A World of Heroes

Wow, I have really fallen behind with this blog. The good news is, I have a ton of stuff to post here. The bad news is I probably won’t get around to doing it for a while, because I’m lazy and get distracted by things (like getting a new drawing tablet, which I’ll definitely write about in a future post). Here’s a story from a few months ago, when our group’s genre was superhero.

‘You’re so lucky,’ Jennifer sighed over a cup of coffee one Tuesday morning.

‘Me? Why?’

‘You get to meet all the famous heroes… Sound Slasher, Red Rubillion, Cosmic Sky Knight… I’d give anything just to speak to them, and you’ve interviewed them all.’

‘They’re not as wonderful as you might think,’ I muttered. Slasher had a drug problem, Rubillion was an arrogant prick, and Sky Knight… Sky Knight had tried with all the subtly of a rhino to get me to go home with him that night. He’d lost his temper and cut the interview short when I refused. Still, the people needed their heroes.

‘If you like them so much, go and join them,’ I suggested. ‘The Coalition is always looking for new recruits.’

Jennifer frowned. ‘I’m not good enough.’ She held up her coffee. ‘I can heat this to the perfect temperature, but that’s about it.’

‘Well maybe they need someone to make perfect coffee for them,’ I joked. Jennifer’s face fell, and I bit the inside of my lip to keep myself from hurting her feelings any more. It was hard for me to feel much sympathy for my friend. She may not have the endless strength of Red Rubillion, or the invulnerability of the Sky Knight, but at least she had something. She was like 99% of the beings on this planet, gifted with some kind of supernatural ability. Not like me. I was part of the one percent, the people who were just people.

I took a shortcut back to the office — an alleyway that served as a convenient expressway to Starbucks. I tossed a few coins to the many-tentacled beggar who sat on the corner, spewing garbled english to passer-by. He was one of many alien-like creatures that had spawned from the Chasm that had turned our world into a permanent freak show.

It was my job to report on the varied and rambunctious goings-on in the city of Portside. Yes, it meant I got to interview ultra-famous heroes like Sound Slasher. It also meant that I was usually the first civilian on scene of any crime (other than the required damsel in distress). And to be honest, superheroes really aren’t that exciting. Everything about them is formulaic.

The sound of crackling brought me back to the present. A man dressed in what looked to be heaps of rags stood in front of me, his eyes holding a hint of madness. ‘Your purse, little girlie,’ the man spat through a large gap in his rotting teeth. A handful of debris danced in his right palm, proof of his supernatural ability.

I sighed and kept walking. Time is money, and this guy wasn’t worth more than a few seconds.

‘Hey!’ he cried as I moved past him. ‘D’ya wanna get hurt?’                  

I shrugged. ‘Go ahead, attack me. See what happens.’

He did just that, throwing the objects at me with enough force to stun a rhino. Just as the debris was about to hit me, a white blur moved between and my assailant. A hero had come. They always do.

‘Hey there, Keira.’

‘Hiya, Arc. Busy day?’

‘Not bad, not bad,’ Arc said, as he bashed my assailant’s head against a nearby wall. ‘You’ll remember this, won’t you?’

I smiled sweetly at my saviour. ‘Of course. It never hurts one’s image to save a helpless girl like me.’ I waved Arc goodbye and continued on to my office building.

Arc’s appearance had not surprised me in the least. I’m constantly being followed by a pack of up-and-coming heroes. It’s the reason I can choose to take shortcuts down alleys in this mad world of ours. If anything happens, and it often does, one of my ducklings will always be there to save me.

You see, I am responsible for making or breaking a superhero’s image. And in these days of almost constant world-ending threats, image was everything. I may not have any actual superpowers, but with a few flicks of my pen (or a few words into my dictaphone – we don’t really use pens anymore) I can bring a hero from stardom to public enemy number one. My bi-weekly column on the latest and greatest in the hero world was one of the most read in the country, and it was every amateur’s dream to be featured in it.

I had yet to pick a subject for this week’s column, and thought I might give Arc a try. His ability to channel electricity wasn’t all that unique, but he had a genuine desire to help people, along with the usual desire for money and fame.

