"Jon, I understand where you are coming from, really, I do...." Prof. Jonathan St. John-Smythe paused. "But in this case, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist.
"You can't opt out of the award ceremony. And you can't show up for the ceremony in your usual work getup. It's just that simple."
Jon Smith stared at the floor.
"We've been over and over this. I know you have problems keeping your trousers from fraying when you run. Okay, so you leave your apartment an hour early, and you *walk*. Walk all the way to City Hall. Or take a cab. But you are not going to show up for the ceremony half-naked wearing frayed jeans."
"But it's such a minor award, Professor," Jon protested. "Everybody gets one. I didn't go for the Protector of Innocents award ceremony. I don't see that the Keeper of the Peace award is any different. There will be a hundred heroes for the ceremony, I'll be only one in a sea of others. Why would anyone even notice if I were there or not?"
St. John-Smythe sighed. "The people who give you assignments will notice. And the people who haven't given you any....as *yet*, mind you.....will notice, too. It may be a minor award, but if you don't get it, that locks you out of a lot of jobs. And it's rude not to show up for the ceremony. Plus, if you show up dressed as you are now, I guarantee that people will notice.....and it won't help your situation, it'll make things worse.
"This is important, Jon. People are starting to get to know you. You know how important that is. Accepting this award, showing up for the ceremony, dressing appropriately, that's all part of your career. It's just something that you have to grit your teeth and do, no matter how unpleasant it may seem at the time."
Jon's shoulders slumped in resignation. "Oh, okay, Professor. If you think it's that important.....but I don't know where to go. You know how much trouble I have when I try to just go shopping. For anything."
"Not a problem, Jon." St. John-Smythe's face lit up with a smile. He pulled a card out of his jacket pocket. "Here. This is Serge's card. He's a tailor, and he's used to working with heroes. His Icon shop is in the north-west corner of Steel, I'm sure you've seen it before. Go and talk to him directly. I've already talked to him and explained your situation, he's expecting you. Put yourself in his hands, Jon. He'll get you set up." He winked, an action that Jon viewed with some surprise.
He felt that he'd been bamboozled, somehow, but couldn't figure out how, or a way out of it.
The run to the Icon store was uneventful.
He stopped to ask the girl at the Icon front desk where "Serge" was, and then wondered why he hadn't noticed the dapper man at the back of the store as soon as he walked in. Everything about him screamed "good taste and breeding".....perhaps a little too much so.
"Good to meet you, Jon," Serge said warmly, shaking his metal hand with no sign that there was anything odd about it. Warned in advance, indeed, Jon thought. "Listen, Jon, I asked the Professor if he could send someone to me to help me out with a little problem I'm having. He said you were the man I needed to talk to."
Oh, brother, Jon thought. I knew there was something more going on here. "Sure, Mr. Serge, what can I do for you?"
"Just Serge, please, I don't go by 'mister'." He smiled, showing dazzingly perfect white teeth. "I was wondering if you could do me a favor," the well-dressed tailor began. "The Tsoo have been asking for protection money from this store, but we can't make this week's payment. Perhaps you could send a message to the Tsoo, by arresting some of their thugs. Maybe then we can get them to stop shaking us down."
"Uh, yeah, sure, that'd be no problem," Jon replied. Another person wanting a little hero work without having to pay for it, he thought.
"I think if you arrested, oh, say, about 25 or 30 of them, that would take the edge off their....um...enthusiasm." Serger looked inordinately pleased with Jon....or maybe that was with himself. "If you do this favor for me, I can reward you with an extra outfit that you can change into. I'll waive my usual tailoring fee, you'll only have to pay for the clothes themselves." He took a step back, and for the first time seemed to really see Jon standing in front of him. He ran his eye up and down Jon's body, head to foot and back, and a sour look began to twist his lips. "Yes, I can see that you do need help. Badly. Good thing for you the Professor sent you to me, the individualized tailoring work alone would cost you a fortune any other time....." He tapped his foot, still staring at Jon's too-narrow hips, while the hero squirmed inside.
"Yes, well, you go and take care of those awful Tsoo, and I'll set you up with an appointment with Miles to get your measurements when you get back. We'll have you looking.....um.....good.....in no time at all. Well, a week to ten days, that is." He smiled again. He seemed to smile a lot, Jon thought.
Serge was a person who had found his place in life, he mused.
Certainly, Serge had reason to be distressed......there were large numbers of Tsoo hanging out on the street right in front of the Icon shop. They made no attempt to look uninterested in the store and the people trying to get to it. Even with him standing there, they accosted a lower-level hero who passed by trying to get to the Icon door. He ran over and interrupted, giving the hero a chance to run for the cover of the store.
