My name is Jake Lumburger, and I'm a construction
worker. Been doing construction most of my life, now, starting in my teens, when my father was still in the business. Guess I'm more fitted to it now than I was then. Let's see.... I'm about eight foot eight, my weight hovers around one ton of muscle more solid than any bodybuilder's, and I can loft five tons straight up without breaking a sweat. Oh, I wasn't always like this. Just a few years ago, I was a regular guy. Well, still a pretty big guy, I've always been that, but not anything to turn heads on the street. And then the accident
Guess you'll want to be hearing about that. Everybody does. Funny thing is, I don't really remember it. I remember things going on around it, that it was a Thursday, early in the summertime, that Chess Phillips called in sick (some of us knew that really he was meeting a lawyer cause his wife had filed for divorce), but anyway, since Chess was out we had this new guy, Olafsun, working the crane. Me and my big brother Robbie were up on the fourth floor, just another couple of riveters. The beam we were working was supposed to be bolt-secured, but the bolts were substandard. Any other day, if the new guy had hoisted that beam too fast, it would've given us bit of a rumble. But instead, the girder snapped free of its bolts, pitching me against the next vertical support and knocking my ass out cold. Robbie lunged after me and we both went off the edge.
Halfway down (so they tell me), my fall was caught by the safety harness. But only for a few seconds -- the time it took for that free girder to land on the one below it at an odd angle. It bounced precariously while people panicked and hollered and ran, and then tipped toward me. Hit me across the small of the back, and thank the stars it snapped my harness, or the harness itself might've sliced me in two. As my brother watched, dangling helplessly in his own harness, I fell the rest of the way, unconscious, with that girder riding my back. Hitting the ground, it crushed me from the waist down.
I regained some hazy semblance of consciousness
in the hospital-- could've been hours later, could've been days. I don't know. I heard voices calling me a goner, Robbie arguing angrily with them. And then I heard one voice of disagreement: "No. I can save him." One of those plastic breathing things went over my face, and that was my last moment of consciousness for many, many months.
And then, by the time I found out what I had become, there was no going back.
I dreamt for a long time. I dreamt of muffled voices speaking, things like "Nurse, adjust the keratin pumps to the ambient temperature of the regeneration chamber," and "increase the lower extremities protoplasmic serum flow to 3.35 units per hour."
And then, one day, my eyes fluttered open, and I was aware. When I woke I was encased in some sort of warm, bubbly gel in a large tube, a strange breathing apparatus over my mouth, and I remember a woman shouting for the doctor, telling him I was moving. That was Lulu, the main nurse. And soon enough, a white-frocked rigid-looking man showed up, checked a bunch of machine readouts, and then climbed up a step to open a hatch in the tube.
"Can you hear me, Mr. Lumburger?
" he asked me, "I am Doctor Martin Greer. We've saved you, Mr. Lumburger. We've saved your life."
I nodded my understanding, then dozed off for a few more hours. When I woke again, I found that I had been extracted from the gel, the tube lifted away to leave me seated unsteadily on a big white table at the end of a long hall. I could tell right then that something was very, very different. It seemed like the world had shrunk, like the doctor and the nurse and all of the various pieces of equipment were somehow, weirdly small. I looked at my hands. They didn't look like mine. They seemed enormous and wide and thick and leathery, and I was woozy and uncertain, listening to the doctor explain.
He had begun talking before I was fully paying attention, and now it was just flowing out of him-- "....and the subprocesses of the genetic algorithm which has rebuilt every part of you, not only repairing the damage but rebuilding you to superhuman proportions. In addition, thanks to an army of reconstructive nanobots introducing materials to supply this new algorithm, your bones are now interwoven with a carbon fiber and titanium mesh at the molecular level. Your muscle density had been increased more than ten times over. Your skin is tougher than a rhinoceros hide, and quite a bit thicker -- bulletproof, at small calibers."
Now he had my attention. I poked myself in the side. Though the spot was not covered by any clothing, I could barely feel anything, like I was wearing ten layers of overcoats. I rubbed my fingers against my thumb. The sensation was definitely diminished.
"Wait, wait," I interrupted, surprised again by a new, gravelly depth to my voice. "What happened? How long was I out? Am I...." I cocked my head to the side, "bigger?"
"Can you stand, Mr. Lumburger?"
I found, after a moment of unsteadiness, that I could. Now there was no question, either these people were in miniature or I'd become a giant.
"The process took eight months, Mr. Lumburger -- that's one month faster than it takes nature to make a baby starting from a single cell. Ah, but with you, we had so much more to work with." The doctor gestured towards one wall. "There's a mirror over there, if you'd like to see what we've made of you."
