Reload wasn’t a typical superhero, but then again, what really defines typical in a world of satin capes and masks of infinite ruse. All he knew, or cared about, was that he was born Guthrie Goodheart and was raised by his parents in the great city of San Francisco. He and his two older sisters were foster children who lived in the Pacific Heights district. The Goodhearts were kind enough to adopt all three of them at a very young age, which meant his sisters were the only blood relatives he’d ever known.
He still thought about the foggy afternoon in Golden Gate Park when the three of them went for a stroll as they had done many times before. A disgusting man, whose morality was shaped by the stench of crystal meth, was known to terrorize the locals in the area. He caught Guthrie and his sisters off guard and held them in the shadows at gunpoint. Guthrie never knew what the man’s intentions were. He may have wanted money. He may have wanted unsolicited passion, but in the end, two bodies fell; their faces frozen with fear. Guthrie wanted to help them. He wanted to save them, but he was as powerless as a statue standing in an abandoned courtyard; its lifeless eyes seeing everything, the death, the gray, but its arms refusing to move.
Then, it was as if fate had favored the impossible. Guthrie saw the bullet that was meant for him turn inside the barrel of the gun before it launched within a shower of yellow sparks. The hot lead pierced his chest and rode alongside the apex of his beating heart. He should have been dead, but he wasn’t. As it turned out, the gun was a stolen artifact from a local collection. Its components were forged from a piece of raw metal that was struck by a thunderbolt wielded by the king of Mount Olympus, Zeus. The bullet lodged in Guthrie’s chest gave him agility, strength, and above all, the power to transform any available material into ammunition. Water, concrete, air; they all had different properties to serve his needs. Later, when Guthrie was an adult, he tracked down the firearm that had fired the life changing round. The gun did his bidding, reshaping itself into whatever Guthrie desired. If he needed a shotgun, the metal would transform upon command. If he needed a rifle, it would do the same. He had become someone different. He’d become the superhero Reload.
In short, he was a bad ass, and his powers were what led him to his fortune as a three gun tough guy on the professional circuit. There was only one problem. He lived in San Francisco. The city where he was raised would forever make him an outcast, never taking him into her loving arms. The concrete and steel gave birth to a liberal town that feared and hated firearms like a heard of sheep that couldn’t rest because the wolf just outside the gate salivated with ravenous intent. It didn’t matter how much good Reload did. It didn’t matter how many lives he saved. He was just a savage with a gun, and even though it was unlikely he would ever press palms with the mayor, he knew what he was doing was right.
Reload stood within his usual perch atop Coit Tower and watched the tourists funnel into Pier 39 with a pair of binoculars. The small windows didn’t give him the best view of the city, but he’d learned how to work around what he couldn’t see. He wasn’t wearing his trademark glasses and made sure to pay the five dollar fee to visit to the observation area as usual. He’d always felt there was no need reveal his alter ego if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Yes…it was best if he didn’t ruffle too many feathers especially since he was about to pull out a half smoked cigar and enjoy the rest of its flavor. He looked around carefully as if to minimize the guilt he felt over possibly disturbing any other city watchers. There was no one about, so he lit the damn thing and puffed away. If he had his druthers, he’d also be enjoying a fine red wine, possibly something local, or from the Napa Valley. He thought about how silly he’d look as a superhero if he sat cross legged at a quiet table sampling cheese while swirling a glass of the fine purple liquid. One of the reasons he’d taken up cigar smoking was to assert his masculinity to the general public. To give Reload the look of being a real man. In truth, Guthrie was far milder than he led on, but he didn’t mind playing up the part on occasion. It gave him a thrill.
Small wisps of smoke from the lit cigar glided past the eyes of curved glass. The apparition temporarily blocked his vigil, but he didn’t mind. He needed a break from the monotony anyway. Spying on the balletic menagerie of city new comers on a slow night was almost as interesting as watching the Weather Channel during a report of mild to low tepidity. Their activity was mostly sedate; it was the actual denizens of the city that caused most of the trouble.
