Singular: A Commander Future Story
Even if you didn't know the story of Commander Future and his offer to the city to renovate this otherwise-condemned real estate, you would know at first glance that his entire development is not a natural, normal part of this world.
Black polished towers and buildings and pavement, all of it from one material that acts like metal, feels like flesh, ripples like water. The same material that makes up his suit, the suit he was wearing right after the Incident.
Living inside the complex was a condition of my new job, and truth be told, even if it hadn't been offered, I would have suggested it. If I'm going to effectively publish these reports on Commander Future, these observations on incidents that have occurred or that I witness, this sort of serialized biography of him, then I should live here.
I should spend as much time as possible observing him and talking to him and picking away at him. If I am his official biographer, as he said when he hired me, then I need to wear him down until he finally reveals things to me that he doesn't want to.
I need to know him better than he is prepared to let me know him. Everyone has a line after which they want privacy, and my job with him, if it is going to be an effective job, has got to be to cross that line for Commander Future.
I mention this because I found the line fairly quickly, and in doing so, I think I caused some fairly major problems, both for the Commander, and perhaps for the security of our world.
So, sincerely, sorry about that. The least I can do is explain.
There was a time when Dr. Franklin Adams was just some guy working in a lab somewhere that the general public had never heard of, some guy chipping away at a big idea and failing pretty consistently.
One day, in that same lab, he was running an experiment he'd run ten times already, something fairly mundane, and in getting ready to do it, he crossed some wire somewhere. And he vanished.
47 people were standing in line of sight to him, and they all saw it. 3 HD cameras were rolling. They saw it. He was gone. 23 minutes later, he reappeared 2 feet to the left.
He was working on a way to teleport matter from one point to another, and instead, he managed to transport himself in time, forward to the year 3175. He survived there for six years, he says, although he has never offered up any details on what he saw there or how he survived.
He did more than survive, though. He must have been essentially rebuilt at some point. He went from just under 6' tall to just over 7'. And he filled out. He's mammoth. He's disconcertingly large now.
Like I said, he's got this suit that he wears all the time. I've noticed that he likes to dress over it more frequently now, but his power suit is always there, always on him, always slightly pulsing with purpose.
He is not a normal man by any means.
I've tried to talk to Commander Future, as he was dubbed by the press, about the six years he spent in the future, but so far he has no interest in shedding light on what happened to him, or how he went from a gangly 5'11" to a solidly built 7'3". Not only is he not the man he was when he left… I'm not even sure he still technically fits the definition of a "man" as we know it.
Here's where things start to get complicated.
I've been doing this for almost eight months now, living at the Future Center, taking detailed notes on the daily activities of Commander Future, and publishing them as a series of dispatches which he hopes will explain his larger overall goals to the general public. There must be twenty or more by this point, and while they have been packed with any number of extraordinary moments and unusual, even reality-defying adversaries, I'm still not sure they add up to more than a series of incidents in which the Commander beats back what feels like an unending tide of trouble.
It has been exciting, yes, but what of it?
Take that River of Time incident. The Commander was eventually able to stem the rush of pure, destructive chronological energy through the middle of the city, and he sent the Fate Pirates back, far worse for the wear. But our city still bears the scars of that incident, places where it is, for all intents and purposes, never going to regrow or rebuild the same way, where future and past have been mashed together into a ruined present.
Or what about The Vanished? Sixteen people who were simply swallowed up by an Intrusion that opened during a public gathering that the Commander asked for, people he has promised to recover? They're still missing, and he confided to me in one of his blackest moods that finding even one person lost in time is a feat "no different than finding a drop of champagne in a river of piss."
I have my own failures to report and correct, of course. I got distracted, as one will, by the monsters and the time travel and the random ulcers in reality, and I lost track of the idea that I was meant to be assembling an overall biography of the man, which I would think begins with understanding the man he was before this terrible burden landed on him.
I've seen the tapes now of The Incident, all three angles that were shot in real-time in HD, and they are fascinating in just how matter-of-fact and mundane they are. There is no sense of drama to them, and it's apparent that Dr. Franklin Adams had no idea he is about to change the world. He had the cameras running as part of his regular protocol, required anytime anyone was in his lab. All forty-seven of the people on his team were busy with their own jobs.