I looked. And I saw a monstrosity. A big joke, even. I recognized the outlines of my face, but it was bigger, wider, unusually round. And even my face looked.... muscular; my body looked like some steroid-pumping gym nut had gone way too far. My hair was gone, from my whole body it seemed, except for some bushy sand-colored eyebrows, and my skin had a ruddy sandstone look to it.
"I'm a freak...." I thought I had whispered it to myself, but it resonated through the hall.
"You are no freak, Mr. Lumburger, you are a miracle
of modern technology. Let me show you something, do you see that eye chart
down there, at the end of the hall?"
I glanced in that direction. The hall was long, and the chart was a dot at the far end. But a funny thing happened as I stared at it -- it suddenly seemed like it zoomed towards me, like I was looking through binoculars, and I could read even the tiny letters at the bottom line clearly. "Telescopic vision," Greer explained, "and microscopic as well -- a range of vision, actually, which incorporates and then exceeds the most powerful capacities found in nature."
As I turned back to the doctor, I saw myself in the mirror. I saw my eyes bulging impossibly, oblong tubes jutting three inches out of their sockets. I looked like something I would run from if I could. I turned back to the doctor. "Why did you do this to me?"
"We saved your life, Mr. Lumburger, we did what was necessary--"
"Bullshit," I snapped "You must've made me smarter to, because it occurs to me that if you could do this, then you could've saved me without turning me into-- into this
. No, this wasn't for my sake, this was for your own.... experiment. To play god
The doctor hesitated for a moment, and then spoke, earnestly. "Mr. Lumburger, this entire city has been in a downward spiral for years. Street gangs run the worst neighborhoods, the police are outgunned, and corruption in their ranks is constant. We need a hero. A superhero. Someone who can fight back, for all
"Well I wish you'd asked me first, 'cause I'd have told you then, not interested. I'm no hero
. I'm a construction worker--and a damn good one--and that's it. Now, which way is out?"
"Out? But you're no normal man anymore. Where will you go?"
I shrugged. "Back to my job."
Just walking down the street I attracted a crowd. People gasped and pointed. Kids looked up in awe. It didn't help that my footsteps could be heard a block away, until I learned to tread a bit more softly. But I got used to it after a while. I ignored it. As I walked, I wondered over that last question the doctor had asked.
I knew I wouldn't be able fit through normal doorways without a lot of ducking and squeezing, and more often than not breaking things. The crowd I attracted had somehow led to a news crew, one guy walking backward with a camera pointed at me while another peppered me with questions. My answers were few and short. But then I heard a familiar engine -- Robbie's 1967 Ford Thunderbird
four door, that we had lovingly restored over two summers of beer
and trash talking
"Buckets o' mud, Jake, they sure did a number on you-- Doc didn't tell me you were gonna be this.... big."
I figured Robbie must've been sweet-talked into signing off on something. Hell, he's my big brother, he'd have figured it was his job to save me, no matter the cost. I knew this wasn't his fault.
I cracked my enormous set of knuckles, and fired back, "how about a ride, big bro?"
"You kidding? The shape you're in, you might scratch my paint!!"
That's the moment, I think, when I knew I'd get through this. My big bro was still my big bro. My friends from work, well, thankfully some of 'em were as stubborn as I was, and refused to treat me any differently either. They swung by a little while later to give me a lift in the back of a pickup truck. They packed up my second-story apartment for me -- while I stood on the curb on my tiptoes and peered in through the window. I ended up renting an open duplex loft, just so I had a place where I could stand up. It wasn't the best part of town, but it's not like I was about to get mugged or anything. Chess Phillips, he was still single, and he moved in, living on the second floor, where I couldn't go anyway or I'd bust right through the wooden planks of the staircase. He did the cooking (and brother was I hungry, all the time it turned out).
Guess I ought to have expected that it would damn near impossible to find clothes or shoes (not that I needed anything to protect my feet anymore), and I wasn't looking for charity, although as soon as word got out about me, some companies wanted to make me their mascot. Not interested.
Getting my job back was a bit of a hassle. Turns out that while I was sleeping, there'd been a quick settlement for my injuries and lost time on the job. But since I was clearly "able to work" after my time in the tube, a forward-looking chunk of that was scratched. But at least the medical bills for my few days in the hospital were covered, and my time under Doctor Greer's treatment cost me nothing. But the foreman didn't want to bring me back because -- get this -- safety code requires all men on the job to wear a helmet, and there just wasn't one would fit me anymore.
"A helmet?" I asked him, "in case somethin' like this happens?" I picked up a two by four with both hands and cracked it in right two over my head. I didn't even feel it. Robbie came by with a wheelbarrow and suggested I try using that as a hat. The guys laughed. I was back. And six months back on the job, I even got a big fat raise -- only fair, since I was doing the grunt work of five guys.