He sighed and then looked down. A loose section of newspaper shifted around the base of his foot like a child tugging at a parent’s leg in a supermarket. Reload hadn’t read a printed copy of The San Francisco Chronicle in some time. If he wanted news, he generally got it online, but tonight he entertained himself by scanning the tender pages of offset colors and skillful text.
On the front page, there was a picture of The Golden Gate Bridge. The article seemed to be about a retrofit project, or at least, that’s what he gleaned from perusing the first line of each paragraph. As he read on, this time with more intent, it seemed that back in the mid 2000’s some of the rivets had been replaced with a new metal that was an experimental hybrid made from two other solids. Apparently, the local physicist who designed the element hid the samples in the bridge touting that the metal would lead to the downfall of mankind. The material was strong, light weight and easy to manufacture. It also had an unknown biological element.
Biological, Reload thought. That’s all we need is smart metal. This doesn’t bode well for the next country we plan to invade.
But as for the downfall of mankind, “We’re already there,” Reload murmured. “We’re already there.”
He finished the article noting the way in which physicist’s hard drive had been decrypted by a family member eager to capitalize on the fortune that might come from the excavation of the new material.
It wasn’t long before Reload grew bored and sent the folds of sheen soaring into the night like a misguided bird seeking an undecided respite of hardened stone. He raised his binoculars and gave the bridge a quick scan. The fog was rolling in which always gave him a slight sense of anxiety. He had to be able to see his target if his skills were to be effective.
“San Francisco just loves me,” he jibed sardonically as he scanned the street below.
He noticed a passing police car. The block numbers on the top read B-37. It was officer Jillian Granger. She was a formidable shooter, winning multiple competitions within the USPSA circuit. He’d watched her technique from afar during Nationals. She was impressive, but what he liked most was the way her blonde ponytail bounced like a schoolgirl jumping rope. He liked the pink lenses of her eye protection; hell, when he really thought about it, he just liked her. She walked by him a few times during a competition and he remembered the soft caress of her perfume. It was a distant sensation, not something he usually took note of amongst the usual scent of gun powder and sweat.
Then, Jillian’s radio sparked with intermittent bursts of static. Reload tried to make sense of the conversation, but the wind kept the conversation distant. He thought he heard the words Emergency and Golden Gate Bridge. Jillian jumped in her cruiser and sped away. It was all the incentive he needed to make an inquiry. If Jillian was going to be there then so would he.
Reload bounded down several sets of stairs and spit out of the building’s exit like a man running from a fire. He straddled his black motorcycle and sped down Lombard street to Mason and then onto Chestnut. Soon, he’d reach Highway 1 before he was on to the bridge. He’d have to don his shooting glasses before he reached his destination. They were large with a shiny black face which kept his identity obscured as well as helping him to see in the dark. The glasses had been designed for him, when he masqueraded the competitive shooter Guthrie Goodheart, by Titan Technologies. Reload could make the shadows visible and be fed ballistic information through a micro-computer screen embedded within the thin layers of the optical device. A sensor tracked the movement of his retina, and when he gave the voice command “distance” an amber box adjusted to the object of of which he was focused. Then, a series of red numbers scrolled down the side of the display helping him to consider the overall effectiveness of the shot he was going to take. Calculations including gyroscopic drift, ambient air density and even the Coriolis effect helped him decide if he was able to make an effective hit.
The technology was great, but he was more concerned with utilizing its magnification properties to keep an eye on Jillian. He’d find her once he was closer to the bridge and make sure she stayed safe.
“Normal,” Reload snapped. The led technology within his view faded just in time for him to see the semi-truck in front of him begin to swerve. In a heartbeat, the 75,000 pound behemoth veered right and clipped the rear of a Prius one lane over. The battery operated piece of junk spun out of control. The driver’s screams, dulled by his confinement, were visible but mute.
