(OOC note: They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. If that's true than it's truly my privelege to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Dan and Martin, both of whom are wordsmiths of the highest degree. Martin asked me to write this interlude for his story and it was my honor to do so. I hope I measure up to the incredibly high standard that my two friends have set. Thanks for the opportunity guys )

Interlude: WinterTech Press Conference

The dull roar of a hundred simultaneous conversations filled the open air outside of WinterTech headquarters. Curiosity hung in the atmosphere like a thick fog that would not dissipate. None of the gathered reporters were sure why the press conference had been called but all were sure it involved the man-shaped mass, unceremoniously covered with an olive green blanket, that was the sole occupant of the stage.

The roar of the crowd settled to quiet murmur as Robert Ferrara, the Head of Public Relations for WinterTech, entered the stage and approached the podium. Tapping his mike to make sure it was on, Ferrara began to address the assembled media:

“I’m sure you’re all wondering why you’ve been asked to come here today. Well to be honest, we don’t really have much to say, only something to show you and then we’ll open the floor to your questions.”

With that Ferrara grabbed the drab blanket and yanked it aside, revealing a robotic-looking figure standing roughly six and a half feet tall. A collective gasp escaped from the audience. All were silent but the same thought ran through all of their minds; a single complicated mixture of confusion and instant understanding: “Chromium Man!”

With a wry smile, Ferrara gestured toward the crowd: “Any questions?”

For several minutes, a silence like the vacuum of space permeated the crowd as the thoughts of the reporters struggled to find verbal release. All at once, as if on cue, a hundred reporters leapt to their feet shouting questions:

“How long has a relationship between WinterTech and Chromium Man existed?”

“Who’s in the suit?”

“Where’s Frank Winter?”

Ferrara stood there letting the reporters shout for a good ten minutes before he even attempted to speak. He was fully aware of the size of the bomb that he had just dropped and wanted to give the audience a few minutes to shout out their frustrations before addressing their concerns. With stunning accuracy Ferrara began to answer their questions, which had been logged away in his photographic memory. It was a strange way to hold a press conference but most of the reporters in attendance were familiar with Ferrara’s idiosyncrasies. In truth he wasn’t even close to being the most eccentric person in the employ of the world famous tech company.

“As you all know, Chromium Man has been acting as a vigilante out of Paragon City over the past year. For the first several months he operated in secret, using stealth technology to undermine various criminal enterprises throughout the city. Recently, his actions have been brought to light by a certain media who simply could not accept the fact that he didn’t exist.”

Quiet laughter sounded from the audience.

“What you don’t know is that Chromium Man was built by WinterTech to be used in the War Against Terror. Unfortunately, the unit proved too expensive to mass-produce and thus, the only existing model is the one you see before you. One year ago, the unit was stolen from us by rogue elements in the US government and used for the purposes for which Chromium Man has now become famous. With the help of the world renowned Riders of Apocalypse, Chromium Man was returned to his rightful owners. Although WinterTech has been legally exonerated, we intend to make good in our own way. We aren’t financially equipped to pay for all the damages caused by the rogue Chromium Man but to make up for it we plan on donating Chromium Man’s services to the city: as a fully-sanctioned ‘super hero’.”

At that, the sound of thunderous applause erupted from the audience and all the gathered reporters jumped to their feet. All, that is, except one. Jackson Turner of the Paragon Times remained seated, unswayed by what he felt was nothing but rhetoric and propaganda. As far as he was concerned, everything Ferrara had said, every word that was swallowed with a spoonful of sugar by his fellow reporters was all meant to deflect their attention from the true question: was Chromium Man Frank Winter? The question of Chromium Man’s identity had been on many people’s minds since the hero first made his debut. Even before Ferrara had announced the connection between WinterTech and Chromium Man, tabloids had run stories that Chromium Man was in fact the son of WinterTech founder Joseph Winter. Ferrara’s announcement had seemed, at least in Turner’s mind, to lend validity to this claim and Jackson was infuriated that so many of his fellow reporters seemed to be buying Ferrara’s garbage. It was an insult to his profession that his colleagues were being herded like sheep. Jackson decided that he would ask the tough questions, even if his associates were placated. At the instant that the raucous ovation ceased, Turner stood and, without the aid of a microphone, boomed:

“So how does Frank Winter breathe in that thing?”

