The waiting area wasn't at all what Chris Crawford expected. He had assumed a lot of stainless steel and strange technical marvels, like a command centre from a science fiction movie. However, this was apparently an old turn of the century transformer station. A lot of these old downtown buildings were deceptively swanky inside. Chris figured this would be prime real-estate for a bunch of hipster lofts or possibly the head office of a tech startup hoping to become the next Gobster. Instead, the old transformer station sat, seemingly untouched, at least at the street level, since its closure in the early 50's. Moon beams and street light combined to illuminate a column of dust swirling, lazily through the stale air. The receptionist, a woman possibly in her mid 60's early 70's exuded a stern, professional manner. Her hair, tightly wound in a grey streaked bun and massive shoulder pads were softly illuminated by a computer monitor and vintage desk lamp. She had ignored Chris since showing him where he could sit while he waited.
Whatever it was he had been expecting, he did expect there would be a lot waiting involved. After all, nobody expects to be able to waltz right in and meet the Pope, the Queen or the President without at least having to wait several hours in a stuffy lobby. So it's only reasonable that someone be expected to wait before meeting with freakin Superheroes! Sure, they're Canadian Superheroes but still!
Chris adjusted his itchy sweater, why did he have to where his itchiest sweater?
Of course Chris was biased, being a kid from Oshawa, but to him The Canadian Shield could stand toe to toe with any national hero team. Chris remembered the hand signed promotional poster he received from Cyr the Magnificent that day he visited his school. He had been in grade two 2, so probably seven or eight years old. Cyr, already an older man, with a healthy dose of grey hair at each temple and lines around the eyes from a lifetime of smiling, had been the result of genetic tinkering in the early 50's. It was the height of the cold war, a time when the Canadian government had less scruples about playing god. They modelled him after a genetic oddity, the turn of the century strongman Louis Cyr of the famous "la troupe Cyr."
"I can see you are a strong boy aren't you Christopher?" asked Cyr in his heavy Quebec accent, as he signed the poster.
My friend Christopher. Stay strong and true.
The young Chris, a half foot bigger than the other boys in his class, was too starstruck to reply. He nodded meekly.
"You use your strength to protect the week yes?"
Another meek nod as Cyr rolled the poster and tucked it under Chris' arm.
Cyr chuckled "Strong and silent eh? You're a good man Christopher"
Chris had often reflected on that moment. He believed it was a character defining incident that set him on a path of defending the bullied and... well, just generally trying to be a good guy. Of course, the news of Cyr's tragic death had struck him pretty hard.
Chris’ thoughts were interrupted by a single half ring which prompted the receptionist to grab the desk phone with machine-like precision.
"You want me to send in the next guy? ...Alright he'll be right in." She hung up the phone and turned to face Chris.
"They're ready to see you now Mr. Crawford. Please head through those doors and wait for the door on the left to slide open."
Chris headed through the narrow double swinging doors. A few steps to his left was what looked like a steel slab embedded into the wall. Chris couldn't imagine how such a ludicrously heavy-looking slab could simply open. He waited some more, eager to find out.
Eventually, the formerly seamless door split into small, concentric triangles that slid into one another like a camera iris. A man dressed as a non-descript animal stood before him. He looked like a mascot of from public high basketball team. The…mammal said nothing as he stepped through the door and exited through the lobby. His faux fur outfit, black flecked with grey, blended into the darkness beyond.
Chris adjusted his sweater and stepped through the high tech doorway.
The door slid closed and Chris could feel the stainless steel floor ascending, or perhaps he was descending for all he knew. There were no buttons or lights one would expect to find on a typical elevator. However, Chris was surprised to hear that familiar “ding” one hears when an elevator reaches its destination.
The door slid open to reveal an office ensconced in mahogany and velvet. It was the type of dark, yet cozy, old world decor you’d expect to find someone like Winston Churchill lounging in with a cigar. Instead, Chris found the remaining members of the Canadian Shield all seated behind a conference table. The room had a courtroom feel about it. Only there was no jury, no lawyers, only a panel of judges facing a single chair.
