Warning: This story has “adult” language and themes. Reader discretion is advised.

What has gone before: Tommy Champion, Nebraska farmboy, and all-round hellraiser turned superhero, arrived in Los Angeles to become the official superhero of Nike. His cocky attitude and foul temper did not win him any friends, except for Michael, a Nike image consultant who gave him the superhero nom de guerre “Omega.” Tommy is operating under a directive -- make favorable headlines in three weeks, or lose Nike sponsorship. Tommy’s first outing as a superhero was less than auspicious, and he wonders how he can successfully make his deadline.
 
 

Three Fights and a Contest
by Scott Bennie

Day 2.

No, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to keep a fucking diary like some hormone-rich teenage girl who has to write love poems every day to Lance Fucking Bass of N’Synch, and is trying to hold onto her virginity just for him. I’m not a fucking Jewel wannabee.

It’s morning. I shower. I pace around the hotel room, watching MTV and listening to fucking boring MTV rap videos. All I see is bullshit. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if I want to see the truth about the streets, I can just fly outside and watch the shit -- the real shit -- myself, not the ridiculous self-aggrandizement offered by rap music’s posse of role-playing
retards. I don’t watch the morning news (that just depresses me, although it might be better if they added some T&A in it. You’d figure in Los Fucked-Up Angeles, they’d have found some chick to do the news in a bikini. Now that would be my idea of "current events.")

Sleep has left me a little twitchy, so I create a force field punching bag and I start wailing on it. That gets boring fast, so I make the punching bag look like Michael, all pectorals and biceps, and I proceed to beat the shit out of it. It’s not that I don’t like the guy, I just felt like beating the shit out of him.

“No fair, farmboy,” The faux Michael protests. “I can’t fight back. Why don’t you give me a fighting chance?”

“Fine.” I animate the punching bag, and suddenly there’s a fully-formed, six-foot tall, near-perfect forgery of Michael standing in front of me, in all his brawny, bare-chested glory. Shit, how’d I manage that trick?

“Thanks,” the imposter grins. “Prepare for a shit-kicking, farmboy.”

Fighting Michael gives me a solid punch to the face. I smile and slam him back with a roundhouse right and move in for a wrestling hold. Unfortunately, unlike God, I can’t create an opponent who’s stronger than me, or even someone who can put up a decent fight against my superhero form. To say that I mangle the simulacrum would be a serious understatement; I crumple it like a kid’s toy and break it into pieces. Its decapitated head grins at me with Michael’s Tom Cruise-like bridgework.

“You shithead,” Fighting Michael says.

“Asshole,” I reply. I pick up the head like a goddamn Hamlet, but there’s no blood.

“Why’d you select me for your sparring partner, farmboy?” Fighting Michael asks. “Why not your cousin Buck, or Coach Carey, or your dad? You’ve always wanted to wrestle your dad.”

“What the fuck is this?” I say. “Get the fuck out of here.”

“You faggot,” Fighting Michael mocks me. I throw the head full force into the hotel wall, but it disperses into a collection of loose photons before it can make a "get your ass out of my hotel" sized hole. Shit. I wasn’t even drunk this time, and I’m still doing a major mind-fuck on myself.

I get changed and head down to the hotel restaurant, where I grab some breakfast, and charm my waitress. After I’ve shoved a big load of calories and cholesterol into my stomach (I always did love fresh eggs), I’m feeling a lot better.  Some of the waitresses here are a little old, but they’re hot! For some reason, the women in California just seem so much hornier and hotter than any I encountered in Nebraska. It must be the heat.

After breakfast, I go for a flight over the city. Today, I decide to explore the "coast" part of "west coast," and make a beeline for the beaches. It’s about two minutes at a decent cruising speed to the ocean. Holy shit. If there was any reason to come to Southern California, this is it. Holy fucking shit, I can’t believe the first thing I did when I came to this goddamn state wasn’t to go straight to the beach and work on a tan for the rest of my life. What a goddamn fool I was. The beauty of this place justifies every shit-ridden cesspool I’ve visited so far. Now I know why I didn’t just tell Frigia to kiss my ass as I flew back to the farm.

Holy, holy, shit! What a fucking awesome view. I want my own beach house. Now.

