Bad Kid

Vic dashed into his living room and scooped up his crying son. “Bart, it’s ok. You’re not hurt. Daddy’s here.” The words flowed soft and easy. Vic cradled his child and showed affection.

Marsha entered the room watching the scene in front of her. “You’re an excellent father, Victor Gaines. And I love you for it.” Marsha joined in the hug-fest of their son.

***

A bright sunshiny Saturday on the playground, Vic sat on a bench watching Bart play with other children.

“Is that your kid there,” another man asks. “The one with the Champion cape?”

“Yup,” Vic smiled. “He likes to pretend he’s the hero. Swoops in and saves the day.”

“That’s cool,” the other man nodded. “Mine likes Badger or Chance. He says they’re awesome.”

“They give me the impression of media hounds and pretty violent.” Vic said as he looked at the man.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to push them too hard,” the man said. “Then they automatically go the opposite direction.”

“Good point,” Vic responded. Checking his watch, Vic said, “Ohh. Lunch time. Nice talking with you.” He stood and called Bart over.

“Dad! I want to be like Champion. A hero!” Bart bounced as he walked next to Vic.

“Son,” Vic said rubbing Bart’s head. “You can be anything you want.”

***

Vic turned into the parking lot and found a spot at the back. Getting out of the car, he dashed to the auditorium of Brownstone Middle School. Vic yanked his work ID off his shirt and shoved it into his pocket.

“Dad! You made it,” Bart ran up to Vic on the sidewalk.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Vic smiled at his son.

“You are a great father, Victor.” Marsha smiled at her husband. “Let’s get in and find a good seat.”

“Right up front,” Vic said. “Do your best.” He grinned at Bart.

“I will,” Bart said and waved as he moved with the other students into the auditorium.

Vic and Marsha took seats up front and watched as the Brownstone Middle School Orchestra walked on the stage. Using his phone, Vic took videos and pictures of his son.

After the hour long performance, Vic drove his son and met his wife at the local ice-cream shop to celebrate.

“You were fantastic, Bart,” Vic said. “Musics a great way to relax. Plus you learn timing and re-inforce your math.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Bart beamed up at his father.

***

“Dad,” Bart walked over to his father. “I need this permission slip signed.” Bart held out a piece of paper.

“What’s this for,” Vic read the paper while he sipped his morning coffee. “Football, huh? You want to play?”

“Yeah,” Bart answered. “You know to help with controlling the powers I inherited from you.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Vic said. “But be ready and be careful. You have some of my abilities, but you also have some of your mom’s. Her’s will be better for you.”

“I know,” Bart said, rolling his eyes with a big sigh. “Mom’s healing is good. Just don’t use it unless absolutely necessary.”

“Good.” Vic pulled a pen from his jacket pocket. He leaned over the table, pulled his tie out of the way, and signed the permission slip. “Keep up on practice and keep your grades up. No slacking.”

“Got it, dad,” Bart smiled as he bounced on his toes.

“I love you, Vic,” Marsha said as she encircled her arms around her husband. “We did right with Bart.”

“Yup.” Vic moved to grab his wife. “We did.” He kissed her.

***

Bart came into the living room. His mother sat on the couch watching the late news.

“We won!” Bart jumped up and put his palm on the ceiling.

“Excellent honey,” Marsha said as she patted a spot on the couch next to her. “Sit down and keep me company.”

“Where’s Dad,” Bart asked. “I know he said something about working late, but I never saw him at the game.”

“I don’t know,” Marsha said as she slipped an arm over Bart’s shoulders. “But you know your Dad. He can be a work-a-holic sometimes.”

“Yeah,” Bart smiled. “Still, it would have been nice to see him.”

The television flashed a large graphic across the screen. The words Happening Right Now in large fonts with a red background took the entire screen.

“This is Paula Anderson. It seems that Champion has taken down the archvillain Strong Arm.” A clip showed a dark clad man dragged behind the brightly clad Champion.

“Alright! Champion!” Bart shouted. “He’s the bes-”

The camera zoomed in on the man being dragged.

“Isn’t that dad’s super suit,” Bart asked, pointing at the television. “Why is he being dragged?”

“Yes, Bart,” Marsha answered. “That is your father.”

“But dad isn’t evil,” Bart shot to his feet. “Why is Champion doing this? He’s got the wrong man!”

On the screen, Champion hefted Strong Arm to his feet. A microphone appeared in Strong Arms face.

“Strong Arm. Do you have any comment,” the reporter off camera asked.

Strong Arm lifted his head. A spot of blood showed on his lip, and an eye was swollen shut. “Bart. Never forget. I love you.”

Champion jerked on Strong Arm’s arms and moved him to the van with open doors.

The camera panned back to the reporter. “There you have it, people. Strong Arm’s terror campaign is now at an end. We can all sleep peaceful tonight, thanks to Champion.”

The screen went blank.

“Champion!” Bart shouted through gritted teeth. “I’m gonna kill you.” He ran from the room and cleared the stairs to his room. Loud bashing and crashing noises followed seconds later.

“Vic, I love you,” Marsha whispered. “We did it. Bart is ready.”

Part-Time Job

“Anderson,” Jack Abernathy’s rough voice called. “How’s the Stein project coming?”
“I can finish my part by the end of the week,” David Anderson said looking up from his laptop. “The numbers are entered and the scripts are in place. Waiting on the graphics to finish loading.”

“What’s left after that?” Jack moved into David’s cube.

Touching the button on his cellphone to silent the buzzing, David pointed to his screen. “The check-list says link checking, then stress testing on the server. We’re a little behind on the configuration, but it should only be a day or two.”