I was still thinking about the upcoming column as I slid into my office. How could I put a tragic spin on Arc’s life? He was happily married with two kids, didn’t drink or smoke, and was a regular volunteer at the Westside Shelter for Orphaned Puppies. Heroes had to have something tragic in their backstories to appeal to the public. I’d have to go digging to find something suitable on Arc.

‘Keeeeiiira!’ A sing-song voice said from down the hall.

I winced. If Mitch was coming to see me, something big had happened.

‘I’m glad you’re back – General Varax is holding City Hall hostage again. We need you down there.’

‘Is that really even news anymore?’

Mitch shrugged. ‘It is and it isn’t. More importantly, a fair chunk of our budget comes from the mayor — if we don’t send our best to the scene, he’ll see it as an insult.’

‘Fine, fine.’ I said with a sigh.

The scene at city hall was exactly as I expected. The mayor and other hostages were inside the building, guarded by the General’s cronies. General Varax himself was inside, his voice projecting into the square through a loudspeaker. He seemed to be asking for his usual ludicrous amounts of money.

The heroes, for their part, were speckled around the building, a colourful mosaic of spandex and capes. They were waiting for the media to show up — there was no point in making a dramatic rescue if no one was there to see it. A few of them waved cheerily at me as I checked my hair and makeup. I nodded back at them.

‘Keira!’

I turned to see Jennifer trotting up to me, a worried look on her face.

‘Jen, you shouldn’t be here. The heroes are pretty good about keeping civilians out of it, but accidents can happen.’

‘I need your help,’ she said, ignoring my warning. ‘Please! You’re the only one who can help.’

I sighed and looked back at City Hall. Trisha Gallaway from CT04 and Greg Bloomberg from Channel 3 still weren’t here, so I had a bit of time. ‘Alright, but let’s make it quick. I need to be back here when things start happening.’

Jennifer nodded and trotted away from the square, ducking down a side street. I followed, after a quick word to my cameraman. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked once I had caught up.

She turned to face me, her yes not quite meeting mine. ‘Sorry, Keira.’ Before I could react, she jabbed a needle into my arm and depressed the plunger.

‘What the hell?!’ I cried, smacking her hand away. ‘What was that? What did you do?’

‘We need you…’ was the last thing I heard before everything went blurry, and then black.

I awoke in a laboratory, my hands and feet bound by coarse rope. Jennifer was there, as was a man I didn’t recognize. I guessed he was a scientist of some sort — the white lab coat, slightly askew glasses and mussed hair were dead giveaways. I yawned and stretched, letting my captors know I was awake.

‘I’m sorry Keira!’ Jennifer exclaimed. ‘I think you’ll like what we’re doing here, though. I think you will.’

‘If you think that, you could have just asked if I would come here,’ I pointed out. ‘There was no need to abduct me.’

Jennifer flinched at the word “abduct”. ‘We couldn’t take any chances,’ she muttered.

‘You don’t seem very nervous,’ the scientist observed.

‘I’m not,’ I replied. ‘Should I be?’

‘You’ve been kidnapped. I’d think you’d be a little worried.’

I shrugged. ‘It’s not my first time.’

‘Really?’ The scientist said, turning back to his desk of vials and flasks. ‘So how many times have you been captured?’

I thought for a moment. ‘Six. Seven, if you count the time with Black Shadow Cat, but I like to think of that more as a business meeting.’

‘Six times?’ Jennifer said, her voice wavering. ‘How come you never told me?’

I shrugged again. ‘It didn’t seem very important. So, can we get down to business? I have a hostage situation to report on.’

Jennifer knelt down beside me, while the scientist bustled busily with his beakers. ‘That’s Dr. Vogas,’ she explained. ‘He’s going to make our lives better. He’s going to make this whole world better.’

‘Okay,’ I said, not bothering to hide the skepticism from my voice. ‘But why do you need me?’

‘We need your blood.’ Vogas said from across the room.

‘He’s going to make everyone normal again,’ Jennifer said, her eyes gleaming. ‘We can’t close the Chasm, or get rid of the aliens, but Dr. Vogas is going to get rid of everyone’s superpowers. And then… we’ll be as strong as everyone else. Can you imagine it?’

