Before O.S.I.R.I.S, before the betrayal and the drinking and "the Incident at the Tower," before Captain Commanding (that jerk!), before the new powers and the super suit, there was Rand, a teen boy with a few family problems and a gift for inventions... Then the Hero Bomb went off. For the first time, the Fabulous Foxman tells his own origin story in his own words (no matter what that silly ghostwriter says).
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Kelly McCullough is the author of the adult fantasy series Webmage and Assassin's Blade. School for Sidekicks was his first novel for young readers. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats, all of whom he adores.
Read an Excerpt
The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman
Excerpts from an EPIC Autobiography
By Kelly McCullough, Junyi Wu
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Kelly McCullough
All rights reserved.
"You won't save yourself that easily, Foxman!"
I had a dozen pairs of designer jeans trying to choke the life out of me and the crudely welded neckpiece of my brand-new powered armor was creaking under the strain. I thought about flaming them with the rockets in my boots, but my Foxman suit was only mostly fireproof.
A seam slipped between my neckpiece and my helmet, putting sudden pressure on my carotid artery. Was this really how my short career as a masked hero was going to end? Killed by Michael Damian, my former best friend? Only a few months ago he'd been helping me build a rocket-propelled skateboard in our secret clubhouse. But that was before the Hero Bomb changed the whole world ...
As my vision darkened I desperately tried to think of some way to transform the horrific Haberdasher back into my old pal.
* * *
And ... I glared at the words on the screen. That version of the story wouldn't do at all ...
"No. Denmother, cut that last bit. It makes me sound too weak. If I'm going to do this whole stupid memoir thing, I might as well brag myself up."
A smooth mechanical voice responded. "I think vulnerability might make you seem more human, sir. More relatable."
Denmother is the voice in my head ... literally. I have speakers surgically implanted in my skull so that I can hear her no matter what. She, or rather, it, is the AI that runs my powered suit, my home, and my life.
"You're a bodiless computer, what do you know from human?"
"Per standing order one-one-three-four, I reviewed all the appropriate literature when you told me you were embarking on a new project. Vulnerability as a means of building sympathy for a character who might otherwise come across as narcissistic or negative is narrative one-oh-one. Also, since this venture is supposed to be in lieu of cognitive therapy and other brain-reprogramming techniques, I think that lying might have a negative impact on your prognosis, sir."
I paused. I've been having some problems lately ... and not so lately. But I'm finally trying to do something about them — thanks in part to my new sidekick, Meerkat. Unfortunately, the best ways to put your head right involve psychiatric professionals and talking therapy, or meditation.
Shrinks are a nonstarter. If I spill my guts to anybody who doesn't have the right security clearances, then OSIRIS — the delightful folks who regulate the whole masked hero world — will ban me for good. And, the kind of shrink that comes with an OSIRIS seal of approval also comes with special reporting requirements under the Franklin Act on Metahuman Activities. Since I can't afford to have the messier stuff in my head get back to OSIRIS — that way leads to banning too, or worse things — I'm out of luck on the psychiatric front.
So, I've decided that I'll guide my own damned meditation and do something like talking therapy at the same time by writing my autobiography. Well, dictating it anyway.
"Oh, all right. I still don't think I need to reprogram my brain, but I suppose if I'm going to make the effort, I should optimize the new code I'm imposing on my frontal lobes. Let's try again, only a step further back in time. Dim the lights and hold all my calls, we're going for a tour of my fundamental neuroses and the bomb that changed the world."
I really didn't want to do this. Maybe if I pretended it was a screenplay? A major motion picture all about the fabulous Foxman? Yeah. Let's go with that. Foxman's story, not Rand's, not ... mine. That would be easier, like talking about things that happened to someone else.
Establishing shot: Close in. A darkly handsome youth crouches on a skateboard in the classic pose coming off a jump, one hand lightly touching the deck which is tilted steeply back. The night-time background is hard to read, but gives the impression he's hundreds of feet in the air. His face wears an expression composed of equal parts terror and wonder. His mouth is open as though he is screaming, but all is silence.
Focus on the skateboard: It's five times thicker than it ought to be and there's a bright point of nearly invisible flame at the oddly blunt tail. A white vapor trail leads back and down.
Freeze. Shift to bullet time for a fast tracking shot following that trail. It leads downward at a forty-five degree angle to the steel support of a railroad bridge — the ramp. Turn. Zip back along the rough rusty riveted surface to a sharp bend where it leads onto the top of a speeding train. From there it moves the length of a car. Then, the camera drops between two cars and plummets to the rails. The vapor trail continues along the right-hand rail toward shore.
Pan back to the boy and his board. This time the background is clear — Minneapolis, with the boy hanging in space high above the ice-rimmed Mississippi River. The rocket has cut out. He seems perfectly balanced in the air for one more moment ... Then, gravity reaches up and takes him. As he starts to fall, sound comes in normally.
