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by Marc Singer

Richard Cage's world was falling apart. On national television.

"A strange battle happened in suburban Maryland this afternoon, when several unidentified assailants raided this house." The dry-cleaned, blow-dried, mass-manufactured correspondent was pacing in front of what had once been a nice two-story home. Now, the windows were blown out, the door was kicked open, and policemen were swarming over the yard. Red-and-blue siren lights cast a weird, alternating glow on the scene.

It wasn't just any house. It belonged to Otto Blume, grandfather of Anne Benson, the woman Richard was reasonably sure he loved... Richard had just been there the day before, for God's sake, on Otto's 79th birthday!

He had called Anne to she if she was alright. Her roomate Maureen answered the phone in tears; no, Anne wasn't in, but somebody had broken into their apartment and killed their fish....

Anne wasn't at work, either, or at her parents'. Unless she had gone somewhere completely at random, she probably went to her grandfather's, to have it out with him over an imagined family squabble. And was probably there when the place got bombed...

The network mouthpiece droned on: "But the battle became truly strange when, according to several eyewitnesses, the intruders were repelled by a man with amazing powers. Could this man be one of the 'Omegas' who are reportedly appearing around the country? Or is it all part of some strange joke?..."

Perhaps both, Rich thought. He was wondering if he should call the police when he heard a knock at his door.

It was Anne and Otto. Both of them seemed to be unhurt. "Oh, jeez, Anne, are you okay?"

Anne shushed him and pushed into the apartment. Otto followed, shutting the door and locking it behind him. "Has anyone been looking for us?" Anne asked.

"No, but your house was on TV—"

"Oh, great," Otto mumbled.

"And, uh, somebody broke into your apartment."

Rich winced as Anne screamed, "WHAT?" When Rich told her again, she grabbed her head as if suffering a migraine. "Probably those SIRECOM jerks... is Maureen okay?"

Rich grabbed Anne's shoulders, hoping that would be seen as soothing. "Maureen is okay, but... whoever broke in killed your fish."

"My fish? What kind of weirdo would kill fish—never mind, I know the answer to that. And I've probably met him." Anne turned to Otto. "Grandpa, I have to call Maureen, make sure she's okay."

"Of course, Annie. Just don't say where we are, okay?"

Anne ran off to the telephone. Rich approached Otto and asked, "What's going on, Mr. Blume? Why is all this happening?"

Otto ignored the question completely. "Richard, we need to avoid the press. And the police." He whipped a wad of cash out of his pocket. "Annie and I probably shouldn't stay here too long, for your sake and ours. Can you go get us a motel room somewhere? No place too close to here."

Rich swayed for a moment. All the certainty in his life was being yanked out from under his feet, and now it was physically dizzying him. "Mr. Blume, I—I don't understand—"

"Richard, I'm terribly sorry, but I just can't tell you everything you want to know right now. I'm asking you to do this on faith. For Annie."

It was the right button to push. Rich stammered, "Yeah, sure," took the money, and left the apartment.

Anne witnessed Rich's sudden exit. Otto locked the door behind him, then turned to his granddaughter and said, "He's a nice boy, but a little self-centered. He thinks he's confused?"

"Well, grandpa, I know I'm confused. And I think I do have a right to some answers."

"Yes, you do." Otto sat down on Rich's couch (the kind of couch that only a first apartment could have). "And it's about time I told you the whole story. I always knew you were special like me, Annie, and I knew I'd have to tell you this one day. I just hoped that it would be under better circumstances."

Anne sat beside him. "No time like the present. So where do we begin?"

Otto started to speak several times, but words never came out. Finally, he bent over, resting his head on his knees.

"Grandpa? Are you okay? This can wait—"

"No, Annie, it can't. It's waited for far too many years." He looked up at Anne. "I just don't know where to begin. My whole life, everything that you know about me, is a lie. Right down to my name."

Anne started to mouth some words of consolation, just the kind of automatic there-there-it's-okay response that people usually fall back on, but the intensity of Otto's words silenced her.

