Sibling Rivalry

Janice stood by the food vendor’s open door. “One deep-fried candy bar for the lovely lady.” The vendor leaned out with a smile on her face. With a deft hand, he swapped the food for the five dollar bill in Janice’s hand.

“That stuff is gonna be the death of you,” a man said approaching Janice. “Not to mention destroy all those workouts you do.”

Janice turned with a scowl on her face to face the voice. The grimace turned to a smile as she connected eyes with the man. “Harold! You made it.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Harold said. “One of four times we get together without fighting.”

“Yeah,” Janice said around a mouth full of melted candy bar. “Plus it’s public, so plenty of witnesses.”

“You’re my sister,” Harold affected a stunned look. “I would never dream of hurting you.”

“Putting me in the ICU is another matter.” Janice rolled her eyes as she tilted her head, still munching on the candy bar.

“I’ve apologized for that.” Harold leaned in close. “And I made sure Shox paid for it.”

“It’s good to see my big brother still looks after me.” Janice pulled in the last of the candy bar and tossed the stick in a garbage can. “Does he still not like midway rides?” She glanced in the direction of a large sign pointing to the rides.

“You know they make me sick.” Harold moved for the sign, following Janice’s lead. “But you are welcome to ride them all you want.”

“Let me get this straight,” Janice said walking towards the midway. “You fly at high rates of speed. Perform complex maneuvers in fights. Free fall from great heights and pull off fantastic feats at the drop of a hat without practice. But a little hurky jerk on a rollercoaster and up comes lunch.”

“What can I say,” Harold said with a smile. “I’m just born this way.” He continued to walk with his sister.

“Speaking of being born this way,” Janice said, moving closer to her brother. “Have you heard about the bill that Senator Carlton is pushing?”

“Yup,” Harold answered. “My team is working on a rebuttal as we speak.”

“The last time you rebutted something like this, six people died.” Janice by ring toss booth.

Harold handed the attendant a five dollar bill and took three rings. He tossed the first ring and it landed on the neck of a bottle. “Correction. Six bigots died.”

“They were still people.” Janice looked around. No one was really paying their conversation any attention.

“They even whined when you and your team saved the rest.” Harold tossed the next two rings in rapid succession. Both sunk onto a bottleneck. The barker handed him a large stuffed dog. Janice gave a mock golf clap.

“You didn’t have to fill their lungs with gas.” Janice reached for the dog. “They didn’t even have filters or masks.” She continued on her previous path.

“It was self defense.” Harold walked next to Janice. “They shot and killed Lariat. Even the news had that one on video.”

“OK,” Janice said. “I’ll give you that. But being violent doesn’t help.”

“Passive is too slow and the results are flakey at best.” Harold pointed to another game of chance. This one the milk bottles.

Janice put down a ten and demanded six balls. The attendant handed over seven. “Good luck lady.”

“You’ve barely managed to stop legislature and deter riots over civil liberties off Meta-Humans.” Harold, holding the large dog, watched Janice’s technique.

“Well,” Janice said, flinging a side armed pitch that knocked over all three metal milk bottles. “At least no one get hurt.”

“Are you kidding?” Harold laughed. “You’ve put people in the hospital. Even dished out a few permanent limps.”

The attendant stepped back from setting up the bottles. Janice flung her next ball. “OK, so people get hurt. On both sides.” All three bottles crashed again. “It seems that both of us are gaining ground, but just very slowly.” The attendant moved to set the bottles up again.

“True.” Harold nodded. “But I don’t have to keep reminding people. I say something once, and they get it.”

In a quick fire motion, Janice sent the next three balls at three other pyramids of milk bottles. The attendant looked at the mess of bottles, then back to Janice. She waved the last ball. Letting out a heavy sigh, the attendant set one set of bottles. No sooner had he stepped back, then Janice let the last ball fly, once again knocking them over. The attendant looked at Janice and she pointed to an extra large stuffed panda bear. The attendant handed the bear to Janice, who handed it to Harold.

“How’s the intimidation thing working for you?” Janice held the prize Harold had won for her. “You are a wanted felon and murderer.”

“I’m not a wanted felon, Smoke is.” Shifting the large panda under an arm, Harold added, “And I never killed anyone without provocation. All of them are pure selfdefense, provable in any court of law.”

“Harold,” Janice said, walking down the midway. “We both want the same thing, I get it.” She moved to allow a young couple to walk by. “It is our approach that separates us.”

“Which makes you the hero and me the villain.” Harold stepped next to his sister. “I love these outings. Peaceful and they remind me what an endearing sap you are.” He smiled and kissed her cheek.

“You’re not a villain,” Janice said. “You’re my brother.” She smiled as Harold walked through the exit and into the dark of the field beyond.

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Anti Villain

Lincoln walked to the bank and opened the door. His newly finished costume still had the new leather smell, and it carried to the guys he hired as muscle. Stepping inside Lincoln raised a hand and made it glow dark red.

In a loud voice, but not at the shouting level, Lincoln said, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention.” All heads and eyes turned towards him. “My associates and I are here to make a withdrawal. I assure you, the bank is covered by insurance you will recover the funds. That is why you pay the high fees and interest rates.” The smile below his mask widened and showed plenty of white teeth.