I've watched the moment itself dozens of times now, and I am haunted by how the simplest of gestures can leave such a huge mark on the world. You can see him spot something in one of the control panels, still under construction at the time. He doesn't even consider his action. He just reaches out and twists two wires together, almost in passing, while talking about something else.
And then he's just gone.
I've watched every one of the seemingly endless twenty-three minutes that he was gone unfold. I've seen the panic race through his entire research team, none of them sure what to do or even where to start. And when he does finally reappear, two feet to the left of where he disappeared, I've seen the double-barreled reaction. First there is the relief at seeing that he's back, and then there's a sort of shock as they realize how profoundly he's changed in that missing half-hour.
That moment serves as a sort of demarcation line, as if providing me with that footage precludes me from asking questions or digging deeper. I should have taken that hint as something more binding, a strong suggestion, to be ignored at my own risk. That's not how I'm wired, though, and I told myself that's not what I'd been hired to do. So I crossed the line. I dug deeper.
I found Commander Future's family. His wife. His son. The ones he completely abandoned.
Ethan Adams is a tall boy, not quite fifteen years old. He's athletic, constantly involved in one league or another, chasing sports across the seasons. He's smart, but he spends most of his time in school devising new ways to frustrate his teachers. It's like he's determined not to do well, not to give even an inch to academia.
His mother, Diane, no longer works. She doesn't have to. There's an annual check now that more than provides for them financially. They own the house outright. Same with two cars. There's nothing they need, except for the person they never mention, the name they never say. He has provided for them, but his absence is impossible to ignore.
Ethan has no photos of his father. He's old enough to recall him clearly, but young enough that his memories are all romanticized, idealized. It infuriates him to think of his father. If pressed, he simply claims, "He died."
Diane has tried to stay in touch, writing long timid letters to Commander Future, asking nothing of him. But late at night, when she can't sleep, she admits to herself that he is alien, other, a monstrous joke version of the man she married. If he ever touched her, even in passing, she feels like she would never stop crying.
Ethan was out with friends one night in downtown Triumph City for a concert when they saw Commander Future locked in physical combat with something large and otherworldly, the two of them perched on the roof of a nearby library.
Ethan watched, and for one moment when the Commander punched his whole forearm into the thing's brainpan, abruptly lifting out its will to fight, Ethan felt proud, thrilled, and he opened his mouth, felt himself about to claim his father.
Then stopped. Remembered. "He died."
I sat across from Commander Future as he read those seven short paragraphs. He said nothing, but short bursts of red ran across the surface of his living biosuit, and I could feel how focused he was on not looking at me.
"What is this for?" he asked.
"You don't think your family is an important part of your story?"
"They are not my family."
"No. Diane belonged to someone, certainly not me. Her husband would remember all their private moments, the intimacies that underlined their love. I have none of that. I have no feelings for her. Whomever she loved, he is gone now."
"That's bullshit. You can say that, but you are someone's father, and you are hurting him."
"You said it yourself. That boy knows. His father is dead and gone, scattered stardust a dozen galaxies away, spread across empty space."
"That's an excuse."
"Enough. We will not discuss this again." He dropped the page on the floor as he stood.
"If you just walk through a wall every time you don't want to talk about something, it's hard for me to do my job."
"I'll tell you what your job is." He stepped closer to me, and for the first time, I realized how angry he was, how close to losing control he had come. His suit was rippling, furious, chaotic.
I took a step back, put my hands up defensively. "Wait… all I did was research your life before the accident. I didn't hurt anyone."
He stopped, and I could see him struggle to regain his composure. His suit began to cycle down. "People have been hurt," he said. "And when you poke at it… it hurts."
I wanted to apologize, to explain, to interrogate, even, but he cocked his head, as if hearing something from another room.
"Perhaps I reacted poorly. But for now, wait here. I may need you soon."
Even writing it down now, I'm not sure what, exactly, happened between us, but I feel like I just dodged a bullet. Perhaps literally.
I smelled him before I saw him when he returned. A burnt, sickly-sweet scent filled my suite, all at once, strong enough to make my eyes water. There was a sound in the living room like a plastic bag being popped, and by the time I made it into the room, he was climbing to his feet, smoke pouring off of him.
