I don't know why my hometown is called Boonland, but it's the perfect name for the place. If you want to see a classic example of the boondocks, it's Boonland, Texas.
Hi. My name is Shelly Ericson. This is my story. It's a little unusual.
I can't complain about my childhood. My parents made a nice life for me, and I was a good student in school. Notice I said “good,” not “great.” It's not that I'm not smart, but my mind was usually on other things. Beer, boys, and late night drives in my pick-up truck seemed more important than studying at the time. And even that stuff wasn't much better.
Yep, Boonland was a safe, peaceful place to grow up. It was also boring as hell.
My escape from the monotony was learning how to take care of myself. I started taking self-defense classes as a little girl, and never stopped developing those skills. My daddy taught me how to shoot a gun when I was 12. While the other girls were going gaga over the teen idol flavor of the week, I was practicing with my ninja throwing stars on a tree in my backyard.
I signed up for the Air Force after graduation, because I thought it would be the quickest ticket out of Boonland. I'll admit it - I had visions of excitement and adventure in my head, too. Well, the Air Force was fine, but it didn't turn out to be what I wanted after all. I didn't re-enlist when the time came, and I suddenly found myself...back in Boonland.
I needed something, but I didn't know what it was. I had been taking classes while I was in the USAF, so college looked like a good option. I applied all over the country, not really caring where I ended up as long as it was somewhere else. The waiting felt like it dragged on forever, but then I got one letter of admittance in particular that changed everything.
One month later, I said good-bye to Mom and Dad and boarded a plane bound for Major City.
Major City University was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I'd always prided myself on my discipline, even when my priorities hadn't matched the priorities everyone else had for me. But in college, I was solely responsible for myself. I hadn't even had that in the Air Force. It took some adjustment.
One day, I happened to spot a flier posted outside one of my classrooms. It was for a scheduled speaking appearance on campus by Paul Mann. Paul Mann? Wow! He was world famous as the self-made millionaire inventor. He wasn't that much older than me! I ripped that flier down as I headed to class, just to make sure I wouldn't forget the date.
I made it into the front row of the auditorium as the crowd filed in for Paul Mann's talk. I say “crowd,” but it wasn't much of one. I didn't get it. This guy had hit the big time because of his brains, and done it before he even turned 30. Why wouldn't you want to hear what he had to say?
The speech was a good one, as far as we got into it. About halfway through, a man seated in the middle of the auditorium jumped up and pulled out a laser gun. “Three for victory!” he shouted as he threw up a three-fingered salute and fired at Mr. Mann. Mr. Mann ducked that shot, but the wildman bounded over people headed to the stage.
I guess training and instinct took over at that point. I don't exactly remember thinking that I had to cut off that guy and disarm him before he reached Paul Mann. I just did it. Next thing I knew, I had him on the floor, twisting his arm behind his back while I drove a knee into his neck. Security took it from there, but I had been the one who did the hard stuff.
Everything was hectic and confused after that, so I didn't notice until I made it back to my apartment that a business card had been shoved into my pocket. I pulled it out, and it was for Mann Creations - Paul Mann's company. On the back was a note written in pen: “Meet me @ Chez Café Wed @ 6 - Thx, P.”
P...as in Paul Mann? He wanted to meet me? To thank me? Over dinner?
I kept that appointment, even though it was a little weird. OK, a lot weird. Still, Chez Café was a public place. What could it hurt?
When I got there, the cafe was one of those intimate little restaurants, which was kind of a surprise. I figured someone with Mr. Mann's money would go for the fancier places to eat. I just didn't realize how much he valued his privacy.
I was escorted to Mr. Mann's table, and we had a pleasant enough chat. He asked about me and my opinions on a lot of things, and actually listened to my answers. That was rare. I was impressed by what he had to say, especially since he made a point to look at my FACE while we were talking.
Finally, he leaned over and said, “Shelly, I'd like to make you an offer.”
Oh boy, here it comes. I knew this was too good to be true.
“I want to hire you as my personal assistant. But really, you'd...”
Uh huh, right, “personal assistant.” We all know the code. Thanks, but no thanks.
“...be my bodyguard.”
Huh? That wasn't how I'd seen that sentence ending. I grilled Mr. Mann as to why he didn't already have regular bodyguards or personal assistants or in fact anybody. He claimed that they “hindered his work.” I asked him what that meant. He clammed up.
Sooo, what were the terms? Freedom to come and go as I pleased. Set my own hours. I didn't even have to follow him everywhere all the time. All he needed me to do was to assist him with his research, and give him pointers in self-defense when I was available. Bodyguard duties would be at my discretion. I'd be on the payroll for a lot of cash, and free to decide what my job description involved.
No hanky panky? “None.”
What about his personal life? “I don't have one.”
That was a surprise, too. I knew he'd been involved with that reporter Roxanne Prize for a couple of years, but that had ended badly. He'd sort of withdrawn socially since then, and some jerks in the media had even dubbed him “Captain Satellite.” They said it was because his mind was always in orbit, instead of on Earth. Creeps.
It was my turn to look into Paul Mann's eyes, and what I saw was a sincerity and genuineness that would have been hard to fake. Plus, he sure came across as really damn innocent for someone who was one of the richest people in the world. I chose to trust him, until he gave me a reason to hit the road. Maybe it was all a put-on, but I wanted to find out for myself. Besides, if this was real, it would be the sweetest job ever.
“Mr. Mann, you've got a deal,” I said, and we shook hands.
Working for Paul - he insisted I drop the “Mr. Mann” business - was definitely different. For one, his estate is beautiful and ridiculous. He has peculiar tastes, and you can see it in his huge mansion. I'm still not sure I've been in every room of it.