Reload listed to his right and gently touched the asphalt with his fingertips. There was a golden shower of sparks and a vibrant light that took the shape of bullets. He reoriented the motorcycle, drew his gun from a leather shoulder holster and slapped the glowing projectiles onto the shimmering metal of the slide. The bullets disappeared indicating that Reload could take his shot. He aimed at the truck’s left rear tire and fired one round. The energy beam landed spang on target. Torn sections of rubber cascaded into the air like they had been ripped from the wheel by a grizzly bear. The truck limped to a stop; the cars behind it reduced speed until the vein of asphalt and its life giving platelets of metal and rubber came to a halt. A man in a minivan jumped from the driver side and ran to aid the truck driver. Reload noticed a series of white stick figures adorning the rear window of the man’s vehicle representing the number and unity of his family.
“People are so stupid,” he muttered. “I don’t need to know how many mistakes you’ve made.”
He reactivated his glasses. He’d lost precious time stopping the truck, and hoped he hadn’t missed any action on the bridge.
The man from the minivan opened the door to the truck’s cab and after a few moments of close examination he yelled his findings to the crowd.
“Does anybody have medical training? I thing the driver had a heart attack.”
A bystander raised his hand and made his way through the multitude.
“Good,” Reload said. “Now that that’s taken care of…”
His thoughts were interrupted by a man standing near the rear of the pack. He was wearing an expensive suit, obviously a denizen of the city who most likely worked in the financial district.
He pointed at Reload.
“It’s that gun guy. It’s that gun guy,” he yelled. “This is your fault. Guns kill people. It’s idiots like you…”
Before he could finish, Reload returned the favor of interruption. He clutched a handful of air, and just like before, glowing bullets appeared. He loaded his gun with the soft elemental rounds, aimed at the man and fired. The sudden burst knocked the loudmouth off his feet. It wasn’t the push as much as it was the report from Reload’s gun that caused him to pee his pants.
“Screw you,” Reload said and with a two finger salute, he started his motorcycle and headed toward the bridge.
Before long, he was upon his destination, notwithstanding his little detour. It was then that he heard the first shots fired. He saw a giant barge under the bridge with several flexible ropes and ladders connecting the two. Armed men were ascending into the thick fog that had rolled onto the bridge like rush hour traffic.
“Damn,” Reload said. He put his glasses in magnification mode and searched for Jillian, but the folds of billowy grey and white had consumed her. “This will help me get in, but I might only have about 25 yards of effective target indexing.”
He rode his motorcycle as close to the bridge as he could without being detected and then slipped past the police blockade using the fog as cover. He heard a few more shots fired but noticed there was no indication of an impact.
SWAT is using blanks as a warning again, he thought. They must be trying to keep the assailants on the bridge.
Reload drew his gun and searched from side to side. He ran his hand along the hard steel of the bridge and drew several steel bullets from the structure.
“Reload,” he whispered.
Then, he heard voices ahead of him. Someone was whimpering. Reload drew closer, actively hunting for a target. Two men with assault rifles breached the fog and closed the distance. Reload’s head led the way and as it snapped from side to side he pulled the trigger. One… Two…, he counted. Each man’s head jerked back as if their foreheads had met a wall of stone. They folded. They were dead.
Reload scanned the area for the next bad guy. He moved closer to the distant whimper. Then, as if a wave of water receded over her body, the fog revealed someone familiar. It was Jillian and she was being held at gunpoint, the hardened steel tip of a handgun was pressed against her temple.
“Jillian?” Reload asked as if he had to verify the nightmare.
Her cheeks were blush. She’d been crying and from the looks of her right eye, someone had struck her.
How the hell did she get out here without backup?
In his distraction, Reload didn’t notice a man in a swanky business suit enter the scene on his right.
“Guthrie,” the man called out, his greeting out of place given the circumstances. “Nice to finally meet you.”
Reload was slightly taken aback. He’d never been addressed by his real name while he was in masquerade.
The man could tell Reload was understandably vexed. He offered his understanding.
