Exemplar: Ten Years Later

Two things I love are fiction in the form of “alternate reality journalism” and super heroes. So here’s something that combine the two.


Unless you are a recent arrival from a parallel universe, you have spent the last week memorializing super-heroic paragon Exemplar whether you wanted to or not. Ten years after his death in the line of duty against would-be world conqueror Oversword’s devolution bomb attack against Washington, D.C. we are still writing op eds, holding candlelight vigils and throwing solemn parades in his honor. If first anniversaries of major, tragic events are the hardest, tenth anniversaries are the worst: the pain has all but disappeared and all that is left is a desire to exalt the heroes and editorialize on the events impact and relevance ad nausea.


Exemplar, now known to be a synthetic being sent back in time to our era from the year 10,000 AD (more or less), was a tireless champion of nothing so much as life. A being with his powers could have changed the course of history forever, as easily as he changed the course of mighty rivers, but instead he focused on individual lives. While there are no recorded instances of Exemplar pulling kittens out of trees, his recorded activities are no less cliched: pulling children out of burning buildings, stabilizing earthquakes with sheer physical force, plugging erupting volcanoes and draining flood waters by tilting landmasses. The power at Exemplar’s disposal was immense, almost unimaginable, yet he never exerted it against one regime or another, no matter how vile.


In 1971, Walter Cronkite in a live televised interview asked Exemplar why he did not intervene in international conflicts or political affairs. Exemplar (and remember, we did not know then either that he was not human or that he was from the far future; at that point we assumed that Exemplar was, like most super heroes, a gifted individual with a secret “normal” life) responded with the following:


“Every life is sacred. You can’t begin to imagine how important one life can be. All the things a person does, from their first cries all the way to how they die has an immeasurable impact on everything around them. Even if a person does not seem to do anything great or important with their lives, who knows what their kids or grand kids or ten generations later descendants will do. Life is funny that way; it is totally unpredictable but at the same time we can see how it might turn out.”


Year later, after the massacre at the 1988 summer Olympic Games in Seoul at the hands of The Hive, Exemplar said: “Thousands of lives from hundreds of nations, all extinguished. The potential futures they created by their very existences have been snuffed out, leaving a void in eternity that can never be filled.”


It was after this incident that Exemplar “came out” as both a time traveler and a super-sophisticated artificial being. He later admitted that he did so at least partially out of guilt. After all, The Hive was not only a collective of autonomous machines, but literally one of his ancestor entities.


After this revelation Exemplar’s heroic career was often sidetracked by requests for information about the future or accusations about his motives in saving the people he did. Hero turned villain The Seer, who used genius level mathematical intellect to calculate probability, accused Exemplar of having a secret agenda. He suggested that Exemplar was trying to establish  a future timeline in which he was supreme ruler of the world by laying the groundwork in our present, on the corpses of those he did not save. Most people did not buy the crackpot theory of a known criminal, but a few did. And some of them were United States Senators.


It is unfortunate that Exemplar’s last few years were so  tarnished by politics and media glad handing. Sadly, it is what people seemed to be in the mood for: stories of Exemplar saving busloads of school children were given short shrift while every self identified lover or nefarious ally was given a microphone. In the 1990s, we wanted to deconstruct our heroes and Exemplar, being the best, suffered the worst of it.


Washington happened when Exemplar was almost considered a villain. His legacy had been tarnished and his status as a synthetic entity was being held up as evidence to mistrust other such beings, including The Perfect and Queen Calcula. Time travelers like Mister Know-It-All did not fare much better. Even so, Exemplar carried on. Without a “secret identity” or even the need for a “normal life” (even though he indulged in one periodically throughout his career; portions of his strange relationship with Post reporter Angie Abernathy filled many a tabloid during the ‘60s and ‘70s) Exemplar was able to ignore most of the bad press and keep operating as he normally did. The only difference was he tended to flee the scenes of his activities upon the arrival of authorities and reporters, instead of staying to give statements as he used to do.


Oversword acquired his devolution weapon from members of the villainous, international weapons manufacturing organization called Armament. From interrogations after the incident, his goal was to turn the entire population of Washington D.C. (specifically the members of the government) into proto-human cavemen, thereby bringing the nation to its knees, ripe for Oversword’s plucking. Of course, Exemplar was aware of the plot — how has remained a mystery; some suggest Exemplar accessed a database of past events (from his perspective) but others have argued every change he made would further invalidate any record of events he possessed from the future — and interrupted Oversword’s attack.