"MOVE! NOW!" He ran forward and tackled me, and for what felt like an hour, we hung there in the air in the middle of my living room. And in that frozen moment, as he pushed me back, out of harm's way, the entire north end of my suite disintegrated, crumbled like wet dirt, gone in a blink. Standing where a not-inconsiderable chunk of my home used to be was a figure that almost looked like someone's idea of a joke at the Commander's expense, an inverse echo of himself, machine wrapped in the organic, as disturbing as that implies.
That thing threw a gesture across my suite towards us as the Commander's tackle still carried us forward. I could see that we were going to be splashed with whatever corrosive was being thrown, and I braced myself.
There was a sound, and before I realized what he was doing, the Commander jumped. As a result, I was already gasping for air when all 375 pounds of him landed on me.
Even if I hadn't heard the rib break, I felt it. I tried to cry out, to let him know, but he yanked me roughly to my feet.
"We've got moments. Maybe."
"Who is that?"
"The Singular. He's a doomsday technoprophet with just enough firepower to do some damage."
"What did he fire at us?"
"It's essentially an accelerated evolution gel. It takes you from who you are now to posthuman info-matter in seconds. You don't disappear, but your body becomes… unimportant."
"And that's bad."
"No. Not completely. But it has to be a choice. It's a transition we'll face eventually. Where the Singular comes from, no choice was given. Self-replication ran mad."
"Right now, we just keep moving. How do you feel about the cold?"
"Fine, I guess. Wh…"
He pushed me again, and with one more jump, we were standing at the entrance to the courtyard of a facility of some sort, large and institutional, all function.
"… y do you ask?"
"This seems isolated enough. We can face him here."
I looked around. The Commander was right. We were in the middle of nowhere. I didn't recognize the rocky coast below us or the dark and freezing sea beyond.
"Greenland," he said. "We are able to listen to the most remarkable things from here." He headed for the front door of the facility.
Before we could reach the door, it opened and Arthur "Eggs" Williamson came striding out, like an exclamation point with a punk rock haircut, one of the great minds on the planet and a close friend to the Commander.
"… total menace is what he is, but we can handle him."
"Can we?" asked the Commander, and Eggs looked at him, surprised by the question.
"Of course. Definitely."
"Have you taken a reading on him?"
I scratched everything down as they spoke, aware of how serious this seemed to them, worried because they were worried.
"Yes," said Eggs. "He's off the chart. I've never seen readings like his."
"He is not like anything you've seen."
I had to interrupt. "Why does he scare you so much, Commander?"
"Because," he replied, annoyed by my interruption, "he has eaten more time than you can imagine. He is powerful. He is almost undeniable."
"Almost, though, right? Almost?"
Commander Future shook the question off, turning his attention to Eggs instead. "What do you have in mind?"
The door to the facility opened again and a trim, athletic woman in her early 50s walked out. She wasn't in uniform, but I recognized her right away from briefings and discussions on TV. General Ellen Baker is one of the most highly decorated women in history and a strategic savant.
"Why are you asking the nerd?" she boomed, and Commander Future seemed relieved to see her.
"Because I didn't know you were here," he answered, and then he smiled. He actually smiled. I remember that so vividly in contrast to how he looked just an hour later. "I feel so much…"
He stopped, looked down at the surface of his suit, suddenly alive, rippling as if in anticipation of something.
"What is that?" Baker asked.
The Commander answered through clenched teeth. "It's not me. It's reacting to a threat." He turned, looked around, stopped and pointed at a spot 30 yards away. "There! He's coming!"
Suddenly, the Commander's suit ran up, clutching at his face, digging at his skin, and he cried out.
The Singular stepped into view, out of nothing. No light, no sound, no big moment. He just emerged. He raised his hand, palm flat, towards the Commander. Instinctively, both Eggs and Baker stepped aside.
"No more." The voice of the Singular came from everything around me. Every surface, every space, booming, punching into me. "YOU STARTED THIS. YOU OPENED THESE DOORS. YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING."
The Commander dropped to his knees, screaming now, pulling at his suit, trying to make it stop whatever intrusive thing it was doing to him.
Weak and freaked out, the Commander turned and scrambled on his hands and knees, anything to get away from the Singular.
