Mike Cafferty, Irritable Superhero
by Mark Gellis
Five years ago, computer programmer Mike Cafferty went to sleep in his New York apartment. He woke up with a fever. He called in sick to work and took the day off. The fever got worse. He figured he would sleep it off and went to bed. The next thing he knew, it was 10 days later and he was in the hospital. His coworkers had called the police when he did not show up for work on the second day and they had gotten the superintendent to open his apartment; when they did, they found Mike in a coma.
During those 10 days, he had changed. The doctors said that, as near as they could tell, his cells had simply decided that they should generate DNA similar to that found in both snakes and lizards. They had also found other things, too, that could not quite be identified.
Mike had become a metahuman.
No one knows why this happened. Mike does not recall coming into contact with any radioactive materials, mutant insects, alien artifacts, ghostly apparitions, or anything similar. His transformation appears to have been an entirely arbitrary twist of fate.
Mike went back to work. His new metabolism and powers did not really affect his job performance one way or the other, although at first it was a little disconcerting to have him around. Mike had been a man of average good looks. Now, he was a man whose skin reminded people of a serpent, shiny and scaly, in a mottled pattern of brown and gold that made him look a lot like a really big ball python.
Fortunately, Mike discovered entirely by accident that he could change color. He had been sitting in his apartment, staring at himself in the mirror, wishing fervently that he could be normal again and it happened. His skin took on a color similar to the light tan he had sported a few weeks earlier. Mike, like any good programmer, guessed that his new body might have other "Easter Eggs" and started experimenting.
As it turned out, he could be any color he wanted. He had to visualize it, concentrate on it for a minute or so, and it happened. In fact, he could assume not only any color, but any pattern. And he would stay that way until he wanted to change again.
Slowly but surely, he discovered other powers, too. His skin acted as a kind of natural armor. He could still get hurt, but his skin was hard to cut; it gave him an edge against things like knives and fire. He has not tried to find out whether it will slow down bullets or not, although he suspects it will help a little. He does not really want to find out exactly how much, though.
He is stronger now, more than twice as strong as a normal person. He is also much faster, with truly remarkable reflexes. He developed a knack for climbing; he cannot actually cling to surfaces like an insect, but if there is a way to climb something, he can probably manage it. His body seemed to have just learned how to do this on its own, and it had learned other things, like how to move in almost complete silence and how to roll and flip to get him out of danger. Mike also found that his senses had become much sharper. Finally, he now heals at an abnormally high rate; injuries that would have normally taken several days to recover from now heal in a matter of hours.
Oddest of all, he could stare at an animal or a person and make them freeze in utter confusion for a few seconds, which is more than enough to get away or whack them upside the head, depending on what the situation called for.
So, there he was. And it was not where he wanted to be.
Mike had no desire to fight crime. He had studied martial arts but it was mostly for the exercise and because he was afraid of being mugged. He felt that fighting crime was best left to professionals like the police who had studied how it was supposed to be done and who were actually paid to put their lives on the line.
He had no desire to be a criminal, either. (Yes, on occasion, like most people, he broke the law in small ways, like speeding or not paying for the songs he had downloaded as MP3s . . . but things like selling drugs or grand theft space station were simply not on his agenda.) He remembered the small-time hoods he had known in high school as disturbing people he wanted to get away from as soon as possible.
He just wanted to live a normal life.
But then, once fate starts to twist in arbitrary ways, it simply cannot help itself and always has to have "'one more for the road," as it were. Mike was standing outside his favorite bar, matching his skin to his black leather jacket to see if anyone female would be impressed by this when Trouble appeared. Across the street, he saw three hoodlums attack an elderly couple. Mike told the bouncer to call 911 and walked across the street and in very short order put all three of the young criminals in serious pain. Looking back on it later, he could not recall why he did this except that he just felt he had to help those people. The next day, the newspapers were full of stories of a new hero who struck with the speed and ferocity of a cobra.
Mike read the stories at work the next day. He groaned. Nothing could save him now. He had become the Cobra.
He has tried to lead a fairly normal life. He kept his job and only fights crime on his off hours (if there is a real emergency, he takes a personal day; for the most part, his boss has been sympathetic because it would be bad publicity for the company to fire a superhero for saving innocent lives). He does not keep it a secret that he is the Cobra, but he moved to a new apartment and has gotten an unlisted phone number. He wears a "costume" of supple black leather and a black leather hood that covers his eyes, and he changes his skin color to black leather so it will at least not be obvious that he is Mike Cafferty. He can generally walk the streets without being mobbed by autograph seekers.