It seems that even Oversword was surprised when Exemplar flew the devolution bomb into space and was caught in the blast, turning into a typical Hive drone and burning up upon re-entry. That the devolution bomb would work on artificial beings as well as biological ones was unexpected by all.


Or was it? Throughout his career, from his first appearance in the aftermath of World War 2 to the day he was “killed,” Exemplar displayed not only an uncanny understanding of the enemies he fought but of the course of events in the world at large. He never seemed taken off guard, even after an apparent defeat or event he could not stop. Maybe there is something to all those conspiracy theories about Exemplar.


In either case, the parades an memorials go on. Like all good martyrs, Exemplar received a white-washing upon his ultimate sacrifice and is now enshrined in museums and in public squares by statues, plaques and displays as the greatest of all American super heroic champions. So you will have to forgive me if I shed no tears for the time travelling android that could very well have planned his own “death by devolution.”


Off the Rails…

This is one of those pieces that started strong and just sort of slowly drifted off the rails — a silent train wreck, if you will. I often wonder how these things happen, and the most likely answer is a combination of not knowing where I want to end the piece and being unwilling to stop and reassess  Too often, I am determined to “finish” no matter what and that can lead my writing down rugged trail full of pitfalls and switchbacks. As usual, I think there’s a seed of an idea here, something worth keeping for a future story or work, even if this particular expression of it came undone.



Do not panic. It is absolutely imperative that you read this message all the way through. Do not go off half cocked halfway through it. I know you will want to, but don’t. Everything depends that you read it all and remember it before doing anything else.

First: this is true. Every word of it. It is real. Do not think Augie is pulling a prank on you or you’re going crazy or whatever else is going through your head right now. The thing you really think that you do not want to believe is the truth and you know it. You have to accept three simple facts: I am your twin brother, I died two and a half years ago in a motorcycle accident, and I am leaving you a note on your bedside table on the eve of the Apocalypse.

Honest, bro, I would have left it sooner if I could. I would have given you the heads up the day after I died if I could have, because I saw it. It was the first thing I saw. It’s the first thing everyone sees, I think, when you die. You see the end of the world, when everyone else dies, too. Then you wait, alone and unable to talk to anyone. It’s Hell, but not like you’re about to see. Anyway, I couldn’t let you know. I couldn’t leave a note like this or do anything else beyond opening a few cabinets and spelling my name in your Cheerios – which you did not even notice, by the way – until it happened. I can touch and do and move stuff now. It is kind of funny, though, since I am still invisible and the world is ending anyway and you’ll be dead soon, too.

Sorry about that. The fact that you are about to die is inevitable. It’s not just you. It’s everyone. Time has literally run out for the human race. Soon, everyone will be a corpse: you, Mom and Dad, Liv and Melanie, the nieces, that jerk Steve at the office. Everyone. I don’t mean to belabor the point but I just want to make sure you get it before we go on: you’re dead and so is everyone else and there is nothing you can do about it. This is not about surviving or saving the world , so get that out of your head.

I know that sounds bad and defeatists and makes you wonder why bother and all, but bear with me. Just because you are going to die doesn’t mean you can’t do some important stuff in the meantime.

Let me back up: the world is ending. I told you that. What I have not mentioned yet is that the world is ending because the Elder Horrors of the dawn of time have finally found Earth and are, right now, as you read this, devouring it and everyone on it. I know you can hear the sirens in the background and you think it is just normal city life stuff, but it isn’t.

I’ll prove it. Go over to your window and peak through the blinds. Be careful. Don’t let it see you.

See? I told you. Change your pants and get back to reading. Everything I write from now on is important. It won’t saver your life but it will save your soul if you do everything I say.

