I know you're not reading this because you're interested in me.
You're reading this because you want to know about him.
I get it. I was the same way at first. After all, we're not just talking about some movie star or sports hero, some puffed-up politician or titan of industry. There's famous, there's iconic, and then there's whatever he is.
For me to explain him to you, I should explain how I met him.
He picked me.
I've always been proud of my interview skills. I'd better be good at this by now. It's how I've made my living for the better part of twenty years. Most of what I cover is fluff. I write about theater and music and books and movies and TV shows. I interview celebrities and scientists and momentary figures of interest. I get paid to act interested in things that bore me silly, pop culture detritus, and I'm good at being glib about it all.
Over the course of my career, I've gone some amazing places, and I've done some unexpected things. I have used the ever-lovin' shit out of my passport.
Still, I have no idea who gave him my name or how I caught his eye. I am sure there was a list of some sort, but I can't imagine how the actual decision was made.
All I know is one day last month, I walked home with headphones on, the music loud, enjoying the crisp October air, and I found Commander Future sitting in my living room.
Have you ever seen him in person?
TV doesn't count, even if you have high-def. That suit of his makes this weird sound that you can feel in your stomach. If you look at the surface of the suit closely, it's alive. It trembles. It ripples. The guy stands at least seven-foot-three, no exaggeration. His head is the size of a watermelon. He filled my living room as he stood to face me, sticking out this Christmas ham of a hand for me to shake.
"You must be Peter."
I was so busy staring at him, trying to wrap my head around the reality of him, that at first I didn't realize he wanted a response. As he shook my hand, I understood the term "man-handled" for the first time. I felt like a child being walked to school by his father, except I'm 43 years old and anything but small. Six-foot-two, two-forty-five, and some of it is even muscle. I'm not used to people being exponentially larger than I am.
Finally, I realized I was just staring at him. "I'm sorry. I just... when I came in..."
"I surprised you."
"Yes. I didn't expect..."
"I couldn't wait out front. You understand, don't you?"
"Sure." Commander Future is the most famous person on the planet. At this point, he's an industry. He's an entire scientific field of study unto himself. Can you name anyone more famous than he is, or more unlikely than him? Can you picture my neighbors looking out the window and seeing this parade float sitting on my porch swing? "I don't mind, but..."
I stopped and realized I had no idea what to ask him or what to say. Me. The question guy. I'm handed a situation most reporters would kill for, and my tongue suddenly turns up tangled.
"... but what am I doing here?" he asked.
I noded. Relaxing. Grateful.
"I'm here for an interview, of course."
Commander Franklin Adams did not hold that rank when The Incident happened. He wasn't even in the military at the time. He was a private researcher, engaged in the same frustrating work for eleven years without any result. Then he crossed a wire in his lab one day and, in plain sight of forty-seven people and three HD cameras, he disappeared.
Twenty-three minutes later, he reappeared two feet to the left.
The only comment he's ever made in public is that he leapt forward in time to the year 3175, that he survived there for six years, and that he found a way back. He has never told anyone what he saw or did there. He has frequently claimed that he never will.
What is obvious is that the six years he was gone took an extreme toll on him, both mentally and physically.
For one thing, he was not the size when he left. He's like a big perfect action figure now, custom-built.
And then there's that suit of his. That crazy living all purpose tech suit. Even if you don't want to believe his story, once you meet him, you'll see what I mean. It's not anything anyone anywhere has ever built.
I scrambled off to my office to find my audio recorder, thrilled and suddenly very nervous as well. As I searched my desktop, Commander Future stepped in through the wall of my office.
Just phased right through it. Amazing move, actually. I flinched so I got tangled in my desk chair, and I went down. Hard. Right in front of this legendary hero I'm about to interview. All I could think was, "At least you didn't shit your pants."
Gathering what little dignity I had left, I got up, refusing his help to get to my feet.
"What are you doing?"
"I'd like to record this conversation if that's okay with you."
"This is not the interview."
"It's not? Okay. Um, when did you want to..?"
"Tomorrow. 8:00 PM. Be in front of the Triumph Tower."