“We’re gonna meet that deadline.” Jack’s hand clamped down on David’s shoulder, making the youn man flinch. “You have my permission for over-time. Get to here by tomorrow evening.” Jack tapped a sausage finger on the checklist on the screen, leaving a smear over updating all machines remotely. The task’s original planned date was the day after tomorrow.

“Uh…” David turned his head to look at Jack.

“No excuses.” Jack pivoted on his heels and left David’s cube. It didn’t take him long to be around the corner and out of David’s sight.

“Crap,” David muttered under his breath. He flipped his phone over and entered his passcode. The number 8 appeared next to his text icon. David touched the icon. Scrolling to the last message he touched reply. A few finger taps and he sent the response stating he would be late. His eyes darted to the time in the top corner of his phone. It blinked to 7:18pm.

11:30 rolled around and David dashed from his car into the building. He touched the secret spot, sliding the door open and walked in. David’s uniform fit perfectly. The bright yellow crescent moon contrasted with the midnight blue of the rest of his outfit.

“You’re late!” Graves voice growled across the small room. “Again!”

“Yeah, I know,” David sighed. “It’s just that-”

“You know.” Graves pounded on the table top. “You realize I had to call for help from Wave Rider. Wave Rider. He’s barely a hero. So what he can talk to fish and breathe underwater.”

“Wow.” David stopped walking and looked at the grey clad superhero in front of him. “Wave Rider. Doesn’t he also have super strength?”

“That’s besides the point.” Graves spun and faced David. “I expect my sidekick to be here on time and not full of excuses.” A stiff finger poked David in the chest on his emblem. “You’re fired.”

“What?” David stepped back. “You can’t fire me. You don’t even pay me. This isn’t a job.” David held his hands, palms up and spread. “What about keeping my secret identity? You always stress that. I was doing that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Graves said. “I can’t rely on you. You should have worked something out.”

“I have to pay my rent some how.” David’s voice picked up in pitch and speed. “I also need to buy food, repair my uniform, and the gym. Plus, there’s the martial art lessons you insisted I take. You don’t even reimburse me for that, but it’s required.”

“This again?” Graves made a rude noise. “By the time I was your age I had earning a million dollars.”

David clenched his jaws and fist. “Yeah. But you inherited five billion just by being born. What a cheapskate.”

“And this one, too.” Graves put both hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side.
“If you paid me forty-five grand a year,” David said pointing a finger at Graves. “I could quit my day job and be the perfect sidekick.”

“They only pay you forty-five?” Graves’ eyebrows shot up. “That’s a pittance.”
“Yeah,” David answered. “Ironically, I work for a subsidiary of Sampson Industries. In other words, you pay me that pittance.”

Graves looked at David and shook his head. “I have to stand by my word or it means nothing. Clean out your desk and leave your keys.”

“I don’t have a desk,” David said, walking to the door he came in. “I never had keys.” As he passed the hidden door, he banged his fist on the jamb.

“I’ll give you a great reference,” Graves shouted as the door slid shut.

“Fuck this,” David said as he slammed his car door closed. “I’ll at least get some sleep and be ready for tomorrow.” He drove off.

When the weekend hit, David was ready for it. Having spent well over fifty hours a week he wanted to relax. He slept in on Saturday. During the afternoon, he wandered the mall and other places. Normally, he would be training or some other activity that Graves would have him do. Since he was fired, he made the best of it.

When the evening kicked off, David went to a movie. It had been awhile since he had seen a first run, so he treated himself. After a few hours, he left and walked through the dark parking lot to his car. A sound pulled his attention, and he watched as two people descended from the sky. One with a rope, the other flying.

“I’ve beaten you Graves,” the flying man said.

“Not…,” Graves groaned out. “Yet.” The form of Graves clutched his midsection and spit a glob of something from his mouth. “You hit like a girl.”

“Your funeral.” the flying man darted straight for Graves, a clenched fist leading the way.

“Holy shit,” muttered David. “I better do something.” He looked for his car and found it two spots away. “Wait. I don’t have my uniform in there.” Standing there he watched the fist connect with Graves. “Plus I was fired.” Graves trajectory carried him over several cars and crashing into a light pole. “Plus, that guys a dick.”

“That wasn’t so hard.” The flying man hovered over to where Graves lay on the cement. “Let’s see who you really are.” He reached down and pulled the mask off, ripping the cowl off the cape. Staring at the prone figure, the flying man pocket his trophy. “Huh. I don’t recognize you. But someone will.” The flying man jumped into the sky and disappeared.

Standing over Graves, David looked at the unconscious body. “Yeah. He’s a dick.” David got in his car and dove off.

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!”

Special Delivery – Edie

Edwina Gibson walked through the cube farm. Her blond hair floating just above the five foot walls that separated desks. She diverted her eyes whenever she passed someone and would only lift a hand to wave if anyone said “hi Edie” to her. A sigh escaped her lips as she stepped into her cube.

“I keep leaving a sticky for him.” Edie pulled the chair out, spinning it so she could sit. Flexing her knees, she hopped onto the chair. Her feet didn’t touch the floor. Next, she pulled the lever to adjust the height. The chair didn’t move. Keeping the lever up, she bounced in place until her feet were flat. “Karl, please just lower the seat.”

Pulling herself to the desk, she pressed the button to lower the entire surface. The process took all of ten-seconds. Edie unlocked her set of drawers and pulled out a canister of wipes. Plucking one, she started with the keyboard. Once she finished, she tapped the keyboard and logged in.

During the few minutes it took for her email to load, Edie pulled another wipe and ran it over the desk surface. She moved to the drawers, the shelf, and finally the monitors. As she tossed the wipe into the trash, her email finished and three clients appeared on her monitor. “Garbage, Predestinate, and Valor. Not a shabby group.”