“Please have a seat.” said the authoritative voice of Johnny Canuck, with a slight gesture to the empty chair. In the flesh, Canuck was even more glorious than his image so prevalent in the media. It was easy to forget he was an actual being, the living embodiment of the "true north strong and free." Thinking objectively, the notion of entrusting the nations freedom to a rugged man in a flannel shirt and a woolen toque, seemed absurd. However, seeing Canuck in the flesh, there was no denying, the dude pulled it off. In reality, he was no less ridiculous than Lady Columbia, John Bull or Cossack Mamay.
Each team member began casually leafing through some official looking dockets, all except for Fighting Fox. She just looked at Chris with a subtle smile that Chris found difficult to interpret. He couldn't decide if it was meant to be pleasant or intimidating. Both effects were compounded by the fact that Chris had a serious crush on Fox since her first appearance in the media.
It's no secret that most supers were considered highly attractive by ordinary folk. You could probably chalk it up to a combination of self confidence and plain old natural selection. But Fox wasn't the typical curvy vixen you find among many of the more edgy super human groups. Rather, she had an abundance of that fiesty, fiery toughness that Chris was a real sucker for. It’s no wonder she modeled her persona around the enduring youthful courage of Terry Fox. Between tackling larger cases with the Shield, Fighting Fox was known to patrol the dark alleys of Toronto with that roller derby queen-turned super hero Sally Von Knuckles.
The Nor’Easter eventually broke the prolonged silence “It says here you’re the Christmas Sweater correct?”
“Yes sir Mr. Nor’Easter sir.”
“Would you mind explaining the story behind that persona? What does The Christmas Sweater mean exactly? Is it supposed to represent something?” asked the hero named after an east coast weather pattern.
“Well…you see sir I was dubbed The Christmas Sweater by the media after getting caught on tape. I was stopping a mugging and I happened to be leaving an office Christmas party at the time and I decided to wear this goofy Christmas sweater, well as a sort of gag really. The story sort of went viral and I’ve had people sending me these itchy Christmas sweaters ever since. I suppose it’s just the name I’m stuck with sir.”
“According to our records, you didn’t stop after busting a single mugging. It looks like you’ve been patrolling all over the G.T.A. ever since. Why do you do this?” asked Tekoomsē.
Legend has it that Tekoomsē, the “Panther Across the Sky” got his powers from the same comet that gave the original Shawnee Chief “Shooting Star” Tekoomsē his name.
Why did he do this? Surprisingly, Chris never really analysed it before. After that first incident, it just felt like the most natural thing in the world to dawn a gaudy Christmas sweater and patrol the GTA. Being forced to think about it, he had to admit how insane it all seemed. That is until he considered the alternatives, watching late night infomercials or perhaps even sleeping.
"Well I guess I don't want to waste my powers you know? I feel wasting my powers would be almost as bad as using them for evil...Know what I mean?"
Canuck responded with a reflective nod. King Grizzly made an approving grunt, that is, Chris hoped it was approving.
L’Acadien pressed her fingers into a steeple under her chin and began to speak in her thick French Canadian accent, "Yes...your powers, the footage we've seen of you in action can't possibly be explained by raw talent alone. So please explain how you acquired such powers."
There was a lot of speculation about the nature of L’Acadien and Cyr’s relationship. Were they simply co-workers? Were they lovers? Possibly siblings? It was all top secret of course, but Chris always felt there was something more about their relationship than simply teammates.
Chris hesitated a moment before answering, he wasn't sure how much of this story he wanted to tell.
"Well you know those energy drinks? Well I found a can one time at a Liquidation Outlet. It had that kind of writing on it that looked like it was from Russia or something. You know with the blocky capital letters that look like they're backwards?"`
“Yes you mean Cyrillic” said L’Acadien.
“Not really. Like it was from the Soviet Union. Like the kind of writing you'd see on a missile silo in a spy movie or something.”
“That writing is called Cyrillic. Please go on.”
“Well there was a price sticker on it that said ‘Energy Drink 2 for a dollar’. So I bought it. After drinking it I felt sorta strange. Suddenly everything seemed lighter. Everyone else seemed to move slower. I couldn't get tired anymore. If I wanted to, I could run a marathon at top speed without so much as a cramp. It was the best fifty cents I ever spent.”
Canuck, L’Acadien, Nor’Easter, Tekoomsē and Grizzly exchanged glances and whispers. The Fighting Fox continued her pleasant gaise, with the addition of a raised eyebrow.
