The Correspondent


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AS THESE THINGS DO, it started out simple. A gag gift from Greg. Greg was my boyfriend through most of high school. We never really clicked, though that might have just been me, and broke up shortly before graduation. His gift to me was a hero mask.
    We had dressed up as super heroes for Halloween and he had given me a mask. It was just a simple domino mask, one that covered the bridge of your nose and around your eyes. Supposedly it made you harder to recognize, but I never believed that. The mask had a weird felt outer skin and a smooth plastic interior. This first mask was uncomfortable as hell.
     It was after the breakup, during the post relationship moping, that I came across the mask. I don’t know why it didn’t end up in the trash with the rest of the crap he bought me. Instead I hung it above my computer.
    My ancient computer sat, in all its grayish green glory, in the darkest corner of my room. Without this lack of light, I would never have seen the writing. ACME HERO EQUIP, INC™ was printed in bold type all around the shiny plastic interior of the mask.
    The letters gave off an interesting light that, I have since learned, was a specially engineered bio-luminescent bacteria. The bacteria was made to glow at a certain time during its life-cycle.
    The night I saw the writing was the very first day of summer vacation. I had just finished my junior year and was looking forward to another summer working at my dad’s hardware store. The light caught my eye and I, as any true geek would, immediately googled it.         The website that loaded was completely blank. There was nothing on it. At first I thought that the site just hadn’t loaded correctly, so I refreshed it. Still nothing. I sat on my chair thinking and fiddling with the mask. I reloaded the screen again, got frustrated and got up. I sat on the edge of my bed still holding the mask.
    I was annoyed that I had wasted my time looking for something that was obviously not there. Getting out my phone I decided to take a selfie with the mask on. I put it on my head, where the elastic immediately pulled my hair, and slid it over my eyes. I struck my best super pose and snapped the picture.
    While getting ready to post it on Instagram, #GREGSUCKS, I caught a glimpse of my computer monitor. The website had finally loaded. I took the mask off as I walked to the computer. When I sat down I noticed that the screen was blank again. WTF computer.
    Curious I slid the mask back over my eyes. The screen came to life. There was a full website on the screen. The banner across the top was a stylized star with one of the arms underlining Acme Hero Equip, Inc. As I explored the site I became more and more excited.
    Acme Hero Equip, Inc. was the proud recipient of every penny I made that summer. I was lucky that my parents didn’t ask a lot of questions about where I was spending my money, I think they were just happy that I wasn’t moping around my room all day. I even made an effort to cultivate good relationships with my parents by working extra hard.
    As it says in the Acme Hero Manual™, “Having positive relationships will help hide your secret identity and create allies.” I also tried to apply this to my everyday life and found that some of my friends that I had drifted away from while dating Greg were more than happy to be friends again.
    One of the first things I did when I started becoming The Correspondent was rent a P.O. Box. That way I could ship things to myself without my nosey parents finding out. I actually had to have one of my friends rent it since I was not yet eighteen.
    I also lied to Acme Hero Equip, Inc. about my age. They have a strict don’t sell to minors policy, but I wanted to get the jump on this heroing business.
    The first order I placed was just for the manual. The Acme Hero Manual is a four-hundred-page how-to book. It covers everything from costume design to arch-nemesis problems.
    I spent my first month reading it cover to cover. Then I started over at the beginning. I took copious notes on everything. I rewrote those notes, gleaning the smallest meaning from the texts. I spent more time on my notes on being a hero than I ever spent on my homework.
    I learned that there are three main types of heroes; Sneaks, Tanks, and J.O.A.T.s.
    Sneaks are typically smaller in frame, weaker and rely on trickery to defeat their enemies. Tanks are big, strong and go head to head with bad guys.
    J.O.A.T.s, or Jack of All Trades, are those who don’t fall into either of the other two. I was clearly a sneak. I was nearly five-foot-tall and weighed just over a hundred pounds. I was built like a gymnast, which had been a goal of mine until my parents couldn’t afford it anymore, and I lacked greatly in the fear department.
