PS, this is quite cracky. I know. It's a story about superheroes and supervillains, emphasis on the Super, cracky is happening. Also, this is a very rough first draft. There will be mistakes. Plz to ignore them!
I’m no Hero.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Villain either. I’m not even one of those generalized Villainy sympathizers, the ones who go clubbing at places called Absinthe or Misanthropy while wearing glow-in-the-dark anarchy badges and discussing contemporary examples of Randian Objectivism in the local super community.
It’s not the sort of thing a person has to explain, normally, but then most people don’t live in Panopolis, the City of Heroes. My folks thought I was crazy to move here, away from safe and boring suburban Kansas, where the only thing people get excited about on a regular basis are college sports and the fall harvest. Panopolis was going to be different, a new beginning for me. I would shine, I would feel alive, I would do something with myself. After all, it has the highest concentration of super heroes in the western hemisphere. Action-packed doesn’t begin to cover it.
It’s been two years since my arrival. While I haven’t accomplished anything to make me stand out, I do definitely get my mortality shoved in my face on about a monthly basis. It stands to reason: where there are Heroes, there are always going to be Villains. It’s the cosmic yin-yang coming back to bite city planners in the ass. There’s always another epic battle coming down the pipe, and usually constructions crews have their hands full trying to clean up the last one as the next arrives. After city parks and the football stadium (because everybody loves an audience), the next most common place for a Super showdown is in a bank. A bank like the one where I happen to work.
It’s like would-be Villains consider robbing a bank a rite of passage or something. Everybody, from Helios to Jackrabbit to Mount Doom, has robbed our bank. We have being robbed down to an art now, and I haven’t been shaken up about it since the very first time. Of course, it was the first time that changed my life completely, so no robbery afterward could really compare to that first rush, the strange recognition that hit me like a bullet between the eyes when I saw him.
The Mad Bombardier.
That’s the press’ stupid name for him. Most Villains, and all Heroes, give themselves their own names, larger-than-life monikers meant so inspire awe, fear or both. Sometimes those names don’t stick, especially if the bearer gets on the bad side of Panopolis’ reporters. I know they changed Mr. Fabulous’ name to Mr. Flatulent after he flipped a bunch of them off going into a restaurant, and Doctor Pain was redubbed Doctor Pain-In-The-Ass once he sent one of their vans rolling into a building during a particularly intense dogfight with Bone Breaker.
The Bombardier is different. He’s…well, subtle isn’t exactly the right word, not for a Super Villain, because none of them do subtle very well. More like, he’s out for himself, not for anyone else. Certainly not for any of them, and that makes him interesting enough to not dismiss out of hand. Plus, he is a bomber, and he’s definitely more than a little crazy. You’d have to be to play around with the stuff he handles.
The Mad Bombardier and I met when he came to rob the bank a year ago. I remember the sudden fizzing spray of sparks at each of the doors, fusing them cherry red down the midline. I remember the way the overhead lights flickered, and how I could hear the teller next to me frantically pushing his panic button. I should have been doing the same, and ducking down behind the counter with the rest of my coworkers like I’d been taught, but I was too stiff with fear to move. Customers cowered, our security guards reached for their guns only to find them stuck in their holsters.
The lights went out completely for a moment, throwing everything into shadow, and when they came back on he was there, standing in the middle of the lobby. He wore all black, from the buckles on his boots to the trench coat that hung heavy around him. The only spot of color on him was in a red digital readout on his forehead, a long string of numbers I couldn’t make out from where I was behind the booth.
He saw me first. “You.” His voice sounded like an echo of itself somehow, hollow and deep. “Fill this.” He threw a small canvas bag at me. “You have two minutes.”
He turned to the manager’s desk, where our boss, who knew the routine way better than I did, calmly stood up and said, “The vault is this way.”
So far, so good. No shots fired, no one had been hurt. Just a few flashy pyrotechnics and a demand for cash, all good. My hands trembled as I opened my drawer and reached for the cash. There wasn’t all that much in there, no more than a thousand dollars, but I placed it all into the bag.
“Psst!” one of my coworkers hissed at me from his place on the floor. “The dye packs!”
I stared at him blankly. “What?”
“Add the dye packs! Look under your drawer!”
Oh, right, the dye packs. Little containers of indelible dye that you could set to go off and drop into a bag, perfect for a situation like this. Our bank really did have getting robbed down to an art. I pulled the drawer and fumbled for some of the dye, the small sachets slipping through my clumsy, clutching fingers. I finally grabbed one and set it in the bag, way down at the bottom where he’d be less likely to see it, and punched the button that would set it off in about five minutes. Doing so made me feel strange, almost guilty, but the feelings were quickly buried under the resurgence of fear as he appeared again, alone this time.