Watching him, I was suddenly filled with an anger at anyone or anything that could bring the Commander to this condition. He might scare me. He might even intimidate me. But I am still in awe of the things I've seen him do and the selfless way he threw himself into the regular defense of the very fabric of our world. And here he was, crawling.
He adjusted something on his wrist, and in front of him, a door opened, a perfect tear in space. He turned and looked back at the Singular, who still hadn't moved.
"You… do NOT… tell me what to do." Commander Future managed to climb to his feet, unsteady. "And you do not belong here. This is not your time."
"AND IT IS NOT YOURS EITHER," the Singular replied, that voice ripping through me again, resonating at a frequency that made my fillings hurt.
Commander Future reached through the door and pulled out a short fat shoulder rocket of some sort, heavy and ugly, made for purpose and not for style. Without any hesitation, he fired.
The Singular reached sideways and punched, and racing out from the point in space where his fist stopped, time suddenly exploded.
Commander Future ducked into the open door, and when I saw both Eggs and Baker pile in behind him, I figured out I should move.
As I ran through, I could hear a rising sound behind me, and I felt both heat and a sub-arctic blast of cold on my back at the same time. I felt it push past me, and it went from uncomfortable to unbearable all at once. My skin felt like it was going to blister or ash or freeze to breaking at any second.
Then I ran into Commander Future, who was standing, waiting. I ran into him hard enough that it jarred me, rattled me. I bit my tongue, the copper taste of blood suddenly heavy, and I felt my equilibrium take a hard shift to the left. I could tell I was going to fall, and that I couldn't stop it.
The Commander caught me. One-handed. He set me on my feet, then raised his hand and pointed it at the door we'd just run through.
With the sound of a whole stack of mirrors being dropped, the door collapsed in on itself. Gone. We were standing in a small, close space, all of us pressed together. I could see the glee that Eggs was just barely in control of, scientific curiosity provoked beyond measure, and I could see the flushed, heated anger that Baker was trying to bite back.
Both of them watched Commander Future's face as he read a datastream running across one forearm. No one spoke, but I realized I could hear the sound of traffic outside. Finally, I could not contain myself. "Where are we?"
The Commander's suit seemed to shudder around him, independent of him, and suddenly flashed red with some internal light. He cursed as it began to punch into him again, acting out against him. "I can't… I can't lose him. He just… keeps coming! Get out! Now!"
Baker reached behind her to what I realized was a door and turned the handle, already on the move as it swung wide. With light pouring in from outside, it was suddenly obvious we were in the back of a van, parked at a curb in downtown Triumph City.
I jumped down with Eggs, and we all turned back to the Commander, who was on the floor, wrestling with the suit that seemed to be trying to strangle him. "Close the door!" he yelled at us. "Run!"
Baker did not hesitate. As she slammed the back door of the van closed, I started running for the furthest point on the street where I'd still be able to see what happened. Eggs ran in another direction, glancing back every few steps. Baker was just a few seconds behind me when I heard a sound, an explosion that turned inside out as it happened, and the van bulged and tore, its metal skin blown out then sucked back in.
The Singular stood in the center of the van, over the Commander. Not exerting himself, not winded at all from his tireless pursuit. He stared down at the Commander, who was in too much pain to do anything to help himself or to help us.
"YOUR SKIN REBELS AGAINST YOU. YOU ARE AN ABOMINATION." The voice of the Singular seemed to pierce the Commander, and he howled, bucking against the pain of it. "YOU MUST RETURN WITH ME. I MUST INGEST YOUR TIME."
The Singular raised one hand, and instead of flinching away, The Commander screamed, forcing himself to spring to his feet, and he grabbed the Singular's hand with both of his. The Commander's suit began to roll, as if melting, onto the Singular's hand and arm.
A searing light pulsed through the Singular, so bright, so vivid, that for a moment I felt the moisture on my eye sizzle. The Singular brought his other hand up in a fierce, palm-up strike, right to the center of the Commander's chest.
Tearing loose a chunk of the Singular's textured arm, the Commander flew back at least 20 feet, smacking into a front wall of a restaurant. He hit so hard that pieces of the roof slid loose and fell all around the Commander.