Canuck broke the murmuring “And this energy drink, there were more of these cans at this Liquidation store?”
“...No. I went back afterwards to double check. I guess I bought the last one.” lied Chris.
The meeting ended pretty abruptly after that. Chris assumed it was because they knew he was lying. Maybe they didn't know. Technically, he didn't even lie. He did buy the last can of that energy drink...technically. Of course they knew, thought Chris, these people deal with international intelligence. The lady at the front desk said they'd be in touch, three nights later Chris had come to terms with the likelihood he'd never hear from anyone at The Canadian Shield again. At least he still had his powers, he could still patrol the s0treets and for the time being, he was still a hero.
It was time to sprinkle some Christmas warmth on these...crime ridden streets - he’d have to workshop that later.
A rat shuffled through the alley way below him, seemingly unimpressed by the brightly coloured superhero.
Suddenly a can bounced off the wall beyond the rat, causing it to scurry away. Chris's super powered heart skipped a beat. The following “Hiya Chris!” from directly behind his ear nearly caused his heart to explode.
Rapidly turning to face his adversary he uttered “What the F...fox?” The Fighting Fox responded with a casual wave.
“WHAT” Chris struggled to sound casual “what's up?”
“You wanna hang tonight? Things are pretty quiet with the team right now and Knuckles lost her babysitter. I thought maybe we could patrol together.”
“What you and me? I mean...yea sure. That's cool if you wanna...I mean, lets patrol.”
“Cool. Try and keep up.” said Fox as she reverse backflipped onto the dumpster behind her, followed by a front flip on to a convenience store roof. Her mettle leg softly tapped across the tar as she ran. Chris's accelerated super body did manage to keep up, but just barely. Everytime he thought he’d lost her, he’d catch a glimpse of intense gymnastics going on in the shadows. She led him onto a roof where he lost her behind a large chimney.
“Not bad Christmas. You gotta to keep pushing yourself on these routine patrols. It's easy to get lazy busting common crooks. You get all over confident and the next thing you know, the Chaos Brigade'll chump your sorry ass.”
“Who're the Chaos Brigade?”
“A bunch of supers gone rogue. They try and keep a low profile which is fine by us, as long the super community keeps each other in the loop, there's no reason to alert the masses. If you stay in the game long enough, you'll meet em sooner or later. When you do you'll be sure to call us eh Chris? Don't ever try and take em on your own. I mean these are the dudes that took out Cyr. If they can do that, they can take out any of us.”
Chris felt a sudden rush of anger at the thought of someone killing Cyr. A heavy silence followed.
“Hey Fox can ask you a question?”
“How did you get your powers?”
“I was in the hospital. Cancer had taken my leg, spread into my lungs and worked it's way all through my body. I was just coming to terms that I was a total goner when this doctor runs some tests and tells me I'm eligible to try this experimental drug. He warned me it was a long shot and it might end up killing me faster, but I didn't much care by that point. Next thing I know, I’m very much alive. They say I nearly didn’t survive the procedure, in fact so far, I’m the only one to survive it. So I’m cancer free and super powered, how’s that for a happy ending?“
“Do you ever worry...that some day you’ll lose your powers? You’ll wake up and just be ordinary again?”
“Not after everything I’ve been through. I’ll keep enjoying life whether it’s superpowered or not.” she said without hesitation. “Today is really a gift, I guess that’s why they call it the present you know?”
Chris was about to agree when he realised Fox was wearing a mocking grin. She gave him a good punch to the shoulder, it really hurt.
“Oww” Chris rubbed his shoulder “yea YOLO I guess. Carpe diem and all that.”
“Quam minimum credula postero. That’s the next line Christmas, it means you can’t trust tomorrow. I learned that from some nuns. You know what else I learned from nuns?”
Smiling she said “How to kick ass. Let's go already.” and leapt off the roof.
Again, Chris struggled to keep up with Fox. They flipped, leapt and climbed their way through the urban sprawl, like those parkour kids on YouShoot.com, only those kids weren't superpowered. Eventually, they ended up climbing some iron grating and old power equipment to the roof of what Chris recognized as the old transformer station where he first met Fox and the rest of her team.