He straightened up, looked at Anne, and said, "My name is Harvey Hauptmann."

My name is Harvey Hauptmann.

I was born in Cleveland, and I lived there for more than twenty- five years. I didn't think I'd ever leave it. My family was pretty poor; the depression hit when I was fourteen, and it hit us hard. I worked any jobs I could find, especially ones where I did loading or lifting... I guess you know why I was pretty good at that kind of stuff, eh?

I had always known I was stronger than most people. I think my parents knew, too, but they always told me that I should never make myself stand out. They had come to America fleeing the last world war, you see, and their German names and accents weren't very welcome. So they kept telling me that I should keep a low profile.

But I didn't know how strong I was until sixty years ago yesterday. July 1934. It was my nineteenth birthday. I had taken the night off, and some friends and I got good and drunk. Even though I drank more than my friends, I was the most sober... that's a pretty good power to have when you're nineteen, isn't it?

Anyway, I helped my friends get home, and then I started working my way back to my family's apartment. I happened to go past the Y, where they'd been having a dance that night... I didn't learn this until later, but a fella named Jerry had been there dancing with his girlfriend, and a couple of local roughs tried to cut in. One of them was "Butch" Bross, who had been hassling folks in the neighborhood for years. Especially any German folks. 'Course, that was probably only because the old German gangs picked on him when he was younger....

Where was I...? Oh, Jerry. He told Butch and his greasy little cohorts to get lost, and the people in the Y kept them from starting any trouble. But when Jerry and his girl left the dance, Butch and the others were waiting.

I suppose if they had left ten minutes earlier or later, they might both have died.

I was heading past the Y, when I saw these two people—a guy and a girl, more or less my age—being chased by a car. One of those snappy roadsters, with running boards and everything. This wasn't fun and games or anything, the drivers were really out to get those kids. And like a jackass, I went running after the car.

I don't know what I was thinking. I knew that I should never show anyone how strong I really was... But I was drunk, and frankly I was looking for a little trouble myself, a little chance to show what a man I was. What a nineteen-year-old man... and besides, if I hadn't done anything they might both have died.

So I went running after the car. And I caught up to it, just before it caught up to Jerry and his girl. The guys in the back seat were looking at me like I was the devil himself... when I was right behind it, I dove underneath and grabbed onto the bottom. Scraped my clothing up pretty good, but I didn't feel a scratch. The car, on the other hand... I must've ripped up its axle, stopping it suddenly like that. That was my idea, anyway.

So the car was stopped, the kids were safe, everything was okay. Then I had to go and show off. I stood up, lifting the car above me as I did. Jerry and his girl were just sitting there, watching me. The guys in the car were screaming like hell, so I shook them out. Then when everyone was clear, I smashed the car to pieces. Butch was in shock—it was his car, and I guess it was all he could ever hope to be proud of—he clutched his head and ran away.

When all the smashing was over, Jerry thanked me and asked me who I was, and like an idiot I told him. But I guess either I accidentally told him the English version of my name, or he spoke a little German and knew what it meant. Whatever I told him, Jerry sure remembered it....

"What about the girl?" Anne asked.

"The girl?" Otto (Harvey?) didn't seem to understand the question. "I never knew her."

"Yeah, but I mean, this whole story is you and Jerry and Butch and 'the guys'—whatever happened to the girl?"

"I don't know. She doesn't really matter for the story—except for the reason why Butch was chasing Jerry, I guess." Anne frowned and folded her arms in anger, but Otto (no, I have to call him Harvey now, Anne thought) was quick to placate her. "That's not what I mean, Annie. Not that she's not important, I just didn't know her... I didn't know Jerry, either. I only know his name because of what I read later...."

I didn't learn the name of the kid I saved for over four years. By the time I did, I was twenty-three—your age, eh?—and I had a fairly steady job making auto parts. The industries were all mobilizing for war then; the politicians said that peace was still possible, but the captains of industry and the people on the streets all knew better. While the European leaders were fawning over Hitler and getting "guarantees" that there wouldn't be another Great War, I was helping make the weapons that supposedly America would never use.

