Chapter 2

Hector Rookman sat down on his cot and stared at the blank white wall of his cell. As of now, he didn’t have a roommate. His roommate had been among the four people who tried to jump him, and he had been forced to defend himself, so his roommate was now in the hospital ward along with the other attackers. Hector didn’t know what it was about being rich that made inmates want to kill him, but he was alright with it. He preferred to be alone.

When he was among the richest people in the world, he had always kept his private life as it should be… Private. So the inmates had no idea that the time he wasn’t spending working or sleeping, he spent practicing various martial arts. It had started as a calming method for his PTSD. When he got back from the army, he would have outs of paranoia and would oftentimes lose track of what was real and what wasn’t. That was five years ago, and he still suffered from minor bouts.

Now, martial arts were the opposite of a calming method for him. He needed something to get his heart racing, and to feel the heat of battle, practice or not. When he used a punching bag, it became an enemy to him and he would unleash upon it. One of his friends from the army suggested professional fighting to him, but Hector knew that once he starts, he can’t stop. The feeling was thrilling to him when he was beating on an inanimate object, but it terrified him that he could do that to a person.

The one person that Hector did not regret hurting was the would be kidnapped. He didn’t know why the child he saved did not step forward, but he was glad he saved her anyway. He still might not have been put into prison, but the judge seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about those who are rich. He was desperate not to be accused of being corrupt, or favoring those who had money.

Hector stood up and examined himself in the mirror above the sink in his cell. It was his ritual to study himself everyday. He looked into his own eyes and his blue eyes stared back. They were the eyes of a man who studied everything, who took in every detail. There was a tint of fear in them too. Not the panic of someone haunted by an outside source, but the eyes of a man afraid of himself.

After the eyes, his other significant feature was his size. He was six feet and three inches tall, and packed with muscle from his martial arts. His build was like a professional sprinter, with long, muscled legs and well-defined arms.

Despite his large frame, Hector did all that he could to avoid being recognized. His black hair was unkempt, even when he had a choice other than the orange jumpsuits that a prison provided, he just wore whatever would fit him. He never cared about the brand of clothing. He went to a private institutions where he had to wear uniforms throughout his youth, and joined the army where he wore almost exclusively camouflage. So, to worry about style always seemed irrelevant to him.

The barred cell door slid open and Officer David stood outside. He regarded Hector wearily. He hadn’t been part of the group to pull Hector off his attackers, but he had heard vivid descriptions of the former billionaire having to practically be pried off the last conscious aggressor.

“Rookman,” Officer David began, “you have a visitor.”

Curiosity pricked Hector. The guards had been instructed to not let in any more reporters wanting an exclusive with him, so that meant this visit would probably be personal. But Hector wasn’t close to anyone.

Officer David lead Hector into the general meeting room, and indicated to a round table. Sitting on the opposite side of the table was two men that Hector had never seen before. One man was about five and a half feet tall, with hair gelled to look like an actor’s on the red carpet, and an arrogant-looking face.

The man beside him was built like a scarecrow. He was almost as tall as Hector, but he was lanky, with a balding head, and glasses that loosely fit on his face. There wasn’t an ounce of muscle on him.

The shorter man stood up and grinned maniacally. “Mr. Rookman,” he proclaimed, “Thaddeus Chesterton.” and he extended his hand, and awkwardly pulled it back when he realized that Hector was in handcuffs.

Thaddeus clearly knew who Hector was, so he didn’t bother introducing himself. However, Thaddeus was looking at him expectantly, as if he expected Hector to be excited by the mere sight of him.

“Does my name mean anything to you, Mr. Rookman?” Thaddeus persisted.

Hector shrugged, “it sounds like a made up name,” he responded. Thaddeus’s smile that seemed to be welded onto his face wavered for a moment. Hector realized that he had struck a nerve. He did it on purpose, Thaddeus was far too confident for Hector’s liking, so he just wanted to put him in his place.

Thaddeus was back to smiling again. He would never forget how Hector had insulted his perfect name, that was made up but it certainly did not sound like it. But, however angry he was, he needed Hector, so he kept his charm going.

Thaddeus began, “I have something for you Mr. Rookman. I have an interesting opportunity. Have you ever dreamed of being an actor?”

Hector thought he knew where this was going. “I’m not going to give you the rights to make a movie about me.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it, Mr. Rookman. What I want from you is for you to make my next story. You see, I write novels, about superheroes. But I seem to have lost my touch, that’s where you come in.”

Hector had to admit, he was totally lost, which didn’t happen very often. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing much, really. Just what you are best at. React. Adapt to an environment around you. What I’m going to do is introduce you into a new world. And what I want you to do is destroy it.”

Hector was still totally confused. He had no idea what this author wanted, but he was a patient man, so he decided to let Thaddeus drone on.

“I’m not making myself clear. Are you a superhero fan? Basically what I want you to do is go into a Superman movie, and destroy the Justice League.”

“If I did agree to this,” Hector began, “how would you get me into this world?”

Thaddeus indicated to the lanky man who had been sitting quietly during this entire conversation. “That’s where my friend, Doctor Truman, comes in.”

Doctor Truman stood up. Despite his ungangly appearance, he spoke with the confidence of a gambler with weighted dice. “As you know, a couple of years ago, it was leaked that the Central Intelligence Agency had neurological wave interpretation machines, or mind readers. As of now, they are quite rare. The less known fact is that not only is there the technology to read the mind, but we can  read to the mind. We can put in thoughts or images.”