    I worked hard during the day and spent my evenings planning out my dream costume. With the sheer number of gadgets offered by Acme Hero Equip, Inc. it was easy to spend all my money.
    I set up a payment plan with the company and waited for everything to arrive. The packages would arrive piecemeal, as things were paid for. I tracked the items everywhere I went, constantly checking the status during any break in my day. I think this was one of the things I did that summer that really upset my parents.
    The day the first package arrived was amazing. It was a busy Tuesday afternoon when my phone beeped, notifying me of a package’s arrival. I had been busy all day at work, stocking shelves while dealing with customers, so I had forgotten to check in on the packages.
    Looking at my phone I saw that I had a package waiting at the post office, which I had to pick up by five or I would have to wait until the next day. There was no way I was going to be able to wait until the next day. So I picked up the pace.
    I slipped my earbuds in and stocked shelves like I had never stocked the shelves before. Product was flying out of my cart and onto the shelves. My parents store is moderately sized.
    There are about ten aisles on each side of the store filled with typical hardware stuff. I have been helping around the store since I could walk, which meant I knew where everything was supposed to go. I was rocking out, starting to get excited about my package, when I was tapped on the shoulder.
    I almost flew out of my skin. I had been so focused on the shelves in front of me that I hadn’t noticed Mrs. Candide standing behind me.
    After I crawled back into my skin I helped her find the correct stem for her faucet. I then had to listen to her talk about her grandchildren’s, two of which I attended school with and hated, wonderful perfect summer.
    The Candide family was a big deal in my small town. Mrs. Candide’s husband, who was dead, had turned his family’s cattle ranch into a successful packing plant. The Candides were rich, and the Candide children liked to flaunt it.
    I was able to make it through our interaction without rolling my eyes, which I was quite proud of. After Mrs. Candide had paid and left, my dad walked over.
    “Nice work with Mrs. Candide, Ellie,” he said, smiling at me.
    “Thanks?” I said, trying to figure out if I was in trouble.
    “You have been working really hard this summer so I thought you might like to have the rest of the day off. Go do whatever it is kids your age do.”
    “Are you sure?”
    “Yeah, your mom and I can handle the rest of the freight. Go, have fun."
    Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I headed to the backroom. Stopping by the break room I took off my apron, grabbed my bag and headed out the backdoor.
    I kept my scooter parked behind the store. My parents had helped me get the scooter when I turned sixteen. Initially my father had been against it, swearing up and down that I would probably get irreversible brain damage.
    My mom and I convinced him that I would be safe and after making me promise that I would always wear a helmet, he agreed. I had spent some time going around to flea markets and surplus stores to find the perfect helmet, a jet fighter’s helmet with a flip down visor. Last summer I had paid to have it painted lime green with orange and purple polka dots.
    My scooter is a 1972 Vespa. The goldenrod paint is faded and the seat is torn but it is all mine. I have put hundreds of miles on it in the almost two years that I have had it and the thing has never given me any trouble. I love my scooter.
    As usual the scooter started right up, I put my helmet on, slid the visor down and I was on my way to the post office.
    Typically, I am a safe driver, but I was so excited to get my package I zipped in and out of traffic in a way that would make my dad’s eye twitch. The post office was on the other side of town but on the same street so it was a straight shot.
    I cursed every red light that impeded my trip and whooped with glee going through every green. Twenty minutes later, which was five minutes sooner than legal speeds allowed, I pulled into the post office parking lot.
    I should mention that this is the new post office, which means that it is full of all sorts of security measures including: metal detectors, security cameras and a guard who glares suspiciously at anyone who enters the building. I felt like I didn’t deserve his glare, since I was just a teen girl, but I think the guard was from the “all teenagers are gang members” school of thought.
