He never knew why the newspapers gave him a cape.
He was often depicted as an exaggerated Adonis with a goofy mask-cowl that did not serve to hide the squareness of his jaw, or the blue of his matinee-idol eyes. The capes were yet another facet of a society whose subtleties continually escaped him. Even after a little over eighteen months of practice, he had no way of truly garnering “right” from “wrong” in their nebulous system of value. He fell back on the method of attacking the aggressor in the conflict though he knew that, yes, “little guys” got angry too, shopkeepers were as victim to sudden rages as burglars were, and policemen did not always wear a uniform. His success rate was still relatively high, though, and for that the police were willing to look the other way for him.
Everyone loved him. They loved a—but he was not a man, was he? They loved an icon they had never seen in person, though that did not stop the idealized depictions from catching fire in the reading public’s hearts. Some wag for the Daily Mail had even started a comic series about him, giving him a catch-phrase(“By Heavens Above!”) and an ex-army buddy. The origin they cooked up had something to do with radiation, that miracle unknown that could do almost everything in comic books except cause cancer. His actual origin was much more boring, if biologically sounder.
He had a half-shell over useless, crumpled wings that was a by-product of his first molt, perhaps that was enough foundation for newspaper artists. Presumably they had never gotten a good look at what was most convenient to call his face, which would have prompted less heroic artists to flee for advertising. His faceted eyes were trained to pick up infra-red, among other things, making him an excellent hunter. In this moment he was hanging upside-down over an exchange taking place in one of the city’s endless waterfront warehouses. Today was fortunate, in that he knew with almost complete certainty that anyone conducting business at gunpoint was probably a criminal. The fact that the other party was bound seemed to support that conclusion.
“Well, Solly, you done it in,” the slightly taller business man spoke, smug pheromones radiating off of him. “They tol’ me you was green, an’ I says ‘no, not my Solly. He’s a stand-up guy.’ Which you is, Solly, through an’ through.” He exhaled CO2 with a slight hint of syn-Propanethial S-oxide in the bound businessman’s face, and there was a sudden outpouring of organic methane as he shat himself.
One of the lesser businessmen gagged. “Jeezus!”
The lager businessman smiled, showing a mouthful of gold. He had yet to determine why businessmen felt the need to augment their palpi with metal, enamel alone was the hardest thing in the body. After a series of fraught digestions, he could attest to that.
With a hand signal, the two lesser businessmen grabbed hold of the chained man and dragged him towards a metal barrel.
His sympathetic nervous system flared into action, pumping a series of adrenaline derivatives into his dorsal tube to prepare. In his excitement, he let a glob of saliva drip from his mouth, and it landed on the shoulder of a lesser businessman. He looked up.
“Jeezus,” he breathed.
The fight was short and pointless. The two lesser businessmen panicked, threw the chain-man to the floor, and fumbled for their waistband revolvers. He sprayed them with his antiseptic saliva, which clumped in their facial cavities. They fell writhing to the floor, attempting to scream.
He feared the most fight from the largest businessman, but after he confiscated the man’s external metal stinger and dissolved part of it the man fell to the floor, weeping. The only real fight came from the driver, who had been waiting silently with a repeater-gun that left hot trails of pain down his exoskeleton. The man was thrown, however, when none of the bullets seemed to penetrate his thick chitinous outer layer. He had admirable strength and so was chosen for the feeding.
The bug stood and surveyed his victory. The three-color ink Bug would say “by—” something and stand legs akimbo, perhaps with a light shining from the gold aether behind him. In the real world, he fell to the driver’s side, liquifying his left kidney and sucking it back up through the rostrum underneath his prothorax.
A sudden cry drew his attention. A female businessman, in slightly better shape than her partner, sat staring wide-eyed from a heretofore unseen niche between barrels. Her external covering was torn in several places, and distress pheromones oozed from her pores. Feeling generous and slightly fully, he retracted his feeding tube and went to attend her wounds.
She was squirming too hard to receive his coagulant saliva, so he assume she wished to communicate what she needed. Instead, the moment he removed her gag she began a sonic assault on his tympanic membranes. He attempted a comforting churring noise by passing air through his outer spiracles, but it had no apparent effect. Now in agony, he removed her other restraints to let her minister to herself. She uncoiled with sudden force and knocked him flat. She ran away, still sounding like a drill.
This was the beginning of the end.
Inflammatory headlines dominated the newspapers: “Bug Some Kind Of Mad Man!!” “City Hero Turned Villain!” “Bug Bugs Out On Lady Fair!” The hot sheets added an inch to her bust line and a beauty mark more reminiscent of an up-an-coming starlet, the artful rips of her clothes seemed to travel mysteriously from paper to paper, always just covering up the good stuff. In the race to get the next big headline first, the papers fell back on the national standard of just making it up. “HAUSFRAU HONEY TO BUG: IT’S YOUR BABY!” was one of the last headlines he saw before he retreated to the sewers. Surface hunting was harder now, too much effort expelled for too little reward. He ran across the occasional intrepid reporter, but altering the ph of his saliva seemed to stop that.
Then, somewhere, a biological clock wound down in the first phase of some unknown process. He cemented himself to the ceiling of a flood chamber with a heretofore-unused mucus gland, and waited.
The mayor squinted, smiling as he shook the stranger’s hand. He had gotten elected on the ticket of looking slightly like Teddy Roosevelt, which he played fully to the hilt.
“Mighty fine to meet you sir,” he boomed in his second-brassiest public voice, “mighty fine, indeed.”
When the handshake ended he subtly wrung his hand with the other. Helluva grip. Fine thing in a man.
“We haven’t had a city hero, and it’s nigh time we got one,” he said, more to the radio mic than his gathered citizens. It went unspoken that there was to be no mention of that dark period when they’d had a monster protecting their city. In fact, the comic artist of the local paper had already set up the Bug as a returning antagonist to their new hero.
And there he stood, broad-shouldered, bronzed, and magnificent. The fact that he bore more than a passing resemblance to the artistic depictions of the Bug was taken as a sign of providence.
He took the podium, smiled evenly to the cameras, and addressed the citizens in a plummy baritone.
“Folks asked me whether this city deserved to have a hero…” he paused just long enough to gain dramatic tension. “I replied that I could only hope to be the hero it deserved.”
The crowd dissolved into applause. He smiled at them, his people, with a solid white wall of teeth. His skin looked fresh and new. His amazingly green eyes, if examined under a microscope, were formed of perfect hexagons.