I was silent, thinking about the implications of their plan. No more superpowers… no more villains, no more heroes. I would no longer be the one percent of people who were weak, who were helpless in this world.

‘See?’ Jennifer said, staring into my face. ‘You can see the benefits. The heroes and villains would no longer have all the power, they’d just be normal. We’d all be normal.’

I thought about that, as Dr. Vogas walked over and took some blood from my left arm. What was normal, really? Right now, to be normal was to be superhuman. Which meant that I was distinctly abnormal. Take away everyone’s powers… and I’d be normal too. Did I really want that?

My thoughts were interrupted by a sound like a rhino bursting through the wall. A man in shockingly pink tights and a large green cape blew imagined smoke off his fist. ‘You’d better let Miss Harding go this instant, or you’ll be eating fists!’

I sighed. This was my least favourite of the Big Six, the most famous group of heroes in Portside. His hero name was Neon Smash, and he was an aggravating combination of showman and total idiot. I raised my eyebrows as another caped crusader stepped through the hole Smash had made. He was followed by another, and another. There were six of them in all. Six. My mouth dropped open. All of the Big Six were here, while there was a hostage situation with the mayor. Why the hell were they here? I’d expected some of my pack, some B-level heroes. Not the best in the city.

‘Red Rubillion, if you could untie Miss Harding,’ Cosmic Sky Knight said, once the six of them had arranged themselves in heroic stances. I noticed with amusement that they’d organized themselves so that the colours of their costumes were balanced, and were as pleasing to the eye as bright spandex could be. It would’ve been a perfect photo op, and I’m sure they knew it. I had a feeling they’d practiced that arrangement.

‘Thanks,’ I muttered when Rubillion untied me. I glared at him as he flashed me a bright smile and sauntered back into formation. ‘Um… you guys… thanks for saving me and all, but you shouldn’t forget about him.’ I nodded towards Dr. Vogas, who had been busily scurrying around trying to finish his elixir. My saviours hadn’t moved from their poses, save for Rubillion.

‘Er…’ Sky Knight said slowly.

‘The thing is,’ Neon Smash interrupted. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have a camera, would you? It’s just, the six of us are so rarely in the same shot, and this would be a great story for… um… someone to write about. Yeah. Really great.’

I glared at the six idiots in front of me. They stood resolutely, heroic expressions on all of their faces, standing in the rubble of the wall while Dr. Vogas got closer to ending all of their careers. I whipped out the pocket camera I always carried with me, and snapped a quick photo.

Now will you go stop him? He’s planning to get rid of everyone’s superpowers, by the way.’ They paused for a moment before springing to action, seizing Jennifer and Dr. Vogas in an instant. I looked at my watch — from time of kidnapping to now had only been forty-three minutes. ‘What’s the situation with the mayor?’ I asked the Six.

Neon Smash turned back to me, holding a struggling Jennifer in his arms. ‘We left some of the Coalition there, in case things got nasty. But likely they haven’t started yet, we told them to wait for you if they could.’

I nodded. ‘Excellent. Could one of you take me there?’

‘I can do that, darling,’ Sky Knight said, sliding his arm around my shoulders.

‘Keira!’ Jennifer cried. ‘The serum is in the machine. All you have to do is push the red button, and the world will be changed.’

I smiled sweetly at my ex-friend. ‘Sorry, sweetheart.’ I said, being as patronizing as I could. ‘You see, in this world, I have all the power. Power isn’t defined by what abilities you have, it’s measured by your influence over people. And I… I influence everyone. So I’m not going to change a thing. I like this world just fine.’

I was waiting for Sky Knight to finish with the police when a dejected Arc tramped up to the building. He stared at the gaping hole in the side of the laboratory. ‘I guess the others took care of things,’ he said.

I nodded. ‘Yeah, they were really great. Very heroic. I think I’ll have to do a special on the Six for this column. But don’t give up, Arc. There’s always next week.’ I patted him on the shoulder as Sky Knight scooped me up in his overly-defined arms and took off into the air.

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