    I was even wearing my work clothes which consisted of khaki pants and a white polo shirt. My red hair was pulled back in a ponytail and, since I hadn’t put in my contacts, I had my glasses on. Maybe he just hated gingers or something, but my hair was more blond than red.
    First I checked my P.O. Box, which was stuffed full of junk mail. There was a cream paper that told me that I had a package that was to big to fit in my box. That meant I had to go to the counter, which meant waiting in line. Like all post office lines this one moved at a snail's pace. When I reached the counter I handed over the slip and the mail person handed me my package.
I showed real control by not tearing open the package right then and there. I walked out to my scooter, secured the package to the rear rack, and headed home. I couldn’t wait to open the package.
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I LIVE IN A COTTAGE BY A PARK. The park is beautiful, complete with a lake, and always has people walking around it. My house is right across the street from the park and I spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the park. This time of year the ivy that covers the exterior brick is brilliant green and our flower beds are full of color.
    Pulling into the alley I parked my scooter by the back gate. Opening the garage, I found the cover and placed it over the scooter. I hung my helmet on the hook and headed inside. Stopping by the kitchen, I grabbed a snack and headed up the stairs.
    My bedroom is in the attic. My dad helped me build a room up there after I declared I wanted more privacy. My old room was across the hall from my parent’s room and I never felt I was growing up staying across the hall from them.
    In order to get up to my room I had to pull down the collapsible staircase from the ceiling. A trapdoor served as my door and I liked that no one could sneak into my room. I think my parents liked that I wouldn’t be able to sneak out quietly either.
    My attic bedroom was smaller than my old room because the slope of the roof was so steep. I had my bed placed under a window that looked out over the park.
    My ancient PC was situated on a card table in the opposite corner of the room. My dad had tried valiantly to put in a light fixture that would light the whole room but there were just too many weird angles.
    As much as I wanted to open the package I made myself wait. I started up my computer, which took a while, and changed clothes. I knew that if I was still in my work clothes when my parents came home they would be suspicious. I put on a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt, carefully folding my work clothes so I could wear them the next day.
    Once my computer was up I checked my email and made sure I hadn’t missed any new products on the Acme Hero Equip website. Seeing nothing new it was time to open the package.
    I used my house key to cut the tape that held the box closed and opened the first box of my new career.
    On the outside the box appeared to be a regular brown cardboard, with dents and scratches on the surface. The box looked like it had been through a war zone to get to me. I was worried about the contents. Acme Hero Equip had a replacement policy if the contents are damaged in transit but I didn’t want to wait for a return. I turned the box upside down and out slide a steel box.
    The steel box was slightly smaller than the cardboard box, about eight inches square, and had a number pad with a fingerprint reader next to it. I remembered my code from when I placed the order and entered it into the number pad.
    There was a quiet click and the box lid unfolded. Inside, nestled amongst velvet packaging, was my mask. I hadn’t settled for just any mask either, I had gone for top of the line.
    Sitting in front of me was a genuine Type 1X hero mask. The “1” in the title marked it as their top of the line model and the “X” meant that it was custom. When budgeting for my costume and supplies I realized that I had access to civilian versions of a lot of equipment at my parent’s hardware store.
    Why pay a premium for restraints when I could get one-thousand large zip ties for half the price. I poured all that extra money into my costume.
    This meant that I now owned a state of the art hero mask. Standard features for all masks is a heads up display, hands free phone access and ballistic protection. The shell of the mask was rated more protective than my scooter helmet.
    Additional features I added were in the optics section. The heads up display projected data right onto my retinas providing me instant access to info.
    The mask had night vision with flare protection, a sound damper that would prevent hearing damage and wireless connection to Acme’s own network. The Acme network provided a private node for internet access, allowing me to browse without leaving a trace. I figured this would be handy if my parents started getting nosey about where all my money was going.
    I had customized the exterior of the helmet as well. I had gone with a light blue and white color scheme, which I thought would look nice and, while not striking fear into the hearts of villains everywhere, would protect my identity.