Lincoln walked over to the counter, depositing a bag at each teller. “Please fill these and don’t be that person. You know, the one that puts the exploding dye pack in the bag.” Looking at the last teller he pointed. “Yes. That one. Don’t put that in my bag. It really doesn’t work. I will just wash the money and most of it will come out. No one will really notice it.”

Lincoln nodded to his two companions, and they vaulted the low wall. They grabbed a man and punched a guard that moved for his gun. With quick precision, they opened the door to the vault area.

“Thug One,” Lincoln called to a partner. “Keep the violence down. Just the barest of necessities, please.”

Thug One stared at Lincoln for a beat, then shrugged his shoulders. He turned back to the short hallway and disappeared.

“Good, good.” Lincoln walked the teller line again. He pulled a bag from the counter and weighed it in his hand. “Did you put one of them dye packs in here when I wasn’t looking?” He tilted his head at the man behind the counter and made one of his hands glow dark red. The man nodded, sending the sweat running down his face off the end of his nose. “Excellent! See? Cooperation is its own reward.” Lincoln smiled like a kindergarten teacher.

In turn, Lincoln pulled the bags from the counter and held them in his fist. As he walked towards the door, he checked the clock on the wall. “So far, so good. Right on time.” He stopped and rocked back and forth on his heels, a mild tune whistled from his lips.

When the clock on the wall ticked two minutes later, Lincoln touched his ear. “Thugs, you need to be wrapping up.”

“Almost done,” the voice said over the communication device. A moment later and the two thugs, along with the man they took, exited the vault area. Both men carried bags that looked heavy.

“Excellent!” Lincoln moved to the door and held it open for his companions. “It has been a pleasure robbing you and I appreciate your cooperation. Don’t forget to file that insurance claim right away. The sooner the better.” He pointed to the man in a tailored suit. Next he waved and smiled to the customers then left.

In the van, Lincoln jumped into the driver’s seat. “Please divide the loot up according to the agreement. I am swinging by Quinn’s Place to get the items in the boxes fenced.”

The two thugs did as requested.

Thug One looked at Thug Two. “We actually pulled it off. No cops, no heroes, nothing.”

“Yeah,” said Thug Two. “This is the best so far. We have money and are going to get more.”

“Gentlemen,” Lincoln said. “If you just follow the rules, and don’t hurt anyone, they let you rob them.”

“Who woulda thought,” Thug Two said.

“That and don’t get greedy.” Lincoln smiled at his assistants. “We can’t get greedy.”

The Villain

“I’m proud of you son,” Mr. Walls said as he hugged Ronald. “Graduating MIT with a Masters in Engineering.” Mr. Walls glowed as he broke the hug.

“Thanks, dad.” Ronald stepped back. “You too, mom.” Ronald leaned in and wrapped his arms around his mother. “You’re the best parents I could ever want.”

“Well, now,” Mrs. Walls sobbed. “There were times you didn’t always say that.”

“Water under the bridge.” Ronald broke the hug from his mother. “Trust me. I couldn’t have done it without your support. That and Danielle’s.” He turned and extended an arm to a blond woman standing nearby. “The best girlfriend a man could ever want, and I’m glad she’s with me.”

Several months later…

“Welcome to Baxter Technology.” Mr. Stewart extended his hand to Ronald. “We hope you’ll like it here.”

“Thank you Mr. Stewart,” Ronald said, his voice breaking from the vigorous shaking of his arm. “I’m sure I will. The work you’ve done with deep sea exploration and even the space program will be plenty challenging. I want to get my feet wet as soon as I can.”

“Good,” Mr. Stewart said. “You start Monday. Take this weekend and do something selfish.” He walked Ronald through the glass doors and down the steps. “See you Monday.”

Ronald drove to his one-bedroom apartment. His legs took the stair three at a time. He jingled his keys in front of the knob, but the door was yanked open.

“Well,” said the blue-eyed blond standing in the door. “How’d it go?” She left her mouth opened and held her breath.

“I start Monday!” Ronald threw his hands up in the air, then dashed forward. He embraced Danielle and locked his lips onto hers. “But first, there is something I have to do. Get changed, we’re going out.”

“R-R-Ronny!” Danielle stepped back then moved for the bedroom.

When the door closed, Ronald went to kitchen and grabbed the cookie jar on the top of the refrigerator. Sticking his hand in, he pulled out the small box he stashed in there when they moved in. He shoved the box into his jacket pocket and waited.

A few minute later and Danielle stepped out of the bedroom. She wore her nice dress, a strand of pearls, and fresh make-up. “I’m ready.”

Ronald smiled as he held her hand towards the car. He opened her door and then drove to a nice restaurant. They ordered steak and wine. It would be some time before they could afford this again.

At the lull in the conversation, Ronald pulled the box out of his pocket. He opened it towards Danielle and proposed marriage to her. In standard fair, she said yes. Danielle trembled through the desert, and out to the car. She was to be married.

On the drive home, Ronald said he was the luckiest man in the world.

Three years later…

“Ronald,” Mr. Stewart said as approached the desk. “This is a standard form. We give it to all our employees that help us get a patent.”

“Really?” Ronald turned away from his keyboard and monitor. “A patent?”