"Ohhhhh shiiiiiiiii —"
Before he can finish speaking, an enormous bright flare starts below the packed deck of the freeway bridge that has come into focus behind him. It looks like a nuke going off, only with strange arabesques of black light, and neon-green edges — the Hero Bomb. For a moment we can see his bones as shadows against the light shining through him, then the noise of the explosion engulfs the scene and the boy begins the long fall to icy black water below.
I tell myself it's not working dramatically, that my choice to shift gears has nothing to do with the way my heart is filling with lead. I tell myself I'm no good at this screenplay garbage. That, if it ever makes it to the big screen, the ghostwriter will deal with making it cinematic. That I'm going to focus on what happened. I'm good at lying to myself. So very good at it that I almost believe my own nonsense. I turn my thoughts to the idea of a ghostwriter. That's safe. My breath comes easier. Yes.
What? You didn't think I was going to let this go out into the world in the rough, did you? I've got a reputation to maintain, or the tattered remnants of one anyway. If it ever leaves the server it'll do so after some serious massaging by someone with some major literary cred — writers are cheap and plentiful, even the award-winning ones. Yes, much safer ground. Time to begin again.
So: Rocket board. Bridge. Train. Falling to my doom. The bomb.
That's more or less how it happened. I mean, the Hero Bomb might have actually gone off a couple minutes earlier, but moving it up into the moment makes for more drama. It makes it more real than reality, right?
Bone-numbing impact that drives the breath from my lungs. Icy black water closing over my head. Panic!
The voice in my head whispers.
"What's that, Denmother?"
"Don't forget the effect of your powers on the rocket, sir. Also, your breathing and heart rate suggest extreme distress. Perhaps, if you put on your armor?"
"The rocket? Yes, but ... Oh, all right. I'll put that in too." Damned AI, keeping me on task ... keeping me honest ... saving my soul. "You're probably right about the armor. Rand is too ... vulnerable and squishy and close to the problem. Let's let Foxman handle it."
I spread my arms as I stepped up onto the armor platform. Nothing happened. Right. Breathalyzer. I've been clean and sober for over a year, but what OSIRIS wants OSIRIS gets. After I finished breathing into the tube, there was brief interlude with automated power tools as I slipped out of myself and into something a bit more comfortable ... red-and-white powered assault armor with a grinning fox mask and fluffy-looking tail, all rendered in a poly-ceramic composite of my own invention.
Now, where were we? Right. Without the Hero Bomb and the powers it gave me, I could never have survived the fall. Even if I had, I'd probably have gone hypothermic and drowned before I could swim ashore. On the other hand, the rocket on my skateboard would never have been half so effective, and I'd have gotten off the track long before meeting the train. That would have precluded the need to use the bridge strut like a jump. But the point is still the bomb and the powers it gave me. No, not me, Foxman.
"All right, all right, I'll go back a bit further." This was supposed to be therapy, which demands honesty. Perhaps if I went with something earlier, something safer ...
It maybe started with my sixteenth birthday present from my dad — Archibald Hammer of Foxhammer Industries — God, how I hated that car.
My relationship with my father was ... difficult, what with him dumping my mother and using a whole herd of his fancy corporate lawyers to prevent her from getting so much as a penny in the divorce. He thought he'd end up with me too, but when the judge asked who I wanted to live with, I chose Mom. I think that might have been the first time in his whole life my dad lost out on something he wanted — billionaires rarely do.
The car — a brand-new '88 Corvette — was his latest attempt to buy me back, and I'd sworn never to drive it. Which is why I was messing around with rockets and skateboards. A guy's got to get around somehow. Besides, gutting that shiny new engine for parts to build the rocket felt like the perfect kick in the balls for the old man. And so it went ...
* * *
"Rand, when are you going to schedule your driver's test?" My mother knocked on the locked door of my room in our little apartment. "It's been more than a month. Think of all the things you could do if you could drive ..."
"I've almost got the Triumph running!" I glanced guiltily at the half-rebuilt carburetor sitting on the corner of the worktable I'd welded together from wheel rims and an old security door — but I'd long since lost interest in the project and had started quietly gutting it for parts along with the 'vette. Anybody could rebuild a car. "I want to take it in my own car."
"A boy your age should be getting out more, going to movies, dating ... You could use the 'vette."
"It's a new car, Rand, and it's got your name on the title ..."
...And a mostly empty engine compartment — not that I wanted her to know that. "I will never drive that car."
"Look, just because your dad and I got a divorce doesn't mean you have to cut him out of your life too."
"I am not having this conversation again," I growled as I stuffed tools into my backpack. "No, Mom."
"Rand, he could do so much for you."
But I was already going out my window. I used one foot to pin my skateboard to the roof of the shuttered warehouse that butted up against our apartment building, while I closed the window. Then I tipped the board onto the steep slope and shot away. At the edge of the roof I kicked up the nose and dropped six feet onto the top of a shipping container in the fenced-in yard of the warehouse. My wheels barely touched down before I was across and taking the next drop onto the concrete.
