Part of writing is getting to know your characters. The way that I’ve been working so far, there’s not been a lot of time to do that. I write a story, and move on – maybe coming back another time to revisit the people I have created, but usually not. So just for fun, I’m going to do some character interviews this week and see what I can find out about the folks who emerged from between the folds in my brain. To do so, I’ve got my list of characters and the fine folks over at random.org, and together I’ll be randomly choosing my subjects. If you have a request for a character interview, let me know in the comments and I can see to it that he or she jumps to the head of the queue.
For our first interview, we will be talking to Dr. Julian Harcrow, a character mentioned but not met in the story for Day 36 - Interviews. What a nice coincidence. Let’s see what he has to say about himself.
Good evening, Dr. Harcrow. Thank you for sitting down with us.
Will this take long? I have some experiments in the lab, you see, and they’re vital to my work.
What a great place to start! Can you tell us about your work, Dr. Harcrow?
I, um. Yes. Yes, fine. Where shall I begin? Um… I have advanced degrees in biochemistry, quantum electrodynamics, abnormal psychology, and I have won no fewer than three Nobel prizes in the lifelong pursuit of the understanding of metahumans.
I’m sorry – metahumans?
Yes. You’d think of them as “super-heroes” perhaps, but not all of them run off and put on tights. Most of them would really rather just be able to live their lives like everyone else. What makes them special is that they are able to do things that they really shouldn’t be able to do – bend steel in their bare hands, fly under their own power, duplicate themselves, that sort of thing. The sheer variety of powers has afforded me a lifetime of study, if not more.
How did you get started in this line of science?
Well, let me see. I remember as a child growing up on the poor side of Corsair City. My family was in pretty bad shape – single mother, far too many children to deal with. And I was smart, even when I was little. Smart enough to know that crawling out of there would be nearly impossible. I had seen others try and fail, and come back to numb themselves with alcohol and drugs.
But then, one day, I saw Captain Cosmos for the first time. You know who he was?
I do remember hearing about him from my parents.
Yes. Well. The first time I saw him was during a tenement fire. Someone in our neighborhood had left something on the stove or fallen asleep with a cigarette – it didn’t matter. Within minutes, the whole place was ablaze, and people were running around like rats caught in a trap. My mother was almost instantly overcome by smoke, my older brothers ran for their lives, and I was the only one who was actually trying to help people get out. But there was no way out. You ever been in a tenement fire, son?
Well, no. No I haven’t.
Count yourself lucky. That place was falling to pieces before the fire started. When the burning began, well… I figured there was no escape. I would die in that slum after all. And then… Then the wall in front of me just – vanished. And there was a man there, this huge man was just… floating there, like it was the most normal thing in the world. He was dressed all in white and gold, and he was shining like the angels my mother had taught me about, except that his skin was dark – even darker than mine! Heh…
I don’t know how many times he had to call me before I realized that I wasn’t dead yet. He saved us all that day. Each and every one of us.
How old were you?
I was twelve years old. About halfway through high school at the time, and when I met Captain Cosmos, it was like I saw my whole future laid out before me. Here was this man – no, “man” isn’t even the right word. This “being,” who had the powers ordinarily reserved for the gods. He could do things that human beings weren’t supposed to do, and yet here he was – walking among us, shaking our hands, kissing our babies. Saving our lives. He was pretending to be one of us. It really made no sense to me, and there was only one way I knew of to deal with things that made no sense.
And that was what got me out. I studied, I applied for every scholarship and loan available, and I worked my fingers down to the nubs to see to it that I’d be able to go to school and get out. Captain Cosmos was my guide.
I wish… I wish I’d had the chance to tell him.
So you started studying metahumans in university?
If you can call it that, yes. Mind you, there were no metahuman studies classes or departments at the time, not to mention that I was a fifteen year-old kid from the inner city. The place was full of walls that I kept having to knock down and traps that I had to disarm, and do it all with a smile. When I finally got to the university at Corsair City, I had to fight tooth and nail to design my own program based on what little information I had about metahumans at the time. My dream, of course, was to get Captain Cosmos into my lab, to talk to him and perhaps really give him a good examination. But it… It just… Well. You know what happened.
Doctor Charkus’ attempt to destroy New York City, correct?
Yes. Captain Cosmos gave his life to stop that madman. He saved the lives of millions of people – billions, if you really think about it. I was devastated. It was like watching God fall from heaven and lie battered and broken in an alley somewhere. I didn’t think I could even imagine anything worse than that, not for a long time.
But Cosmos’ sacrifice led to the new renaissance of heroism, did it not?
It did indeed. When he died, it seemed like the heroes came up out of the ground, like the dragon teeth of Cadmus. They saw that the world needed them, needed true heroes, and they answered that call. They flew, they ran, they swam and teleported into action, and it stunned me to realize just how many different powers it was possible to have. The world would clearly be in good hands with this new generation. But as many friends as I have made in the last forty years of studying metahumans, I would honestly love nothing more than to see Captain Cosmos one more time.
How did you become active in the metahuman community?
Well, like I said, I was eager to study them, so I just started introducing myself. There’s quite a concentration of heroism around Corsair, so all I really needed was a police scanner and a good bicycle. I was young and reckless and just rode off to whatever disaster or major crime the heroes were solving. And when it was all done, I’d walk right up to them, hand them a business card and say, “I’m Doctor Julian Harcrow, metahuman expert. At your service.” And then I’d just turn around and leave. (laughs) I still can’t believe I got away with being such a pompous ass. The things you’ll do when you’re young…
But you got their attention.