She took a few moments to put each client in their own quadrant of her monitor, leaving one blank. Turning her attention to her email, she read yesterday’s messages and ended with today’s. Clicking on a few different folders, she did the same thing.

Valor fell off her monitor first. Edie acknowledged the message when Valor left his mission. Predestinate exited her mission a few moments later. Again, Edie acknowledged the message.

Folding her hands on the desk, she stared at the health monitor. Garbage’s vitals took up the entire screen. Edie moved her mouse pointer and clicked on the picture.

The unmasked face needed a shave and buck-teeth stuck out over his bottom lip. Edie stared at the scar that ran over an eye on the screen. Stifling a shutter, she pulled up the basic sheet of Garbage.

“Strength, high rated toughness, and decent speed.” Edie looked at the face again. Her face wrinkled. “He should be able to get through whatever he’s into.”

BEEP BEEP BEEP!

Edie locked eyes on the picture on her screen. A message blinked below it. GARBAGE BELOW THRESHOLD.

“Oh, man!” Edie stood and tapped her mouse. “EMT first class Edwina Gibson retrieving Garbage.” She tapped her wrist panel and the vital screen transferred. Taking rapid steps she exited her cube, the row, and turned on the main walkway.

“Uh, EMT Gibson,” the voice in her earbud said. “You are cleared to transfer client.”

“That’s a negative, Control.” Edie moved to the open double doors and stepped on the flight deck. “I got this.” Under her breath, she said, “Even if his name is Garbage.”

Edie jogged the last few steps then strode over the ledge. Instead of falling she stepped onto an orange ball the size of an oven. Hovering in place for a split second, Edie faced the direction she needed.  The ball moved then picked up speed. It moved out of the way of taller buildings and other objects.

As the fifth minute ticked by, the ball shrank carrying Edie to the concrete surface. She stepped from the ball and it disappeared. A glance at her wrist panel gave her the next direction. Following it, she found a large dumpster. “He better not be in there.”

BEEP!

Edie looked at her panel again. Garbage’s vitals dropped. Edie pulled her leather gloves from her pouch and put them on. She used the makeshift ladder welded into the dumpster’s frame. Reaching for the edge, she worked her way to the top of the dumpster, dangling her feet inside.

“Garbage?” Her head poked over the ledge. “Oh, God it’s disgusting.” She felt her stomach churn and her throat tighten. “No.” Edie hoisted herself over the ledge and into the refuse below. “They don’t pay me enough for this.”

A moan sounded. She turned her head in the direction. “Garbage?”

“You’re in a dumpster,” a voice outside said. “Where else does garbage belong.” The voice sounded metallic, and muffled. “This appears to be a two-for-one special.” A high-pitched giggle followed.

“Wait!” Edie jumped, but the refuse below her feet didn’t allow for much height. “I’m an EMT.”

“What?” The voice went louder. “I can’t hear you. The lid is closed.” The high-pitched giggle sounded again, then the lid crashed down.

“NO!” Edie pounded on the sides.

A loud metallic clang echoed inside the dumpster.

“Ta-ta,” the strange voice said. Fading running footsteps came next, then quiet.

“Great!” Edie turned on the flashlight at her belt. Reaching one foot forward, she moved aside various boxes and other gunk. She repeated this process and made her way across the width of the dumpster.

Taking a finger, she poked at her earbud. “Control,” she said, her voice bouncing in the metal box. “Control, this is EMT Gibson. Please respond.” Static answered. “Now, I am trapped.”

“Flix likes to do that.” A mound of trash moved. “Ugh.”

Edie spun in place and pointed her light at the moving junk. “Garbage?”

“Yeah,” the costumed man said, wincing at the light in his face. “You must be one of them EMT people that I pay for.”

“EMT First Class Gibson.” Edie straightened her posture and smoothed her uniform. “You’re conscious, so this shouldn’t be too difficult. How hurt are you?”

“Near a long, slow, and agonizing death,” Garbage said, pushing off the rubbish to his knees.

Edie’s eyes went wide. Scanning the man in front of her, she said, “I don’t see any wounds.”

“Carbon fiber.” Garbage pivoted to face her. He pointed to a large clump of black on his chest. “It’s like an allergic reaction, with the side effect of making me weaker than a baby.”

Edie moved closer to Garbage. She reached her hands for the clump and worked her fingers behind it.

“Unless you’re stronger than you look, that ain’t gonna cut it.” Garbage stuck an arm out and braced himself against the side of the dumpster. “Do you have a cutting device? Laser or something?”

“Yes,” Edie said. Her hand flew to her belt and found the pen shaped device. “It should cut through most things. The charge is limited to twenty-seconds.”

“Twenty-seconds?” Garbage took the offered device. “I guess to keep it from being used a weapon.”

“That’s what they said during orientation.” Edie moved closer to Garbage and watched.

“This is gonna hurt.” Pointing the device at his chest, Garbage touched the button. A bright blue beam shot out and cut into the black hunk. Smoke floated up and the smell of burning chemicals mixed with meat followed.

“AHHHHHHH!”

“It’s grafted to you.” Edie examined the area. There wasn’t any blood, but she saw the burn marks on both the item and Garbage. “If we could get the lid off, we could get you out of here.”

“Well, I’m useless in that area.” The big man stood and his shoulders touched the lid. Flexing his knees, he put his hands on the lid and pushed. Nothing. Sweat poured down his face and his breathing rasped. “I haven’t been this week since before I was exposed.”

“You weren’t born this way?” Edie looked at the hulking figure. “What happened?”

