CHAPTER TWO: Thom Taggert
Like the Challenger explosion or 9/11, most people could remember when they heard about The First.
Thom could, too. He could also remember where he was ten days before that.
He was at the Portland Art Museum, looking at a traveling exhibition of late Bronze Age Macedonian and Greek items.
He had just finished looking at a series of busts and was moving into the next room, devoted to military equipment.
He’d just stepped through the door when it hit him with as much shock as if someone had thrown a bucket of fish guts at him.
One of the items, a bronze sword, was glowing.
A moment later, the shock gone, he walked towards it as though hypnotized.
The sword had an ornate hilt, which looked as though it had been gilded in gold and silver. The hilt ended in some sort of monster’s head, which one he couldn’t guess. The blade was slightly curved and edged on both sides, ending in a fine point. The glow was greenish-blue and radiated equally from every point on the sword.
Thom half-expected the glow to be some trick of the lighting which would diminish as he got nearer. But if anything it seemed clearer now than ever.
After several minutes, Thom shook himself a bit. He looked around the room. Nothing else was glowing, or seemed odd at all. What’s more, none of the other patrons were spending any more time at this sword than on any other item.
An elderly man in a U.S.S. Missouri hat walked beside him and looked at the sword.
“Do you notice anything unusual about the sword?” Thom asked.
“That pommel is unusual. I think that may be a sort of gorgon. It’s been a while since I studied up on my mythology.” The man looked over at Thom. “That what you meant?”
“Uhm, no. It seems to be…glowing.”
“Glowing?” the man asked. He moved his head around, as though trying to catch a glimpse from a better angle. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“It looks like one of those kid’s glow-in-the-dark items they might get from a box of overly sugary cereal.”
“No, I don’t see anything like that,” the man said. “Maybe you have a torn iris. My cousin had eye surgery, tore her iris, made her see all kinds of halos and light spikes and crap. Couldn’t drive at night afterwards. You have any eye surgery lately?”
“No,” Thom said.
“Then I don’t know what you’re seeing,” the man said. He wandered off to look at a shield with a bull device.
After asking several more people similar questions, Thom had learned a couple of things. One was asking questions like these caused people to avoid you and watch you closely, like a mean dog on a chain that doesn’t look strong enough. Another was that no one saw the sword, or anything else, glowing or doing anything else unusual.
Thom tried in several ways to convince himself that it was his eyes tricking him. He put on his sunglasses. He walked to another room and came back. He looked at the sword from every angle he could think of. He even looked at it from a reflection in a case opposite the sword.
In every case, the glow remained.
Then he got out his picture phone. He knew the museum didn’t want pictures taken of the exhibits, but he had to check. He surreptitiously took a picture of the sword, then took a look at it.
The picture showed no glow.
Either I’m hallucinating, or something very strange is going on, Thom thought.
All the way home, and for the next few days, Thom couldn’t get the sword out of his mind. He reluctantly put it aside only for his plumbing business. But while unclogging toilets and fixing pipes, he couldn’t stop thinking about the sword. Finally, he couldn’t bear it any more, and went back to the museum.
It glowed just as strongly as before.
Thom went back three more times before The First made his first big press conference.
Thom had heard the rumors. Andy Naramore had already made private demonstrations to certain well-connected people an hour before, which ensured that rumors would be flying about the man who could fly.
Thom, who had finished his last job as quickly as possible, turned on CNN and watched the press conference. He wished he could go up to Seattle to see it in person, but it was several hours’ drive away.
After flying from some distance away, landing at the podium, and making a brief speech about how he could fly and how he discovered it, Andy took some questions.
“Are you like Superman, then?” one reporter asked.
“No, I’m not super-strong, like Superman. In fact, flying is pretty dangerous. I have to be very careful. And I don’t seem to have any other powers at all.”
“Can you give me a ride?” another asked. Polite laughter rippled through the audience.
“Well, maybe,” Andy replied. “I’ve done some experimenting on how much I can lift this way, and it’s more than enough for one person. But it’s difficult to do, because it’d be like giving you a piggy-back ride, and just as uncomfortable—for both of us.” More giggles.
“Are you saying you can use magic?” came the third question.
“I don’t know what else you’d call it. Maybe some scientist will be able to explain it someday. But if you want to call it magic, I don’t know of a better word for you to use.”
“Does it tire you out?”
“Surprisingly, no. It’s no more strenuous than concentrating on anything else, like reading or playing a video game. Obviously, I’m using a lot of energy by flying, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from inside me.”
“What are your plans from here?”
“I plan on giving demonstrations, trying to make a few bucks. By the way, Mr. Hitchins, I quit.”
Thom watched, fascinated. He was already putting two and two together. Andy wasn’t glowing, but he hardly expected him to, since he was watching the press conference on a television.
He had to see Andy Naramore fly, in person.