"For me the uniform was a kind of mask. Sure, it's a costume by definition, something used to show the world who I am and what my function is, and yeah the fact that it included a face-obscuring helmet helped to sell the anonymity of the thing, but what I really mean is that whenever I put it on I was free to leave my old self behind and inhabit this completely different creature. I was suddenly capable of all sorts of things I wouldn't have been able to do as me, unmasked. Many good, heroic things... but also an equal number of horrific, inhuman things."
"Sounds a little bit, I dunno..." I grasped for a tactful word and, finding none, said: "insane."
"It does, doesn't it?" he asked, half of his mouth twisted up into a smirk. "And maybe it was just a little bit crazy. But you have to understand that those were crazy times. Have you ever been swept up into a fervor? Felt the irresistible pull of the mob? It ebbs and flows like a tide and it doesn't care how good of a swimmer you think you are. Any opposition is pulled into the undertow."
I nodded. I had felt it once before, crushed inside a frantic crowd as it tried to flee an explosion in the Metronic. A car bomb had detonated in front of some brokerage. They'd later determined it had been some disgruntled employee who'd lost his job for underperforming in a workplace where everyone was a superstar but so sorry, thanks for your decade-and-a-half of solid contribution, we've just got to let you go. His farewell gift to the company he'd so loyally served had killed sixteen people, maimed eight others, and none of the victims had either worked for nor patronized his target. I'd been an entire block away when the blast hit; felt the sudden warm gust of air that preceded the screams of terror and that mad, mad crush. I remember there being no thought, no consideration: just a raw animal fear that supercharged the senses and we were moving as one. It was trample or be trampled, survive or die.
"Totally irrational," I said.
"Yeah. I mean, maybe I could have joined the movement even if they hadn't had the uniform. I'd already lost my brother to the fighting, and I'd been sick to death of my friend's and family's apathy or ignorance. But I'd be lying if I said that having the suit didn't make it easier."
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