“I worked for sanitation,” Garbage said. “A company dumped some type of stuff in the landfill. I was sent to clear it up and call in the correct team to clear it out. An hour after I arrived on the scene, I was knocked out. A month later and I woke up in the hospital, looking like this.”

“So that’s why you call yourself Garbage.” Edie looked at the man before him. “I thought it was because-”

“My face and attire?” Garbage let out a coughing laugh. “No sweetheart. The teeth and scar are mine. My abilities are enhanced when I run through sewers, landfills, and other junk. That’s why I smell this way. Plus, my body burns up waste and turns it into power that I use to beat bad guys.”

“Well, use this stuff.” Edie kicked at the junk around her legs and knees.

Garbage poked at the chunk on his chest. “Can’t.”

Edie sighed. “I can do something, but it might not work.”

“Anything is better than nothing,” Garbage plopped down on his rump, and leaned on the wall. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“We get crushed.” Edie said into her chest.

“Faster than suffocating.”

Edie’s eyes cut to Garbage. His eyes were closed and his breathing slowed.

“Here goes everything.” Edie shuffled to the center of the box. She extended both arms to the unoccupied side. After a deep breath, she straightened her fingers.

Colorful, softball-sized spheres appeared. They filled the wall and cascaded down like an avalanche. More spheres came into existence, these bigger by half. Again, they flowed down the mountain of color they made. More and more spheres appeared. A minute flew by and the sphere pile reached the lid.

“What can they do?” Garbage lifted his head and watched the balls take up space.

“I can fly and carry with them.” Edie stepped back.

“They don’t explode or anything?”

“Nope.” Screwing up her eyes, the balls appeared at a faster rate. Edie stepped further and further back. Then her back touched the wall. “Oh, man. I’m going smell like garbage for a month.”

“Huh.” Garbage looked at the petite woman.

“Sorry.”

Garbage waved it off.

The balls passed the halfway mark and would soon be on top of them. Edie grunted when the balls forced her hands back.

“Keep going,” Garbage sat with his back to the wall and the spheres piled on his lap.

Edie produced more spheres. Soon she stood with her hands by her side and the balls pressing in on her.

A muffled, “more” came from Garbage. “More. Something’ll break.”

“Yeah, us.” Edie kept bringing the spheres.

A loud metallic creak echoed in the dumpster.

Edie screamed as more balls appeared.

Another creak followed by a loud pop.

Then a boom.

Light poured in through the translucent spheres, bathing the dark in different colored lights.

“You did it!” Garbage pushed some of the balls off him. “We’re gonna make it.”

“Better than that.” Edie waved a hand, and the spheres dispersed, faster than they appeared. “We’re out of here.” She pointed at Garbage and a dark blue light encased him. Edie pointed at the ground and an orange ball appeared. Next, it enlarged under her feet. Both spheres lifted out of the dumpster and carried them to the cement outside.

“NO!” The strange voice from before said. “You’re supposed to be dead and take this EMT with you.” Flix slinked forward. He moved to grab Edie.

“Get away from me, you creep!” Without conscious though, Edie extended a hand. A black sphere exited her palm. No light flowed through the ball as it cleared the short distance between the two people. It connected with the chin of Flix and knocked him on his back.

Scrambling to get to his feet, Flix fidgeted with something on his belt.

“Watch out!” Garbage reached a hand out.

Edie brought both hands together and a grey sphere encased the projectile Flix threw. A loud, high-pitched, beep sounded. Then the it accelerated. Edie directed the sphere up.

BOOM!

Several feet up it exploded. The people below safe.

“Damn!” Flix lunged for Edie.

With a flick of her wrist, Edie sent a large sphere at Flix. His body fit inside and held him in place. Banging came from inside, but Edie turned the skin of the sphere opaque.

Touching her earbud, Edie said, “EMT First Class Gibson requesting emergency transport for Garbage and some trash.”

Garbage’s face broke into a loud laugh.

“Come again, EMT,” the voice in her ear said. “You need emergency transport for trash?”

“Send the cops. They need to restrain Flix. I have him detained.” Edie moved to Garbage. She touched the sphere that carried him out of the dumpster. It disappeared. “An ambulance should be here shortly.”

“Yeah, I’m not going anywhere.” Garbage looked up at her. “For a small chick, you pack a punch.”

“You’re not so bad for Garbage,” she smiled at him.

Edie walked from the elevator and towards her workstation. “Karl, you could have at least wiped the keyboard down when you spill on it.” She shook the plastic keyboard over the trash can. Bits and pieces of discarded something or other fell to the receptacale. Next, she pulled a moistened wipe and cleaned it. The rest of her routine was abandoned as she logged in. The desk lowered as she held the button and she bounced to put the chair at her height.

Edie watched her monitor and scanned emails. Occasionally a client’s vitals appeared, and she tracked them, but mostly it was a quiet shift. The dinner break message appeared on her screen. With a flick of the mouse she dismissed it and logged out of her station. Retracing her steps from the beginning of her shift, she made her way to the elevator. Inside, she pressed the L button.

When the doors opened before her stood a tall man with a broad chest and big shoulders. “Perfect timing.” She stepped from the metal box with a wide smile on her face.

“Yup,” the man said. “Never keep a lady waiting.” The man extended a large hand.

Edie put her small hand in it and both walked to the door.

The Breakthrough

Brad moved through the series of maneuvers. Concentration and focus plain on his face. With a loud yell and tensing every muscle he completed the last move.

“Excellent!” Howard Franks clapped his hand on Brad’s shoulder. “You have it down. Your test should be a breeze.”

“I hope so, Mr. Franks,” Brad said as he relaxed his posture. He walked to his bag, untying the long black belt around his waist. It showed small signs of wear and a few white threads poked out at an edge. Taking a few seconds to fold it up, Brad placed the belt in his bag. He pulled a towel out and wiped the sweat from his face, neck and arms.