    My mask covered more than seventy-five percent of my head. This was the recommend percentage to prevent being identified by the shape of your nose.
    What would be visible while wearing it would be my lips, my eyes and my pony tail. The rest of my face was form fitted into the rest of the mask. Initially I had been worried about someone grabbing my hair in a fight but I wasn’t planning on fighting anyone and I didn’t want to cut my hair. I reached in and pulled the mask out.
    The mask was lighter than I expected it to be. I expected it to weigh as much as my helmet and was happy to see that it wouldn’t be heavy at all. I inspected the mask for any flaws and saw none.
    Acme had done good work and everything look flawless. Most of the mask was flat white. Around the ears were small cylinders that were light blue and contained all of the radio and computer components.
    I set the mask down on my desk and looked through the rest of the box. Underneath the manual, which I probably wouldn’t read, were two disks. These were the security disks. I ordered these on a whim. They were designed to make it so you were the only person who could wear your mask.
    I had read a little bit about them on the forums and the people that had them seemed pleased with how they performed. There was a rumor that they were painful to use, which made me nervous.
    Each disk was about a half inch in diameter and had a spiral pattern like a finger print. I was supposed to place them just below my hair line on the back of my head. There they would pair up with matching pads in the mask and allow me to use features by just thinking. I double checked the instructions and thought, What the hell.
    I was glad at that moment that I was alone in the house. The process was simple, you placed the security disks onto the mask and then put the mask on. This insured proper positioning of the disks on your neck.
    I got the mask on and turned it on. The words “Initializing” appeared on the the heads up display along with a countdown from three. When it reached one the pain started.
    I collapsed on the floor, grabbing my head in pain. It felt like someone was drilling a hole in my neck. It hurt really bad. The pain lasted for thirty seconds or so and then went away like a light switch. I ripped the mask off and felt the back of my neck, sure enough I could just barely feel ridges on the back of my neck.
    I rushed to the bathroom and used a hand mirror to see the back of my neck. I have pale skin and was worried about a scar or something. I could just barely make out faint marks on my neck. I touched them and there was no pain.
    Going back to my room I picked up the mask and put it back on. I felt the disks meet up with the mask and the mask started right up.
    I winced as the mask started up and waited for the pain. Luckily the process was painless this time. The screen read “Welcome to Mask 2.0. Are you ready to configure?” I nodded yes. “Fitting will start in 3… 2… 1…” I felt a weird sensation as the mask started forming to my face. What had been a snug fit before became too tight for a second, than loose and than it fit like a second skin.
    I went and looked in the mirror and from the neck up I looked pretty cool. After the fitting was done I was walked through the steps of setting up the Acme Network, calibrating the police scanner and setting preferences for when night vision would turn on.
    I also set up my phones Bluetooth so I could take calls while in costume. I was impressed with the technology in the mask and was excited to try it out.
    Not wanting to get caught with my mask out I put it back in its box and hid it under my bed. I then took a ride on my scooter trying to pass the time while I waited for night to fall. I knew, deep down inside, that I would be going out tonight to try out the mask and, hopefully, do some good.
    When my parents got home I greeted them with a made up story of how much fun I had being a normal teenager. I laid it on a little thick and they probably think I am on drugs.
    We ate dinner together and watched a movie. After the movie I went up to my room to play video games on my computer. A while later my mom came up and said good night.
    Once I heard them shut the door to their room I started making preparations. I was without the rest of my suit currently but I felt it was important to at least match my mask in case I was seen. I put on a pair of white sneakers, pale blue leggings, a pale blue tank top, and a white hoodie.
    I placed the mask on and it linked to my phone and I was ready to go. I climbed out of my bedroom window and went to sit on the peak of the roof.
    I could hear the constant chatter on the police scanner, reports of speeding cars, domestic violence and other crimes. Each time a code came up on the radio it would be displayed on my HUD and I could say yes or no.