Indeed I did. One day, a young woman who called herself Prizm showed up at my lab in a flash of light. She said that she wanted to know more about her powers – how they worked, how she could use them better. And I kept up my facade of being a “metahuman expert” and schooled her in basic physics. Her powers were light-based, so we learned about the electromagnetic spectrum and what it could do, and it just went from there. I designed some training activities out of whatever I had laying around in the physics lab, and a few weeks later she’s calling herself Photonika and doing some really amazing things.
I… uh… I didn’t have any say in the name, though.
How long was it before you were the go-to scientist for the metahuman community?
Not long. It’s a smaller group than you think, and word travels fast. Pretty soon I’m being counseled on missions, and even asked to actually do medical tests on heroes, which was what I’d wanted to do in the first place, and I made some amazing discoveries. I unlocked a lot of what it means to have superpowers and what they do to the human body. I spent years working with these people and helping them understand themselves. There was probably no greater body of data on the planet than mine on the biology and physics of metahumans.
Well. Perhaps one. But we know how that turned out.
You’re referring to Tobias Rhyne’s gene bomb?
You have to understand. The men and women who died that day? They were my friends, most of them. And even the ones who weren’t, I knew their names. I knew who they were. And I had to watch them fall out of the sky. Burst into flames. Drown. Slam into walls. And that day, everyone came to see me. I had tried to keep my job as the Doctor to the Super-Heroes quiet when I could, but there was none of that anymore. My office was filled with people, panicking. Panicking! These were men and women who could shrug off bullets, who slapped around giant frog-monsters or wrestled continents, and they were sitting in my office just… broken. Crying, some of them. Begging. All of them.
I tried to help them, I really did. When I told them that they weren’t metahumans anymore – that they were just human, it was like trying to explain death to a five year-old. They just didn’t understand. Some got angry. Some got really quiet. Some of them thanked me politely, went home and killed themselves. Every time I thought I had had enough, every time I had to lock my door and just weep and swear it was for the last time, there would be another knock at my door. There would be someone desperate for help, who thought I could save them. Who thought I would be the one to rescue them from hopelessness.
I’m sorry. Just… just give me a moment.
Later, a group of non-meta heroes got together to try and capture Rhyne. Martial artists, robotocists, time-trapped heroes with amazing future tech. They assaulted his underwater lair, but it was too late. He was gone, his labs were destroyed. They brought me what data they could find, but it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. Whatever allowed him to commit this… atrocity, he took it with him.
Have you made any progress towards restoring powers to anyone?
No, not yet. But that certainly won’t stop me from trying. Someone will track down Rhyne, or I’ll figure it out for myself. One way or another, there will be a new renaissance of super-heroes before my day is done. Mark my words.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have those experiments to deal with.
Of course. Thank you for your time, Dr. Harcrow.
A green field.
A green field and a blue sky.
A green field, with long grass as far as the eye can see, waving in the gentle breeze and whispering its secrets to anyone who can hear them. A blue sky the color of eternity itself, broken only by the bright white clouds, stately and grand, that sail from horizon to horizon.
A warm and bright sun, hanging high in the sky. It keeps all of this running, The grass, the wind, the clouds, the sky.
I lay back in the grass and ponder it all. The light from the sun hitting my face left eight minutes ago. It flew through the emptiness of space, the fastest thing there is, and it still took eight minutes to get to me. And each photon, each tiny, indivisible bit of light, had spent hundreds of thousands of years – maybe millions – getting out of the unimaginably hot and dense center of the sun in the first place.
The light hitting my eyes is older than human civilization. It has struggled greatly to reach me.
I pluck a long stem of grass from the earth and put one end in my mouth, chewing on it as I lie back. I taste… something. That indefinable grassy earthy taste, and it tastes good. The sunlight that fell here yesterday is the green of today, sharp and bitter on my tongue. The other grasses whisper in the breeze, not mourning their lost cousin, not resenting my destruction of their kind. They simply exist, drinking in the sunlight as they have always done and will always do.
The breeze brushes past me, generating another burst of whispers from the grass. That, too, owes its life to the sun. The intricate interplay of heating and cooling, convection and rotation, it all keeps the air from ever being too still, too dull. Energy from a vast nuclear furnace millions of miles away, a body that would vaporize the world if it could, delicately ruffles my hair.
So too with the clouds, and the trees on the edge of the field, and the insects that fly around through the grass. And me. Without the sun, we are as naught.
I stand up and look up towards the sun, lower in the sky now than it was when I came here. I close my eyes and feel the warmth and try to imagine the impossible journey that sunlight has made. I can’t. My solid-state human mind cannot begin to empathize with an indefinable photon. But I can appreciate.
Carefully, I disrobe, removing my clothes slowly and carefully and folding them on the grass. I turn in the sunlight and try to feel how the heat warms my skin, how my very body reacts to the light, generating vitamins, slowly burning and marshaling its defenses, releasing the chemicals that control my health and my mood and which make me who I am. It feels like a shower, like a flood, a flood of warmth and life and love.
The sun is not the sun anymore. It is the creator of all things. It is the generator of all life, that to which we owe our existence. Though I know it cannot love us, I feel the heat as its love. Though I know it cannot see us, I know its light sees us all. And though I know it cannot judge us or damn us or redeem us, I know that it was once part of us, and we of it, and that one day we will be again. The sun gave us birth and it will accept us in our death many, many years from now, and once again all that ever was will be one again.
I turn to the sun and I bow, hands together.
And though I know it cannot hear me, and would not care even if it could, I say: