It was one of those mornings that you half expected to wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing.
It had been one of those nights.
My chest ached from where Mary Poppins had shot me, it hurt, a lot and sporadically, it spasmed, trace elements of her trademark poison dancing like St Elmo’s fire up and down my body.
She wasn’t really Mary Poppins, that was just her thing, her schtick – the bonnet, the long flowing skirt with the braided belt. She carried an umbrella, a parrot umbrella, but I think it was just an umbrella – otherwise, if it was a machine gun or a helicopter or a chainsaw, I guess that would make it a bit too Penguiny. She had two dead eyed robotic children, really simple programming, looked real enough if you didn’t look too closely, and she used them as a personal portable armoury, splitting down the head in what I guess is meant to be a horrifying manner, revealing guns and so on, embedded in the body. Soulless automatons.
She probably thought it was the horror that slowed me, but it wasn’t, I was kinda slack jawed at the child robots, with their immaculate period dress complete with chimney soot- that shit must be expensive… I mean, watching her pull a long barreled duelling pistol replica from its spine was a little weird too… But my mind was asking – is that gear period accurate? Where do you buy bodices like that? And does the rear of her butt really stick out like that? Or was that just the way the skirt was cut?
“A spoonful of sugar, eh guv’ner?” That was the moment I decided I needed to rip out her heart, not when she beat those children, not even when she shot me, which happened soon after, but that fake brogue BS…
Anyway, she shot me – part of her thing is she coats her bullets in poison, she calls it sugar – I know, I know – but this slows down the bullet, cuts the spin, on an already small calibre… Not the best plan, limits the stopping power. Guess it doesn’t matter combined with the poison.
To be honest, I realised that I’m kind of crap at being a superhero – I realised it pretty early – after the stint with that group of D grade heroes with the stupid group name that got our arses handed to us by a scantily clad villain and her pet panther. In my defense, that panther was pretty damn scary… Anyway, I’m still inexperienced, still… following old Obi Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade or something, but I learnt some lessons – I can’t afford a suit of powered armour, or gear shaped like some sort of animal motif, but I can afford to buy military grade body armour. Shopping centre security guard doesn’t pay great, but I still had funds from – well, that’s why I’m here, I guess.
A man has dreams…
But that body armour saved my life. The force punched me back, into a wall, I passed out and I guess she just left me for dead.
I don’t know that I deserve much more – I spent a long time as a villain – hah! Overstatement of a sort – not a super villain, not one that garnered headlines, or would even serve as a decent nemesis – I was a two bit villain as much as I was a two bit hero – the difference being, as a villain, I was successful. Using my powers for evil was so much more efficient.
Not even big picture evil… just typical selfish evil, exploitative, manipulative… really, no more than society expects us to be, I was just better at it. But I wanted to be more, to make amends…
It wasn’t so much a life of crime, but a life of petty misdemeanors, suspicious but virtually unprovable. It was a good scam – hard to give up… but I did, and yeah, I kept the money, and bought body armour.
My chest was a mass of expanding bruising – the force of the bullet impact spread over it. It hurt to move, it hurt to breath, it hurt to look at it… but I had work, I couldn’t let it affect me, I got up. I had a job to do.
Not a heroic ‘I ain’t got time to bleed’ job, but a paid job, a just over minimum wage paid job, down at the mall.
I had the early shift.
The alarm clock bleeped at me, and drowsy, I began to roll to hit the snooze, then snapped awake as the pain from my chest kicked in. Shooting pains, I couldn’t even tell where it hurt, it was everywhere… I fumbled at the clock, fist clenching and unclenching, struggling to reach. Teeth gritted.
Another hand clicked it off, pulled the covers from my chest and started tending the wound – warm water, I looked down, it was a mottled purple – oh look, a butterfly Rorschach!
One of those mornings…
The hand belonged to Echo, she lived here, in the compound as well – my compound, I guess, I set it up with some small hopes of using it as a headquarters for my own team of heroes. It was Stark Tower, if Stark Tower was a homeless shelter, it was the Hall of Justice, if the Hall of Justice was compound of villas for the unemployed, it was the Westchester school for the gifted, if gifted meant ‘special’ in the derogatory way.
Seriously… Fuck you Uncle Ben.
With great power may come great responsibility – but what about shit powers? Shit responsibility? How are we meant to compete with the invulnerable flying douchebags with laser eyes and shrinking symbols and memory kisses? Is that how supervillains are born? So we can get a piece of the spotlight?
Echo had a shit power. She was a lovely girl – but curse was a better descriptor than ‘power’.
She could only repeat what other people had said – just like the myth – except no Narcissus for her to love. She could delay – she didn’t have to repeat immediately, she could stockpile words… That wasn’t her power – her power was that whatever she said manifested itself for a while.
Now, that sounds useful, except that it was pretty inconsistent – it didn’t last, and the timing was unpredictable – probably averaged twelve hours, but some things puffed away as soon as they appeared, and I had a teapot that she manifested a month ago, still on the shelf. And sometimes, well, sometimes you’d say ‘gun’ and get a fully loaded M16, other times, you’d get an empty cap gun or a broken potato gun.
I’d make an Aquaman joke, but he managed to join the JLA…
My powers? I don’t know if I can claim they were much better.
I can go invisible, which on its own isn’t really much of a power – just ask the Invisible Woman, and check out all the other things she ‘learnt’ to do. I can also go, non corporeal, which isn’t too bad, walking through walls and all. I’ve been working on phasing out different parts, having some solid, some not, it’s actually quite hard.
Now, your mind has gone to all the things you could do with those powers, the things you could get away with – and none of them are good, right? None of them are very heroic. Trust me, I’ve probably thought of all of them – done some of them…
My other power: interdimensional travel.
Sounds cool, right? Think about it though – what value is there really? Every dimension has it’s own set of problems, and messing with them, generally just causes more problems everywhere.
Also, apparently, I can move things with my mind. Telekinesis? ESP is prescience, isn’t it? I say apparently, because I haven’t actually managed it yet. Why do I think I have it? My spirit guide told.
It may have been the peyote talking, but it’s hard to tell.
So – better than Echo? I’m not so sure. I guess that at least I could carry on a conversation…
Echo’d taken it upon herself to become a sort of medic, to support ‘the team’, the nonexistent team – but how effective can you be when you can’t even ask where it hurts? In my case, it was obvious – she cleaned my chest with warm water, wrapped a long bandage around it. She made a snippy gesture with her fingers.
“Scissors.” They appeared, and she trimmed the bandage.
I’d met her through a failed heroes support group out in Los Angeles – they have support groups for everyone. They tried to meet up with the support group for failed villains, maybe set up some arch nemesis stuff, but that night just turned out wholly depressing. I’ll tell you about it sometime – no, I probably won’t.
‘Vicadin.’ I said. She gave me a look. ‘Aspirin.’
“Can you look into this Mary Poppins character for me while I’m at work?” She nodded. “Thanks.”
It was a typical day, teenagers shoplifting, loitering, the woman who has the fake baby in a pram – she saw me and didn’t even bother coming in.
A slow morning.
Lunchtime had the typical idiots who sit next to no smoking signs smoking… Willfully ignorant, I guess. The advantage in looking like a terrorist is that people don’t tend to argue with you. Snub it out and leave. Silver linings.
After lunch it picked up though.
I was confronted by a group of five men, a cowboy, a native american, a police officer, a bikie, a sailor. Dime store cigar Indian, modern Texan cowboy, white sailor suit- do they even still wear them? The police officer looked close to real, except for way too many pairs of handcuffs, zip ties are better, unless… Oh. The biker looked straight out of Easy Rider, except that something told me there were holes in the back of his trousers. I didn’t want to check.
“What the hell are you guys meant to be?”
“We’re like the Village People,” said one, indignant.
“Except for the gay part.”
“What gay part?”
“The Village People – they were gay.”
Wait, the Village People were gay?
“Wait,” I said, “the Village People were gay?”
“They were gay icons, man. How do you not know that?”
“I had a sheltered childhood… Wait, So, you are dressed as gay icons, but you’re not actually gay?”
“Well, I am.” Said the cowboy.
“Really?” Said the biker.
“I thought you knew.”
“Never really thought about it – it never seemed important…”
“In a way, that’s actually really supportive…”
“I hate to interrupt,” I interrupted, “It’s great that your buddy is supportive of you – and really, more power to you, but unless I’m mistaken, you’re here to rob the mall?”
‘Wait, shouldn’t there be six of you?’ I knew that much.
‘Our construction worker got called to a job.’
“What does he do.’
‘He’s a construction worker…’
“So, do you have any powers that go with those outfits? Or is it just those weapons that you’re carrying?”
“Just the weapons.” Said the biker.
“You know how it is these days – everyone needs a gimmick – don’t want to be just a run of the mill thief…”
“Yeah, I know how it is. That isn’t even a real bow and arrow…”
“I spent all my money on the costume…”
“Look, I’m tired and sore, how about you just leave, come back after you’ve saved enough for some real weapons? And you know what? I find your costume mildly offensive.”
They mumbled a little, sizing me up.
I was fit – we had a gym at the compound. Wow, that makes it sound like a crazy cult… and I knew how to fight – my background – my school years, there was a lot of time spent fighting.
I was a weird kid, and I looked different to everyone, and even then, i looked like the textbook example of a terrorist. On a bad day, I look like I’m walking about with C4 strapped to my body.
Cops love stopping me. I… I shouldn’t complain too much.
I was actually offended, a little, by the cowboys and Indians motif. Probably from my grandfather, a proud man, stubborn, clinging to the old ways back on the reservation. He hated that my father had joined the army, but knew there was necessity. I don’t know how he felt about my mother, but he welcomed her like a daughter, despite her strange looks and distance of ideologies.
They sized up my six feet. The old revolver in its holster. The shiny plastic badge that declared me a mall cop. They counted to five.
I’d been practising.
I phased away from the first punch, let his momentum carry him past me, grabbed his toy bow and pulled. He fell hard to the floor. The string snapped, and I used the bow to jab the police officer in the gut. He’d been reaching for his handgun, couldn’t unclip the safety stud on the top. He took the second hit on the jaw and went to the floor with a jangle of cuffs.
The others stood back, hesitant.
Damn I was saw. Didn’t want to show it.
Then the real cops arrived. The arrest was smooth.
I noticed, as they took them away that the biker was indeed wearing arseless chaps.
They didn’t even swear vengeance as they were taken away. Kind of disappointed in that.
I picked up the abandoned feathered headdress. Souvenired it.
I had paperwork to fill out. I hate paperwork.
Echo came up in the later afternoon, sent me a message…
“You could’ve just sent the message from home…’. She just smiled and shrugged. We got coffee from the racist place – the coffee is actually pretty good, with the added bonus that they hate serving me… Also, we’d been paying with bills that Echo had created – their accountant must be tearing his or her hair out after they disappear. It’s a little petty, I know, but racism is hard to fight as a ‘hero’, you can’t punch it until it goes away, as much as you’d like to. Parents I guess, educators… PSAs and special comic books, an incorruption of the innocent, as it were. We always used crisp hundreds so that no one would get the fake notes as change.
Yeah, I know we could ‘launder’ money like that, but, well, trying to be the good guys.
Anyway the message from Echo, a breakdown of Poppins MO – she killed kids, stuffed them in chimneys and such. Chin chin cheree. No flying bed… That may be a different movie, the one with the car? I don’t know. She like to nab them from medium sized gatherings – public, but not too high profile. There was a mid sized gathering, a picnic day, down in Central Park tomorrow, she was likely to show. I’d need to ask for the day off. I guess it was school holidays?
They gave me the day off, even with the late notice. I did my job well, and they liked me for that. The only thing they didn’t like was that I’d never remove the ‘Free Hugs’ guy. Never. He was always safe on my watch. Sometimes, people just need a hug. It didn’t cost them money though, so they let it slide. Its funny how quite often it’s the merchants that get past prejudice first -money spends the same. I was valuable as a human resource… That doesn’t make it sound better, but I think it was. Think.
I had a costume of sorts – think SWAT gear but in grey, and armour reinforced. A very dark green coat – I’d had a cape to start with, and I like capes, but I’m not sure about them. I mean, sure Lando Calrissian looks good in a cape, but I think he’d look good in anything.
Echo was wearing jeans and a hooded top – proudly declaring that she was alumna of Miskatonic University. I’m not sure that she actually went there – in fact, I’m not even sure if it’s a real university.
There were kids, and clowns, and people feeding the birds. And there were the fake Village people – still only five – loitering, surprisingly not looking out of place.
Shit, they were only arrested yesterday, cops are probably still doing the paperwork…
Poppins stood with her ‘children’, smiling sweetly.
Echo made a sweeping gesture.
‘We need to clear the people, get them safe.’ A pause ‘A swarm of bees.’