“So,” Howard said, approaching Brad. “As your instructor, I have to ask. What is your biggest dream? If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?” Howard grinned at the last question. It always got a few standard answers.

Brad paused, put his hands on his hips, then locked eyes with his teacher. “Superpowers.”

“What?” This was not what Howard had expected. Especially from someone as well put together as Brad Michaels.

“I know,” Brad smiled and grabbed his bag. “I would like to have, or gain superpowers.”

“You have those.” Howard followed Brad to the large double doors. “You are a martial artist in every sense of the word.”

“I know,” Brad said. “With superpowers, I could be more. Do more. I don’t fear knives or clubs. Guns I respect and know that the wielder is the most vulnerable point. Being outnumbered would only slow me down.” Brad pushed through the doors. “Being strong enough to lift a car would let me chop through burning buildings that had people trapped. If I could fly, I could be in places fast. With superpowers, I would change the world.”

Howard paused a beat. “Heroes and villains have that same goal. It’s not the goal that is the problem, it is the means.”

Brad chuckled. “I know that, Mr. Franks. I wouldn’t be a villain.” Brad bowed to his teacher, shook his hand and walked to the parking lot.

“Villains don’t seem themselves as bad guys,” Howard muttered to the departing figure.

As he drove home, Brad reflected over his teachings and training. Mr. Franks, along with others, taught him not just martial arts, but life. He learned to persevere, be honest, and help others. Brad worked hard at the beginning to incorporate these things, along with other things, into his life. The last few years his life improved. He landed a great job, found a fantastic apartment, and had a date in three nights time.

The loud boom snatched his focus back to driving. A tanker jackknifed a few yards ahead. The two cars in front of him had glowing tail lights. He turned, avoiding a crash with the second car. His choice kept him from the collision. The other two cars weren’t so lucky.

Slamming his car into park, Brad scrambled from his car. He opened the driver’s door and helped the woman there out. She had a cut on her forehead, so he walked her to the curb. Once she was settled, Brad turned back to the accident.

The remaining car had a woman behind the wheel, a kid in the back seat, and an infant in a carrier. Brad pulled on the doors, but they didn’t give. He saw the collision had damaged the car enough that the doors were sealed. Looking in, he saw the kid was screaming, and the woman was groggy, but looking around.

“Cover your head!” He stepped back and clenched both fists at his waist. Inhaling, Brad flushed his mind of everything. With a fluid motion, he lunged forward and shoved both bullet-fists to the windows. His knuckles connected and penetrated the safety glass of the windows.

Both panes of glass spiderwebbed, then fell out of their frames. He reached in, unbuckled the kid. “Get over there. By that lady.” The screaming kid ran to the woman who held out a hand.

Next, Brad repeated that for the driver.

“My baby!”

“I got him.” Brad didn’t hesitate and climbed into the back seat. He had never dealt with a child seat before. The big red button stood out to him, and he pushed it. A loud thunk sounded and he pulled on the handle. The heavy plastic carrier separated. He looked in and saw the sleeping infant, peace covering his face. Brad move to the window and handed the cradle to the woman. “Over there.” He pointed to where the people were gathering.

Brad shimmied out of the window and dashed over to the big rig. A dark green liquid spewed from a gash in the tank. The cab and surrounding road were covered in the thick film. Without thinking, Brad flexed his knees and moved over the near slick surface.

Reaching the door, he yanked on the handle. The door flew open and the driver, a heavyset man, fell on him. Brad collapsed with the excessive weight to the goo covered road.

“Mister!” Brad jostled the dazed man laying on top of him. “Mister. I need you to get out of here and off me.”

“Uhhh..” The heavy man blinked a few times. “Oh shit. Sorry.” The driver pushed off Brad and stood. In a lazy staggering step, he moved to where the others were standing.

Brad got to his feet and moved to the huddling people. They all expressed their thanks, and the women went in for hugs. He held them at bay as he was covered in the thick green goo.

Ambulances and a firetruck arrived several moments later, followed by three police cars. In a hours time the scene was cleared. EMTs checked everyone out and informed them to check in with a doctor within twenty-four hours. They all agreed they would.

At home, Brad ravaged his refrigerator and pantry. After eating three dinners, he felt satiated. Soon after, he felt drowsy. Taking the hint, he showered, then went to sleep.

“The light is coming,” a voice whispered.

“Yes, the light is coming,” another voice whispered.

“Shelter is here. Come.” This was a third voice.

“Who’s there?” Brad sat up, throwing the blankets and pillows off him. His head turned different directions looking for the source of the voices. Sliding from the bed, he landed cat-like and even distributing his weight. Both hands floated in front of him, fingers light and ready for anything.

“The human is moving,” a deeper voice from a different direction said. “It will come in here and turn on the brightness. Find shelter.”

“I will defend myself and my home.” Brad curled his fingers into fists and moved for the deeper voice. Approaching the bathroom door, he nudged it open with a foot. When it spread to an arm’s width, Brad darted a hand inside, flicked on the light, and shouldered into the small room.

“Run! Scatter!” The deeper voice screamed in panic.

Spinning in place, Brad looked around. He only saw his reflection in the mirror. The shower curtain hung open, and there wasn’t anybody there.

“Hurry! Go faster!” The panic in the voice reached a newer height.

From the corner of his eye, Brad picked up movement. He jerked his head and arms in the direction, then stomped into a favored stance.

Two cockroaches scampered for the toilet.

“Here it comes,” the deeper voice said. It came from the direction of the roaches.