Before the Singular could take a step, though, the Commander closed his fists, and they began to charge, glowing with a deep ultraviolet radiance, almost black, building around his hands and forearm.
"This is… your… last chance…" the Commander managed to grunt between clenched teeth. Suffering but unbowed.
The Singular hesitated, thrown by the sheer determined hatred in the Commander's voice. I made sure I was behind something, afraid of what was about to happen.
When the Singular moved, he found the Commander's first punch right there, waiting for him, thrown with such precision that when his fist connected, the Singular's entire jaw fractured and was torn off. Even as he kept returning fire, the Singular staggered back, off-balance for the first time in the entire encounter.
Commander Future snapped his arms forward, and long blades slid out over his hands, his suit finally bent back to his will, and he lunged forward, both blades driving up and into the Singular's torso, all the way in up to his wrists.
The Singular's anti-matter eyes widened as he stood this close to the Commander, face to face with him. The Commander was bloodied, dirty, sweat stinging his eyes. Human. Even now, even changed, still human.
Commander Future turned both of his arms sideways, tearing open a hole the size of a basketball right in the center of the Singular. For a moment, whatever substance made up the center of the Singular, whatever passed for lifeblood in his form, began to run up Commander Future's arms, and I could see that it was changing him. Ingesting him.
Commander Future roared, and the substance ran back, off of Commander Future, and then his suit began to spread out, ingesting the Singular, widening the hole. The Singular tried to step back, tried to pull free, and then there was a blast, a pulse of energy that ripped out from the place where they were joined.
And for the first time in the fight, my attention was drawn from the two combatants. There was a nine-year-old boy, standing with his bike, attention rapt as he watched the battle. Commander Future didn't see him. The Singular didn't see him. They never noticed what happened.
But I saw it. I saw the effects of that violent pulse as it moved outward and ripped that kid in half. He never felt it. He couldn't have. It was just like it moved through him, and where it was, he wasn't. Both parts of him that fell to the ground were cauterized, clean, just a small punctuation mark of gore like an arrow pointing after the fatal blast.
Two more of the same pulses, and the Singular ran to what looked like digital ink, shiny and black, that stained the ground, smoking, unable to still hold a shape.
Commander Future stood there, winded, waiting to see if it was really over.
He sagged, like whatever was holding him up had snapped, and he went to a knee. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eggs and Baker emerging from their hiding places, heading for the Commander, ready to help him.
I couldn't move. I just stood there, the sound of the fight still ringing in my ears, looking at that dead kid, and I kept screaming at myself inside my head to start moving, to get over there, to help him. But nothing moved. Nothing responded.
I looked over at Commander Future, at his close friends helping him up, and I didn't care about his power, and I didn't care how much he'd intimidated me earlier. My own fury scared me more than his did.
That's what got me moving.
"You can step through time in every direction, right?"
"I want you to go back and I want you to fix something."
He looked at me, not responding. I waited until I started to get uneasy before I repeated myself. "I want you to go back and fix…"
"… something. Right. You said."
There was nothing further, and once again, I started to get uncomfortable. Finally, "Well, don't you want to know what I want you to fix?"
"No. I will not do that."
"No. That is not possible."
"Of course it's possible. You're always jumping around and doing things, and all this would be is one little rewind…"
"You two, when you were fighting, you killed…" I couldn't say it, couldn't quite force the words out, and so I pointed. And I waited.
He looked, and then Eggs looked, and as he looked away, Baker looked, and then she looked away as well. And the Commander kept looking at it, unblinking.
"You did that," I said.
Finally, no emotion. "Evidently. That is truly tragic, and I feel for his family. I will do my best to see they are provided for."
"It's not about money."
"You can fix it. You can go back a few moments, let one of us grab the boy, and then once we're out of the way, you can do whatever you did and you can beat The Singular again."
"You do it, or I'm done being your biographer."
I expected him to push back at least a little bit, but my threat seemed to work. Right away, he folded. I could see him make the decision, and it looked like it caused him real pain. He turned his back on me for a moment, looking again.
Finally, he looked at me. Jaw set. Resolved.
"I will do it…"
"… but for you. This boy's death… it means no more and no less to me than any other death I've witnessed. What I do, I do for a greater good, not for any one particular person. And no one… not even you… has the knowledge or the right to tell me how I should do what I do. You want this? You think this one thing will make you feel better? Then fine. I'll do it. But you can never ask me to do it again."