She gave me a look that was clearly a ‘no’ coupled with ‘really?’ and then made the tinkling on piano keys gesture with her fingers.
‘You can make it rain?’
‘Make it rain!’ She shouted. Maybe volume effects volume?
Dollar notes fell from the sky. George Washington on most of them. I spotted some colour suggesting there were foreign notes as well.
People scrambled around trying to pick them up. Fighting, grabbing snatching.
Pandemonium. I saw a mother push a toddler over to get at the cash…
Every so often, I look at people and wonder if they are really worth saving.
‘Maybe we should have gone with the swarm of bees.’
The village people, the five of them, looked at the money falling from the sky, but were stopped by a harsh word from Poppins. She pointed to the jumping castle, kids bouncing, oblivious to the glut of cash. They moved to each corner and unsecured the ropes.
I wasn’t sure what they were planning, but it probably wasn’t good.
Between us and them was a crowd of people fighting over the money on the ground.
Nothing for it, I went non corporeal and ran towards them, Echo followed, but got caught in the crowd.
They’d joined the ropes together, and were waiting. A helicopter appeared, I couldn’t take down a chopper…
I turned, pulled my gun, shot over the crowd. They panicked, fled, some scooping handfuls of cash as they left. Echo was able to join me.
Poppins was climbing a ladder up, to secure the rope. Are handguns any good against helicopters? And that close to the kids – that was dangerous right? Shouldn’t risk it.
‘Any ideas?’ The gun was trained on Poppins, a backdrop of the heavy chopper.
Echo made a bird gesture with her hands.
‘A flock of seagulls.’. It had worked for Indiana Jones… It would fly away and crash… right?
‘A flock of seagulls.’
Four guys with strange hair, instruments, a drum kit, appeared in the sky.
Above the chopper.
They hung there, above the blades for a moment, like Wile E Coyote before he falls, long enough for what was happening to register, long enough for a look of terror to appear on their faces.
Maybe I imagined it.
They had one of those keyboard guitar things keytar? Do they really call them that?
We all kind of just stood there, stunned, covered in blood, guts and gore. A Zidjian cymbal was embedded in a tree not far from me. The chopper flew away, smoking from somewhere.
It left a trail that could be followed, if we hadn’t been standing there overwhelmed by the horror of it all…
The blood and entrails and body parts and instrument pieces disappeared after a minute or two.
Poppins had gotten away. The village people just sat down, backs to the jumping castle. Waited for the cops. Kids started bouncing again.
A woman approached.
‘Thank you, you saved my child! Who are you?’
‘This is Echo.’
‘And what do I call you?’
‘I… I don’t know.’
The money started disappearing. Sheepish parents were returning, finding kids. There was a lot of crying. Crying is pretty much always my cue to leave.
‘Let’s go back, figure out where she’ll strike next.’ Echo nodded. ‘And I feel like I really need a shower.’
My phone buzzed.
“I know, I really need to think of a name, before the media does. And we should probably think of a more economical way to communicate.” Seriously, charge to send and receive? Stupid. And they knew it was stupid and solved that problem with stamps in 1840…
Money wasn’t tight yet, but it’s not like heroing pays well. Besides, it’s the big guys that get all the attention – the glory, the endorsements…
I knew guys who moved to the middle of nowhere to escape the shadow of the supers… I don’t know if it worked. How much good can you do in the middle of nowhere? Some of them were just novelties, some nuisances, some sent away for fear of attracting super villains. Others, they could just chop wood faster, which meant they could spend more time pissing away their earnings on beer.
Others hid in obscurity – there’s a restaurant out in Reno that is staffed almost exclusively by people with mediocre powers, trying to be normal.
I understand the appeal, I really do.
Echo’s research suggested that the next likely target would be story time at the mall. My mall. That shit was not going to fly. Partly professional pride. Partly I still needed to rip her heart out. Storytime at the mall – that I could do.
We were prepared this time – watching the monitors which would normally just record, and then security would sift through them after the fact. A white van, yes, seriously, a white van, exactly as you imagine except without ‘Free Candy’ written on it, came through the entrance way, stopped to collect a parking ticket, and there she was, in the driver seat.
We moved to intercept her – assuming she’d park on the closest level to the reading – we were right. She strode through the carpark, walking with those dead eyed ‘children’ not even holding their hands in the carpark… umbrella in her armpit, stupid bonnet, super butt skirt.
I put a bullet into the heads of each of the children. Square between the eyes.