“Come on Guthrie or Reload…” He said rolling his eyes. “With today’s technology and information acquisition, do you really think a superhero can hide their identity from a man like me with the means to get what he wants?” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together as an indication of his stature.
“Marcus Tibbs. Now I recognize you. You’re all over the city’s park benches…”
“And billboards,” Marcus inserted. He smiled the same way he did in his advertisements. “We’re a company that’s here for the environment. We’re a company that’s here for you.” He pointed to Reload. “Sound familiar?”
“It must be an interesting existence having your face so close to that many asses.”
“Nice,” Tibbs countered. “But your observation is not invasive enough to save your friend here.” He waved his hand and the man holding a gun to Jillian’s head backed away.
Reload thought his chance had come. He considered putting one round right through forehead of Marcus Tibbs. But then he said something. Something extremely disenchanting.
“Your glasses can do a lot of things, but they can’t go thermal… not yet anyway.”
Reload thought about the advantage of having thermal imaging, especially when he was shooting into the fog. The benefit would be without measure in San Francisco.
“I contacted Titan Technologies during the inception of this little event, and they were able to quell some of my concerns with a new product.”
Reload followed the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge into the recesses of the fog.
“That’s right. I have shooters up there that can take out you and officer Granger here quite easily. They can see your thermal signatures.”
“Screw him Reload. Shoot him. Shoot him,” Jillian demanded. She started to cry.
Reload hesitated. He knew there was a deal to be made. If not, he and Jillian wouldn’t still be alive.
“What do you want, Tibbs?” Reload asked.
“What do I want? What do I want?” Tibbs said pacing. “Why you of course.”
Reload didn’t understand what part he could possibly play in a terrorist attack on the bridge.
“I’ll elaborate,” Tibbs added. “I’m into oil.”
“No kidding,” Reload said.
“Do you want me to finish, or have your girlfriend shot?”
Reload bowed his head and bit his lower lip. He could take a shot at Tibbs and kill him without much effort, but he had to think about Jillian. If she got hurt, he didn’t know how he’d survive the pain.
“There is a new metal stored within the rivets of this bridge. Specifically, it’s a hybrid of sorts. At an elemental level, we still don’t know the entirety of its properties.”
“You’re an oil guy,” Reload said. “What the hell does this have to do with you?”
Tibbs pointed his index finger at his own temple. “You’re thinking. I like that.” He paced for a moment and stared up at the canopy of fog.
“Each of my rigs weighs about 40,000 tons. They are modern marvels but are bulky and damn near impossible to move. If they can be made lighter and stronger, I can put more into production faster. We’re talking about billions of dollars a year, and it’s all at my fingertips.” Tibbs ran his hand across one of the off color metal rivets.
“And that’s why I need you.”
Reload crossed his arms.
“Hands away from your gun,” Tibbs ordered.
Frustrated, Reload huffed and then raised his hands over his head.
Tibbs grinned with half his face. “You are going to extract the metal for me.”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
A shot rang out from above, the bullet’s trajectory placed it just over Jillian’s head. She winced, but didn’t run.
Tibbs waved his hand, and two of his henchmen pushed a large storage container from behind the wall of fog. The box had four clear sides.
“You have a gift, Reload. I’ve seen what you can do. We’d extract the element without you, but our initial results have been less that successful. I’ll need you to pull the metal from the bridge and put it in the container.”
“You’re stealing metal,” Reload said as if he didn’t believe he was involved in such a ludicrous activity.
“Yes, I’m stealing metal, so let’s begin.”
Reload looked at Jillian. She appeared to be defeated. Her countenance said that she didn’t want to die.
“And, I’ll need you to remove your firearm and place it on the ground,” Tibbs said.
Reload complied. It wasn’t as if he didn’t expect the demand. He removed his weapon and placed it on the ground in front of him. Begrudgingly, he made his way to the first rivet. He placed his palm over the metal. There was a bright glow, and then Reload had his first handful of the new element. He kept it soft, the temperature allowed it to be poured from his palm into the container.