I pass the beaches and fly about ten miles off shore. Catalina’s visible in the distance. As I fly, I’m braced by warm sea breezes like nothing I’ve ever felt before, and a strong updraft. Sometimes it’s cool just to go with the flow.  And sometimes it’s cool to fight it. Once I reach the ten-mile mark, and the shore begins to fade into the distance, I figure I’m alone and can do some cool shit without being disturbed. I perform an upside-down diver arc and gain some
altitude -- two thousand, maybe three thousand feet. It’s hard to gauge your height when all the landmarks are in the distance. I hover for about three minutes to take in the view and work up my courage, then I plummet straight down, at terminal velocity. I let myself hit the water full force, as hard as I can.

It’s like slamming into a three-foot thick steel-plated concrete wall.

I suddenly realize where the "terminal" in terminal velocity comes from. Holy fuck, that hurts. I briefly pass out, washed more by pain than by water, and wondering what the hell I was thinking when I decided to make that dive. You see, I’ve never really been hurt before, at least not in my superhuman form.

 It’s not like I didn’t try. Once, my Cousin Buck and I got drunk and he decided to run me over with a combine, and all I did was dull the blades. Then there was the time my old high school wrestling team won the county championships and we celebrated by driving into Omaha and dropping me headfirst from the tallest building in the state. That hurt a bit, but nothing like this. During my tests, the Doc hit me with more voltage than is produced by your average thunderstorm and I just laughed at it. (Okay, that time I did feel some pain, but pain feels
different when you’re naked and strapped to a table with diodes crawling over your body like tarantulas. Being a lab rat is actually a pretty fucking macho experience.)

But this pain was different. I hadn’t felt anything like it since I got hit by the fucking thunderstorm that transformed me into "Omega -- far beyond the reckoning of mortal men" (or whatever bullshit the Nike spin machine is going to use to whore me so I can pimp their shit). It felt like -- well, if I were the sort of pretentious idiot like some of the English majors I knew in high school, I’d say it felt like my mortality had decided to kick me in the balls.

Holy fuck. The pain ebbs, and my senses are reawakened by coldness. The sea water smells like a million whales pissed in it, and it’s as cold and clammy as a nervous virgin, but right now, it feels so goddamn refreshing that I can hardly stand it. I spend about a half-hour playing in the water, doing swordfish leaps and dolphin twists. I’m not even bothered that I’m ten miles from the nearest cute female lifeguard. I’m just doing the most ridiculous shit, like some goddamn dancing faggot, performance art/self-expression bullshit, and it doesn’t fucking matter. I’m the only one in the world who can do this, who feels this way, and then goes out and does it. Me, Omega.

The last name in impossible shit.

Well, I guess I’m in a good enough mood to go to work. I lift myself out of the water, concentrate for a moment to dry and clean the old superhero suit, and then I head straight to Nike.

The shoe mill’s rather subdued today. It’s hot out, and I think everyone is staying indoors so the air conditioning system can keep them nice and toasty, as opposed to charbroiled, which they’d be if they stayed outside. Which begs the one big question I’ve been wondering about Los Angeles: who was it that was so fucked in the head that they built a metropolis in the middle of the goddamn desert?

I leave a message for Michael in the foyer, then head into the lounge and play video games. Nike’s got a little arcade for visitors and their kids, though you have to walk through a maze of giant shoes that hang from the ceiling to reach it. Yeah, that’s corporate America’s idea of art, shoes that are too big for Shaq. The arcade has got some ridiculously old crap here - whoever set up these games is on a hopeless nostalgia trip when they think that "Gorf" is a cool game -- but it’s a good way to kill some time when no one wants to talk to you.

 “So how’s Los Angeles’s newest superhero doing?” It’s Frigia. I’d been playing Gorf for about ten minutes, taking more pleasure out of changing those really stupid 1980s videogame voices to "make Gorf your bitch" and "fuck off and die, space cadet," when the last person I wanted to see pops up like a video game boss out of the corner of my eye.

 “Yeah, right,” I say.

A conversation with Frigia is a lot like milking a cobra -- it takes an expert to do it safely, and even then you can’t help but extract a shitload of venom. She’s leaning over the machine and watching my game. Since I’m sure she’d get great satisfaction if I died, I mentally adjust the machine so I can’t possibly lose.

“I’m waiting for the next major supervillain attack,” I answer, exuding confidence.

“This looks like really good training for fighting supervillains,” Frigia snarls.

“It is. Hand-eye coordination is fucking important,” I reply.

“So you’re playing arcade games when people could be dying? That’s really going to help your superhero career in time for your deadline.”