I started to respond, but he turned and ran through another wall. Gone. Just like that. He wasn't going to wait for me to confirm, because that was a given. Of course I'd show up where and when he told me to.
"There's no way that happened."
"Word for word."
"This just drops in your lap."
"Yes. This just drops in my lap."
"I'm not. This is real, Artie. And we've got until 8:00 to put together a list of things we want to talk to him about."
"You're sure this is happening?"
"This is a front page top story."
"This is the only story. As soon as the interview's over, I'll come back here to get it ready for publication."
"I'll be ready."
On the way to Triumph Tower, I was sitting on the L Train uptown, thinking back to the first time I saw him, because it is impossible to live in Triumph City and not see him. Typically, it's just from a distance and just for a second or two, or on some video shot by someone who got lucky.
For me, the first sighting of him was about three weeks after The Incident happened, when people still didn't quite understand what he was. That was just under two years ago, and I had just put a column to bed. I was standing outside this shitty little dive bar where they had dollar beers and all the free chicken wings you could eat during happy hour. I had a wicked buzz, grease from the wings still on my fingers, and I was digging in my jacket pocket for my cigarettes.
Across the street, the bank building disappeared. All thirty-three stories of it.
A moment later, there was a sound like thunder, but not distant. It was everywhere, surrounding me, the loudest thing I've ever heard, and I was just suddenly laying down about six feet from where I'd been standing, and in that empty space where the bank building used to be, Commander Future stood, glowing as if lit from within, eyes alight with what looked like white fire.
Before I could stand up to run, there was a rumble, more felt than heard, and Commander Future reached out and touched his belt. Another sound, like that first thunderclap but turned inside out, and both my ears popped.
Commander Future was gone.
The bank building was back. Someone else had to point out to me later that the building had been turned out exactly backwards. Amazingly, no one inside was reported hurt. To their mind, no time had passed at all.
That sort of thing happens more and more often since Commander Future's initial incident. There were people who followed him back from wherever it was that he went, people like the Fate Pirates, or the Singer of Forever, or that strange pure-energy being called Zero, people and beings who have changed the fabric of space and time for the rest of us.
And as crazy as all of that sounds when I take a step back and write it all down, you get used to it. Things that were unthinkable twenty-one months ago are routine now. We adjust. Our world views shift. Reality bends. And for the most part, Commander Future is ground zero for all of it.
The sound of the L Train's brakes startled me from the memory, and I joined the rest of the people heading out to Triumph Plaza.
By the time I reached the front of Triumph Tower, it was six minutes till 8:00. The air was crisp but not cold, and there were families enjoying the Plaza, playing and dining, and as I waited, I watched two little boys, about seven and five years old, taking turns chasing each other. The little one was making me laugh, all serious and determined, so I didn't realize at first that Commander Future had arrived.
"Why are all of these people here?" He sounded quietly furious, which startled me.
"I'm not sure what you're asking."
"Why hasn't this area been evacuated?"
"You didn't say anything about evacuation. Was I supposed to do that?" I was gripped by sudden panic. What could make this wildly powerful being act so suddenly anxious?
"I didn't? Are you sure?"
"This is going to be more difficult than I expected." He looked around, sizing up the crowd, the Plaza, and his options.
"Commander, what's happening?"
Overhead, there was a sudden silent flash of violet light, bright enough to make it day again, and everyone looked up to see the source.
Commander Future sighed. "Just a little tear in the universe. Let's see what we can do about it."
I took a step back from him as his suit began to shift color to a perfect reflection of the overhead hue. "I'll just get out of your way, then."
He reached out and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. "I said we."
And for the first time in my life, I flew.
The next forty-five seconds passed in a blur, complicated by the way my stomach dropped and my inner-ear balance suddenly flipped. In less time than I would have thought possible, we found ourselves at the point in the sky where the light originated, and this close to it, there seemed to be a glass barrier in the sky, and where it was cracked, that awful violet light was pouring in.
There was a move that Future made, using only one arm since he was still holding me with the other. He managed to cut a wider window into the barrier, and he held me up to it so I could see the other side.