    There was a report of gang activity about a block away so I said yes. Immediately a map popped up showing me the quickest route to get there. I climbed down the down spout and went to check it out.
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THE HUD WAS AMAZING. There was a bar that showed how visible I was at any given moment based on ambient light. I had to cut across the park to get to the scene and the night vision automatically turned on allowing me to see the park in a green tinge. I saw a couple squirrels that were clearly up to no good.
    There was also a sound meter that showed me how loud I was being, which was very. I slowed my pace and was able to keep the meter fairly low.
    I was sneaking along when the HUD flashed red. I immediately ducked and saw the lights of a car on the street I was approaching. I hid in some bushes and waited for the car to continue on its way.
    As I got closer to where the activity was reported I saw a three kids, probably younger than me, walking towards me. They had left a wake of mailbox destruction and I could see one of them getting ready to swing a bat at the next one in line. From the police scanner I gathered that no officer was on the way.
    This was not the way I imagined my first bit of heroing to go but I couldn’t justify letting them continue their rampage. Going into my first fight outnumbered and without any guarantee of success seemed like a bad idea. I figured my best bet was to try and control the area in which we would do battle.
    The HUD was already tracking the three boys, providing me with red outlines exactly where they were. I used the Bluetooth to make a call to the police. I hoped that Acme’s untraceable phone tech would work.
    “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
    “Yes, hi, um… there are three kids smashing mailboxes by the park.” I quickly hung up.
    I figured that would give me about ten minutes before the police showed up. I knelt down behind a bush two houses down. The house was landscaped very nicely for my purposes, specifically the landscape rocks.
    I picked up thee of the rocks and got ready to give myself an advantage. The Acme Hero Manual states that a smart hero is a prepared hero and that you should never fight a fair fight. So I made it unfair.
    While the hooligans were distracted, destroying the mailbox I threw the rocks at the porch lights of the next house. My first shot missed, landing in the bushes, but my second shot smashed the bulb plunging the front of the house into darkness. I moved myself into the shadows and waited for them to move on to this house.
    Like good little criminals they obliged me. I had one rock left and I could see them so clear in my night vision. I aimed for the one carrying the baseball bat and threw with all my might. I honestly didn’t mean to hit him in the face but doing so got his attention.
    “Who’s there?” he yelled.
     The three boys headed into the darkness, moving to the spot from which I had thrown the rock. I had slipped over to the other side of the house and was ready for them. As they were looking around I got out my phone and put it in camera mode. I stood up tall held the camera over my head and snapped my fingers.
    Three heads snapped towards me and I took a picture. The flash went off blinding the three of them and I dashed back under the cover of the darkness.
    The one with the bat started swinging wildly and ended up taking out one of his pals. The third one decided that it was past his bedtime and headed home.
    The one with the bat was headed towards me swinging wildly. I ducked under his swing and punched him in the stomach. Or I meant to punch him in the stomach, I may have aimed a little low.
    The boy grunted and kept swinging, though he seemed to have lost a lot of power. I dodged the bat and punched him in the nose. The boy went down in a heap, dropping his bat on the ground with a clatter.
    I leaned in close and whispered, “If I ever catch you in my neighborhood again I will end you.”
    Probably a little dramatic but it felt good to say. I scooped up the bat and headed home. As I crept back into the park I heard sirens headed towards the scene of the fight.
    I picked up my pace and booked it home. As I crawled back up the drainpipe and into my room police cars raced around the park. I took off my mask and crawled into bed. I slept well that night.
    I was sore the next day. Rolling out of bed at seven was a struggle and it was all I could do to wander down to the bathroom and stand under the hot water.
    When I had exhausted our hot water heater I quickly washed and went looking for some breakfast. My parents were already at the store and I found a note on the counter.
    Be careful coming to work today. There was some sort of police thing last night and they have set up a couple road blocks while they collect evidence.