“Yes,” Mr. Stewart answered with a smile. “You did most of the work and your names goes on it. Plus,” he pulled out another form. “Because it a high seller, you get profit sharing. It isn’t much, but few people get that right away.”

“Profit sharing?” Ronald gaped at Mr. Stewart. “It was just a simple valve for better flow of oxygen.”

“We have used it for more than just oxygen,” Mr. Stewart said. “So far, it has worked for all our other gaseous delivery systems as well.” Mr. Stewart leaned forward. “It exceeded safety standards across the board. Great job! Keep it up.”

“I will.” Ronald signed the forms where indicated then gave them back to Mr. Stewart.

When Ronald got home, his good news was overshadowed by more good news. “I’m pregnant,” Danielle shared her news.

Five years after that…

“It is an honor to promote you, Ronald.” Mr. Stewart finished signing the paperwork. “I remember your first day here. You’ve done nothing but excel.”

“I like my job and the people I work with.” Ronald shrugged and smiled. “It’s fun to invent crazy gadgets and other things. Especially when people have a use for them.”

“Yes, that is rewarding.” Mr. Stewart looked up from the last piece of paper. “We also like it when you save lives and enhance the world around us.”

“Yeah,” Ronald smiled. “I like saving lives, too.” His face flushed and his eyes watered.

Seven years beyond…

“Hello?” Danielle held her cellphone up to her ear.

“Dani! Excellent.” Ronald’s voice was muffled by the background noise around him. “I need you to go into the emergency fund and empty it.”

“What?” Danielle walked to the bedroom, then the closet. “That’s supposed to be for emergencies. Life or death.”

“I know,” Ronald said, his voice sounding breathy. “This is that. Or will be.”

“What happened?” Danielle put the plastic card into her wallet and grabbed her car keys. “Are you hurt?”

“No. Just don’t believe what you see on TV.” There was some other noises that muffled Ronald’s voice. “At least not all of it is true.”

“TV. Ronny-” The line went dead.

Danielle grabbed the remote from the nightstand and tapped the power button. The large flat screen television glowed, then displayed the news.

The reporter read from the prompter off camera. “Mechanaton’s terror spree for the last three years has come to an end.” He paused as he touched his ear piece. “Oh, ladies and gentlemen, it seems that we have exclusive footage of the police taking him in. Stockade and Umber of the Valiant Squad were able to bring him down. There. Right there.”

The video paused on an image of a man in a dark green costume. His wild hair sticking out at different angles. The eyes were wide, and the mouth clenched shut.

“We have a name. The police have finished booking him and have run his finger prints. It came back with-”

“Ronny!”

The Cleaners

Mike looked at the plain wooden door. There was no sign to say this was Yeltza’s Cleaners. He pulled the doorknob and strode in.

The white counter showed a cash register and a metal pole holding various clothes wrapped in plastic.

“Just a minute,” sounded from the depths of the back.

“At least no one else is-”, Mike’s words stopped on his lips as he looked to his left at the row of seats. One other person sat, holding a ticket.

“Don’t worry,” the guy pointed to the items hanging on the pole. “You can’t see through the plastic. Custom made.”

Mike looked at the hanging clothes. Staring directly at the rack revealed a grey blob with shadowy colors.

“Good to know,” Mike muttered, rocking back on his heels.

“First time?” The seated figure placed on of his ankles over a knee.

“No,” Mike answered. “I get my ummm…uniform cleaned here all the time.”

“So do I,” the seated man smiled. “I take it you have someone else that takes care of it.”

“OK, you got me,” Mike said with a smile on his face.

“I used to have that,” the seated man said nodding towards an empty chair. “Then she left me.”

“Oh,” Mike moved to sit in a chair. “That’s too bad. Tough break.”

“Yeah,” the other man sighed. “Better all around, though.”

“Here ya go, Kevin. Good as new.”

A small man approached the counter. He climbed a stepstool, and placed the two items on the hook at the top of the pole.

“Thank you, Nate,” Kevin, the man in the chair, stood and took the hanger off the pole. He flipped the bag open on the bottom. A heavy jacket with a bright red skull emblazoned on it flashed into view.

Mike’s eyes went wide. “Skullcap,” he whispered. Mike’s mouth formed another word but it never left his mouth.

“See ya,” Steve waived then opened the door and left.

“You got yer ticket?” Nate held out a hand to Mike.

“Yeah,” Mike stood and handed the paper over. “That was Skullcap.”

“Who cares,” Nate read the ticket. “He’s a good customer. Comes here all the time.”

“He’s one of the leaders of the Bridge,” Mike looked at the door again.

“I don’t care. He pays picks his cleaning up on time,” Nate tossed the ticket on the counter. “Unlike you. Your stuff’s here. Been here for a week.”

Nate reached for the clothes on the pole.

“Oh, I’ve been busy,” Mike said as he reached for the hangers.

“I don’t care,” Nate waved a hand. “Pick your stuff up on time and pay your bill. That’s all I care about.”

“Fine.” Mike reached for the covers. “Did you get the burn marks off?”

“Of course,” Nate growled. “This is the cleaners. We clean clothes.”