Brad gritted his teeth and raised a foot. With deadly accuracy and a loud thump, he stepped on the trailing roach.

“Hruthergha!” The lead roach stopped moving and turned. The antennae twitched, then lifted. “Human, you killed my mate. I will avenge you with my family.” The antennae twitched again, then the roach darted for the cover the toilet.

Brad moved to follow the roach, but it squeezed through the smallest of gaps between the floor and wall.

“Did I hear that right,” Brad said rubbing his ears. “Did that roach just threaten to avenge it’s mate? Against me?” Brad shook his head.

Reaching into the shower, Brad turned on the cold water, then the hot. He dropped his sleeping shorts and t-shirt, then climbed into the cool water. Letting it run over him, he woke to the briskness. The water slowly heated, and he showered. Once he cleaned his body, he dried himself, then continued on his normal routine.

An hour later, Brad headed outside towards his car.

“No! The winged demon dives.” This high-pitched voice came from the trees next to his apartment building.

Brad moved to check the area. He only saw a bird land and peck at the ground. Squinting into the shade, he didn’t see anything.

“Bigger jump, Lughrty,” a bright voice said.

“Like this papa,” a similar bright voice said, only a different pitch.

“Yes.” The first voice sounded proud and happier. “Excellent. Longer instead of higher now.”

Brad watched two grasshoppers bound over the sidewalk in front of him. One smaller than the other.

“No,” Brad said. “No, no, no, no, no.” He remembered the accident. Then he remembered how Crush, a highly respected superhero, developed his powers. Exposure to radioactive chemicals had turned a simple bike messenger into the powerhouse known as Crush. Crush worked as the strong man of the Vindicators.

“This isn’t what I meant,” Brad screamed at the sky.

Special Delivery – The Newbie

Kurt Jeffries leaned over his keyboard. He entered in the username and password form the paper HR gave him. Next, he followed several prompts. Finally, the left screen filled with the email program and the right showed the client-monitoring tool. A face with name tag showed. Lancer’s vitals showed next to the picture.

“Cool.” A smile splashed across Kurt’s face.

“Are you Kurt?” A middle-aged woman pushed a cart into the opening of the cube.

“Yeah,” Kurt stood, looking at the cart.

“Here’s your wrist panel and forcefield belt,” the woman tapped the items. “You need to sync the panel up first.”

Kurt put the panel on his arm and tapped the screen. Text flew across the surface then flashed the same vitals on his monitor.

“Good.” The woman picked up the belt. Her nasal tone picked up in volume. “The tech guys said they couldn’t get it to stretch, so be careful using it.”

Kurt nodded once, placing the belt around his waist.

“Good luck.” The woman waved and pushed her cart through the maze of cubes.

“So far, so good.” Kurt lowered himself to the chair and stared at the monitors. Email chimed and he read the message.

BE-DEEP!

The vitals monitor showed another client.

BATTALION ON MISSION

An ugly face with dark glasses appeared next to the name Battalion. Vitals beeped and scrolled across.

“Oh, man!” Kurt shifted closer to the big screen. “How cool is that? Battalion! I need to get a pic.” Kurt pulled his cellphone out and aimed the camera at the screen.

“I would not do that,” a voice said over the cube wall.

Kurt turned his head. A dark face with pointed ears and lavender eyes looking at him over his cube wall.

“Oh my God!” Kurt’s eyes went wide and his mouth opened. “You’re-”

“Raphael Collins.” A spiky toothed smile showed on the dark face. The dark face disappeared. It reappeared attached to a body a second later in the opening of Kurt’s cube. “I am a teleporter.” He extended a hand towards the slack jawed Kurt.

One of Kurt’s hands drifted up and connected with Raphael’s. Their clasped hands bobbed a few times.

“What is your name?” Raphael let Kurt’s hand go.

“Umm.” Kurt tilted his head. A thin black line flipped back and forth behind Raphael. “Kurt. My name is Kurt Jeffries. Is that a tail?”

“Yes,” Raphael turned his head, looking where Kurt pointed. “I am human. My ability altered my appearance, but I am human.”

“Oh,” Kurt blurted. Color creeped across his cheeks and he swallowed hard. Standing Kurt smiled and looked Raphael in the eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ve never seen anyone that looked like you.”

“I figured,” Raphael smiled. “Maybe we can do lunch and get to know each other better.”

“Yeah,” Kurt nodded. “I would like that.”

BEEP BEEP BEEP!

“Transfer patient procedure.” The sound came from Kurt’s computer. “Priority alert. EMT Jeffries respond.”

“Whoa!” Raphael backed out of the cube. “You should respond to that. Click the button and talk.”

“Right!” Kurt leaned over the mouse and clicked the big red button. “This is EMT Jeffereies. I acknowledge the alert.” He clicked the next button to transfer the display to his wrist panel. “Raphael, where is the launch pad?”

Raphael stepped out of the way and pointed towards a set of double doors with his tail. Kurt paused in the cube door. He nodded then dashed away.

Stepping through the double doors, Kurt let the wind wash over him. Closing his eyes, he centered his thoughts.

Kurt’s torso flattened, then his arms and legs and finally his head. Leaning forward he fell over the edge, riding the wind currents.

“EMT Jeffries enroute.” He flexed his arms and torso to drift in the desired direction. More than once, he dived to gain speed. Kurt aimed for the ground when his wrist panel sounded indicating he was closer.

Shifting to normal, Kurt landed and checked the map on this panel. According to the numbers he was a hundred yards away. Looking around the storage area, he spotted several cement barriers. On the other side, a collection of orange barrels. In one corner were three rows of large green dumpsters. The fence containing everything had circles of razors on top.

