Table Fiction: High Impact Heroics, the Backstory: Gilbert “CryptoHertz” Philips

Have you been reading the High Impact Heroics Adventure Log? Wonder what got the team together, or why their secret base is under a game store? Well, this story won’t actually answer either of those questions. However, you can get an in-depth look into how Gilbert Philips became CryptoHertz, the Beacon and erstwhile team leader. Confused? So am I, and I wrote the thing! The High Impact Heroics Prologue should give you some background, or if you’re already familiar you can jog your memory with the most recent edition!

It happened again. October was the time for first midterms at Halcyon City High School #5, and Gil Philips was, for the moment, given a brief respite from slinking awkwardly through his junior year. Trigonometry was shaping up to be his best subject so far, and the facility with which the answers flowed from his pencil stood in stark contrast to how much mental effort it took to be in the halls, in the cafeteria, anywhere he felt like people were seeing him, judging him. Of course, no one was actually looking at or paying attention to Gil Philips. That kind of made it worse.

Math was always a good subject for Gil, but this year he felt like he was rising to the challenge. With triangles, everything fell into place. He’d be ready for the analysis portion later in the year, but for now it felt good to really crush something. He walked up and turned the test in about 30 minutes early. But that’s when it happened. The eyes. His classmates, judging him. Everyone was clearly looking at the nerd who finished early. Clearly, right? The nape of his neck felt warm. And then, suddenly, people…were looking at him. He had been standing bolt upright for almost five minutes, unaware of the passage of time. Mr. Hendricks, the math teacher, stood up from his desk and helped Gil gather his bag.

“It’s last period, Gil. Why don’t you just leave early. I trust you.” He gave a sad, yet knowing smile. Gil looked around once more. His classmates were once again focusing on their tests. Only Emma, his one friend in the class, had given him more than a few seconds of thought. Gil scurried out of the room.

He couldn’t go home, not yet. If he didn’t tell his parents what happened they’d think he cut class. If he did, he’d get more worried coos from his mother and suggestions that he see a therapist. Was that really that bad? He didn’t know, but he was weird enough. Being the scrawny bookish one in a school full of aspiring supers was bad enough, if word got out he was seeing a shrink he’d probably just have to curl up into a ball and disappear. No, there was a better place to go: Arasaka Base. Arasaka Base was a gaming store about halfway between the subdivision Gil lived in and the high school. It was on a corner and had its own little parking lot, and Gil was able to get a space this time since school wasn’t out yet. Walking into the store like it was his living room, he grabbed a Mountain Dew and curled up in one of the reading chairs in the back corner with a notebook, a rulebook, and a couple dice.

“Philips, you’re distinctly early,” he heard. Chase, the proprietor, put down the book he was reading and shot a suspicious glance towards the reading chairs. His long grey ponytail was thrown to one side of his head, spilling out from a hooded sweatshirt with some metal band on it.

“I finished a math test early,” Gil responded, not even looking up from the rulebook he was scrutinizing. Chase let out a low chuckle.

“Think fast, Philips,” he said. Gil looked up just in time to see a bag of chips hit him squarely in the nose. “I still think you’re cutting gym class with that coordination. Not that I blame you.” Chase sat back down and chuckled one more time. Gil could take some teasing, and Chase was a good guy, even if his sense of humor was a little weird. He was more worried about what people weren’t telling him, about what was happening behind his back. High schoolers are cruel, Gil knew that all too well. Here, though, there was no one to bother him. One younger kid was perusing the minis selection, but other than him and Chase, Gil was in his own little corner, by himself.

At least until Emma came in.

Emma didn’t come to Arasaka Base all that often, and when she did it was usually with Gil. She dabbled in gaming; Gil had once run a solo game for her and she enjoyed it, but she never opted to join any of the gaming groups he tried to run. Today, though, instead of looking at dice, comics, or the “new arrivals” section, she ran right towards Gil at the back. She hopped onto the armrest of the reading chair and put her arm around his shoulders.