“Good,” Mike let the plastic flow over the silver sickle on his costume. He pulled the small fold of bills out of his wallet and handed them to Nate. “Thank you.”

Tossing the clothes over his shoulder then walked outside. “Glad Skullcap didn’t see my costume. I’m gonna have to find a new cleaner.”

Special Delivery – Anders

Anders Brady walked into the control room. Logging into his workstation, he sat back and watched as his monitors populated with his assignments for the overnight shift. A quick perusal of his email didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. He enjoyed the overnight shift for this reason. There was rarely any group celebrating anything. The six other workers on the overnight shift with him all had the same disposition, put your head down and get your work done. Make your numbers and the boss was happy.

The four quadrants of Anders’ medical monitor populated and the list of clients appeared center screen. For that evening he had Mechanoid, Fisticuffs, Lilliputian, and one labeled Client 48.

“That’s odd.”

Anders clicked on the name and generic bust that represented Client 48. He read the list of vitals, the allergy to peanuts, and other medical stats. Everything was populated with standard information, like any other client. This one had no picture or name.

“Perhaps a new client and is going through the importing process.”

Anders clicked on the additional information tab. Client 48 was a gold level client and had been such for the past seven years.

“That answers that one, he isn’t new.”

Most of Anders’ teammates were on a different floor, except Charles Zawisk. Anders’ tapped a few controls on his screen and his wrist panel lit up. He walked over to the darkened corner where Charles sat.

“Chuckles, I have an unusual client name.”

“Yeah?” Charles stared at his monitor, the light making him appear haunted and sunken eyed. “Weirder than Octopus-Lad?”

“Probably.” Anders stopped walking and leaned on the low wall. “Mine is called Client 48.”

Charles grunted. “Maybe they’re new and still getting imported.”

“No, I checked,” Anders answered. “He has been a gold client for seven years.”

“Gold you say?” Charles shifted his eyes from the monitor to Anders. “Maybe he paid to keep his name super secret. There have been a few clients that have that privilege.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Anders shifted to an upright posture. “We are medical professionals and need to know his name. At least his hero name.”

“Wait, that is his hero name?” Charles looked Anders in the face. “That is odd. You win.”

Charles handed a small three inch trophy over to Anders. The shape was of a cup and said weird on the side of it.

“Uh..Thanks.” Anders took the small token. “But that doesn’t help me. Who is it?”

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Charles jerked his head to his monitors. “Not me.”

“Mine.” Anders looked wide eyed at his wrist panel. “And I am about to find out who this guy is.”

“It’s him? Sweet.” Charles chuckled then straightened his face. “I don’t mean sweet, cause he is hurt…Oh you know what I mean.”

Anders smiled back and waved as he moved to the launch pad.

“EMT Two Anders Brady exiting to retrieve Client 48.”

The doors open as he approached and the exterior lights blazed to life as he crested the door. Anders took one step, and his body grew. Arm and leg muscles enlarged. On Anders’ next step his torso grew in proportion to his appendages, and hair began to poke out of his uniform neck, sleeves, and waist band. As his third step completed, Anders’ face morphed into that of a large ape. On his fourth step, Anders jumped.

Anders cleared the street to the next building. He gripped the horizontal bar the EMT company put there for him. A quick spin and Anders launched, clearing three buildings. From there, Anders built up momentum and tracked to where his client was located.

The wrist panel indicated that Client 48 was conscious and still moving, but heavily wounded and would need medical attention.

As he approached closer to his destination, Anders shifted to bounce off one building, then another, and finally on the ground. He followed the map his wrist panel laid out for him and turned into the parking garage.

A quick vault over the booth and Anders craned his head to find his client. The bright red light was probably the best location.

Anders gripped the support structure and veered around the corner. He spotted Rampart and slid to a stop. “Rampart, I am EMT Brady? I am here to retrieve a client. Are you injured?”

Rampart pointed his hand at the direction he fired earlier. “Nope. Murk never laid a hand on me. If he did, you might be picking me up.”

Anders looked at his wrist panel. The red dot blinked and was off to the side, in the direction that Rampart fired.

“No way.” Anders looked in the direction and slowly shook his head.

“What?” Rampart approached Anders and glanced at the wrist panel. “Don’t tell me you’re here to pick up Murk.”

“Well, I don’t know his name. He is listed as Client 48.”

Rampart moved between the downed form and Anders, “I can’t let you go over there. Not until the cops arrive.”

Anders held up his wrist panel. “I have him in critical condition. He will die unless I do something.”

Rampart looked at Anders, then over his shoulder at the lump, then back at Anders. “Fine. You can keep him from dying. But you can’t take him anywhere.”

Anders approached the downed form. A quick glance at his wrist panel confirmed what he suspected. The number four killer in the super community was his Client 48. Anders licked his ape-like lips and reached for a pulse. Murk still had one.

Turning on his belt light, Anders saw numerous contusions and some blood on the outside of Murk’s costume. He also noted that Murk’s left arm had a compound fracture. Anders ran his highly skilled though very large hands over other parts of Murk’s body. He felt broken ribs and spotted the blood coming from Murk’s ears.

“This is EMT Brady on location with Client 48. Client is unresponsive and has massive internal injuries that will require medical attention.”