Soul. Right. I almost forgot. Okay, it is super complicated and I can hardly comprehend it myself, let alone write it down in a way that you will be able to understand, but the long and short of it is that souls exist and they can be eaten by horrible monsters from the dawn of time. At the moment of the Big Bang, in addition to every particle ever to exist in the universe, Evil was made. (No, Good was not made, too; Good is just the absence of Evil, like darkness is the absence of light.) The soul is the quantum fluctuations that define you and me and every other sentient being in the cosmos. Unfortunately, they are really tasty to the Elder Thing and its friends you just saw. These souls, though, they exist because sentience exists. All those neurons and smaller structures interacting creates them on the quantum scale. As long as the sentience that created it is alive, the soul is attached to the body. But when the body dis, the sentience continues to exist as an independent entity. And tasty snack for Elder Things from the Dawn of Time.

Usually, souls just float off into an other-where, where time is meaningless and existence persists forever-ish. The thing is, though, that the Elder Things sort of drag Eternity back down into the semi-physical realm – hence the writing with the pen and stuff. This is a side effect of its hunting strategy. When one of these monsters kills a sentient, that sentient’s soul is caught in that distortion and can be destroyed – forever annihilated out of its quantum existence. That’s real death, irrevocable and inescapable. Like I said, a tasty snack.

So there we are. That’s the situation. What I want to do now is get you away from the Elder Things before you die within one of their distortion fields so you don’t get annihilated and we can enjoy the afterlife together, haunting the dead husk of a planet those things will leave behind. Not, much, I know, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

One of the nice things about being dead is that time becomes kind of meaningless and you see and experience everything more or less simultaneously. That means you read what I am about to write and you do exactly as it says because I know what I am talking about. No deviations and no arguments, or you end up a completely destroyed with no chance to irritate me for the rest of eternity.

I thought that would pique your interest.

Now, you may notice that in the time it has taken you to read the previous few paragraphs, the unnameable colossus outside your window has moved on in its insatiable desire for quantum souls. You’re welcome. That’s why I wrote them. I told you it all became clear after you die. In a minute though, you are going to have to move fast, so read carefully and then do it exactly.

Leave your apartment and head toward the north stairwell. Do not try and use the elevator. Go up to the fourteenth floor and cut across the building to the south stairwell. Take that all the way down to the lobby. When you are safely in the alley across the street start reading again.

Sorry about that, those insect-snake-people things in the lobby. If I told you about them you would have not gone that way and you would have run into the spider squid things. Trust me, you got off easy. And I know you’re freaking out because that one talked a lot like Mrs. Bentley in 510C. Well, that’s because it was – “was” being the operative word. But it is done now. Pull yourself together, wipe the ichor off your hands and face, and keep reading.

You are going to head down 3rd street toward West Main. I can sense you arguing but just do it. Yes, it seems like you are getting closer to the Elder Thing, and you are. But trust me, it will stop and change direction. There are thousands of people hiding in the stadium right now and it is going to go at it like a fat man at China Buffet. You just take West Main toward the river and you will put some distance between it and you. Avoid other people, too. Some of them are just as scared as you are, but most of them are even more scared and when people get scared they get mean and stupid. If anyone tries to stop you, hit them. Hit them in the head until their brains pour out. If you don’t, they’ll do it to you first and if that happens when you’re still too close to the monsters, it’s over. I mean, Over over.

Go. Get to Riverside Park and then read more.

I would apologize again but I warned you. Those people didn’t deserve it, but it had to be done. None of them matter. It is just you and me, bro.

You should be feeling the first tremors about now. I should have mentioned them earlier but I wanted to make sure you were moving in the right direction first. When I wrote that everyone was going to die, I meant it. The Elder Things are tearing the Earth apart by its very gravity. When they manage to split it, it will because another asteroid field in the solar system. All we can hope for is that you are in a zone far away from one of the Things, so that you do not end up extinguished as your soul is devoured.

On pier twenty-six there is a boat in good working order. The owner is named David and his wife, Terese, and children Annie and Glen are on it. He is going to refuse to pull up anchor and leave the city. He is going to tell you it is suicide on the open sea. He is going to pull a gun on you and threaten to shoot you if you don’t get off his boat.

You have to kill him.

David has never even fired that gun. He bought it for “protection” three years ago and has never used it. He doesn’t even know how to clean it. So when he waves it at you, you can take it from him. He is going to fight you. He might be old, but he is strong and if you wrestle around with him he is going to end up with barrel pressed against your skull. You can’t let that happen. Win or lose, then, and it is too late. You won’t have time to get away.

Terese and the kids will leave, after you kill David.