Hector finally understood. “You’re going to brainwash me.”

“In a sense, yes. But not for any cynical reason, and there should be no lasting effects.” In reality, you will be strapped in a chair the entire time, but in your mind, you will be in a whole new world. There has been extensive research on this, it is completely safe.”

“No,” said Hector, “why would I ever agree to this?”

Thaddeus spoke up, “I’ve done research on you, Mr. Rookman. As a child, you were frequently getting into trouble for fighting other children who were oftentimes bigger and older than you. As soon as you were eligible, you joined the army. You quickly moved up rank until you were a sergeant, maybe too quickly for your liking. Because you left the army as soon as you could and invented whole new security systems and became an entrepreneur and one of the richest people in the world. However, throughout this time you picked up martial arts. I know that you are a private man, but judging from the rest of your accomplishments, I’d be willing to wager that you are quite good. When you were in prison, you took on four prisoners, who I’m told were not small men. A little bit later, you hacked your way out of this place with a smartphone only to be caught a little bit later. I know you are a smart man, Mr. Rookman, I know you could’ve easily hidden away anyplace in the world if that was your intent. But it wasn’t. You just wanted to see if you could break out. You’re always craving to fight, more than that, you crave a challenge, and there is nothing in the world that can challenge someone like you.”

Hector was silent. However obnoxious this man’s demeanor was, he was not stupid, and more importantly, he was not wrong.

“Why,” asked Hector, “I understand that you want an original story, but if I destroy this world of yours, you will lose your series which by the sound of it, is still making you money”

Thaddeus stared passively at Hector and asked suddenly,  “How old do you thing I am, Mr. Rookman?”

“Judging from the obvious extensive work you’ve done in order to look young, I’d guess mid-fifties, probably fifty-four,” Hector replied.

Thaddeus wanted to curse. He turned fifty-four three weeks ago. Not that his birthday was something he celebrated, why would he celebrate being one year closer to dying?

“Exactly right, Mr. Rookman,” Thaddeus admitted,  “and I’m sure that a man with your economic background has realized that money is not everything. This world that I have created is beginning to take a toll on me. I was the one who started it, and I want to be the one to end it. But with a repertoire of iconic characters that I have created, I cannot just stop writing. I need them to go out with a bang, not with a whimper.”

Thaddeus continued, “all that I am offering to you, is a chance. A chance for you to be the Alexander the Great, of a fictional world with zero consequences.”

Hector continued to be silent. He was thinking of all the negative consequences that agreeing to this proposal could lead to, but the prospect of a challenge excited him more than he could bear to admit.

“Yes,” said Hector, “I’ll do it.”


Frame of Mind


Thaddeus Chesterton looked angrily at the reviews of his latest book. “Wholly unoriginal, another stereotypical villain who’s ultimate plan is world domination,” said one reviewer. While another reviewer stated, “The man who originally brought non-graphic superhero novels to the mainstream has officially run out of ideas.” The most infuriating of the reviews read, “John Smith, A.KA Thaddeus Chesterton, was once thought to be our generation’s Stan Lee. Now, he’s looking like the George Lucas of superheroes. He started off with greatness, now he’s just milking each hero for all they’re worth, which isn’t much anymore.”

Thaddeus’s mind was a volcano of swirling lava. It wasn’t just the review that made him so rage-filled. It was the fact that the reviewer had used his birth name, John Smith. Thaddeus hated that name, and he hated his parents for giving him that name. “If you want something ‘wholly unoriginal,’ then you should ask my parents for baby names,” he thought to himself angrily. John Smith. Not only had his parents been bland enough to have the name “Smith,” they didn’t even have the decency to come up with something better than “John.” John Smith is the name an undercover agent would reject because it would be too obvious. Thaddeus hated the name so much, that he changed it to Thaddeus Chesterton. Three syllables for each name, and original enough for people to take a second look, but not so ludicrous that people wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.

Thaddeus continued with the self-torture of reading critic after critic, almost none of them had nice things to say about his story. After what seemed like an eternity in the deepest pits of Hades, Thaddeus finally got to the last of the reviews. The story ahead taken him months to complete, only for it to be a critical, and commercial flop.

Thaddeus looked at the bottom of the web page. The top article was a news story about an escaped convict being caught again. Curious to read about someone who was somehow having a worse day than him, Thaddeus clicked on the article.

“Self-made Billionaire/Convicted Murderer Back in Prison.” The article told of a man named Hector Rookman, who made a fortune in building security systems for houses. After living high and mighty for years,  he was found in an alley way with bloody knuckles and a man beaten to death beside him. He claimed that the man he was trying to kidnap a child, and he had intervened, but with no evidence of a child ever being there, and no eye-witnesses, he was sentenced to forty years in prison

Two days after he had been sent to prison, Rookman had to be restrained when he put four inmates in the medical ward. Three months later, he escaped by overriding the security protocols of the prison with a smuggled in smartphone. He was caught three states away, when a particularly observant guard who worked at the prison happened to be vacationing in the same spot, and he called the police on him.

Rookman was an indisputable genius, and according to the article, had military and prison fighting experience. And he was either an insistent liar, unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or he was insane. In Thaddeus’s opinion, all of these were excellent qualities for what he needed. Thaddeus exited out of the article. He had a few phone calls to make.