    Well crap. I hoped I hadn’t left any evidence at the scene. I dug out some cereal and thought back over the night. I had thrown the two rocks, but the police shouldn’t be able to distinguish them from any other rocks.
    Plus, my finger prints shouldn’t be in any database. I thought back to my reading in the Acme Hero Guide and realize this is what they meant by “Heroes wear Gloves”.
    I put my dishes in the dishwasher, got dressed for work and got on my scooter. I purposely avoided the side of the park where the battle had taken place. I was pretty sure that I would be ok but I didn’t want to push my luck.
    The day seemed brighter than the day before. I was filled with a righteous energy; I had saved the day. Granted it I had only prevented some basic property damage but I had fought crime. And a hero doesn’t care how big or little the crime is, a hero fights it where ever it happens.
    I was thankful for work. Having to get up and go to work forced me to actually move, which helped me work out the kinks.
    By lunch time I didn’t feel quite so beat up and was already planning on going out again to fight crime. I purchased some thick wire ties to use as restraints, telling my parents that I was going to be working on my computer.
    My parents let me go early again, which was nice. I went back to my house and played around with the mask some more. I learned that it was an easier way to surf the internet than my old clunky computer.
    I also learned that the metallic box doubled as a charger, when the mask stopped working. Instead of going out and looking for trouble I spent the evening reading the manual and learning about all the extra features that I could install.
    Over the next couple weeks, the rest of my packages trickled in. I received the rest of my suit, which was awesome.
    The suit was considered to be a Mark One, which is the designation given to the first suit you order. This allows you to reorder the same suit or modify parts of it as necessary.
    My Mark One contained the basics: Ballistic Protection, Stab Guard and Real Time Link. The Ballistic Protection and Stab Guard are self explanatory but the Real Time Link was harder to understand when I first read about it online.
    The idea of Real Time Link, or RTL, is that it gives you feedback on the overall health of the suit. Any damage received will show up in the app as well as giving you a heads up if you are wearing the mask. Like a bicycle helmet after a crash you are supposed to stop wearing the suit if you receive a ton of damage, the RTL allows you to get real time diagnosis without the inconvenience of sending your suit off.
    The extra expense seemed worth it since this would be my only suit for a while. I had also invested in the MedTrack system that would track my vitals and notify emergency services if I was seriously hurt.
    As I collected everything and prepared for my first night out in costume I was pretty stoked. As pieces had arrived I had tried them on. Each piece had security disks, much like the mask, that would prevent others from using my suit.
    I learned that the security disk was an implantable nano-tech that helps create a link to the suit and your body. And they are all painful. My gloves were the last piece to come in and I had put them on and dealt with the pain before my parents got home. It sucked.
    After dinner my parents and I went out to a movie. I was vibrating with excitement at my chance to go out and be a real super hero. I don’t even remember which movie we saw. When we got home I wished my parents good night and went upstairs to bed.
    I read until I heard the steady snoring of my dad and then it was time to get ready. Putting the whole suit on was a lengthy process, and this was my first time wearing the whole thing.
    The sleeves of the top and the leg of the pants seemed too short when I initially put them on, but now that I had the gloves and boots it created a seamless suit. The suit looked painted on it was so tight.
    One of the advantages to the security discs was that they allowed the suit to adjust to fit me like a second skin. I stood in front of the full length mirror and admired the look. The suit was completely white with accents of light blue under my arms. The finish of the suit made the white glow when light hit it, which was neat but might make it harder to sneak around.
    The last piece I put on was the dark blue rubber skirt. This was a piece I had added at the last second. I had been tempted by the idea of a cape but after seeing the Incredibles I realized that I would probably just kill my self with a cape.
    The skirt was designed to cover my assets while superheroing. It attached just above the waist with strong electro magnets. I could detach the skirt with a quick series of presses on buttons hidden along the waist line.
    The skirt was weighted so that it could be used as a bludgeoning device or thrown over someone’s head to distract them. I took one more quick look in the mirror and then headed out the door.


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