A stunned silence fell over the crowd, followed by a smattering of awkward laughter. All of the reporters present had heard the rumours but this was the first time someone had called WinterTech out on it in public. Ferrara stared at Jackson for a half minute before a smooth voice chimed in from off-stage:

“I’m sure it would be very difficult”, answered Frank Winter, as he strode confidently onto the press conference stage. “If I ever actually had to get to inside ‘that thing’.” He added emphasis to these last words by making quote marks with his fingers in an exaggerated fashion. The entire audience erupted in laughter except for Turner who sat down with a chagrined look on his face.

“I guess it IS time we addressed the question of who Chromium Man is”, continued Winter, looking at Ferrara who now had a smug smile on his face. “The truth is the Chromium Man is a robot. And he always has been.”

For the second time in a few minutes there was nothing but silence.

“So who wants to see what this bad boy can do?” asked Winter and the silence melted into a turbulent ovation as Winter led the press to the WinterTech testing grounds.

From behind a bullet proof glass partition, the various members of the press watched as Frank Winter demonstrated the abilities of Chromium Man for the first time in public. Robert Ferrara was still on hand to make sure that the son of the WinterTech founder didn’t make any PR gaffs, but it was clear to everyone who was assembled that this was Winter’s show now. In recent months, tabloids had outted Frank Winter as Chromium Man but many had rejected the spurious claims citing that Winter was too irresponsible and immature to masquerade as the vigilante. Winter had taken the criticism to heart and although he still enjoyed his fair share of the nightlife and had been voted one of People Magazine’s Top 50 Sexiest People of 2005 he was making a concerted effort to buckle down a little and use his considerable talents for good. As such he had asked his father to make him the public face of the Chromium Man project, which he had been working on without the general public knowing anyway. It was ironic considering the connections that had been drawn between him and Chromium Man even before his appointment.

Everyone in attendance knew who Frank Winter was. You couldn’t walk by a newsstand in any city in the world without seeing his picture on the cover of at least a half dozen magazines. Ironically though, this was the first time many of them had seen him in person. Winter’s exploits were usually the milieu of the entertainment reporters; the members of the press gathered at WinterTech were science and tech reporters. He was not what they expected him to be. Standing a little over six feet, Winter was perfectly proportioned for someone of his height. His build was not overly muscular but one could tell he worked out just by looking at him. He looked as if he had been training for the 25 years he had been alive to perform as an Olympic athlete. He dressed very well but not so well that one might feel he was flaunting his status. He looked casual in a well-fitted black suit that would make most other people look stiff and robotic. His eyes were icy blue, reminiscent of the season from which his family took its name. His hair was at once both neat and messy. It looked uncombed but a closer examination revealed that it was carefully combed to look uncombed. It was a dirty blonde color that the Australians called “swamp water blonde”. He dripped charisma but not in an unctuous way. He struck most people as a friendly and polite young man, despite his reputation, and this impression was mostly accurate. Complementing his looks was a fierce intelligence that was jarring if one believed everything that was printed in the tabloids. Many of the reporters were shocked then when Winter began elucidating the abilities of Chromium Man from the other side of the glass divider:

“For decades, scientists and engineers at WinterTech have tried to uncover the secrets of anti-gravity technology. Chromium Man represents the culminations of almost 70 years of research into this field.”

He gestured to the still rigid Chromium Man who had followed the reporters in under his own power but now stood motionless once again a few feet from Winter.
“Chromium Man’s main offensive and defensive capabilities are granted by an incredibly small anti-gravitational field that surrounds his body”, continued Winter. “Chromium Man can selectively activate or deactivate the field, which acts like a miniaturized version of the Earth’s own gravitational field, to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. The field can be used to attract or repel objects of all sizes and is sensitive enough to be activated over some parts of his body while it’s deactivated over others. We’ll start by demonstrating his defensive capabilities.”

As he was speaking, some WinterTech technicians had wheeled in a large crate containing a wide variety of items that the audience could not see. The technicians left, leaving the featureless training auditorium empty save Winter, Ferrara and Chromium Man. The reporters continued to look on in awe as Winter drew a small handgun from the crate and discharged three rounds at the robotic form in front of him. An instant before the moment of impact, the three bullets veered sharply and suddenly in different directions. For a few seconds, they whirled around Chromium Man as if in orbit and then clattered harmlessly to the ground.

