Disclaimer: This chapter is told from the perspective of a fantasy war criminal. Reader discretion is advised.
First thing you should know is, you’re talking to the guy that won World War II.
Crazy how folks forget that. I used to be on lunch boxes. Real lunch boxes, the steel kind you could beat a kid with if he tried to make off with your baby carrots. When Fat Man and I came back from the Pacific they rolled out the ticker tape, the marching bands, the whole shebang. I even got a kiss from Shirley Temple- Shirley Temple! Sure, her career was basically dead at that point. But heck, right now? So is mine.
That’s how I remember it all, at least. It’s tricky, because technically it didn’t happen. We’re not in reality’s first draft, you dig? The Other Force, that crazy mystic energy field that gives all us supers our powers, it went off and wrote Fat Man and me into the world’s history sometime seventeen years ago. It made all those lunch boxes. It slapped our names down in the textbooks, rearranged a few details of the Manhattan Project and manufactured a couple of superheroes out of what used to be nuclear bombs.
Too bad it couldn’t give us a nice history, one where people were actually grateful. Too bad I found myself stuck in my handler’s office, listening to her drone on about how I’m a ‘threat to national security’ and ‘an embarrassment to HOMEFRONT.’ All because I beat the stuffing out of that P!ss Frog abomination. Or, tried to, at any rate.
“The president’s very upset, Timothy.” Luanne MacMarshall’s eyes were fierce but her voice was tired. Truth be told, this wasn’t the first time she’d been tasked with giving me a dressing-down. She’d been my case manager for a couple of years now, ever since she leaked what really happened at the Bowling Green Séance. Chewing me out was the most satisfying part of the job, but that didn’t mean she had to look so smug about it.
“Yeah?” I asked. “Is he upset that you’re in here condescending to a gosh darn American Hero?”
Luanne wasn’t the first. People started turning against us back in the fifties. Initially it just came from women, bookworms and Europeans- you know the types. Folks too busy sneering at an imperfect history to see a glorious future. They called us abominations, war criminals, monsters. At least, they did once their professors and their celebrities started telling them what to think.
Even in those early days, when Fat Man and I were on all the magazines and America was high on the smell of victory, there were nay-sayers. Pinko handwringers and commie tree huggers. We’ll never be rid of all of them. There’s always going to be folks around who don’t understand war. Folks who don’t understand what it would really mean to lose. Nietzsche had a word for ‘em, but you know what they call you if you quote Nietzsche these days.
Ingrates. Bozos, even. Imagine, lumping me in with the Nazis. How many of them do you think even fought in the war? How many of them grew up their whole lives in the peace I fought for on the atom-bleached concrete of Hiroshima? If it weren’t for Fat Man and me, these idiots would be speaking Japanese and Texas would be one giant rice paddy. But nowadays it’s all “atrocity” this and “crimes against humanity” that. You’d think America was founded by just politely asking the Indians to leave, the way these people talk.
Luanne shook her head. How old was she, anyway? Forties? Sixties? I could never tell with people past their mid-twenties. Either way, she definitely wasn’t old enough to remember how things really were. She lived her whole life in the peace I bought with my bare, radioactive hands.
“Timmy, the President’s the one who sent me here to talk to you in the first place. He’s personally upset. Do you understand how severe that is?”
I shrugged. Stupid Luanne. Stupid Bigley. Why should I listen to either of them? I picked my nose and wiped it on her desk. No reaction. After sitting in silence like that for a few minutes I simply said, “well, if he’s so upset he should go cry to his… dead, dumb mom.”
“Please!” she groaned. “You’re both well past eighty. One of you has to be the adult. He has the authority to insist that it be you, so you’re going to sit here and listen, or he’s going to throw a temper tantrum and collapse us both into paste.”
Bigley barely knew how to use his powers, but he was pretty good at crushing people into paste. I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Chew me out. See if I care.”
“Wonderful.” She shuffled some papers.
“So, here’s the deal. Since P!ss Frog joined HOMEFRONT last September-”
“He was a wanted criminal last September!”
“Timmy, do you really want to add ‘delusional’ to the phrase ‘moody adolescent nuclear bomb’? You realize there are people who think you’re too dangerous to live, right? Do you want a repeat of the Kennedy hearings?” She yanked a pack of Saints from her cigarette case and lit one. “As I was saying. Since HOMEFRONT’s roster is a little crowded, and you need to rehabilitate your image, you’re being reassigned.”
Used to be, I’d chomp at the bit for the chance to get reassigned. For those first few years after the war, it seemed like I would get my next chance to deploy at any time. The Reds had built their own bomb and I figured it’d only be a matter of time til they built me a Ruskie nemesis to tussle with, just like you see in the funnybooks. I’ve got a sketchbook somewhere full of names and costumes I dreamed up for him. Super awesome names like ‘The Nogoodnik’ and ‘KalashniSkull.’
But of course the Ruskies had to Commie it all up and just keep making regular nukes. Dull.