Amongst all the rusty metal, skids and various other debris stood a man. He stepped out of the shadows revealing a creepy rubber Trudeau mask.
Turning to Chris, Fox said sheepishly “Sorry Christmas. I didn't...I didn't have a choice.” She stood next to creepy Trudeau and tried her best to avoid eye contact with Chris. However, Chris could clearly see her attempt to blink away the tears forming in her eyes.
“So you're the Christmas Sweater.” said creepy Trudeau in an artificially modulated voice. Chris could tell from creepy Trudeau's casual swagger that he was in complete control of this situation.
“You wanna play hero Christmas? You want to protect the Great White North in your big boy sweater? Do you know what Canada is boy?”
Though the question seemed rhetorical, creepy Trudeau seemed to be waiting for an answer. Chris thought for a moment “Umm...our home and native land, glorious and free and all that?”
Creepy Trudeau put his hand over his heart in mock patriotism. “Stand on guard for thee eh Christmas? No Canada is a corporation, a company that produces oil, nickel, wood and maple freakin syrup. They are a company owned by the ultra wealthy of American, English and Chinese descent. They are your bosses Christmas, they are the Prime Minister's and the Canadian Shield’s bosses. Is that what you want? To defend the interests of the Canada Corporation? That's what you'd be doing with the Canadian Shield you know. Nothing more than a corporate shill. It's a big world out there, much bigger than the Canadian borders.”
Trudeau paused, sidled up beside Chris and put his arm around his shoulder which sent chills through Chris' creeped out body. "We could use someone like you in the Chaos Brigade. You see that's what we do, we break up these corporations, the monopolies of the world. We keep the economies going. We ensure there's a middle class, a little guy to fight for."
Chris’ face burned with rage “You killed Cyr.”
“Me? No Cyr was a good guy. He knew how the game worked.” Trudeau shrugged,”When you play both sides, life gives you a double word score. Cyr played the game long and he played it hard. He had a good run. Know what I mean?”
“Not at all. I haven't understood a single word you've said. What exactly do you want from me?”
“I just want to open your mind a little. The last thing the Canadian Shield needs is another boy scout, so rigid he’s unable to look down and see who's waving the stick up his ass. Join team Canada if you want. Eat a few Timbits, have a few laughs, just don't drink any of the corporate kool-aid. When we come calling, don't be too righteous to speak with us.”
Trudeau walked a few steps toward the shadows as though the conversation was over, then he paused for dramatic effect. He snapped his fingers as if he just remembered something “Oh yeah, I also need to hear the truth about your powers. Fox filled me in about the Soviet energy drink malarkey you tried to pawn on team Canada.”
Fox looked down at her feet. Trudeau stepped toward Chris, once again he was uncomfortably close.
“Don't get me wrong Christmas, I love a guy with secrets. It shows me you're willing to play the game. But I'm gonna need to hear some truth as a sign of good faith, a token of friendship. You should know I'm uncannily good at spotting lies, so lets hear some truth.”
“Why would I tell you anything? You’re just some guy in a rubber mask. I’ll admit it’s creepy and all, but what’s to stop me from just walking away. It’s not like I'm getting anything out of your crazy rambling.”
Trudeau walked toward Fox. He shrugged, “You're right Christmas I’m just a guy in a creepy mask. Actually, I was kinda going for creepy when I put it on, so thanks for that. Listen, I think I might have started us off on the wrong foot. I tend to get all ranty and start making demands and stuff. That’s all on me. Seriously, my bad, I should have maybe offered you something in return.”
Trudeau thought for a minute. “Well what if…” With one hand he grabbed Fighting Fox by the neck and lifted her as if she were made of styrofoam. Fox looked helpless, struggling to breath. “What if I spare Fox's life?” Trudeau casually walked toward the edge of the roof, dangling her above the power lines below. With all Chris's accelerated energy, he rushed at Trudeau. Trudeau send him to the floor with a single swipe of his hand. “You're fast Christmas, but I’ll bet I can drop her before you can try that again. You like Fox right? Want her to keep breathing and whatnot? Truth is beauty Christmas, so lay some beauty on me my man before my hand gets tired up here.”
“The Energy Drink part was true, but the effects wear off by the end of the night. They had a skid full of the stuff at the liquidation place so I bought the whole thing after I knew what it could do. The guy at the store said I was the only guy so far crazy enough to try it, they weren't even completely sure it was an energy drink.”