Tibbs kept watch until Reload had extracted all the metal. The container was almost full, the yellow liquid swayed from side to side as the bridge flexed and bowed.
“What the hell is that smell?” Tibbs asked under his breath.
Reload remembered what he’d read in the newspaper about a biological element being a part of the new metal. It was probably producing waste of some kind.
“Tibbs has no idea what this stuff is or what can do,” Reload mumbled as he continued to work.
Before long the job was done. There wasn’t enough metal extracted from the superstructure to cause much damage, so Reload was confident the landmark would remain intact. He watched as Tibbs and his men prepared to seal the container when he noticed something odd about Jillian. She was being held against her will, yet her demeanor had ceased to take on any concern. She leaned against the frame of dark orange steel and stared out at the bay. Her hair danced with the rhythm of the breeze and when she cradled her torso due to the cold, Tibbs offered her his jacket.
“Son of a…,” reload said under his breath. “She got me. She’s in on it.”
He couldn’t believe how naive he’d been. He realized it was the reason she was the only cop on the bridge. The reason she’d been captured and the reason a SWAT team hadn’t tried to rescue her from the terrorist attack. She must be splitting whatever she’s getting with other members of the department, he thought. Even if Tibbs wasn’t going to shoot Jillian he could still put a bullet through my brain.
Reload stared at the holes where he’d extracted the rivets. There was one left. He made his way to the fastener and laid his palm on top of the metal. He knew the newly formed bullets wouldn’t penetrate the container, but that wasn’t his plan. The rounds formed, glowing vibrantly. Reload pressed both palms together forming one large projectile.
“What are you doing?” Tibbs yelled. He looked into the fog. “Shoot him.”
Reload leapt for his gun. He rolled as hot lead bounced off the ground next to him. Finally, he reached his weapon. He pressed the giant bullet onto the frame.
“Reload,” he said.
Tibbs was standing next to the container full of molten metal. Reload fired his weapon. The large projectile hit the side of the container, the force from the round toppled the clear box and spilled its contents. The glowing element opened like a parachute after the cord had been pulled. Jillian reached for Tibbs, but he was covered in liquid metal before she could do anything to help. He screamed and ran to the edge of bridge.
“No,” Jillian called out. She was careful not to touch his burning body.
Tibbs turned, and whether he meant to or not, grabbed the side of Jillian’s shirt. He tried to let go but couldn’t. The weight from the hot element pulled him over the side of the bridge with Jillian in tow. They hit the safety net but burned through the nylon barrier with ease.
Reload was able to make it to the side of the bridge before their bodies hit the water. He saw a huge splash and a lot of steam rising from the myriad of white caps.
Whether it was from the lack of leadership or they had been caught by honest cops, the men with Tibbs seemed to digress. There were no more shots fired.
“I’d better get the hell out of here while I have the chance,” Reload said. He slipped into the fog and away from the scene. While on his ride home, he thought about Jillian. It was too bad that she’d turned out to be a bad guy. Maybe his next crush would be a little more balanced. Reload lost himself within the streets of the city, too far away to see something stirring on the dark sand of the peninsula. It was in the shape of a man but resembled monster, melted to the point of freakish measure. There was also a smell. Tibbs couldn’t believe he was alive. He couldn’t believe the metal was moving. As he ambled across the sand, his thoughts turned to Reload. He would find the masked shooter and make him suffer for what he’d done to him and Jillian. The pungent smell of the cold metal permeated his olfactory system. He took it in.
“I’ll see you again Reload, but next time, you won’t be facing Tibbs. You’ll be facing Brimstone.” And with that, he took to the city and planned his revenge.
J.M. Scott a full time high school English teacher from Fremont, California and has recently published short stories with Horrified Press, Penumbra Magazine, Miskatonic Press, Third Flatiron Publishing LLC, and Grinning Skull Press. His short story The Spirit is featured on Tangent Online as a recommended read for 2013. He Has a bachelor’s degree in film from San Francisco State University and a master’s in Education.