It was a stable job. Even if America wouldn't use the weapons for itself, there were always plenty of other countries willing to buy. And I was willing to make them.

Later, I would see the bodies crushed under American and British tanks, and I wondered if I had made the... the...

Where was I... oh, yes. Jerry. It always comes back to him, doesn't it?

One day I stopped by the newsstand on the way home from work. I just wanted to get the late paper, when I saw this funny magazine hanging on the flimsy wall. It said ACTION COMICS #1, and it showed a man in a red-and-blue suit, with a cape on his back and an "O" on his chest, lifting a car over his head and smashing it to bits. The costume was ridiculous, but I knew the scene all too well.

And the clincher: in the lower corner, some goon was running away, holding his hands to his head. Like he couldn't believe what was coming. What this costumed man was starting... the goon looked just like Butch.

So I shelled out ten cents and bought the thing. It terrified me. Most of it was ridiculous made-up crap, about how this guy was really a reporter and an alien from another planet. But it got the car scene almost exactly right. And worst of all, the guy was named "Overman." A mangled translation of "Hauptmann"; it was like the writers were teasing me, threatening to expose me. I was afraid they were some of Butch's boys. Butch was a full-fledged criminal by then; real bad news.

I checked up on the "Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster" who wrote it, and found out they were local boys. That scared me even more. I took a few days to build up my courage and see who they were.

It was the biggest relief of my life—well, up till then—when I recognized Jerry Siegel as the guy I'd saved. We talked a while, and he told me that he meant the comic as a tribute, not a threat. (I think he also meant it as a way too keep food in his mouth—but who am I to talk?) I was actually kind of flattered.

And as Overman became more and more popular, I was even more flattered. Radio shows, cartoons, movie serials, television; and always more comic books. It wasn't long before I was reading them all.

It was a kind of escape, I suppose. I was stuck in Cleveland, making auto parts that were getting made into army parts that would turn people into parts, but all I had to do was read, and I could see this guy fighting criminals and saving the world. And the guy was me. Me. It was really easy to identify with him.

I still wonder how all those people without super powers manage to identify with him....

"So in a way, you really are Overman...!" Anne was awestruck. She saw her grandfather in a whole new light now; it was like discovering he'd been a President or a secret agent for his whole life. And for some reason, learning that he had a double life as a fictional superhero was even more amazing than learning he had real superhero powers. After all, what good is lifting a car when compared to a whole double life? "Did you ever... put on a costume yourself?"

"Me? Goodness, no, Annie! I'd sooner streak the Super Bowl!"

Anne laughed. "Actually, you could probably get away with that, too."

Otto—Harvey—whoever chuckled. "I suppose so." Then he sighed. "But I did try doing some good deeds for a while. Mostly pulling people out of burning buildings, lifting cars off of people, that sort of thing. No costume, nothing too public."

"Did you fight any gangsters? Or super-villains like Leo Luxor?"

"I tried once. It didn't work out so well."

"What, you actually got hurt?"

"No, quite the opposite..."

I was standing in one of Butch Bross's tenement buildings. During Prohibition, Butch's "family" had filled it with contraband booze; for the last couple of years, it held less profitable treasures, sometimes even stayed empty. But Butch had figured out a way to turn that slump around.

The building was packed with people. Not packed like a party, packed like a suitcase.

Most of them had been fleeing the war—the war had formally started in Europe by then, although people from Spain or Czechoslovakia would've told you it started a lot earlier. They were Eastern Europeans mostly, just like Butch. He probably told them he was doing them a favor.

Legally, they weren't allowed in the country; America wanted nothing to do with the war in Europe, but wasn't willing to shelter any Europeans who also wanted to avoid the war... Butch must have had some contacts out on the East Coast, because these refugees were dropped off in the Northeast and then shipped out to Ohio in trucks.

They were women, mostly, and plenty of children too. Butch got them into prostitution, drugs, numbers—anything where he could make a buck from them. "White slavery," I think it's called. As if it was any different from plain old slavery.