Anders heard the response come back into his earbud, “Understood, EMT. We have telemetry with your readouts. It is advised you transport Client 48 to the ICU at the nearest facility indicated on your map.”

Anders turned his head and looked at Rampart, “I hear you. However, that might not be a possibility. Client 48 is -”

“We understand who Client 48 is. Get your patient to the hospital. NOW!”

Anders’ throat tightened. He looked at his patient, then back at Rampart.

“I said you ain’t takin’ him.” Rampart advanced and raised both glowing hands towards Anders.

Moving with speed not expected from his sized Anders snatched Murk in a scoop grab, tapped a button on his belt making the forcefield snap into place, and bolted through the small opening to the side of Rampart.

Rampart demonstrated his experience by splaying his arms to their fullest, moved to cover the gap and let loose with blasts from both hands.

The bolts from Rampart’s hands pelted Anders’ forcefield. The gap closed and Anders was forced to swat at the hero to keep from getting blasted into a wall.

Rampart was sent sprawling across the pavement colliding into three parked cars, leaving them dented.

Anders took advantage of the made opportunity and galloped down the open ramp with his ward safely tucked like a football in the crook of his arm. Clearing the parking garage, Anders grabbed the large threshold and hoisted himself into a back flip and across the road. Planting both feet on a balcony, he pushed to the roof and somersaulted the distance to the other side.

Rampart, scrambled to his feet, shaking the cobwebs from his head. After two quick steps, he took to the air and exited the parking garage through an opening on this level. Looking around, he saw the hairy form of the EMT clear the balcony and land on the roof across the street. A quick arc of his back sent Rampart in that direction.

After clearing the next building Anders took a quick peek at this wrist panel. The map showed the closest hospital three blocks away. “I just got to get there.” He checked his patient’s readouts and felt a thready pulse. “Hang on Murk.”

The roof he leaped from ricocheted a blast. Jerking his head around, Anders saw Rampart flying for him, both arms extended with ruby red glowing fists at the ends.

Rampart flexed his elbows as he blasted the loping ape.

Anders shifted mid flight and twisted around the blood-red bolt as it sped by.

“This is EMT Brady. I need help. Rampart is firing at me and my patient.”

“Help is on the way. Hold it together.”

“What ever you say.”

Anders snagged a ledge and changed directions.

Rampart let his power build in his hands.

A shadow passed over Anders and descended between Rampart and himself.

“It’s over Frank! Stop.”

Rampart pulled to a hovering stop and let his power dissipate.

“Damn it Dave! Murk is getting away!” Rampart pointed past the hero everyone knew on sight. Paladin hovered in place between Rampart and Anders, arms crossed, cape fluttering and a scowl chiseled on his face.

“I don’t care.” Paladin gave no indication he moved, but he appeared within arms reach of Rampart during that black part of an eye blink. “Murk is next to dying, and you put him there. That’s not why I am here. I am here because you are hindering an EMT from doing his job. Then there is the property damage you caused on your way here, not to mention during your battle. Let it go. Now!”

***

Anders landed at the ambulance entrance. He was greeted by medical staff with a gurney. After placing his patient on the bed, he turned to leave. A person in a suit with a clipboard out called, “Wait! We need your name.”

“I would rather not.” Anders said as he transformed to his human appearance.

“But it is procedure and required by law.”

A heavy sigh exited Anders mouth. “Anders Brady. EMT for Special Delivery.” The suited individual scribbled the information down. “If that is all.”

The suit nodded and Anders walked away, holding his head low.

***

Back at the office, Anders walked into the main lobby. Three people were there waiting for him. One he recognized right away, Amanda Charles, the overnight supervisor. “Anders, we need a moment,” Amanda waved him over.

“Fine,” Anders sighed as he walked over.

“I understand that you are not happy at what happened.”

“Understand? I don’t think you do.” Anders visibly restrained his rage.

“I have had to transport some unsavory clients before.”

“Neat. I understand it is part of the job, I get that.”

“Besides, you get the bounty on his head for capture. It is a nice chunk of change.”

“You have no idea who that was do you?”

“Yes I do. Client 48 is Murk. He is a killer and is responsible for numerous murders and other random deaths of normals as well as supers the world over.”

“Nope. I figured you didn’t. He also killed my parents. Strode into their lab and just blasted them because they didn’t move fast enough.” Tears fell from Anders eyes. His whole body trembled with fear, anger, and frustration. “And I had to save him.”

Out of Work

“So Andrew, what do you think? Is this a place where you could prosper?” Howard Davis sat across from Andrew. Howard placed the resume in the manilla folder with the other paperwork and closed it.

“Mr. Davis, I would love to work here.” Andrew’s face flushed, his eyes sparkled and all his teeth showed in his smile.

“Good to hear.” Howard stood. “This was your third of three interviews and there was one other candidate. I have to consult with the rest of the team and the background check should be finished shortly.” Howard extended his hand.

Andrew swallowed hard and his eyes darted left then right. Taking the proffered hand, Andrew pumped it with a solid grip twice. “Thank you. I expect to hear from you soon. Tomorrow, I hope.”

“That is a high possibility,” Howard said.

Howard escorted Andrew out of the office and to the receptionist.