“Where do you keep what's left of it?”
“It's all in a closet back at my apartment.”
Trudeau took out a cell phone, simply said “OK” and hung up. Seconds later, King Grizzly emerged from the shadows with a skid containing the rest of Chris’ supply, draped overtop was his signed poster of Cyr.
“So thanks for that Chris, we kinda knew all that already.” said Trudeau as he tossed Fighting Fox from the roof. There a scream, quickly silenced by a shower of sparks.
Chris threw a punch that connected with Trudeau’s jaw. Had Trudeau been a petty crook, his chin would have shattered like glass. Instead, Trudeau simply wiggled his chin and said “Damn Christmas! That really hurt!”
Chris threw another punch which was caught mid flight by King Grizzly. Grizzly continued to squeeze Chris' fist as Trudeau unleashed a flurry of punches into Chris' guts. Grizzly released his hand and Chris crumpled to the ground, gasping for breath.
“Why?” he gasped.
Trudeau kicked Chris into his skid of energy drinks, causing a few to explode from the sudden trauma.
“For the same reason you like to beat on your petty crooks. You've convinced yourself your noble, that you're a hero. But when it comes right down to it, you do it because you can.”
Trudeau put a boot on Chris' throat. Desperately Chris groped for something, anything that he could use. He threw a can of Energy Drink which bounced off Trudeau's face. Trudeau pressed on. Wedging his fingers under the sole of the boot, Chris lifted with all his superhuman strength, Trudeau simply pressed harder. Options exhausted, Chris opened a can of lukewarm energy drink and did his best to chugg it down with a boot on his throat. Trudeau simply watched, mocking Chris with his rubber grin. Grasping the boot, Chris began to slowly lift himself free. Powerless to stop him, Trudeau could only tumble backwards.
Grizzly swung at Chris with his clawed fists. Narrowly dodging the attack, Chris managed to counter with a quick jab to Grizzly's nose. That was all it took, Grizzly crumpled and remained motionless.
“There's something I forgot to tell you about the energy drink.”
Trudeau rounded on Chris “Yeah? what's that?”
“I never drink the whole can in one go.”
Chris dealt an uppercut which launched the mask from creepy Trudeau’s head. Behind the mask, was the confused face of Johnny Canuck. Twitching with rage, Chris picked up Canuck as though he were a sack of flour. He heaved Canuck over to the edge of the building, to the very spot where Fox had plunged to her death moments ago. There was a pause. In his chaotic mind, the voice of Cyr cut through Chris’ rage.
“You use your strength to protect the week yes?”
“My friend Christopher. Stay strong and true.”
Chris gently put the formerly creepy Trudeau down, looked down at his hands and sobbed.
The battered Johnny Canuck hobbled over to King Grizzly and tapped him with his foot. Grizzly twitched. Canuck let out a sigh, rubbed his chin and said "congratulations, you passed."
It took a long time for the meaning of what Canuck said to dawn on Chris.
“You mean? Why you sick son of a B…”
“Jeeze Christmas, remind me not to screw with your noggin so hard.” that was the familiar voice of Fighting Fox, very much alive. She was admiring the destruction Chris had laid down on Johnny Canuck and King Grizzly.
For a moment Chris was overjoyed to see her, then he remembered how these people treated his brain like a Rube Goldberg machine.
“So all this was a sick test? What is wrong with you people?”
Canuck grimaced, “Things have a way of getting messy out there kid. We had to make sure you wouldn't go dark on us when it really counts. But you did really well. The job's yours if you want it.”
"Were those things you said true? About the Canada Corporation and stuff?"
"Aye some of it perhaps."
"What about Cyr?"
"Cyr was a good man through and through, he would have really liked you."
"But what about my powers?" he gestured to what was left of the drinks, "Once these are gone, I'm... ordinary."
Fighting Fox shook her head "Christmas you are far from ordinary. No you’re downright strange." She gave him another punch to the arm.
Canuck inspected one of the exploded cans “We’ll have to study the drinks, I'm sure we'll figure something out.”
Fox put her arm around Chris’ shoulder. “you can’t trust tomorrow eh Christmas.”