“Chromium Man’s anti-gravitational field makes him act as if he were a small planet with variable gravitational forces. In this instance, the bullets entered an orbit, three orbits actually, where they remained until all their energy was expended. Once their destructive potential was neutralized they were dumped to the ground as you just saw. Chromium Man can defend himself similarly against most conventional weapons.”

For the next half an hour, Winter pulled weapon after weapon from the large crate, each of them being used ineffectively against the armoured hero who barely moved an inch the whole time. The crowd was rapt as Winter shot Chromium Man with a shotgun and an Uzi, hit him with a baseball bat and threw a cinder block at him. He was even able to escape undamaged from a hand grenade by allowing the grenade to explode and trapping the explosive blast and the shrapnel in a gravity field until it was spent.

Stepping away from the box, Winter continued the demonstration:

“By using his field to nullify gravity around all or part of his body, Chromium Man is capable of flight”.

With this, Chromium Man stood on his tiptoes and slowly rose till he was hovering a few feet off the ground.

“Although his gravity field allows him to counter the force that would keep him grounded, Chromium Man needs to be propelled to actually fly anywhere. That’s why we installed these.”

Winter gestured at Chromium Man and a faint blue energy field began to glow at the soles of his feet. With a motion like an Olympic speed skater, the metallic figure began jet all around the testing area.

“We’ve not yet clocked his top speed but our technicians estimate that Chromium Man may be able to reach velocities of up to Mach 4.”

“One of the features were most proud of is Chromium Man’s stealth capabilities”, announced Winter proudly. “Chromium Man can use his gravitational field to distort light waves around him, redirected them so that he becomes almost completely invisible.”

Across the room, Chromium Man shimmered for an instant and then disappeared from view to the delight of the spectators. A few moments later, the hero came back into view, standing a few feet from Winter and several yards from his previous position.

“Along the same lines, Chromium Man can distort forms of energy spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Chromium Man can distort sound waves to render his movements utterly silent and can distort other forms of radiation to become effectively invisible to any known form of detection.”

“I know what you’re all waiting for,” said Winter, a cool smirk sneaking across his face. “You’re wondering what kind of offensive capabilities Chromium Man has. Well who better to show you than Chromium Man himself.”

Winter and Ferrara stepped away as the lights on the testing area grew dim. When the room was just shy of pitch black a single spotlight shown in from above, drawing everyone’s attention to Chromium Man who stood poised for action. A moment later two more spotlights flicked to life, each revealing a huge tank-like machine on either side of Chromium Man that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Frank Winter’s was heard once again, now booming from a PA system located in the training area:

“Chromium Man’s primary weapon is a focused energy blast. Using his gravity field, he is constantly absorbing ambient energy. This is actually the very same energy that powers the construct, meaning Chromium Man uses a 100% clean and renewable energy source. Some scientists call this energy ‘zero point energy’. Chromium Man is capable of channelling this ambient energy into destructive blasts which he can emit from his hands or fists.”

On cue, the robotic figure bent his knees and pointed two closed fists at the tank that was directly in front of him. With a loud shriek, two energy beams fired from his hands, striking the tank and rocking it backwards, almost flipping it over. The metal armour on the front of the tank rent and warped and pieces of shrapnel flew from it, landing a few feet from the hero.

“Chromium Man can extend his gravity field to a small degree, accelerating small objects via a “slingshot effect”, to use a term coined by NASA.”

Chromium Man stooped to the ground and picked up a small piece of shrapnel left from his previous attack. Holding it in his hand, it began to quiver as if being pulled on by some outside force. Suddenly it flew from his hand, punching a hole the size of a basketball in the armour of the tank.

“Chromium Man can use a similar technique to negate the gravitational pull on larger objects. He can’t accelerate them but…oh…you’ll see…”

The hulking robot approached the damaged tank and grabbed it under its front end with one hand. Lifting with seemingly no effort whatsoever, he hoisted the 10-ton behemoth over his head.

“It looks heavy but in his hands it is truly weightless but it will regain its weight once he takes his hands off of it.”