He had expected to have to hunt for the tattooed men and their sorcerers and ghosts, maybe go as far as Talos, but they were so bold that he hardly needed to leave the strip mall where the Icon store was. By the time he had cleared a complete circle around the mall, he had arrested well over 30 of the blackmailers.
"Oh, already?" Serge looked surprised when he returned, then very pleased. "My, yes, you are good. I'm glad the Professor sent you to me. Well, then, shall we get your measurements? As soon as Miles is through with you, come back and see me and we'll decide what would look best on you."
Jon found the entire process to be quite uncomfortable. Normally at ease wherever he went in frayed jeans, boots, belt, and not much else, having to strip down to his supporter in front of the too pleasant Miles was a trying experience in itself. Miles had a way of sticking out his lower lip and pulling on it when he was distressed....he did it a lot while trying to figure out just what, and where, to measure Jon's body.....and his prostheses.
After a little less than a half hour, an amount of time that Jon thought was entirely too long, Miles sent him back to Serge, a neatly handwritten sheet of numbers and drawings in hand.
"Hmmm......let's see, now," Serge intoned. "Yes, I can see that you are going to be a real challenge, Jon. Can't say that I've worked with anyone quite like you before. Still, I do like a challenge. Now, let's see what we can try on you, to get a feel for how you will look."
Next thing he knew, he was standing in the back room again, holding his arms straight out to the sides while Serge pulled, tugged, pinned, stepped back, hmmed to himself, and then stepped forward and did it all again.
"Serge, please, I don't use 'mister'...." Serge repeated, distractedly.
"Um.....this is a suit."
"Yes, and a fine Armani, too." The tailor was working on the hem of the left pants leg.
"I don't....I mean.....don't you have anything else? I mean, how about a pair of jeans and a shirt or a jacket or something?"
"Ridiculous!" the tailor responded, his attention now fully engaged. "We are trying to make you look good, are we not? For your awards ceremony?" He allowed his delicately arched eyebrows the luxury of a slight crease. "Are you trying to tell me my own business?" he pouted.
"Um....no, sir, no, I didn't mean...."
"Then stand still and let me do my job. You arrest Tsoo.....I make heroes look good. Are we quite clear on that?"
"Yes, sir," Jon responded meekly, a perplexed look on his face.
Two hours later, Jon stood in front of a mirror, the pinned and chalked jacket and pants still draped over him. He didn't dare open his mouth to speak his reservations.
"Yes, that should do nicely. Two weeks, young man. Come back in two weeks and we'll see what we shall see."
Jon started to ask about "week to ten days" and decided not to, closed his mouth.
Two weeks to the day, he was again standing in front of the mirror in the back room at Serge's Icon shop.
"Well, what do you think?" Serge asked, a prim smile stretching his lips. He looked very satisfied.
Jon looked at himself, his eye wide with surprise. The navy trousers were a little too narrow for the average person, on account of the fact that Jon's legs were metal instead of flesh, but the slight flare of the jacket hid his too-narrow-hips and made the whole seamless, disguising his over-developed chest and shoulders. Black boots had replaced his brown ones. The belt was gone. Under the jacket he wore a pale blue shirt with a darker blue tie.
"Put these on," Serge ordered. He handed Jon a pair of men's gloves, only a shade lighter in color than the jacket.
"And now, the piece de resistance," Serge cooed, lingering over the French pronounciation.
He grabbed Jon's hair in one hand, twisted it into a rubber band, pushed it to the top of his head, and slipped a dark blue felt fedora over it all.
"I'd have been happier if you had taken the time to go to a barber, Jon, but this will do for now."
Jon was astonished at the transformation. He couldn't stop staring at himself in the mirror. He found himself totally speechless.
Looking back at him was a cultured-looking blonde fellow in a navy suit, blue shirt and tie, black boots, and matching gloves and fedora. He was wearing a lens over his right eye, and had some sort of metallic tracing over the skin of his face; with his hair up under the hat his chin piece could be seen to stretch from one ear to the other, but other than that, he could have been a banker.
Or a tailor.
"What do you think?" the real tailor asked softly, his voice coming from next to Jon's right ear.
Jon blinked. "It's......it's great...." he managed to force out.
Serge-in-the-mirror grinned at him. "I take it that means you are pleased?"
Jon opened his mouth to reply, shut it, opened it again, shut it again.
Serge's grin widened. "You're welcome, Jon. And thank you for coming, it's been a very interesting project."
Jon turned, reached out, took the tailor's right hand in his, gripped his wrist with his left, and pumped it vigorously, still unable to find words.
On the way back to his apartment, walking carefully instead of running, he stopped in a department store and bought a full-length mirror.
There had been no mirror in his apartment. He had taught himself to shave with an electric razor without it.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012