“I have time. According to the most recent statistics, there’s a detectable supervillain operation in Los Angeles once every 8.3 days. That gives me at least two opportunities in the next twenty days to get my headline. In addition, my ability to sense trouble”

“Don’t you mean, 'cause trouble?'” Frigia smiles.

“will probably allow me at least one opportunity to intercept a clandestine villain operation. So all I need to do is keep my ear to the ground and wait.”

“Don’t get too comfortable in that posh hotel room of yours,” she says, and she unplugs the machine with a kick on the power cord. But I anticipated that the bitch would pull that drama queen stunt, and the game keeps running -- I’m still feeding the machine power. The game continues, uninterrupted.

“You see, bitch,” I say. “I’m pretty fucking good at figuring out what an asshole is going to do, and preventing them from doing it. And when the other assholes in this town figure that out, they’re going to be shitting themselves. You want favorable press? I’m going to become so fucking big that your fucking two-bit shoe farm could sponsor both ‘chemo-boy’ Lance Armstrong and ‘tight-ass’ Tiger Woods, and they’d only bring in chump change in comparison with me.”

“There is no way that the American people will embrace a psychotic!” Frigia insists.

“Hell, even Charles Manson has a fan club.” I grin. She turns to storm away.  My game of Gorf resumes, uninterrupted.

“By the way, how’s that ex-supervillain hitman of yours doing, bitch?” I shout. “Is he still sucking soup through a straw?” But she doesn’t take the bait.  She just leaves. I can track her by the obscenities she’s muttering under her breath as she walks down the hall.

Five minutes later, Michael comes down. He puts his hand on my shoulder. “How’re you doing?”

“Don’t touch me until the game’s over,” I growl. He recoils, and then I flash him a grin. “Gotcha.”

“No goddamn way.” Michael chuckles. “But man, you really pissed off Michelle. She came into my office and she was definitely going for an Olympic record in the one hundred meter scream.” Michael shakes his head.

“It’d take some doing to beat Jamie Lee Curtis,” I reply.

“Goddammit, what did you say to her?”

I concentrate for a minute, and an image of my conversation with Michelle appears on the screen of every video game in the arcade. Elton John’s "The Bitch is Back" starts playing on the loudspeakers.

“Farmboy, you scare the shit out of me.” Michael shakes his head.

“Me, or my powers?” I ask.

“A little of both,” Michael says, and he reconsiders. “No, not a little. But that’s cool. So how about lunch?”

“I figured you’d tell me to fuck myself,” I reply. “Last time we spoke, we weren’t exactly buds.”

“Shit, farmboy, you got to stop taking things so goddamned seriously.” Michael coughs. “Yeah, I was annoyed at you. It doesn’t mean I wanted to excommunicate you. I know you’re alone in this town. It isn’t easy being a stranger in a strange place”

“This place isn’t strange, it’s fucking weird.”

“But it’s not good to lean on just one person,” Michael concludes. “I was trying to keep you from becoming too dependent on me. It isn’t healthy, dude.”

“Dude?” I wonder aloud.

“I have to use the word ‘dude’ at least once a day. State citizenship requirements.” Michael jokes. “Plus they’d never let me surf if I didn’t use it.”

“Do you really surf?”

“Yeah.”

I laugh and he gives me a really annoyed look. “You any good?” I ask.

“Farmboy, I ride the waves like you ride a sheep’s ass.”

“I don’t need to know your fucking fantasies, Mikey,” I reply. “But you’re right about one thing. Last time we talked, I was an asshole.” I then say, “How about I buy you the best fucking lunch you’ve ever had?”

“Sure. I’ll accept a peace offering on the corporate credit card.” Michael laughs. “By the way, there’s someone else I’d need to bring along,” Michael says.

“Sure.” I shrug.

“And I’ve got a light schedule this afternoon.” Michael says. “How about I cancel my appointments so we can hit the beach? I’ll show you some surfing moves.  That way you can tell all your friends you’ve actually been surfing.”

“That probably wouldn’t matter to them,” I say. “I’m a fucking superhero. Ever since I got the powers, most of them really haven’t spoken to me much.”

“They’re jealous of your ability to play Gorf?”

“They’re just a bunch of fucking kids.” I shrug. “So who’s our lunch partner going to be?”