The day after that, I got a surprise at home. Nurse Lulu visited, with a pot of chicken soup. Good for the soul, so they tell. I was leery, but she assured me that Greer hadn't sent her. She was concerned about me, how I was doing. I was philosophical. "There's the good and the bad in everything, right? Look," I showed off a bit, "one of the guys at work made me a remote control
big enough to work with my hands." And as for the doctor, she told me he hadn't uttered a word about me since I walked out, just threw himself back into his work. He had a new "test subject" a biker named Rocko who'd wrecked pretty bad, but was conscious enough to agree to the whole "hero" business before going in the tube. "Well," I shrugged, "good for him."
And then one day, as I was laying sheets of aluminum up against a sidewall for a highrise going up in midtown, a fast-moving cinder block shattered against the back of my head. It actually smarted a bit. I turned to look, and for the first time in all that time, I saw a guy who was bigger than me. He looked something like me, but was easily ten feet tall, and wider, rougher, rockier on the outside. And unlike my comparatively small and flat-laid ears, his were tall and pointed. I guess Greer had worked on enhancing sound perception with this one.
"Jake Lumberger," he called out, half laughing, half snarling. "I've heard a lot about you. And now it's time to end all that talk. There's a new top dog in this town."
"You must be Rocko. Listen, man, I'm not in this 'hero' business. And I don't want to fight you."
"Fight? I'm not here to fight you, I'm here to kill
you. There won't be any fighting about it." He was walking in sort of an arc, moving to the side, but getting closer to where I was. I figured he was about fifty feet away, and when he got to about thirty, he could reach me with one big leap. I started moving in my own arc the opposite way, backing away slowly as I went.
"Let's see now, my ex-wife, her new boyfriend, those two cops.... you'll be the fifth person I kill today. Gotta tell you, I like this new look." His grin made me sick -- and it made me realize that I had to stop this guy. Maybe he'd gone nuts in the tube. Maybe he was already that way when he went in, and now was just in a body that let him do something about it, but he wouldn't stop now. Unless I stopped him.
"Oh, I forgot," Rocko added, "Doctor Greer. You'll be the sixth, unless he survived that little accident. I'll have to go back and make sure."
At that, I grabbed a barrel full of six-foot lengths of rebar and hurled it at him, hard as I could. I saw his fist come forward and pieces of the barrel and everything in it went flying in every direction. Then he was running at me, leaping, that big fist caught me under the chin, sending me skidding across the ground. I jumped up and tried to catch him coming at me, but he was faster, swept my legs out, then grabbed me and threw me right through the wall of the on-site trailer.
I was dazed, and I knew he had the better of me. He wasn't even hurrying over, just slowly stalking towards me, toying with me. A wrench came out of nowhere and hit him on the head -- it was Robbie and some of the guys, throwing tools, rebar, whatever they could get their hands on. Rocko was clearly annoyed, and I realized, he could just kill them all. An I-beam was swinging towards him from behind--Chess Phillips was in the crane--but Rocko heard it coming. He turned and dodged it, and as it swung back he pushed off and jumped on the I-beam, snatching the cable. The momentum cause the entire thing to swing back into the crane too hard to stop, and Rocko jumped off just before it hit. The cabin of the crane was shattered. I couldn't see whether Chess was still in it.
Rocko turned back to me. "Guess you'll be the seventh." By now I was on my feet, and I had to think fast. He'd heard the I-beam coming, so he must have damn good hearing.... not exactly something you can turn off right away. "Sirens!!" I yelled out to the guys, "Sound everything!!"
My brother slammed on the emergency siren and the air filled with its shrill scream. Rocko winced and covered his ears, good. But he looked more angry than hurt. This wouldn't distract him for long. I grabbed a length of rebar and ran at him, swinging for the knee. No matter how big a guy is, you can make him a lot smaller by taking out his legs. He was fast enough to try to step away from the swing, but it still dinged him. He probably figured I was going to stop and come back after him, but I knew that was a losing proposition. I kept running, and he came right after me. He was faster than me. And he was bigger.... so I had to use that to my advantage. And then I saw it-- an alleyway between two big brick apartment buildings. It would be a tight fit for me, but tighter for him, maybe too tight. I dashed into the alley, the walls scraping my arms as I pounded my way through. I glanced back to see him trying to climb up the walls, to the roof, where he'd be able to get a better pace again, but by then I was bursting out the other end, and knew just where to go next. I turned towards the city park, not more than a few blocks away, which had buildings on both sides that I knew very well, from having worked on them. One of them was a big glass tower, which had an especially peculiar reflective effect, which I'd noticed during lunch one day, and which just might help me out today.