Then Vietnam came, and after sitting through Korea waiting for my nemesis to show up I wasn’t going to miss the action again. I told Kennedy, “We’re not getting any younger, here!” which was a stupid choice of words I guess, since we also weren’t getting any older for some reason, and he just kind of laughed in my face. Johnson was even worse- called me a ‘hothead brat’ and a ‘liability.’ He paid for that one, though. Or at least his wife’s stupid birds did.
Suffice to say, Luanne wasn’t the first person to tell me I needed to rehabilitate my image. But that didn’t mean I was letting her off easy. “My image is fine,” I insisted. “It’s this country’s image that’s out of whack.”
“You assaulted a colleague, little man. Your polls say you’re a historical embarrassment. We need to show that you’re a hero. A helper. And if you can pull it off, a human being.”
“If you think for one minute I’m going to go through some ARMFRONT community service gig-”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that.” She smiled. Never a good sign. “You’ll be part of the new project.”
“New project? That TEENFRONT garbage?”
“YOUTHFRONT. Youth Oriented Urgent Training and Habituation Federally Recognized Other-Natural Taskforce.”
“Clumsy!” I spat. “Obscure. And an acronym shouldn’t stand for itself. It’s creepy.”
“The point of the letters in YOUTHFRONT isn’t that they stand for anything. The point is that they’re big letters.” She handed me a new armband- bright yellow with a black symbol combining the letters Y and F. “You’ll need to turn your HOMEFRONT badge in when you report to Westchester Tuesday.”
She didn’t flinch. “As the most experienced member of the team you’ll be made Captain. If you have a good year, the Boss may be willing to put you back on HOMEFRONT afterwards.”
Captain or not, teamwork was never my wheelhouse. Fat Man and I showed up on all the lunchboxes together, but after our first couple of missions we both started working solo. That dingus thought that just because he looked older than me that I needed to listen to him. Worse yet, everyone else seemed to agree with him.
He was rude, too. Bad manners, worse hygiene. There were days when I felt like I could go my whole life without ever seeing him again. But then the rotten bozo went and pulled the plug. Shot himself into the sun, left some sad note behind about how he had no family, no place where he really came from.
I looked all through that note for some mention of my name. Closest I got was a throw away line, some apology about ‘disappointing his colleagues over the years.’ Used to roll that around in my head whenever I started to remember his face and get sad. It’s like that old joke about the two old ladies at a restaurant- “this food is terrible!” says the first. “Yes,” says her friend, “and such small portions.”
Luanne must’ve noticed I was headed to a weird place, because her voice got all soft for a second. “Look, you’ll like it. There’s a foosball table and you’ll be with other kids your own age.”
My own age, that was a laugh. Biologically I was about fifteen. Historically I was a hundred and five, and metaphysically I was somewhere in the ballpark of seventeen.
Still, the message was clear: I was a kid. No matter that I won World War II. No matter that a whole generation remembers where they were when I saved the moon landing. It was LBJ all over again. I wondered if MacMarshall had any pets.
“Foosball. Groovy,” I growled. I got up from the table. Would she have noticed a quick zap, maybe a hundred rads? Probably not worth it to try. Besides, it’s not like I wanted her to think I cared or anything.
I hit the street. Westchester. At least we’d be near New York. DC was nothing but suits, grown-ups and statues of dead men. Granted, New York City was full of chronics, pinkos, fairies and worse. But the buildings were taller, the crowds were bigger. I daydreamt of swooping low over Times Square in my jetpack, maybe firing a few lasers into the sky. Folks loved lasers, right?
Yet, as I walked back to HQ my daydreams turned to brooding. I shouldn’t even have had to prove myself to these people. I was a legend. All I’d done was defend my country from some green-skinned frog demon who could explode people’s bladders. How could people not see that? Instead of thank me, they put P!ss Frog on TV every night and gave him my spot on HOMEFRONT. What had he even done?
…What had he done? Even the American People couldn’t be so depraved. Surely it wasn’t natural for everyone to suddenly accept P!ss Frog within polite society. Was he something like me? A thing written into the past by the Other Force?
It must have been a little different. Even I remembered P!ss Frog existing. I just didn’t remember him ever being a member of HOMEFRONT. Every time he’d shown up before it was a terrorist event. The RADFRONT geeks said he was some kind of spirit, something not even native to the material plane. But now he was walking around full-time. The press even said he’d just settled down with some lady out in the burbs.
The more I thought about it, the more this sounded like a genuine villainous plot. This was finally it, I realized. All this time I wanted the Ruskies to give me a proper nemesis, some evil version of me I could go to town on to remind everyone that I make this nation great. But it was never going to be the Ruskies. Your real enemy always came from within, right? The perverts, the traitors, the lily-livers. I had to fight America for America.
Once I got to the bottom of what he actually did to change reality, I could undo it and everyone would realize what a gosh darn hero I was. That pissbaby Bin Laden would be out of HOMEFRONT, Bigley would be forced to put me back in, and the American people would get to enjoy a mouthful of crow.
Perfect. The stage was set for my glorious comeback. I’d be out of this YOUTHFRONT fiasco by Christmas.