Kurt Glanced at his wrist panel. A quick double tap, and it zoomed in. The red indicators appeared next to the dumpsters. He moved towards them and his blue indicator followed. Decrementing number appeared on one corner.

“Almost,” Kurt moved his head as he walked behind a dumpster. The first prone form showed as he stepped into the gap between the dumpsters. “Bronze. I’m EMT Jeffries.” Kurt glanced at the panel on his arm. Bronze’s vitals displayed. “Oh, man. You’re unconscious. It says you’re breathing, but you might have internal damage.”

A heavy, raspy whisper said, “Shit.”

Kurt jumped, then turned to the sound. Another prone form lay around the corner.

“They sent a newbie,” the face of the body turned to the side.

A new red dot appeared on Kurt’s display. It read EMT Davis. His vitals also appeared on the screen.

“You’re wounded, too.” Kurt moved closer to Davis. “What happened?”

“They were caught off guard.”

Kurt turned towards the new voice. A man clad in dark with a motorcycle helmet stood there. The costume looked like police style armor, only scarier. Knee high boots with spikes on the toes added to the menacing sight. The two pistols with muzzles like twin pit bulls pointed at Kurt, and completed the vision.

“Ambush. My specialty,” the dark man said.

A scream exited Kurt’s trembling mouth at the sight. One hand smacked into the belt at his waist and the other extended in the direction of the scary man. A snap hiss sounded and the translucent grey haze of the forcefield covered Kurt. It stopped at the elbow of his extended arm. The warning from earlier rang in his ears.

At the end of the extended arm, Kurt’s hand expanded to the size of refrigerator door. His skin pressed against the dumpster on either side, sealing the bad man on the other side.

“The forcefield doesn’t cover my-”

The rapid staccato sound of gun fire sounded. Kurt’s over-sized hand relayed the sensation of a million needle pricks. It also told him the bullets bounced.

“What the fuck,” the rough, filtered voice of Ambush followed on the tail of last gun shot.

“I’m bullet proof!” Kurt pulled in his hand and arm. The forcefield encased the appendage with a buzz. Balling his other fist, he sent a punch in the direction of the confused villain. When his arm reached full extension, the forcefield halted further progression of his attack.

Ambush leaned back, then straightened. “Forcefields contain, too.” His metallic chuckle sent a shiver over Kurt. Pushing off hard, Ambush lurched through narrow gap.

Kurt flinched back. One hand tapped at his belt while the other flung forward. His softball sized fist connected with the hard helmet and rocked Ambush’s head back. Kurt’s second hand followed suit and Ambush’s advance was halted.

EMT Davis raised his head. “Damn.”

Bronze moaned and moved his head. “Whasshapning..eng?”

“Newb’s winning,” EMT Davis chuckled.

Kurt flailed his arms, sending his fists at different angles that Ambush struggled to block.

It started with one, then two. The next five landed on his torso, helmet, shoulder, and hips. One of Ambush’s arms feebly intercepted the next attack. The one after that, however, nailed him in the chest. Ambush staggered back a step. The next eight fists forced the dark clad man several more paces. He found himself a step past the dumpsters after three blows landed in quick succession. He fell where he stood.

Kurt pulled both his arms back. He draped them over the ends of the dumpsters on either side. His shoulders heaved and he hung his head, gulping air.

Ambush staggered to his feet. In a wide stance, he aimed one of the pistols down the alley of dumpsters. The armor he wore moved as the breathed. “Nothing personal kid. Just a job.” His head tilted to one side and he lined the pistol with his target.

Kurt’s fingers clamped onto the corners of the dumpsters. He extended a leg behind him. It zipped the distance of the dumpsters and past the gap and connected with the fence.

“Whoa!” EMT Davis said, eyeing the leg.

“Isatafoot?” Bronze muttered.

“FORE!” Kurt shifted his hip, sending his extended leg forward. His leg darted over the distance. It looped-de-looped. On the completion of the first loop, Ambush shifted his head up. Kurt’s leg complete four more loops before connecting with the apex of Ambush’s legs.

Both pistols fell to the ground. Ambush’s knees slammed together with a clattering of armor plate and his gloved hands darted to his groin. His head hung and a high-pitched coughing howl escaped the helmeted head.

The form of Ambush jerked into the air, sailing in a perfect arc. It landed with a thump on the other side of the fence and slid several yards before stopping.

“This is EMT Jeffries,” Kurt huffed as he touched his earbud. “I have Bronze and EMT Davis. Ready for transport.”

“Understood, EMT,” the voice said over the earbud. “Your path is cleared for Ladies of Mercy.”

“Acknowledged.” Kurt turned and looked at the two prone bodies. “Gentlemen, here we go.”

Kurt fished two items out of his belt. Placing one on the chest of each person, he then pressed the single button. “I’m not all that strong. This is an anti-gravity field generator.” He extended his arms and flattened his enlarged hands. Scoopping both patients at the same time, Kurt lengthened his legs. His firs step cleared the fence and onto the road. After several steps he sped up his pace and extended each leg a few more yards.

Kurt reached Ladies of Mercy hospital. In the emergency entrance, he laid both on a gurney and processed the paperwork.

“Jeffries,” EMT Davis called. Kurt looked at his co-worker. “Thanks.” Davis lifted a thumb as medical staff wheeled him away.

Kurt Jeffries walked into Special Delivery the next day. He moved to his desk and typed his username and password. Different supers appeared on his screen, but none required him to transport them to a medical facility.

The lunch warning alarm displayed on his monitor. Kurt tapped with the mouse, then stood.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice said as he left his cube. “Are you Kurt Jeffries?” The woman held an envelope in one hand.

“Uh, yes.” Kurt shifted to face the woman. “What can I do for you?”