Rocko had seen the direction I was headed in, but by the time he got to the park, I was out of sight. But, like me, he had that telescopic vision-- and then he came out from between the big doric columns of the park pavilion, right where I'd had lunch every day when that glass tower across the street was going up. He spotted me, standing right in front of that big glass tower, the sun reflecting off of it like a torch.
"Is this your game, Lumburger? You think you can put me off standing in front of a shiny building?"
"Nope," I answered, and by the time he realized that he was only looking at my reflection--that I was standing right next to one of those doric columns, right in his blind spot
--I was already swinging that length of rebar down on one of his big, bulging eyes. See, that was one of the things that it took me quite a while to get used to, to get under control-- to be able to look at far away things without automatically going to the telescoping, and to bring the eyes back in quickly when they were sticking a few inches out. They tended to linger out there, and I wasn't even aware of it at first. And unlike the rest of my hide, those eyes weren't bulletproof. I'm sure they were made to withstand for more punishment than an eyeball can usually take, but not direct hit from six feet of rebar being swung by the second strongest guy in the city.
He stood there for a second, howling in anguish and grasping at the torn remnants of that eye dangling from the gaping socket, and then he leapt at me again. This fight wasn't over, but as long as I could circle to his blind side, I had an advantage. But he was still faster, anticipated this, swung around the other way and caught me with a punch below the ribs that had me sprawling on the ground again.
Next thing I know he was standing over me, his bloody face twisted in pure fury, and I figured he was about to pound me right to oblivion. But then I heard two things. One was a whistle being blown by my foreman, driving his truck up from around the pavilion. Rocko again covered his ears, so maybe he missed the second sound -- a familiar engine roar, as my brother drove up from behind, crashing that sweet Thunderbird into Rocko's legs.
My brother was the one who'd taught me to take out a guy's legs in a fight, mostly by doing it to me a dozen times or more when we were growing up. And, I don't care how big you think you are, if you weigh two tons, and you get hit from behind by a solidly built car weighing the same, you're going down. I don't know how badly hurt Rocko was, and I didn't wait to find out. As soon as he was flat on his back, I was on top of him, swinging that rebar over my head with both hands and driving it right through that open eye socket with a holler, down and in until I felt it bounce off the back of his skull.
I never took a life before, but I knew it was necessary. No second chance. He was still flailing his arms and grasping at me, maybe still alive, maybe doing some postmortem dance--my brother squeezed out of the car and tried to grab one of those arms, only to get pitched a good ten feet--but I kept pulling that rebar out and slamming it in until the body was limp. Then I stumbled back in an exhausted heap, covered in blood. Mostly Rocko's. My brother was on his feet by then, shaken up, but in one piece. For a moment, he seemed stunned into complete silence.
But then our eyes met, and let out a nervous laugh. "Well, damn, Jake. Yet again I have to save my little bro from the neighborhood bully." He looked over the wrecked Thunderbird. "At least now we know what we're doing this summer. Man, I hope there's no more where he came from."
That made me bolt to my feet. "Greer!!" I shouted, as I starting running towards the lab.
When I got there, the doctor was pinned under a cabinet that had been slammed down on his lower half, wheezing badly, nurse Lulu keeping pressure on a wound on his abdomen. I just stood there, not knowing what to do.
"As you can see I'm--" he coughed uncomfortably, "I'm dying, Mr. Lumburger. You were right. I ought not to have meddled with men's lives as I did
. I'm so very, very sorry."
I glanced around. There was a lot of damage, but it looked like the key pieces of the lab were still in place.
"You're not dying today, doc. Nurse Lulu, you know how to run all this stuff?"
Her mouth dropped open a bit, and then she hurriedly nodded. As it turns out, she had a PhD in biokinesiology, and was qualified to run the place herself -- she'd only taken this seemingly low-level job to be working on this cutting-edge project at all.
I tossed the cabinet aside and carried doctor Greer to the regeneration tube as Lulu made all the necessary preparations. The breathing apparatus went over his face, and tubes went into his arms, with drugs that would carry him off to sleep, for many months to come.
So that's it. That's the whole story of how I didn't become a superhero -- oh, and Chess Phillips was banged up, but he made it out fine too. Good deal, 'cause I couldn't get by nearly as well without a roomie. Robbie's Thunderbird got rebuilt, with more help from our friends, and now the city has its super-strong, super-smart hero, formerly known as Doctor Martin Greer -- he calls himself "G-Force" now -- running around foiling crimes and taking down villains. Okay, okay, and once in a blue moon, when the chips are really down, I lend a hand.