Building A Hero

Building A Hero

I’ve been thinking about something for a while now, running it around in my mind. It started as an intellectual exercise to keep my mind sharp and help to focus my creativity. What made me think of this was the current state of most of the superhero genre. The focus has shifted and they’ve gotten away from telling the kind of heroic tales that I remember when I was a kid and comic book reader. Tales of heroes doing heroic things. Good versus evil. Triumphing over adversity. Stories that resonate with us all and that help define what heroism truly is. To that end, I decided to try my hand at the superhero genre. I wanted to do a few short stories here on the blog to see how you liked them. I guess we’re about to find out. Anyway, this is more of an origin story than a short story. Those will come later. Let me know what you think.

DA

Rise of a Hero

Kevin Hildebrant was never an athletic person, even as a child. He much preferred playing video games and building things with his Legos to playing any kind of sports. That certainly wasn’t improved after the accident. When Keven was thirteen, he was in the backseat of his mom’s car playing a hand-held video game. He never saw the car coming at them. They were flipping over and over before he even knew they’d been hit.  The last clear memory he had was of the car filling with water. Then he blacked out.

When he woke up, he was in a hospital bed, hooked to all sorts of machines. His head hurt, his ribs hurt and he couldn’t move his legs. His father was sitting next to the bed when he awoke, looking tired and haggard. His eyes were puffy like he’d been crying. There was a sudden look of elation on his face when Keven squeezed his hand and whispered “daddy.”

His father explained to him that he’d been unconscious for four days and that his mother had been killed in the car crash. She’d drowned when their car flipped over into the river. People at the scene had reported that she died saving Kevin’s life. She pushed him to safety through the window of the car before it dragged her down with it. Her last act of heroism had saved his life. The other driver who had caused the accident fled the scene and still hadn’t been found.

Kevin was unable to attend her funeral because he was in the hospital for weeks as they tried to reverse the damage to his legs. Despite the surgeries, the result was that he would never walk again. There was just too much damage to his spine and legs. Despite the damage, he was still grateful to be alive. Grateful to his mother who had given everything so he could live. He made her a solemn promise at her graveside. He resolved to live his life being worthy of that sacrifice.

Fifteen years later, Kevin had his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and worked for a major automotive design firm in Chicago. They created cutting-edge technology that was used by most manufacturers in the industry.  It was while working for this company that he met Maeve Connelly. She was an electrical engineer with a passion for science and microcircuitry. They had hit it off immediately.

On their third date, she suggested that it was theoretically possible to use micro-servos attached to an exoskeleton frame to help him walk again. Kevin had been intrigued and mildly interested until she mentioned that she had always wanted to dance at her wedding. From then on, it was their pet project. Kevin was determined to make it work just for her, even if for no other reason.

He’d never felt like his inability to walk had held him back in any way. He was considered one of the best in his field at a company that specialized in brilliant engineers. His mind had always been his strongest asset and he never felt like he’d been held back. After all, it was his mind that made him who he was, not his legs. That’s what he’d always believed.

Their first breakthrough came when they redesigned the micro-servos to interface with a Direct Neural Interface (DNI) that Meave had created. That would allow the exoskeleton to be controlled by thought instead of by muscle control. They had to install limiters in the servos because they were capable of handling weights far in excess of a human body. After all, they were just trying to help him walk, not leap over a building.

By the time they were celebrating their first anniversary as a couple, the design was already proven and was nearly complete. The exoskeleton was going to be complete as soon as they finished working out the bugs in the DNI. That was the night that Kevin had proposed, giving her the ring that his father had given his mother. When she said yes, Kevin was certain that his mother was smiling down on him.

After she’d said yes, they went out to take a taxi back to their apartment. It was while waiting for the taxi that two men dressed in black hoodies approached them asking for money. Kevin was going to give them what he had in his wallet when one of them produced a knife and demanded their phones, wallets, and jewelry. When they tried to push Kevin out of his wheelchair, Maeve shoved the man. She screamed and he stabbed her twice. Once in the throat and once through the heart. The two men ran off without taking anything and she bled to death in Kevin’s arms.

He tried to stop the bleeding but there was little he could have done to save her. The damage had been severe and she died in moments. He blamed himself, despite assurances that she would have died even if an ambulance had been there when it happened. The blade had pierced her aorta and carotid artery. No one standing around near the restaurant had even tried to help, even after the men had fled.

After leaving the hospital, Keven returned to their apartment. He was still in shock. Waiting for him was a gift-wrapped box about the size of a shoebox. On it was a note from Maeve. She’d known he was going to ask her to marry him and she wanted to give him something just as special as the ring he was to give her. She’d finished the DNI.

After the funeral, Kevin was sitting alone at a bar a few blocks from what was now just his apartment. He could barely stand to be in it, now. It seemed so empty and devoid of life without her. He was staring into a glass of twelve-year-old Scotch, thinking about everything he’d lost. He was sitting there feeling swallowed by his pain when a thought occurred to him. Maeve had died trying to protect him from the muggers. This was the second time a woman he loved had sacrificed themselves to save him. The words that he’d spoken beside his mother’s grave all those years ago came flooding back to him. He’d vowed to be worthy of her sacrifice.

Setting the untouched glass of Scotch down on the bar, a thought formed in his head. They’d installed limiters on the servos because they were capable of power far more than human strength. He could redesign the exoskeleton to handle the weight. A second thought occurred to him, as well. The DNI could control far more than just the legs. It could control an entire suit. He could outfit it with whatever weapons he needed by making it modular and adaptable.

Returning to his lab, he began working on a new exoskeleton with a carbon-fiber outer shell. Although it would be another six months before it was complete, it was that night in the bar when a hero was born. He was going to build a suit of armor and help people who couldn’t help themselves. He was going to be worthy of both his mother’s and Maeve’s sacrifice.

To do that, he was going to do more than he’d ever thought he could do. He was going be BE more than he ever thought he could. He would become an armored dreadnought. A hero to bring those who would commit crimes to justice, to save those who needed to be saved, and to help those who needed it the most.

Enter the Dreadnought.

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