He mostly fights crime by walking around (or climbing to the rooftops) at night and waiting to see if anyone needs help. Or, if he is feeling restless, he will call some of the other costumed crimefighters working in the city and see if they need his help with anything. He carries relatively little equipment in the pockets of his pants and his jacket; a cell phone with wireless Internet access, a small canister of pepper spray, a Swiss army knife, a pair of handcuffs, and a few other odds and ends is usually all he has with him. Generally, in combat, he tries to sneak up on people, stun them somehow, handcuff them to something convenient, and then call the police. He does not believe in doing anything flashy when fighting criminals. The way Mike sees it, people who do flashy things tend to get shot.
Trouble, however, seems to have no trouble finding him. People who are in need always seem to turn up when he is around. It is almost as if some supernatural force is leading them to him. Mike has learned to accept this; if asked about it, he will simply say: "I am obviously cursed. I just don't know why."
Over the years, he has come to know the local superhero community. They trust him, although he is just an amateur and they are sometimes annoyed by his attitude, and they occasionally call on him to help out with a particular mission. This is not regular enough for them to be truly considered "allies," though; they aren't exactly going to be giving him a key to the secret hero mansion any time soon.
Mike finds them . . . interesting. They have given him some very good advice, he thinks, but he also considers them a rather eccentric bunch. And that is on the good days.
Mike Cafferty (aka the Cobra)
5'10" 170 lbs. Black hair. Blue eyes. Age: 28. From a distance, he appears to be a nondescript man of medium height and healthy build. As you get closer, you realize that he has . . . scales.
ST 23 , DX 16 , IQ 12 , HT 15 
Advantages: Alertness +3 , Chameleon (3 levels) , Combat Reflexes , Common Sense , Hyper Reflexes , Night Vision , Regeneration (Regular) , Scales (DR 1) 
Powers: Confuse-15 (10) (Requires eye contact, -20%) 
Disadvantages: Weirdness Magnet (For some reason, people in trouble always manage to find him, especially if their trouble involves masked maniacs, evil masterminds, or killer robots) [-10], Sense of Duty (Anyone who really needs and deserves his help) [-10], Unnatural feature (Scales) [-5]
Quirks: Irritated by the whole "over the top" nature of most costumed heroes and evil masterminds [-1], Likes Chinese food [-1], Likes wearing black leather [-1], Thinks he is a sucker for putting himself in danger all the time [-1], Ultimately, after the bad guy is caught or the helpless waif is rescued, he really is glad he was there and able to help, but he knows better than to actually tell people this (not that he is fooling anyone by not telling them, you know) [-1]
Skills: Acrobatics-16 , Administration-11 , Driving (Automobile)-16 , Area Knowledge (New York)-12 , Climbing-20 , Computer Hacking-11 , Computer Operation-14 , Computer Programming-14 , Intimidation-12 , Judo-16 , Jumping-20 , Karate-16 , First Aid-12 , Knowledge: Metahuman Community 11- , Professional Skill: Web Designer-14 , Research-11 , Stealth-16 , Swimming-16 
Languages: English-12 
Total Points: 500
Using Mike In A Campaign
Mike can be used as a player character or as an NPC. He is meant to be a character whose slightly cynical attitude about being a superhero is in comic contrast to the "boy scout brigade" approach one often finds with supers. He doesn't think saving innocents or putting criminals in jail is a bad thing, but the whole idea of traipsing about the city in a costume and saying things like, "Now, you will face the emerald wrath of the Green Marvel!" just seems a tad loopy to him.
He frequently wonders why supers do not simply call in appropriate government agencies or the police once they have figured out what the bad guys are planning. It has to be safer than going after these lunatics and their goons (not to mention their killer robots) on your own. And some of Mike's fellow heroes get pretty aggravating after a while. Although Mike concedes that their hearts are in the right place, you can only take people like the Green Marvel or Frost Girl for so long before you start feeling the need to whack them upside the head.
It also bugs him that gaining his powers has forced him to do this over and over again. Scooping little Suzi out of the path of an oncoming bus is okay if you only have to do it once a year; if you have to do it twice a week, it becomes a chore.
But Mike cannot walk away. For all his complaining, he is a decent guy and he cannot turn his back on anyone who really needs his help.
He thinks he is a sucker. Everyone else knows he is a hero. A cranky hero, perhaps, but a hero nonetheless.
Article publication date: May 9, 2003
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