Even with my eyes closed, I could see the little boy's open eyes, his young face. It wasn't even a question. Of course I'd have him do it, and damn the consequences.
"Okay. That's fine."
He looked like I'd hit him with my answer, but he nodded.
"You stand back. Ellen, come with me."
Baker stepped up and he reached out and touched her arm.
Eggs pulled me back, out of the way. I realized we were standing right in the middle of the blast zone where the Commander cut loose. We hurried to what I remembered as the outside edge, the safety zone.
I could see the boy. Could see both parts of what he was, the smear of gore, the charred ground beneath him.
And then there was a pressure on me, a bulging of the very air around me, and it felt like it pressed in on my skull, hard enough to make my ears pop and my eyes bulge, and the boy was standing there beside his bike again. Watching.
Baker ran a perfect play. Moving before we even arrived, grabbing the kid, lifting him free of the bike, running.
Commander Future hesitated, pulled his punch. Gave Baker a chance to get to where we were waiting. And that extra 6/10ths of a second, that hiccup, meant the Singular moved a half step to the left, and the blast zone changed, shifted direction ever so slightly.
Just that one beat meant that instead of the nine-year-old boy, standing alone by his bike, the pulse ran towards a row of parking meters.. And inside, a man in his 50s, eating a sandwich in his parked car, reading a dirty magazine, suddenly blinked out of existence as everything from his hips down was severed clean.
Exactly like the boy. Only, someone else.
By the time Commander Future finished destroying or banishing or assimilating The Singular… which reminds me, I need to ask him about the way that happened. His suit seemed to have some sort of relationship to the Singular, some sort of reaction on the molecular level, and they each seemed to be able to do this to one another. This is the first time I've ever seen that, any hint of the suit having an independent identity from Commander Future. I know it's something we're going to have to discuss at some point, but not while he's busy licking fresh wounds.
Once he was finally on his feet again, he walked over to where Baker was helping the boy stand. Commander Future looked down at him, then over at me. And again, I saw a glimpse of anger so profound and so deep and so close to eruption that I backed up a step.
"As you requested," he said.
That was a week ago. I haven't seen him since. I found my own way back to the building, and found that it had already repaired itself from the Singular's intrusion, no trace of the battle remaining. Eggs and I spent most of the rest of that afternoon talking, trying to sort through what we'd observed, and it became clear to me that even his closest companions know very little about Commander Future. They are just piecing things together, the same way I am.
We determined that all three of us who were with him remember the alternate timeline, in which the boy died, but obviously, no one else does. It seems that there is a field of sorts, a radius that stretches out from the Commander, and as long as you're within that when he affects time in some way, you'll retain your memory of that other time. Things close to him are not affected the same way. How it works is a debate that we're nowhere near resolving.
I wonder, though, if the Commander is even fully aware of this. If he is, then I'm relatively sure he did not realize I had a small reporter's notebook in my back pocket. He certainly didn't know that the notebook is where I made all of my notes when doing reference on his wife and son, and if he did know it, I'm guessing he would take that away from me. I'm not sure what he'd do to me beyond that, but if there's a way to surgically lift a memory out of someone's head, he'd do it.
I know this because I went looking for his wife and his son again. They weren't there. And it's not that they moved, either, because they didn't. They simply never existed. He erased them from time completely, so now there's no story for me to publish about them, no connection for him to worry about maintaining. They never were. He is more of a blank slate now than he's ever been.
How many other things has he erased? How many other people has he disappeared?
I know that the things Commander Future faces regularly are dangerous, and by any rational standard, these are bad things, bad people.
I'm just not so sure I believe anymore that the Commander is particularly good.
Triumph City, NY
About the Author
Drew McWeeny spends most of his time mainlining pop culture, and writes movies while also writing about them. He must be getting soft in his old age because he is no longer banned from Skywalker Ranch or the Fox lot. With almost 20 years as a WGAw member under his belt, he remains dedicated to creating the sort of work he fell in love with in the first place. His two main goals in life are to raise his sons well and scare the hell out of the filmgoing public, and if he can combine those two things, he will consider himself complete.