Chromium Man hurled the tank across the room as if it were a baseball. It flew through the air and smashed into the second tank. The mangled wreckage of the two vehicles slid several yards across the floor before grinding to a halt.

“Finally, by redirecting his gravitational field at the precise moment of impact, Chromium Man can strike with the equivalent explosive energy of several tons of dynamite.”

Chromium Man walked over to the twisted wreck of the two tanks and struck it with two upraised fists. With a deafening sound, the hulls of one of the destroyed tanks rent from the point of impact all the way to the floor before. With this, the audience once again erupted in a round of applause. The robot whirled from the wreckage and took an exaggerated and robotic-looking bow. The lights in the testing area came on full-blast as Frank Winter strode back out towards the now-motionless Chromium Man. Standing side-by-side with his armoured creation, he faced the audience, mike in hand. A Cheshire cat-like grin stretched across his face from ear to ear as he raised the mike to his mouth:

“Any questions?”

At the conclusion of the demonstration, Robert Ferrara led the members of the press out of the testing area and escorted them from the building, leaving Frank Winter standing alone with Chromium Man.

“Jackson Turner had a point”, said Alan Blake as he peeled the Chromium Man helmet from his head. “How DO you breathe in that thing?”

Frank Winter chuckled softly. “I guess I’m just used to it.”

“I figured with your experience in the Electrobolt armour that you’d be the ideal choice to man the armour for this little demonstration,” said Winter to his friend. “I’m sorry to have made you uncomfortable. I really can’t thank you enough for helping me out on this.”

“It was really my pleasure, Frank,” replied Blake. “I remember what it was like to keep a secret identity. I felt secure revealing my dual identity to the world but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to. The only thing I don’t get is why you made up all that stuff about the rogue Chromium Man and the suit being a robot.”

“Well,” began Winter, “when I first used the Chromium Man armour to fight crime in Paragon City, I made some mistakes. My methods were a bit more…harsh…and some of the criminals I went up against were killed. I was just so angry with the criminals when I got back from the Middle East that I let my temper get the better of me. It’s not for me to decide whether these people live or die and I regret what I did back then.”

“The thing you have to realize is that the Chromium Man Mk I armour was built to be a weapon of mass destruction; a tool of war. As I upgraded the armour, I included more and more less-than-lethal methods of subduing my enemies. With the suit I unveiled today, the Mk IV, I’ve completely cycled out all of the most deadly armaments the armour utilized. It’s by far the most advanced of all my suits but it’s also the safest: both for me and for anyone silly enough to attack me when I’m wearing it.”

“Do you ever think about turning yourself in for the crimes you committed in your early days as Chromium Man?” asked Blake. The question, coming from anyone else, would’ve been highly insulting to Winter. Blake, however, was one of Winter’s dearest friends, professionally, socially and heroically and Winter took no umbrage.

“I have thought about it”, answered Winter, “but the consequences would be too severe. Not for me but for my family. All of the Chromium Man armours were designed and created on WinterTech time with WinterTech money but under the strictest security too. In the early days, when I was using the armour without permission, my father had no idea of what I was doing. It wouldn’t be fair to him or my mother or any of the thousands of people who work for WinterTech if I were to confess now. If I turned myself in to the police I’d just end up screwing up more lives than I already have.”

“I think my best bet is just to let people believe that Chromium Man is now and always has been a robot. My father’s company has already been cleared of all the damage I’ve done. As long as I can keep on the straight and narrow I think I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror someday. The least I can do is give something back now by being an officially sanctioned hero. It’ll be good to do something for the greater good rather than pursuing my own agenda.”

“I wish you the best of luck, my friend,” said Blake. He began to remove the armour piece by piece so that he could return it to its rightful owner.

“Thanks, Alan. I’m just happy that my armour will be used to do something really good for once.”

The two men were interrupted by the sound of hard shoes walking briskly across the testing area’s floor. A WinterTech lawyer whom Winter did not recognize was hurrying toward them. “Bad news” was written all over his face.

“Mr. Winter, can I have a word with you in private” stammered the lawyer. Something was clearly wrong here.

“It’s okay. Anything you can say to me, you can say in front of Mr. Blake. What is it?” said Winter.

“Mr. Winter…" the lawyer paused searching for the right words. “We have a situation…”
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