I heard a sound from faraway, and gradually became aware it was my own scream as I looked, trying to digest the scene before me. Finally, he held his other arm out straight, sections of his suit realigning so his entire hand was a gun barrel. Pointing his hand into the crack he'd made wider, he finally moved me aside.
"Close your eyes."
As I did, there was a loud thrum, one bass pulse, and I felt like my entire body bulged as the air around me superheated and blew past me.
Then we were falling, and I opened my eyes to see the barrier was gone. The crack was gone. All was well again.
In celebration, and because of the twisting flip Commander Future made to slow us down, I convulsed, vomiting and bellowing at the same time.
There was a jarring snap as we reached the ground, and Commander Future dropped me the last two feet. My legs, not sure how to process the sensory overload, gave out and I ended up seated, trying to catch my breath.
As he stood over me, looking down, I felt a sudden surge of anger. "Hey, why did you fly me up there with you? I could have been killed."
"The whole city could have been killed. That was the point."
"But you could have done that by yourself. You certainly didn't need my help."
"What did you see?"
I was thrown by the sudden shift in gears. "What? When?"
"When you looked through that crack. What did you see on the other side?"
"I... I can't explain."
"It didn't make any sense. How could it be that different on the other side of a piece of glass? What I saw..."
It had only been a few seconds, but even discombobulated like that, four seconds was enough to give me a clear view of a rolling field, a killing field, a vast plain of human suffering, with strange creatures attending, four-dimensional things that hurt to remember. I could see how much Future needed to understand what I'd seen. So I started trying to describe it. The sounds of the dying, terrible machine noises slick with blood. I told him about the rending machines lined with parts filled with that violet light. I told him about the horizon that seemed too sharp, that made my fillings hurt when I looked directly at it.
And when I finished, when I'd spent every observed detail, I realized how much I needed to describe it, to give name to that maddens, that random awful impossibility.
"What was that place?"
"I can't tell you that."
"That's no fair. I told you everything."
"You did, and in impressive detail. You are a born reporter. You notice the right kinds of detail. In short, you're hired."
I wasn't sure I'd heard him right. "Hired for what?"
"I told you this was an interview."
"Yes... and I have a hundred questions to ask you. More, maybe, after what just happened."
For the first time, he smiled. Just a little, but it was enough to shock me.
"You misunderstood," he said. "You're being interviewed. For a job. And you passed."
"I have a job."
"Now you have a better one."
"I'm a prize-winning reporter at one of the best papers in the country. What job is better?"
"My official biographer."
I am not speechless often.
I waited for the punchline, but he just stood there looking at me expectantly.
"Okay, first help me up," I said, trying to buy myself time to answer, to process the question. Future pulled me to my feet easily, and I looked around. Families all over the Plaza were huddled together, still trying to understand what had just happened, looking over at us, afraid to approach.
"If I do that, will you answer any question I ask you?"
"But you'll answer most of them."
"I'll tell you stories. And starting now, you'll travel with me. You handled that very well."
"But just the once."
"I have a job."
"You mentioned that. If you're worried about money, don't be. How does a million a year sound?"
"Insane. It sounds absolutely mad. This whole thing does."
"Then you'll do it."
"I didn't say that."
"How can you resist?"
"... I can't." I knew he was right. I do what I do searching for good stories to tell. And here was this mythological figure offering me his story to tell.
"Yes. I'll do it."
"Of course you will."
"When do I start?"
"How soon can you move into my building downtown?"
"That is the worst letter of resignation I've ever read."
"It's a great last story and you know it. It's all yours."
"You can't quit."
"Of course I can."
"Okay, then, please don't quit even though you can."
"Run the story, Artie. I'm sure I'll stay in touch."
"No, you won't. It's okay. I wouldn't either."
That was a week ago. Now I'm sitting in a new apartment, an embarrassingly nice suite on one of the top floors of Commander Future's personal downtown high-rise. I'm putting those final touches on this first piece of his story.
And I am excited, yes. I've spent my career telling trivial stories about trivial people, and making it all seem terribly important. Now, for the first time, I've got an important story to tell. His story. The biggest story there is.
I sincerely hope I stay alive long enough to do so.
Triumph City, NY