In hindsight, it was kind of stupid – the heads open, they were basically glorified storage containers, why would the important bits be in the head?
The force knocked them over, and they convulsed horizontally for a few, extremely awkward minutes.
I covered Poppins with my gun.
“So what now, mighty hero? Avenge all the kids I’ve killed?”
Echo moved past me, Poppins ignored her, until she bore the brunt of an elbow across her face. She staggered, blood pouring from her nose. Echo gave her two fast jabs in the gut, and she staggered forward. She secured her with zip ties to a security gate, arms around it, no struggle left in her. Echo mimed a pump action.
“Shotgun.” A huge barreled sawn off appeared in her hand, two triggers, cold steel and old wood. She pressed it to Poppin’s chin. She shirked back as far as she could.
“Um, what do we do now?” I’m kind of ashamed, but this was really my first win as a hero… I could see the value in putting her out of commission – the system didn’t really work, but, double sawn off to the head? That would be messy… “I could, send her somewhere, elsewhere, an unpleasant dimension…”
Echo hesitated, but the decision was made for her. The shotgun faded from existence, and she turned away.
You’d think killing children would get the big guys’ attention, it’s a pretty big mark on your rap sheet. Turns out you’re right. Although why he waited until after I nabbed her, whether he was just late, or lazy, I won’t ever know. I was ready to send her to the Final Frontier, I don’t mean that metaphorically, I was going to send her to a universe where that film was the apex of cinematography, but of course, that’s when the asshat appeared. Hovering down in those stupid blue tights. Hand outstretched, like he was ready to begin the macarena – nutbush? I don’t know, some sort of dance – stop right there (now?) thank you very much… In the name of love? Hammer time?
“I can’t let you do that.” He said in clipped tones. “Heroes don’t kill.”
“You know that she was killing children by stuffing them in chimneys right?”
“We don’t take justice into our own hands.” He hovered just above the ground. Seems kind of gratuitous. “We have a system.”
“The system doesn’t work – she’ll be locked up for a little while, then she’ll escape, or someone will rescue her – that’s how this universe works!”
“I will not allow it.” He landed, puffed out his chest, knowing that he was too powerful for me.
Smug bastard. He was easy to hate. I looked at Echo beside me. She smiled, pressed a button on her phone. Mine vibrated in my pocket. I fished it out while superdickery gave me that self-satisfied look. A single word message.
“Corbomite?” I said.
“Corbomite!” Dickery said.
“Corbomite.” Repeated Echo.
A green crystal appeared in her hand. it glowed, it emanated. Dickery put a hand to his face, seemed to weaken him. She stepped closer, he backed away, she stepped closer, he backed away. She stepped closer, he flew off like a pansy.
‘Go fly a kite,’ I said.
‘That’s my line.’ Said Poppins, that’s probably a fair complaint. I ignored it. Dickery had made me angry. I remembered the spoonful line.
I walked up to Mary Poppins – still bound with the ties.
I flexed my fingers. “I’m going to rip out your heart. I haven’t really practised this, so it will probably hurt.”
“What sort of hero are you?”
“Not a very good one, apparently.”
I non-corporealed my hand, reached in, grabbed, tried to drag it out, ended up with a lung, it deflated in my hand. “Shit. Well, I guess diminished lung capacity will make your life hard enough to limit your life of crime.”
“I will have my vengeance!” Sweet! A nemesis! You have to start somewhere.
She looked at the deflated lung for a heartbeat, passed out.
Echo touched my arm. There were sirens in the distance. I nodded, and we left.
We totally stole the ‘bots.
We drove back, and then I walked Echo back to her villa thing. We walked silently, which was common, given her lack of ability to talk, but in this case, it was, we were, still communicating, I think.
We stopped at the threshold to her place.
“I… thank you, I really couldn’t have done it without you.” I turned to face her. “Actually, I think you did most of it – and you probably could’ve done it without me.”
She smiled, and then pantomimed speaking.
“Okay, you needed me to say a few words…” Awkward. “I… thank you.”
She shrugged in response – like it was just what she did.
“Flowers.” I said.
“Flowers?” Surprised. Nice to know I can surprise her. They appeared, the flowers, stretched over a lattice above the walkway, the garden beds around the courtyard, around the edge of the fountain, a myriad of colours. They made the place look a lot better.
And then she hugged me.
Now I felt like a hero.