“Hi, I’m Leona.” Leona Blade (I think that’s her real name, although it sure sounds like a stage name) may be the tallest woman I’ve ever met, almost my height, and quite broad. She’s in her late 20s, about Michael’s age. Her Amazonian figure is constrained by a business suit that’s guaranteed to hold up to continuous pounding on corporate America’s glass ceiling. Despite the attire (and the glass ceiling), she still has an aura of perky glee that’s comparable to Kathy Lee Gifford’s but far less manufactured. “You’re cute.”

“Huh,” I say, not quite believing she’d be this forward.

“Isn’t he cute?” she turns to Michael.
 
“Yeah, the farmboy’s got the look.” Michael leans back and says in a casual tone that’s meant to say: ‘If you really want me to compliment another guy’s physical appearance, fine, just as long as you don’t think I’m a flaming homo’.
    
“It’s nice to be surrounded by people with taste.” I smile. A waitress serves us sushi, while a big Japanese man in a floppy chef’s hat has come over to a steel plate that’s right next to our chair, and he’s cooking some meat on it. It’s real cool. The music isn’t too loud, a 60s Motown beat, but there’s a loud, steady background noise of people busting their balls making deals while they wait for their food, and a few of the patrons are so attached to their cell phones that it looks like they’re performing oral sex with them.
 
“This place is the shits.” I say, meaning it’s good.

“The goddamn farmboy has the foulest mouth you’ve ever heard.” Michael says.

        “Fucking right I do.” I smile. “We Nebraskans work hard, play harder, but we’re hardest of all on the fucking English language.”

“You’re soooo bad.” Leona giggles, and she slides over and cuddles up to me.

“By the way, you are allowed to stroke the superhero’s biceps or chest.” I state authoritatively. “And shoulder massages will be looked upon favorably by the superhero gods.”

Michael shakes his head and snorts. Leona goes over to him and kisses him on the cheek.
 
“Hey!” I shout. “I didn’t think this was a commune.”

“Oh guys, stop” Leona coos. “Anyway, Omega, I’m in Travel, and I’m setting up a schedule of personal appearances for you. How many days a week do you think you can take off from your superhero duties to go around and meet people?”

“I have to pass a stupid trial period first.” I grumble.

“Well, I can’t be bothered worrying about that.” Leona shakes her head. “If you lose, I can simply cancel the appointment. Besides, I met your opponent a few months ago, and while he’s cute, he’s not as cute as you.  And I seriously doubt we’re going to want some Canadian to protect Los Angeles.”

“Opponent?” I wonder. “Canadian? What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’d like to know too.” Michael scowls, his interest suddenly piqued.

“Well, you know how much the boss likes competition, the spirit of free enterprise, and all that.” Leona explains. “Michelle suggested getting another young superhero to compete against you, so whoever gets the best publicity by the end of the trial period wins the job.”

“And who is this competition?” Michael’s focus is so narrow it’s almost scary.

“John Wolfe. He’s from a place in Alberta. I think it’s called Drumhell.”

“Drumheller. And his name is Permafrost.” Michael frowns and then explodes. “Goddamn her!”

“What’s the problem?” I ask. “Is he good?”

“Yeah, he’s good. He’s really powerful -- in fact, he’s probably the only other candidate we found who was even close to your power level. We considered him for your spot, but we finally let him go when he told us he couldn’t cope with California heat. We’ve been in negotiations with Molson’s to co-sponsor him and set him up in Toronto or Vancouver. This was my deal. I’ve spent three months going back and forth between Los Angeles and Montreal trying to make it happen.”

“You wanted him to join the Canadian Shield,” I surmise. Michael is too busy steaming, and the longer he goes, the angrier he gets. God damn, are his neck muscles ever tensing! He looks like a fucking iguana displaying its frills.

“I can’t believe this! How can that bitch go behind my back and pull this crap when she knew I had a major deal in the works!”

“Oh. I thought you were upset because you were concerned about me,” I tell him.

“Don’t start on the ego trip, farmboy.” Michael snaps, pointing his finger at me for emphasis. “You don’t know the shit I have to deal with in my job.”

“Fuck, Michael, I was making a goddamn joke,” I say, lying through my teeth. “Just chill, okay?”

“Deep breaths, Michael.” Leona adds with a slight giggle. “We know you can do it. We don’t need you to out-Herringer Herringer.”

That comment suddenly deflates Michael and he almost laughs. “Who’s Herringer?” I wonder out load.

“Your sales department head. He’s a major stress case.” Michael says, calming down. “He’s the guy who was allegedly in charge of your orientation meeting.  But I guess I can take a hint from my friends, and settle down, and get my lips so wet that they can’t possibly chafe you force me to kiss your asses.”