“Take this,” the woman’s pearly white smile flashed. Her emerald eyes sparkled as she handed the envelope to Kurt.

Kurt opened the proffered envelope. Inside he saw a check for $200,000. In the memo field was typed, FOR THE CAPTURE OF AMBUSH.

Kurt’s eyes went to the size of dinner plates and he leaned forward as his mouth fell open.

“Oh, call me,” the woman gave a finger wave as she turned to leave.

Turning the envelope over, Kurt saw a phone number with Melanie under it.

The Bounty Hunter

The man walked over the path to the front door. His short sleeve button down held the creases he put on them with an iron. The dark belt hid the line where his shirt was  tucked into his kakis. On his feet, he wore loafers with white socks. The full pocket protector and horn-rimmed glasses completed his uniform. It was the same uniform he wore everyday for the past three years.

Raising his hand, the man rapped on the door of the poorly maintained house. A high-pitched bark and shuffling noise came from the other side. The man knocked again.

The door flew inward. A shirtless man with grimy jeans and greasy hair stood barefoot in the door. “Yeah!” He drank beer from a can in his hand.

The outside man raised his head. “Are you-”

“I don’t want any!” The shirtless man swung an arm, and the door moved.

“Good. I’m not selling anything,” the shorter man said. “Are you Fernando Gomes?”

The shirtless man stopped the door. “What of it?”

“My name is Skip,” the well-dressed man said. “And I am here to inform you that you missed your court date from three days ago.”

“Really?” Fernando turned to the inside of the house. “Mateo, come here. Check this out.”

A large man with a beachball sized gut and thick arms stepped into the door. “What’s this?”

“This is Skip,” Fernando said with a laugh dancing on his lips. “He reminded me that I missed my court date.”

“I’m also here to take you in to reschedule,” Skip said, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

Fernando busted out a laughing and Mateo snorted.

“Man, get out of here,” Fernando said. “You might get hurt if you keep talking like that. Go back to your computer job or something.” He snaked an arm out and slammed the door.

Skip stepped forward and put a hand on the door before it closed. “By law, I can come in there and drag you out of your abode.”

Again both men laughed.

Fernando nodded towards Mateo. Mateo stepped forward and slapped Skip’s arm.

Skip’s arm didn’t move and Mateo pulled his hand back shaking it.

“Damn man,” Mateo looked at Skip. “What the hell?”

Fernando glanced at Mateo then moved his eyes to Skip. “You ain’t coming here, vato.”

“As I said,” Skip locked eyes with Fernando. “The law is on my side on this.” He lifted a foot to step over the threshold.

Fernando stepped back as Mateo squared up with Skip. A large watermelon sized fist careened for Skip’s head.

Impact happened.

Skip didn’t budge. His head wasn’t rocked back and no bruises or blood appeared on his face. The only thing damaged were his glasses.

“I hate it when people do that,” Skip said around the fist in his face.

Mateo bellowed and pulled his fist back. He clutched it to his chest with his free hand and flexed his knees. Mateo’s ashen face dripped sweet and his lips flopped. Both eyes lost their water.

Skip blinked. “Now I get to defend myself.” With an easy stride, he kicked the big shin of Mateo. A loud crack sounded.

Mateo’s eyes rolled, and he fell, blocking the door way.

“Shit!” Fernando backpedaled into a wall.

“So, are you willing to come with me?” Skip stepped over Mateo’s body and stood within arms reach of Fernando.

“Fuck you!” Fernando darted into the living room. He bent over a small end table and rummaged in a drawer for something.

“I understand your predicament.” Skip walked into the living room. He stayed at the archway and waited. “If you go to jail, you won’t be free. But if you are free, you’ll just do more of the same. You could do your time and turn your life around. Many have done it and succeed. I feel you can, too.” Skip smiled and nodded his head.

Fernando pulled out pistol and aimed it at Skip. “I ain’t going anywhere.” Fernando sneered as the gun steadied.

The revolver barked.

Fernando’s sneer evaporated as he watched the bullet fall from Skip’s forehead. There wasn’t so much as a smudge on the skin.

Skip walked forward while Fernando screamed in place.

“It would have been easier if you had just complied.” Skip reached out and gripped Fernando by the arm. In a smooth motion he pulled. “It’s people like you that keep me employed. And very well I might add.” Fernando flew from his feet and plowed into the shag carpeting of the living room. His shoulder knocked the nightstand over.

Skip stepped over Mateo, who had passed out. He dragged Fernando over the lump and out the front door. Fernando dropped the revolver and flailed his open hand to grab the door jamb.

Skip felt the resistance and jerk Fernando’s arm. The sucking pop sounded and Fernando screamed louder. He let go of the door jamb and clutched his shoulder.

“Honestly,” Skip said. “You should have learned at this point. Just comply and it will be easier.” Skip continued dragging Fernando over the front lawn, the sidewalk, then the road.

Eventually, Skip stopped at a large white van. He opened the back and hoisted Fernando through an open door.

“You guys be quiet now.” Skip closed the door and moved for the driver’s door.

Fernando looked around and floundered for a seat.

“New meat rides on the floor,” a low voice growled. “Besides, if there’s a problem he’ll stop the van. One of us is gonna get hurt.”

“Yeah,” a nasally voice added. “Only worse than we are now.”

Fernando’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dark. He made out seven burly bodies, five of which sat on the benches. The other two didn’t move and laid on the floor next to him.

Fernando’s voice cracked. “Where are we going?”

“To jail,” another voice answered.

“But that guy,” Fernando countered. “He’s…he’s-”

“A bounty hunter,” a higher pitched voice answered. “This is what he does.”