In a normal winter I would have had to shovel my way from there to the back door of the battered old building, but it had been unusually warm this year with repeated cold rains wiping out the snow. There was ice, sure, but surprisingly little for late November. As I got closer to the door, I hit the button on the garage door opener clipped to my backpack and, hey presto, I was inside.
The noise of my wheels echoed weirdly as I rolled half the length of the enormous empty space on my way to the old office block. The padlock there was latched with the hasp open so that it couldn't be closed from the outside. That meant Michael had gotten in before me. No surprise on a Saturday. He was a morning person and I preferred not to get out of bed before noon. The outer office was quite warm — which told me he'd been there a couple of hours — and I could hear the sound of the old Singer industrial sewing machine I'd refurbed for him.
I poked my head into the room he'd taken for himself. "Whatcha working on?"
He never looked up from the machine or the dark velvety material he was sewing. "Got an idea for a formal-look duster. Can't talk."
That was classic Michael. Slim and dark haired with a sardonic smile, he was incredibly intense about clothes in every possible way. They spoke to him. Thick wooden closet rods had turned the abandoned office into something like a giant wardrobe or drive-in closet, with thousands of outfits hanging there. Overhead racks blossomed with hats, and hundreds of pairs of shoes and boots stood beneath the clothing. Michael himself had on a fancy three-piece suit from some European clothier's — odd sewing wear for anyone but my best friend.
I'd met Michael at the extremely fancy private academy we both attended. My dad had paid for my schooling until recently, but I'd been on scholarship since the divorce. Michael's tuition was covered by the weirdest trust fund you could possibly imagine. His parents had been quite wealthy, if not in the same league as my dad, but they'd died when Michael was thirteen. Now he lived in a big mansion on Summit Hill with a butler he absolutely detested. The trust fund paid for that, his schooling, a modest allowance, any food he ate at home, and an unlimited clothing budget. The senior Damians' money had come from their international haberdashery empire and they'd left their fortune and their obsessions to their son, along with the deed to this warehouse.
I nodded at the back of Michael's head and wandered over to the room that had once been the warehouse's workshop. There on the bench lay the guts of the 'vette's fuel injection system which I was attempting to convert into the guts of a hydrogen peroxide rocket engine. I wanted to make it small enough to fit between the decks of two skateboards I'd also cannibalized for the project.
As I started my soldering iron heating, I ran a finger along my left eyebrow, feeling for the bare patch left by the little hiccup I'd had with the iron and some spilled rocket fuel a few weeks ago. It had started to grow back, but I liked to remind myself that A) caution is important, and B) any day working on rockets without a dangerous explosion was a good day.
Once Michael helped me put out the small fire on my workbench, we decided to knock off for a bit and get some burgers.
* * *
The railway provided us with a little slice of urban wilderness mostly cut off from the city around it. We could sit on the brush-covered slopes out of sight of anyone official and do the sorts of things that teenage boys playing hooky have always done. There were bums around, sure, but we had something of a truce with the regulars. Besides, we were fifteen and sixteen — you know, invulnerable.
But tonight was different. Tonight we were going to test my rocket board. It was December fifteenth, around six p.m. — solidly dark and into rush hour. There'd been some real snow finally, which made the pavement into a death trap for a skateboard going a reasonable speed. Add in the rocket ... yeah. Not going to happen. Not inside the warehouse either. I'd already had plenty of warning about the dangers of mixing rocket fuel and interior spaces.
That's how I'd settled on the railway. Not only was it clear of snow, but it was a perfect straightaway. I'd had to rig up a custom wheel set and a magnetic lock, but now the only way off that rail involved me hitting the toe release. That meant I didn't need to worry about turns or bumps or anything but staying on the board. Perfect!
Michael shook his head as I locked the board onto the rail. "I don't know, Rand. Don't you think this is kind of dangerous? Maybe an unmanned test first ..."
"Don't worry. I've already tested the thrust on the rocket seventeen ways from Sunday. It'll barely get me up to fifteen miles an hour before it tops out. A bike goes way faster than that. If anything goes wrong I can jump clear easy. It'll be fine."
"What about the bridge?"
"That's nearly a mile away. I don't even have enough fuel to make it that far. I'm going to go half a mile on rocket assist, max. I'll coast to a stop well short of the bridge. I've done all the math more times than I'd care to count."
I was more nervous than that, but hell if I'd admit it to Michael. I did check the straps on my helmet and various pads one more time. I know I didn't mention them in the script version of this scene, but that's the movies, man. Safety gear isn't cinematic. I stepped up onto the board.
"Wish me luck."
"Good luck, crazy man!"
I poised the toe of my sneaker above the rocket engage, and ...
The world vanished with an intense purple flash like the world's biggest black-light strobe firing off. For one brief instant I could see Michael's skeleton like a green framework within the translucent purple outline of his body — oddly, nothing else seemed to go translucent. But I barely registered that over a sensation that felt like someone pumping every cell in my body full of hydrogen and lighting it on fire.
Excerpted from The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman by Kelly McCullough, Junyi Wu. Copyright © 2015 Kelly McCullough. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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