Andrew returned his visitor badge and entered his time out on the sheet. He smiled, waved, then left the office.

In the car, Andrew sat still for a few seconds. “YES!” He dragged the smile to it’s widest and pulled both fists up in tight fists. “I can stop being a lackey. Finally. That two years I did, I finished my masters degree and now I have regular job.”

Andrew started the car and drove home. He patted his jacket pocket at random intervals. The hard cased ring box, and it’s contents, were the last vestiges of the money he kept in the box at the back of his closet. After purchasing the car he was driving and fixing up his house, there wasn’t much left, but he knew what he wanted.

Arriving at his house, Andrew saw the message light blink. Opening a beer he tapped the voicemail button.

“Andy! It’s Roy. Job. Call me.”

“Yeah, Roy. I’ll get right on that.” Andrew pulled three heavy swallows from his beer and walked through his house. The smell of new paint and construction lingered from two months ago. He nodded as he looked at the pictures, furniture, and other decorations he put up.

Andrew finished his beer, burped, then snatched the phone from it’s cradle. A quick press of the buttons and he placed the phone to his ear. “Roy, it’s Andy.”

“Good. You’re the first to call me back.” Roy paused a few seconds. “Wreck is setting up preliminaries. He has a major gig in four months. The preliminaries are…well, preliminaries. You know what that means.”

Andrew sighed. “Yeah, Roy. I do.”

“Are you up?”

“No. I have a new line.”

“Oh, really? Big time?”

“No. Steady.”

“Steady? What the hell does that mean?” The speaker emitted Roy’s voice at a higher volume.

“Steady. Regular. Normal.” Andrew punctuated each word. “I’m out. Out of all of it. I did my time, I’m done.”

“You have got to be kidding me?” Roy’s voice carried the laugh he was famous for.

“Nope.”

“You’ll get bored. When you do, call me.”

“Fine. Thanks for understanding.”

“Yeah. Good luck, man. Honestly.” The line went silent.

Andrew put the phone back in the cradle. “Honestly? From a thief? I don’t think so, Roy.”

***

The next morning, Andrew went to the gym. This was a habit he developed in prison. He enjoyed how he felt with the physical exercise and just kept at it.

Nine-thirty his phone rang. On the second ring, he saw the name, Ianthe Chemical.

Snatching the phone and pressing the talk button, Andrew answered in a clear voice. “Hello? Andrew Samson speaking.”

“Andrew. This is Howard Davis. I have good news.”

***

Andrew tossed the phone to his sofa.

“YES!” He jumped and slapped both palms on the ceiling. “About time!” He skipped about his house and continued to celebrate.

Calmness covered him and he set about to organize for his first day. He set up a clothes hanger with a button-down shirt, put a grey suit next to it and laid a navy tie over it. He checked his shoes and touched up the polish.

“Now, I have to find something to do for the next four days.”

***

Saturday afternoon and Andrew picked up his phone. He called his long-term girlfriend. “Soon, it won’t be girlfriend.”

“Hello handsome!” A woman’s lilting voice sounded over the phone.

“Wendy! Lunch. One o’clock. I’ll pick you up.”

“Andy? Wow! Sure. I’ll be ready.”

“Excellent. I’ll be there.”

“I love you.”

“I know. Cause I love you, too.” He hung up.

“Now to get ready.” Andrew darted to his room.

***

Andrew mowed his lawn, cleaned his car, and showered. He checked and rechecked the ring box. Before leaving to pick up Wendy, Andrew called the restaurant to check on his reservations. They were for one o’clock and everything was ready.

Wendy jerked the door opened. Her outfit was perfect and her hair defied gravity.

“You look amazing, Wendy.” Andrew reached for her hand.

“Where are we going?” Wendy closed her door as Andrew pulled her along.

“You’ll see.” He winked at her as she sat in the passenger side. He patted the ring box again and drove off.

The restaurant was a fifteen-minute drive and Andrew couldn’t keep the smile from his face. This smile was contagious and Wendy followed suit.

Pulling into the parking lot, Wendy gasped, “Andy! How did you? What is this?” She slowly exited the car, Andrew holding her hand as she wobbled to her feet.

“I got this.”

The couple walked in to the restaurant. “Yes, Andrew Samson. Reservation at one.”

The Matre’d jerked to a stiffer position. “Ah, yes, Mr. Samson. Right this way.” He led the way to a place off the side of the main dining room. A small table with a setting for two.

Andrew held the chair for Wendy, who sat.

“Enjoy.” The Matre’d walked off.

“Andrew, this is unexpected.” Wendy glanced around, her eyes wide, her mouth open, and her cheeks flushed. “What is going on?”

“Simple,” Andrew said, sitting down. “I have a job.”

Wendy looked at Andrew. The smile vanished and her eyes narrowed. “A job?” The words were slow and deliberate. She cocked her head to one side.

“Yes, Wendy,” Andrew answered. He snapped his napkin out and laid it in his lap. “A job. A nine-to-five, honest to God, real job.”

Wendy’s eyes flashed open and her mouth followed suit. The smile crept back on her face and she inhaled, covering her mouth with her fingers.

“That’s right, Wendy. I start on Monday. I will be a Lab Technician at Ianthe Chemical.” Andrew picked up his class of water and sipped it.