“The bag,” he demanded, thrusting his hand forward. His other hand held a small circular device, his thumb poised above it, just waiting to jab down and…and what? I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the sight of it, precarious, an unknown fate hovering in this man’s hand. I didn’t even hear him speak, I was so lost in my own terror. Blood rushed so hard through my veins that my hearing turned fuzzy, and my lungs fluttered in my chest like a landed fish, flapping and striving and useless. My vision blurred around the edges of my eyes, slowly closing in on my like a collapsing tunnel.
The firm but not cruel grip that suddenly tightened around my upper arm pulled me out of my panic, and as my sight cleared I saw him, closer now, his black goggles reflecting my own startled gaze back at me. “It’s fine,” he said, still deep and resonant but not as loud as before. “I won’t hurt you. Just give me the bag.”
Slowly, so slowly, I handed the bag over to him. He let go of me to take it, equally slow and controlled. I thought that was it before the front doors suddenly broke off their hinges, carried straight through the gaping entrance and into the lobby by huge, hulking man. He stopped but the doors kept going, crashing onto their side and sliding right into the teller’s booths and knocking the robber off his feet. He lost his grip on the device, which flew across the counter at me. I caught it reflexively, then almost forgot I was holding it as the newcomer straightened up.
It was Freight Train. I could hear a few exclamations, a sob of relief here and there. Freight Train was one of Panopolis’ greatest Heroes, an institution in the city for the past five years. He was a former cop, which maybe explained why he tended to respond whenever the city police got involved. He’d been accidentally exposed to an experimental chemical meant to create temporary force fields around living organisms, as an emergency quarantine measure. On him, it had turned into a permanent force field, and they’d barely been able to figure out a way to penetrate it before he died of dehydration. Nothing outside that wasn’t a gas could get in without some very proprietary technology to help. That meant he was immune to bullets, knives, acid…just about everything that could kill him. With enough momentum he could power his way through walls, so the doors…definitely not a problem for him.
“I hear there’s a new bad boy in town.” Freight Train’s voice rang loud and clear through the ruin of our foyer. “Step on out, scum! Let’s see if you’ve got what it takes to go up against a real Hero!”
I couldn’t see the robber any more, but I heard a pained moan from somewhere in front of me, faint and echoing. The edges of the device I held in my hand bit into my palm, my grip on it was so tight. What happened next happened without thinking too much about it, an impulse I couldn’t quite control.
My booth was the last one on the row, and I slid down out of my chair onto the ground and crawled over to the door that led to the main lobby. I opened it, then peeked around the corner at the wreckage, the people and the Hero himself. Freight Train was still glaring this way and that, his hands on his hips. He hadn’t seen me yet, and it seemed like he hadn’t seen the robber either, who was trying to press up onto one elbow, his black coated here and there in gray plaster dust. His head lifted, and even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I could still tell when he focused on me.
My hand was trembling so badly I thought I was going to just drop the device, but instead I managed to slide it across the floor in his general direction, praying my poor treatment of it didn’t set anything off. The robber grabbed it, but the noise attracted Freight Train’s attention.
“All black,” he sneered, coming forward. His feet made no noise as he stepped; the force field muffled the sounds. “Not very creative.” The robber sat up and leaned away from Freight Train as he got closer, twisting the device in his hands. “And what’s that on your head?” He leaned in with a grin. “A countdown to your capture? Because if that’s the case it should already read zer—”
That was when the secondary explosives set on the undersides of the doors were set off. I hadn’t even seen them, no one had, but it catapulted the sides of the fused piece of metal up at the edges, squeezing Freight Train like the filling in a taco. He toppled to the ground, wrapped up tight in a metallic embrace. The robber got to his feet, brushed his coat off, then grabbed the bag of money I’d frozen at giving him. He glanced my way once before sauntering out the gaping entrance, leaving a lot of astonished civilians and an utterly irate Freight Train behind.
I thought that was the end of it, nothing more than my first interaction with the darker, more exciting and certainly more explosive side of Panopolis. Imagine my surprise when a week later, once the bank was open for business again, I was sent a bouquet of flowers at work. It was a simple bouquet, one long spray of pink delphiniums surrounded by a few attendant anemone blossoms. Attached was a little envelope. The card inside was matte black, and the writing on it was red.
You’re either extraordinarily kind or inordinately brave. I’d like to meet with you and discover which one for myself. If you’re interested, come to the coffee shop on Pinnacle and 24th at six tonight.
If you’re not interested and I never see you again, let me say very sincerely, Thank You.