’s Guide apparently didn’t know about, Mightyman raced into the intersection, grabbed the young man around the waist, and leaped to the other side, milliseconds before the unaware driver hit him.  The leap was at least fifty feet.

“Buh buh buh,” said the young man, once Mightyman had carefully put him down on the sidewalk

“Not at all,” replied Mightyman. “Don’t thank me, son.  I was just doing what any good citizen would.  You really ought to look both ways before you cross an intersection, though.  Bye now.”

“Puh puh puh,” replied the young man.

The rest of Mightyman’s trip was uneventful.  Three minutes later he skidded to a stop in the parking lot of the Excelsior Private School.

“This must be Tommy’s school,” said Mightyman, mentally rechecking the city street map that he had memorized.  “And this is the parking lot from which Tommy was abducted.  First order of business, I’ll use my telescopic and microscopic vision to search the parking lot for clues.”

Mightyman’s eyes appeared to change shape several times as he visually scoured the parking lot.  The lens sizes and focal points of his synthetic eyes were constantly altering as he switched between his various optical modes.

Mightyman had been standing at attention on the sidewalk between the school and the parking lot, not moving his body.  As he made his search, only his head and eyes moved, and they moved smoothly and constantly.  Abruptly, his head stopped moving and he stared at a spot on the ground a few feet from his position.

Mightyman picked up the matchbook and scanned it thoroughly.

“Hmm.  The Pussycat Theater--Exotic dancing--doesn’t seem like the kind of place that any of these children or their teachers would frequent.  It must have fallen out of the kidnapper’s car or pocket as he struggled with Tommy.”

Mightyman put the matchbook in a pouch on his belt and turned towards the double front doors of the school.

“I’ll investigate that lead next, but first I must get all the information I can from the teachers and students,” he said as he walked through the double doors.

The children in Miss Brentworth’s fifth grade class had seen Mightyman appear in the parking lot through their classroom window.  It had been all that Miss Brentworth could do to keep them from running out of the classroom to see this famous super hero.  When he actually entered the school, however, her words were completely ignored, as every last child poured out into the hallway to see Mightyman.

“Good morning, children,” said Mightyman, as a smile instantly appeared on his face.  “It does a hero’s heart good to see a fine upstanding group of young students like yourselves.”

The ten-year-olds formed a semi-circle around him.

“Are you really Mightyman?” asked a pale boy with glasses so large that they almost eclipsed his face.

“I am as close as anyone can be,” answered Mightyman, who, although capable of lying, found it distasteful to do so.

“Can you pick up a bus?” asked a blonde-haired boy whose finger was buried deep in his left nostril.

“Yes, son, I can.  Is your finger stuck?”

“Ooh, ooh,” said an excited boy with red hair who was waving his hand in the air.  “In Mightyman Comics, issue three hundred and six, did Maxxon the Mutilator really kill your girlfriend, Betty Bane?”

“No, no,” reassured Mightyman, who had been programmed with all of the plots to all of the Mightyman Comics that had been published up to the time that he was brought on-line.  “Maxxon just used a fake holographic image of Betty being killed to lure me into a trap.  You see it was me that he wanted all along.”

“Now let me ask you a question, okay, children?  Did any of you happen to see Tommy Hawkins this morning?”

“Yeah, I saw Tommy right before school, when all of the moms were dropping off the kids.  He was in the parking lot, talking to a guy in an old beat-up blue car,” said a taller boy with black hair and a dark complexion.”

“Hmm.  Did Tommy seem to be afraid of this man?”

“No,” replied the boy.  “He talked to him like he knew him.”

“Interesting.  Thank you, uh, what was your name, son?”

“My name’s Ben.”

“Thank you, Ben.  One more question, though.  Did you recognize the man who was talking to Tommy?”

“No, but I didn’t get a very good look at him.  I never saw him get out of his car, and then when I looked again, the car was gone and Tommy was nowhere around.  I could tell that he was fat and he had long, greasy hair.  Is Tommy going to be okay, Mightyman?”

“If I have anything to say about it he will, Ben.  Thanks again.  Now, you children need to go back to your classroom.  I think I see your teacher signaling you.  And, thanks for coming to say hello to me.”

Mightyman turned and raced out the door and into the street.  The pieces were starting to fit together, but he had one more lead to follow.
 

Click for the Conclusion



 
 

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The Action Figure is copyright Howard Martin. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)