“Oh you” Leona laughs. “I have half a mind to sue you for sexual harassment.”

“And I have half a mind,” I add, joking of course. We pause for a few seconds as a row of sushi is placed in front of us. “So what’s our next move against the Bitch?”

Michael is lost in thought for a moment. “I didn’t want this war,” he says, in a tone so serious that it’s impossible to know it isn’t complete bullshit. “But I’ll finish it.” We all burst out laughing. “I’ll talk to a friend of mine at Molson’s. I won’t say anything specific, but I’ll give them enough that they’ll realize they’re being screwed. When that happens, we wait to hear what death threats they’ll send to Legal, and then we wait for some fallout.”

“What if she’s already talked to Molson’s?” Leona asks.

“Michelle?” Michael mocks. “She doesn’t even talk to the people in her own division. There’s no way that bitch would actually put out the effort needed to phone another company and get everyone’s approval. If she did that, she might be forced to admit that the universe doesn’t exist solely to serve her.”

“And when Permafrost shows up, I’ll beat the shit out of him.” I smile.

“No!” Michael insists.

“I don’t mean that I’m going to blindside him,” I say. “But we’re superheroes.  What do superheroes do?”

“Rescue people and fight evil?” Leona says. There’s mischief in her eyes, but it’s very calculated. She appears to have Michael’s confidence, but I’m not sure I entirely trust her. But she’s unlike any woman I’ve ever seen before. I lean over close to her, smile, and focus intensely on her.

“We’re street fighters and demons of muscle. We’re two-fisted poets and warriors of the new millenium. We’re atomic men whose hands spit nuclear fire. We’re spandex knights on a crusade against the forces of darkness. We love to fight and we fight to protect what people love.”

I’ve been practicing that speech for months, superhero come-on #3. I hope it didn’t sound as dorky as it looked on paper. From the barely concealed hysterical smirk on Michael’s face, it was worse. I turn to him.

“Look, we’re superheroes. We fight. It’s what we do. There are a lot of powerful guys out there. If Permafrost thinks he can protect the city, let him prove it by showing he can fucking fight better than me. I’m willing to bet my sponsorship that I’ll kick his frozen ass and send it fucking back to Canada. We can make this simple.”

Michael shakes his head. “Listen farmboy, and make sure this sinks into your goddamn skull. The general public does not give one shit in Shitsville what you people in the spandex set think about each other in private. Just as long as whenever you put on your tights and go out and meet other in public, you’re working together so people can walk down the fucking street without having to worry about their heads blown off by a psycho.”

“I’ve seen lots of people who like to compare the heroes’ capabilities.” I mention.

“Internet geeks may obsess in their little chatrooms about who can beat whom, but Joe Average only wants to be able to drive down to Safeway in peace, buy his groceries, and get home safe. When they see superheroes fighting each other, they begin to realize just how insane you guys are. This makes them nervous.”

“And that affects the sales of your shit?” I respond.

“You’re goddamn right it does, farmboy.” Michael says. “Get with the program. We have to protect the bottom line.”

“Besides, you may actually like Permafrost when you meet him.” Leona adds. “He was really nice and polite when we met.” I nearly spit out some sushi.

“Let’s see.” My sarcasm mode has been turned on and set to maximum. “On one hand, I could make a brand new friend. On the other hand, I lose eight million dollars a year. The choice isn’t very fucking hard.”

“He might save your life one day.” Leona says in a subdued tone.

“Leona has a point, farmboy. In your business, you don’t need unnecessary enemies,” Michael says. “There’s shit out there that even you won’t be able to face alone. If your fellow superheroes hate your fucking guts, we may as well get the hoses ready, because one day all that’s gonna be left of you is a smear on a goddamn wall.”

On that note, the main course is served. I’m not happy about the portion sizes, but what the hell -- I concentrate, and a second helping appears on our plates. It’s not hard to duplicate what’s already in front of me. Leona gives me a really odd look. Michael smiles slightly and nods. We finish lunch. Michael goes off to make a phone call to Toronto. Leona cuddles up to me. I notice an engagement ring on her finger.

“Do you and Michael” I ask. She winces, rears back her head and gives off a  high-pitched hyena-like laugh that almost sends me out of my seat.

“No, I have a boyfriend,” she finally says when she calms down. “Frank and I are going to get married on Christmas Eve.” She sighs, overdosing on that saccharine poison called 'romance’.

