Roger observed all of this without comment. He loved comic books, but Sean? Sean lived them. He, like certain other guys - the Zetamans and Dark Guardians of the world - didn't possess fantastic powers or superhuman skills, but they had adopted the costumes and the codenames just the same. Sean called himself Captain Amazing. He patrolled the streets of Elgin, Illinois. His mission, to combat crime wherever he encountered it. Which was not often, admittedly, but maybe that was just as well.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Roger said.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Sean said through the mask.
“I really do think what you do is important.”
Sean finished with his belt and looked his friend straight in the eye. “I know you do.”
Waiting for Sean in the garage was his black and silver 1996 Ducati M900 motorcycle. He rolled it out onto the driveway. His neighbor, Jim, the motorcycle enthusiast, had just come home from a ride on his Harley. Jim was in his late 30’s, with thinning, curly brown hair, a scraggly beard, and always a T-shirt stretched taut over his portly gut.
“Hey, Captain Amazing!” Jim called out.
“Evening, citizen!” Sean called back as he mounted his bike.
Jim was used to Sean pretending not to know him when in costume so he ignored it and continued. “Hey! Is that fuel line still leaking any?”
“No. No, it’s working quite well, thank you,” Sean said.
“Great! Okay, well, if you need me to look at it again, you just let me know, okay?”
“Yes, sir. Have a great evening!” Sean said before he revved up his bike.
Elgin, Illinois, was home to about 105,000 people and just one superhero. The bike patrol had become fairly routine – drive downtown by the Fox River, get on State St. and take that north to Big Timber Rd., back south down Route 25, and then loop back to downtown on Villa Street. It was a nice enough drive. Some nights he would stop by Beef Villa for a snack, but not tonight as he was broke again.
He slowed down before he reached Route 20 – he spotted two homeless men he knew walking on the side of the road. Sean pulled over on the shoulder of the road ahead of them and waited. “Hey, guys!” he called out.
The two men, both scruffy, dirty, and wearing heavy layers of clothing, came up to him. “Hi, Captain Amazing,” one of them said.
“Sam. John,” Sean said with a nod to each man. “Had any trouble today?”
Both men understood the question was about their panhandling activities, which had got them in trouble before. “No, we haven’t had any trouble,” Sam said.
“Well, there was the dollar store,” John said.
“Yeah,” Sam said, “we were at the dollar store – you know, the one down by the riverboat – and this black guy was hollering at us for stinking up the store this afternoon. Finally the manager shooed us out instead of the other guy. But we weren’t soliciting in there or anything. We really had some money to spend.”
“So you think you can do anything about that guy, Captain Amazing?” John asked.
“I’ll swing by the dollar store and ask if that might be a problem customer. Okay, guys?”
“Yeah, thanks Captain Amazing!” Sam shouted as Sean revved up his bike and pulled back out into traffic.
The dollar store had closed for the night by the time Sean reached it and he made a mental note to stop by in the morning. Everything looked quiet around the strip mall where the store was located. Sometimes there was gang activity for him to report, but not tonight. That meant he could move on to the fun part of the patrol that came after riding around – the patrolling on foot. This was the sneaky part because, technically, what he was going to do was trespassing and illegal, but if superheroes patrolled on rooftops in the comic books then by golly he was going to as well.
There was a fire escape in an alley just off of North Street that he could reach with a jump, pull himself up to, and then climb to the roof. He had done this a hundred times before, so it was no sweat. From that roof, he could cover four city blocks without leaving the roofs, though he did have to make some perilous jumps over narrow alleys along the way. Sure, it was dangerous – maybe even stupid – but it was exciting and made him feel more like a “real” comic book superhero than anything else that he did.
Sean had just hopped an alley at the end of Dexter Court to reach his second city block when he saw the Aurora. He followed local news religiously, both online and through the newspapers, but Sean had not followed many national or world news stories since the earthquake in Chile at the end of February. Still, he had flipped past coverage of the Aurora on TV all day today and had caught enough of it not to be completely surprised. It was first sighted in New Zealand and had spread over most of the world through the day. It was supposed to be some sort of trick of the light that scientists had not fully explained yet, but it was visible to some people and not to others and not visible all the time to anyone. This was the first time Sean had glimpsed it all day.
It was beautiful. The shifting string of bright green light was continuously moving and dropping trails of sparkling, twinkling lights straight down towards the Earth. The sparkles ran through several colors of the rainbow, but most of the time was green. The whole rooftop seemed to be bathed in its glow.
Sean ran to the west side of the rooftop and gazed out over the Fox River. The river too reflected the Aurora’s green glow, which was so bright that the colored lights of the riverboat casino seemed muted and dull. It took Sean’s breath away – but what happened next made his heart skip a beat.