“Are you all right?” She asked. He squirmed a little under her arm.

“Yeah! Yeah, nothing’s wrong.”

“I mean it. You totally froze up in class. Was the test too much?”

“Test was fine! Test was easy. Just…just feeling like a know-it-all again.”

“Hey, some people like know-it-alls.” She squeezed his shoulder. Emma and Gil had been friends since elementary school, being together in math team and honor society and all the advanced classes. She had gotten really physical this year, though. Gil didn’t really get it, but he took it in stride. She was his closest friend, after all, as well as a fellow nerd. He was glad they were sticking together, even as they were both growing into their own weirdness. Suddenly Gil felt a vibration in his pocket, and went for his phone. It was a text message.

“You got a package sweetie we left it on the bed xoxo Mom”

Gil did not understand why his Mom still signed her texts. Emma looked over his shoulder and giggled, clearly she didn’t understand either.

“So after you go home and get your package, want to come over and watch a movie?” Emma asked.

“I don’t know,” Gil said. “Feeling like having some time to myself to zone out, and…uh…” Gil had looked towards the entrance to the shop, where something amazing and horrible had just happened. Morgan Teller had just walked in the door.

Gil was a good kid. He studied hard, listened to his parents, and always tried to be in bed at a reasonable hour. He wasn’t sure, but definitely thought that Morgan Teller did none of these things. And while some of the shiftier kids at Halcyon City High School #5 seemed like losers, Morgan was deftly, smoothly, and unbearably cool. Gil had never seen them in Arasaka Base before.

“You. Have Got. To be Kidding Me!” Emma hissed. “Morgan the Envy Enby is here? Why?”

“Uh…I don’t think anyone actually calls them that,” Gil said.

“How would you know? Not like you actually talk to anyone about it!” There was a brief pause and then Emma’s eyes went wide as she realized what she said. Gil turned away from her, just to notice Morgan walking towards them. His heart raced a little. Their hand brushed Gil’s hairline and his ear. He could feel his blood rush. Morgan produced a quarter in the palm of their hand.

“Got to clean your ears out better, man!” Morgan’s voice was a male tenor, high but not shrill. Gil was not expecting the magic trick, which further amplified the fact that he was not expecting to see Morgan at all.

“Cat got your tongue?” Morgan continued. “I guess we don’t talk much, all told. We are in the same history class, though, right?”

“Uh…yeah,” Gil stammered. Morgan turned to Emma.

“Can Gil and I talk for just a sec? I promise I’ll give him back in the condition I borrowed him.” Emma developed a facial expression, akin to a deer in headlights or any number of ungulate cliches that Gil did not know. But she stepped away, to loiter by the counter. Gil still wasn’t sure what to say.

“Gil, can I tell you something weird?” All right. This was it. Something was about to happen. Was he overthinking things? Was this real? Wait, did this make him gay? Gil was unprepared for basically everything.

“OK.”

“Cool. So, I know that you’re pretty smart, though I think we’ve talked like once before. Anyway, you’ve, um, come up in conversation.”

“About what?”

“Uh, can I not tell you that yet? The weird part is, I was reading my tarot while I was cutting chemistry and it totally looked like you came up there too! I decided it couldn’t be a coincidence.”

“…Tarot?”

“Don’t worry about it. Anyways, can I ask you something totally random? Have you gotten any unsolicited packages recently?” Come to think of it, Gil wasn’t expecting a package. The text from his Mom suddenly took on an ominous quality.

“…why?”

“Well, let me put it this way. The tarot said I’d be led into battle by a man of numbers. You’re definitely male all of the time, and apparently you killed a trig exam recently, so it seemed that you were a likely candidate, especially since there’s a rumor circulating.”

“…rumor?”

“Don’t worry about it. Look, there’s a rumor floating around about fishy stuff going on around here. Go home and open that package, and then call me, I think we can figure something out.” Morgan produced Gil’s cell phone, entered their number, and handed it back.