I had no idea Butch was doing this. I just thought I would clean up the city by scaring him out of town. So I followed him around for a few days, and eventually decided to bust open his main warehouse. I put on a disguise and went in.

My disguise wasn't a fancy costume or anything; just a woman's stocking pulled over my head. Some costume for an Overman, huh?

Then I went inside and I saw all those people and I... I... it drove me berserk. Butch had made part of the place into a whorehouse and part into one of those old drug dens... I went crazy and started smashing everything in sight, telling the people they were free to go even as I destroyed their only life in this country.

In about three seconds, Butch and all of his men came after me. It was a dozen to one. I didn't want to get shot—the comic-book Overman could take a bursting shell, but I'd never tested the limits of my body—but I was fast enough that they couldn't draw a bead on me. Instead, they just shot each other by accident.

But they still had guns, and to even the odds I would heave crates on them. Knock walls over. Hurl them out windows. Toss metal poles like they were javelins, and watch as the poles went clear through them ... I'm sorry, Annie, but it's true.

I'd like to say that Butch was the last one standing, and he and I exchanged a few words before I hauled him off to jail, but life never seems to work out that neatly. There was just a rush of violence and mayhem, and then suddenly it was over. I didn't even remember killing Butch. I just saw his legs sticking out from under some rubble.

I suppose I thought of him as my "archenemy" before that night. I had been so afraid of him, so sure he was going to expose me... and he was nothing to me. A fly that I crushed without a moment's thought. And you know, he probably never even knew who I was. He never knew who reduced him from a big gangster to a pair of legs sticking out of the trash.

I didn't have any time to be revulsed at what I'd done, not at the moment. Sirens were approaching, and I had to get out fast. Wouldn't do for the Overman to be arrested for mass murder.

The rest of that night is a blur to me. I think I jumped into Lake Erie at one point... I woke up naked, wet, and crying by the shore.

I didn't try to right any more wrongs after that.

Anne sat wordlessly, motionlessly, staring straight ahead.

"Annie?" Concern crept into her grandfather's voice. "Annie, I—I'm sorry. I just had to tell someone after all these years." He moved back and forth in front of Anne, but she didn't acknowledge his presence. She didn't even blink. "Annie, I didn't mean to shock you..."

"Shock me?" Anne suddenly snapped back into focus, causing her grandfather to jump a little. "Grandpa, last night I told Rich that you would never hurt anybody. Now I've seen you kill a man, and you tell me you've killed many more."

He put his arm around her. "I'm sorry, Annie. I've tried to forget I was that killer. I certainly never meant for you to find out, but I thought you should know."

Anne slumped down, resting her head on the cold table. In a moment, she lifted her head again. "It's not that you killed, grandpa... when Schwarzenegger kills a dozen terrorists, the audience cheers. It's just—you killed so easily."

"I know."

"So accidentally. And you say that I'm even stronger than you were—how easy can I kill?" Tears welled in Anne's eyes. "I've already killed that one man." The memory came back, unwillingly: SIRECOM Agent Sloane pulling the pin on his grenade to kill her, Anne tossing the grenade out the window with her strange new telekinesis, and Sloane dutifully refusing to let go of the grenade....

Tears began streaming down Anne's face; her grandfather knelt beside her and hugged her. "Annie, that bastard would've blown himself up anyway, trying to kill you. You didn't make him die."

Anne tried to speak, but for a moment she could only sob and choke.

When she could speak again, she said, "But what if he's just the beginning. What's to stop me from killing more people, just as easily as I tossed him out the window? What's keeping me from killing everyone I see?" She looked to her grandfather for an answer.

He let go of Anne and stood up. "Absolutely nothing. Which is why I had to tell you how I became a killer. And what happened to me because of it."

The tears flowed slower and slower, and finally stopped.

After she was done, he told her, "If it's any consolation, I did go to prison. Not for killing Butch, exactly, but for a much more serious crime. I went to prison for showing some people that I was better than them."