“Andy! Thats…thats…thats…Oh. My. God.”

“I know,” Andrew cracked a smile and held back from laughing out loud. “I wanted to celebrate and break the news to you. I will spend the very last bit of my special money on this, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”

“And what a bang it is.” Wendy kept looking at Andrew. Even when the server showed up with plates of food instead of menus. She caught herself three bites into her dish when she realized what was happening.

“I know you and ordered ahead of time.” Andrew winked at her. “Plus, it adds to the surprise.”

The heat from Wendy’s face could be felt across the table.

***

A few minutes of eating passed, and the server came and removed the plates. Another server came behind the first and deposited a bottle of champagne and two fluted glasses.

“What is this?” Wendy stared wide eyed at Andrew.

“I think you know what this is.” Andrew pulled the ring box out of his pocket but kept it out of sight. “We have been together for several years. You have stood by me through the worst times, and now I want you there for the best times.”

Andrew slid from his chair and knelt beside Wendy. Presenting the ring box, he pulled the lid open. The ring was elegant, with a tasteful setting that bordered on the size of a thumbnail.

“Wendy, will you marry me?”

Wendy gasped and covered her face with both hands. The wait staff and the few patrons within three tables of the proposal stopped what they were doing. Andrew’s ear rang with silence as he stared at the gently sobbing woman in front of him.

“Yes!”

Wendy gripped her left hand with her right in an attempt to keep it from shaking. Andrew placed the ring on Wendy’s finger, kissed it, then kissed her.

The waitstaff and patrons of the restaurant applauded loudly. A few even cheered.

Andrew stood and waved, his face beaming.

***

On the drive home, Wendy asked, “This job at Ianthe Chemical, did they do a background check on you? You have a record.”

“I held nothing back,” Andrew answered. “It never came up on the interview. The application had the block, and I filled it in.”

“Wow!” Wendy stared at the engagement ring.

“I see this as a good omen, and I want it to work.” Andrew drove the route home. “The salary is better than I had hoped. There is a minimal commute, and they have amazing benefits.”

“You really have done your homework on this.” Wendy gazed at Andrew as he drove them to his house.

“Yes. I told you I wanted to go legit and have a regular life. No more henchmen or villain work for me.”

“Good.” Wendy smiled. “I don’t think I could take six months, let alone another two years.”

***

Sunday was a pleasant day for Andrew. He had made room in his house for Wendy and they both casually moved some of her stuff in. The discussed how to arrange the furniture and what kind of cooking equipment they would need, then the topic of kids was broached.

Andrew wanted two, Wendy wanted more. They agreed on three.

***

Monday morning came and Andrew woke to his alarm. He moved with practiced quiet as he departed for the gym. An hour later, he came home and got ready for work.

Wendy packed his lunch and ate breakfast with him.

A peck on the cheek and Andrew left for work.

Howard Davis greeted him in the lobby and handed him his work id card. Andrew filled out the HR forms and was directed to his workspace.

Around ten-thirty, while he was reviewing the research for his newly assigned project, Howard came in.

“Andy. It’s good to see you fitting in.” Howard checked on a few of the benches and talked to the other lab techs that were working.

“How is that bio-bond spray coming along, Davis?”

Andrew looked up. An older man walked in. His bearing was that of an experienced manager, and his build was solid. The suit he wore was tailored and displayed not only style, but strength.

The dark classes and the facial hair looked familiar to Andrew.

“Mr. Henderson.” Howard moved over to the new man. “Yes, the project is coming along nicely. We are experiencing some issues with the deployment device, it doesn’t hold more than two doses.”

“Perhaps a replaceable cartridge, then.” Mr. Henderson extended his arm and flexed his fist down. He moved his arm back and forth in front of him. “Like a handgun. Press a button and the spent one is ejected and I can slap in a new one.”

After hearing the man talk, seeing him move, and a good look at this face, Andrew recognized him. Dr. Graves. The arch-villain and nemesis to the super hero group, Shining Vengeance.

“That sounds like a great idea. I’ll get R&D on that ASAP.” Howard pounded on the table.

“You do that. I have other projects to check on.” Mr. Henderson whirled and left in the same hurried fashion he arrived.

“Excuse me, Mr. Davis?” Andrew stood and walked towards Howard. “Isn’t that Dr. Graves, the super villain?”

“Andrew, you, of all people, should know the value of code names. That was Mr. Henderson. He is one of our benefactors and board members.”

“But this is a respectable business. How can we make devices that someone like Mr. Henderson would use?”

“Andrew, Ianthe Chemical is a legitimate business. We make many things that the common person uses and buys.” Howard shifted to face Andrew squarely. “We also make other things that other people use and they pay us too. In fact they pay us more. Is this going to be a problem?”

Grand Wall

“Gran, Jess and me have powers.” Matt jumped on the overstuffed chair and threw his legs over an armrest.

“Jess and I have powers.” The elder woman walked by the side table placing a glass of milk for the youngster.

“Ugh! Fine!” Matt rolled his eyes. “Jess and I have powers. We got them from Mom and Dad. Right?”

“That is correct.” The grandmother smiled as she sat in the chair across from her grandson.

“But Dad isn’t a superhero. And neither is Mom.”