“Don’t worry too much about the sleight of hand. My Dad…is a magician. Anyways…hopefully call me soon? You seem all right, even if you don’t talk much.” Morgan gave Gil a quick shoulder squeeze and then headed out of the store. Emma was still by the counter, and looked like she would literally boil. Gil suddenly and acutely got it. With triangles, everything fell into place.

Emma declined Gil’s offer of a ride home. No matter, he was a man with a mission now. He parked the minivan he borrowed from his Mom in the driveway and ran inside, grabbing the package from next to the mail basket and taking the stairs three at a time up to his room. The box was addressed to him on a simple typed label…the return address was an anonymous suite in the High Impact Biomedical Tower downtown. Strange, but with a building that large not too consequential. He ripped open the paper wrapping, tore the tape off the box and laid the contents on the bed. There were three components, each menacingly surgical in their construction. Additionally, there was a small slip of paper. He opened the slip.

“Attach coif around neck. Don gauntlets on both hands. To initiate, ball each fist and squeeze twice simultaneously. Process will take 15 minutes.” This was strange. Beyond strange, actually. But Morgan had said he’d get an unsolicited package. Besides, they couldn’t just ship out things that would kill you, right? Follow the instructions, everything would be fine. And after whatever this ‘process’ was, he could call Morgan again. Good enough. The coif was heavy, but Gil was able to lift it over his head and onto his neck without much trouble. Once it clicked into place, it rested snugly but fairly comfortably on his shoulders. So far, so good. Next, the gauntlets. The bulky items fit over his hands without much trouble. They were a little loose, actually, but that wasn’t surprising considering how slight of frame Gil was. He balled his fists, like the instructions said. In an instant, the gauntlets shrunk to conform to his hands. Whoa. Well, everything seemed in place now. He squeezed his fists twice, and didn’t even have time to relax his muscles before two large needles plunged into his arms at each wrist. Gil blacked out.

Fifteen minutes later, Gil awoke. His head was spinning, and it took him longer than he expected to realize that he had fallen out of his seat on the bed and was sprawled on the floor. The coif and gauntlets were completely gone, but left behind some strange feelings in his hands and neck, like there was metal under his skin. He experimentally reached up to his neck right above his shoulder blades, and quickly found the interface jack. Something was very, very different. He yelped upon feeling the metal sitting level with his skin, and backed himself into the corner between the foot of his bed and the wall. There were afterimages across his vision, blurry bright spots. At least that’s what he thought they were. As the rest of the heat he felt under his skin subsided, he tried to focus his eyes on the afterimages. Something startling came into view.

“Arasaka Combat Cybernetics System v1.33. Booting…please initiate config process.”

This was new. Wait. New wasn’t even the right word. This was…this was completely nuts. He groped for his phone, and through the haze of what was apparently a display on his eyes, dialed Morgan’s number.

“Oh hey, Gil! What was in the package?”

“Uh…some sort of combat cybernetics suite.”

“Cool! What are you going to do, take it to a clinic or something?”

“Um…well, there were instructions…”

“Wait. You took military hardware out of a package addressed to you and installed it on yourself? Was it from someone you knew?”

“…no…”

“Man, you’re hardcore! I want to check this out. Actually, this is perfect. Can you sneak out tonight? There’s a place I really want to scope out, and you can totally help.”

“Um, well…I guess? I still need to figure out how to configure this stuff.”

“Meet me back at the gaming store! We’ll use Google and a healthy dose of trial and error!” Morgan hung up. Gil breathed deeply. On one hand, he had no idea what he just did. Or why, really. On the other, Morgan just asked him on a…mission? A caper? Something. It sounded dangerous. It sounded like just what he wanted, really. Be a hero, go on your mission, no one is going to stare at you in math class anymore. And you get to do it with Morgan Teller, who transcends even gender itself. Win. Win. Now, Gil just needed to figure out how to sneak out of the house. Honestly, he had never done that before.

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