For almost two years, I had a lot of guilt to work through. There were some times when I almost didn't make it. But I was too afraid to turn myself in, and I couldn't think of any ways of suicide that would actually kill me.

Then one cold December morning, I saw my chance at redemption. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and America was going to war. I figured I could go to work for Uncle Sam, save some of our boys, and clear my conscience.

(Looking back, I have to wonder at my logic—I would make up for killing a dozen men by fighting in a war where millions would die?)

I enlisted that day, along with a lot of other fellows. The army didn't want to take me—at 26, I was a little too old for them, even though I was in perfect health. So I had to show them what I could do. I started lifting tables, cabinets, a jeep... The recruiters couldn't believe their luck. Oh, yes, and one doctor broke six hypodermic needles on my skin. I got a real kick out of that.

But I never made it into the army. The recruiters passed word on to their superiors, who passed word on to theirs... finally, some jerks in Washington heard about me. They sent me to a special "training facility" in Georgia, where a bunch of generals and some hotshot War Department official could take a look at me.

For two days, I just did tricks—hurling boulders, outracing cars, even flipping a tank on its back. The War Department guy, a pompous little prick named Cornelius Owen, wanted to fire bullets at me, too, but I wouldn't sit for it. After a couple days of that testing—and there was plenty of "psychological testing," too, mostly Owen asking me nosy questions about my parents—the bigshots had a conference to decide my future.

I think it was Owen who screwed me. Those generals were drooling over me, even arguing over who got to keep me in their army. But Owen always looked at me like I was some kind of freak. Some gross bug that had to be squashed before it could multiply...

For whatever reason, they decided I was too much of a risk to be sent into combat. Maybe it was because my powers weren't too discreet; maybe it was my German background. Whatever their reason, they decided to keep me in the States—for "further testing." They kept me at that Georgia facility, and cleared everyone else out of it. They also renamed it "Fort Deliverance," a nice little joke at my expense.

Fort Deliverance quickly became a full-fledged prison, and I was its sole inmate. I wasn't locked up or anything—I could roam the whole fort. But for nearly three years, I wasn't allowed to leave it. Oh, I could have if I wanted to. The army tried to reinforce the Fort so that I couldn't smash out of it, but I probably could have anyway—or just taken the easy way out by jumping right over the walls.

But I didn't want to leave. I saw this prison as my just punishment for killing Butch and his boys. And once I did my time, I started sleeping a lot easier at night.

One thing bothered me, though. I hadn't actually been sent to prison for killing Butch. I had been sent there because I was different. Because I was better. And nobody likes to admit that somebody else is better than them. Especially not the kind of bastard who ends up in political office.

"So that's why I didn't trust those agents, Annie. I knew they would haul you off to prison, just like they did to me. But you haven't done anything to deserve it."

Anne's grandfather (at least, Anne was still pretty sure he was her grandfather) hastily modified his last sentence. "You haven't done anything from your or my point of view. But the government sees it differently. They'll lock you up and study you, just because they don't understand you. And if they left you alone, they'd be out of a job."

"I don't know, grandpa. That was the forties—things have changed a lot."

"Have they?" The old man rose, walked over to the window, and quickly drew the curtains aside. Off to the west, the night sky was illuminated—the lights of Washington, D.C. "People are still making car parts that kill people; only now they charge five hundred dollars for a wing nut. People are still refugees from war and terror. And every fall, there's some little idiot saying that his people are better than other people. He usually wins the election, too.

"Many things haven't changed, Annie. Oh, they call us Omegas now—it's easier to fear a letter, you can forget that it represents a human being." He gazed out at Washington, wondering what machinations were being set in motion... if only he had the eyes of his fictional alter ego. "There's something bad in the air, Annie. The politicians are talking about law and order and sealing the borders... kids run around waving a swastika like it was a jeans logo... and by our very nature, we Omegas will end up in the middle of it all. Again."

Anne shivered, although the room was warm. It had been a long, long day. It would be the first of many.

Continued in Legacy #3, Reign of the Overmen

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