Ethel, the grandmother, tilted her head to one side. “Well, that isn’t exactly true.” She took a bite of her pie and sipped her mil. “Your dad, bless his heart, made a valiant attempt at being a superhero.”

“Really?” The young man snapped to a seated position and leaned forward. “Who was he? Was he a sidekick for Grandpa?”

Ethel chuckled. “Nothing as glamorous as you might suspect. He was a teenager, and he called himself Rapid Rabbit. He is still fast, but back then he tried to be a speedster.”

“Awww! Not Rapid Rabbit.” Matt slapped his hand to his forehead. “I have seen the old videos of him and read a few of the stories. He caught three bank robbers and stopped a runaway baby stroller. That’s not a superhero.”

“He saved that baby’s life, and that baby went on to become an EMT who has saved several peoples lives.” Ethel tsked her grandson. “And those robbers were armed. They shot at him. Your dad isn’t bulletproof.”

“Grandpa was, though.  Wasn’t he?”

“Yes. Your grandfather was. Still is, in fact. He was called Taurus. He would be classified as a strongman / tank now a days.”

“Yeah!” Matt did a fist pump. “That is where I get it from then.”

“We don’t really know how the traits are passed on, Matt.” Ethel took another bite of pie, finishing it off. “Your mother is a blaster and can fly. Right now, you sister can fly but can’t send out a blast for anything.”

“She’s still young.” Matt nodded his head.

“And so are you. You might keep your strength, but develop blasting abilities when you mature.” Ethel pointed at Matt. “Don’t underestimate the powers of others, or even the ones you have. Your power does not define you, it’s what you do with it.”

“Is this where you tell me how you beat up Brahma Bull?” Matt smiled wide and his eyes twinkled.

“No. This is where we run our errands.” Ethel stood and carried the dishes to the kitchen. “Put on your shoes. Grandpa will watch Jess.”

After the short car ride into town, Ethel stopped at the grocery store, the dry cleaners, and then the bank. Here she checked on the status of her accounts.

Finishing with the teller, Ethel took Matt’s hand and turned for the door. Those same doors were kicked open by three masked men that fired shots into the ceiling. A fourth man stomped into the bank and destroyed the front counter with a single punch.

“I am Brick and I’ll be your robber today.” Brick strode the length of the teller line tossing bags to each person on the other side. “Fill it up with the good stuff and no one gets hurt.”

An armed security guard went for his weapon and was shot by a mask wearer.

“The instructions are simple. Do it now!” Brick punched the teller counter again, destroying another section.

“Gran, we gotta do something.” Matt tugged at his grandmother’s arm.

“No. I gotta go something. You stay put.” Shifting behind a table and keeping her movements subtle, Ethel pointed at one of the masked men. The air shimmered as the object she created flew towards her target. The masked man dropped where he stood.

“Jimmy!” One of the other masked men dashed over to his fallen comrade. Ethel repeated the maneuver and that man dropped too.
Brick shouted, “It looks like we have a hero in our midsts! Jack, do the honors.”

The third masked man leveled his rifle at a group of people. The weapon made an audible click then burped for a few seconds. The group cringed and flattened on the floor. All the bullets stopped inches from the group and fell to the floor.

Ethel, unable to keep her movements subtle, waved at the masked gunman. The force wall she had created collided with her new target and spread him against the wall. The masked man fell forward when the obstruction was removed.

“Yeah! Way to go, Gran!” Matt jumped and threw both fists over his head.

“Yeah. Way to go, Gran.” Brick ran the few steps and snatched Matt by the scruff of the neck.

“Matt!” Ethel extended both hands. One ball of force went for her grandson and enveloped his torso. The other sphere of force spread out to a narrow edge and connected with Brick’s gut. A woof of air escaped Brick’s mouth as he bent over, released Matt, then fell to his knees.

Matt traveled several feet away and was deposited near a group of people who pulled him in.

Ethel moved closer to Brick as he got to his feet. “Old woman, you are gonna pay big time for that.” Brick charged three steps and swung a wild punch at the older woman. Her eyes darted to the moving appendage and an invisible wall interceded with the fist. A hallow sound rang out in the bank, and Brick pulled his fist back with a quick shake.

Brick jabbed in on Ethel with his free hand. Ethel just tilted her head back ever so slightly. Another hallow sound rang out. Brick sucked in air as he shook both fists.

“You don’t even know what you are doing. Snot-nosed, brat, punk kid.” With her arms hanging loose, Ethel flexed both wrists. A shimmer in the air rocked Brick’s head back, which staggered him a few steps.

Ethel then brought both hands together, clasping them. The next shimmer doubled Brick over taking the wind from him.

Just as Brick straightened, Ethel swung both hands up to her head as if she where praying.

The shimmering force connected with a solid thump. Brick’s knees slammed together, his hands darted for his crotch, and his eyes crossed above his puckered mouth. Every male within sight did a sympathy flinch and a few even grunted. Brick emitted a squeak then slumped to the ground.

From outside sirens were heard.

“Matt. Let’s go.” Ethel held her hand out for her grandson. Matt ran and took the older woman’s hand. “Do you see what I mean about how you use your powers?”

“Yes Ma’am!”