For the first few months, I stopped by after classes when I had the chance. I'd help him out in his lab if he needed a hand, but more often than not, we'd end up in his gym or on the firing range. That was where I did my best to teach him how to fight, how to shoot, and lot of other physical activities that he'd never even tried. He told me that he'd always gotten by with his intellect, and that wasn't hard to believe after I'd seen how he held a gun or threw a punch before I got hold of him.
I decided that I should live up to the “bodyguard” part of my job description when my schedule allowed, and accompany Paul to some of his engagements. I always made sure that I was in front of him or discreetly behind him back then - we were never seen side by side, or God forbid, holding hands. It wasn't like that at all.
And it wasn't. I kept half-expecting Paul to make a move on me, but he never did. I would have been out the door if he had, but he always held true to his word. Eventually, I just took it for granted that he'd always be straight with me. He never disappointed me when it came to that.
Honestly, as the months passed, I found myself growing really fond of the guy. Yeah, he was rich and intelligent; I knew that before I met him. I also knew I found him really handsome, because I'd seen his picture enough. But there was something about that boyish charm and the wide-eyed way he viewed the world that was appealing. I felt a twinge of regret from time to time that, apparently, he had shut off “those” feelings entirely when Roxanne Prize had hurt him.
I graduated from MCU in record time, thank you very much, and used that as an excuse to hang around the mansion a lot more. I still kept my own apartment, but many a night, I slept over after marathon research or training sessions. In my own room, of course. Paul was nothing if not proper.
One particular evening, I found myself dozing off in front of the TV in the main living room when the mansion was rocked by an explosion. Jarred awake, I rushed through the halls, calling for Paul to make sure he was all right. What I ended up finding was nothing like what I expected.
Paul was fine...except covered in soot. One of his little projects had gone haywire and blown up. That was nothing new, even though they usually weren't so loud. The only difference was I found him in a secret underground lab when I accidentally triggered a doorway through the grandfather clock.
It turned out there was a whole complex beneath the mansion. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie. Boy, if I had only known then. I'd never seen Paul look so embarrassed, and I think he was really afraid I was going to quit right there. I was confused, but not really angry. What was all this about?
That was when Paul explained to me he intended to become a superhero.
Paul Mann, my boss and the guy I had been sort of falling for, was designing a powersuit that would make his “Captain Satellite” nickname come true and turn him into a superhero. It was a lot to put together at four o'clock in the morning.
The way Paul explained it, he'd come up with the idea the day that lunatic had attacked him - the day I'd saved him. That man was an agent of some secret group called Third World, and they had threatened Paul in the past. That incident had been the first time they had ever tried to carry one of their threats out, but Paul was sure it wouldn't be the last. He'd hired me partially because he needed someone to prepare him for the action side of his idea, since he had the science part mastered.
“Partially? Why else did you hire me?” I asked.
“Because you're the first person in a long time I thought I could trust,” he replied. “I didn't tell you about this because it sounded too insane.”
He was right about that. But still, it did make a certain kind of sense. I agreed that night to help Paul make his Captain Satellite dream come true. Only now, I was fully in on the secret. We worked harder than ever, totally dedicated to making it happen. Weeks later, Paul activated his Wrist Changer (imagine a really cool watch) and it transmitted the uniform directly onto his body. I held my breath as he calmly stepped out his third story window and shot into the sky.
Ten minutes later, the new Captain Satellite returned from his first test flight. I swear, I don't think I've ever seen anyone smile bigger than Paul was when he took off that mask. He took me into his arms and hugged me. It was the first time he'd ever let his guard down enough to even manage something as simple as a hug.
The next four months were a whirlwind, as Captain Satellite made his official debut battling a Third World squadron that was holding the financial district hostage. Paul was even more in demand than ever, and the people who had made fun of him weren't talking anymore. He kept asking me if I wanted my own powersuit, but I always turned him down. I'd go along with this Captain Satellite business, but I wasn't about to wear a costume. I liked to handle problems a little more realistically.
That was what Paul - what Captain Satellite - needed. He needed something to connect him to reality, something that wasn't hopelessly caught up in out-of-this-world craziness. He needed someone to watch his back, because he still wasn't where he needed to be as a fighter. He needed...well, me. I was still his bodyguard, and I was going to make sure I earned that title.
Everything changed all over again when we found ourselves held captive in a flying saucer somewhere in the neighborhood of Neptune. Don't even ask how that happened. What you need to know is that Cap had been zapped by some sort of beam that had drained his suit's power and knocked him for a loop. As he lay on the cold floor of the spaceship, he crawled over to me. I can't remember a spot where it all felt so desperate and hopeless as it did at that moment.
“Shelly,” he gasped as I pulled him up. “If we don't make it out of this, I just want you to know...I love you.”
I responded to this by punching him. I wouldn't exactly call that one of my finest hours.
“Why did you wait until now?” I screamed. “And we are getting out of this! You aren't giving up!”
We did get out of it, of course. I mean, I'm telling you about it today. And when we got home, I yanked that silly mask of his off and kissed Paul Mann for the very first time. It was worth the wait.
If you had told me when I was on that plane flying from Texas to Major City that someday I was going to be a superhero's partner, and an action hero in my own right, I would have told you that you had lost your mind. If you had added that I'd wind up with a boyfriend who was one of the richest and most intelligent men on Earth, I would have laughed in your face. It was all way too unbelievable. But it happened.
Excitement? Adventure? I've gotten them in spades. I wouldn't trade this life for anything.
6 months ago