 “Merry Christmas,” I mutter.

“I’ve got to go,” she says. To thoroughly confuse the issue, she kisses me on the cheek. I look at her, and she melts -- we kiss each other on the lips for twenty seconds. Well, it was actually about five seconds, but it fucking felt like twenty.

“You’re sweet,” she says.

“I’m a lot more than that.” I smile and stretching, letting my muscles bulge under my shirt.

“I’ll leave messages on Michael’s voice mail in case I hear anything. Bye.”

I’m alone. I go out to lunch with two people, and I still end up alone.

My whining ends about five minutes later, when Michael returns from his conversation. “It does get noisy in here, doesn’t it?” I say.

“This is one of the quieter lunch spots, farmboy.” Michael slaps me on the back. “Well, you up for the beach?”

“I figured with everything that was going down at work, you’d cancel.”

“You figured wrong. Molson’s won’t make a move until morning. I’ve got people keeping an eye on things at work.”

“Shit, there’s less fucking politics at the White House.”

Michael doesn’t comment. “We’ll head to our assorted hotels and put on some shorts.”

“We don’t need to go to the hotel.” I say. “How about some red Speedos?”

“Red speedos?” Michael’s eyebrows twist in a direction that suggests a car wreck. I smile, and suddenly, Michael’s wearing red speedos.

I think it’s cool. The patrons in the bar drop their forks and chopsticks and just stare at us. Michael is scowling. “My wallet and keys were in those pants. Please tell me you can bring them back.”

I reach into my pocket, summon the lost items and hand them back to him. He checks them to make sure everything’s in order. “Okay, farmboy, this isn’t what I want to wear, but we can change someplace a little more private.”

“But you look great.”

“Fine, I look great. But for Christ’s sake, I don’t need you dressing me, okay farmboy?”

Michael’s pissed at me, but that’s okay. There are two categories of pissing people off. There’s the "my friend just humiliated me and I’m going to get him fucking back" pissed, which makes life interesting. Then there’s the ‘I don’t want anything more to do with this asshole ever again’ type of pissed, which I don’t think I’m anywhere close to with Michael.

The afternoon pretty much salves our wounds. The beach is great, even at a close view. There are more hectares of half-naked, tanned human flesh here than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Ripped freaks and hot women are everywhere, roller-blading, jogging and just hanging out. But when we strut down Venice Beach, we’re the kings. Even the big fucking bodybuilders in their cages nearly give themselves hernias dropping their free weights to stare at me. My physique isn’t anything comparable to theirs, but I’ve got the look. I’m a superhero.

Of course, they’re not the ones I’m trying to impress. I love watching the faces on the alpha males when their women’s heads turn away from them to gawk at me, but most of all, I love watching the women’s heads turn. I mentally grade each half-decent babe: there are a lot of 7s, a fair number of 8s, a few 9s, and one 9.5. I haven’t seen a perfect 10 yet, the woman who’d make me stuff Michael into the sand and ditch him so I could recite bad poetry to her and beat up any potential boyfriends.

Michael and I make comments under our breaths about the human scenery we’re oogling. We pass several basketball courts, where sweaty black guys fight like pit bulls in heat. Some of those guys are really good, college level at least. Michael points out that one of the people performing slam dunks is a bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers. I nod -- high school wrestlers and basketball players didn’t mix where I came from -- and we keep walking.

We come to a sandpit where some guys are playing volleyball. The game’s winding down, and a pair of tall lanky college boys approach us to see what our game is. Michael starts to walk away, but I take the challenge, and place two hundred bucks as a wager on the game.

“You just had to accept it” Michael growls.

“You afraid of a little honest sweat?” I goad him.

“Shit farmboy, once they realize you’re a goddamn superhuman”

“I’ll shut my powers off.” I say, slapping him on the shoulder and grinning.  “Easy victories are fucking boring.”

 “Then they’re gonna kick our asses.” Michael moans.

“You’re just gonna have to play harder.” I smile, and slap him on the back, hard enough to sting.

After losing the coin toss, I line up and receive the serve. It’s a best out of three game match, and man, do we ever suck in the first game. My volleyball experience is limited to high school Phys Ed class, on a solid floor, not sand, and Michael hasn’t played beach volleyball in years. We drop the first game 15-4. But by the end of the first game, our rhythm starts to click, and we take the second game 17-15. Michael is fucking awesome, diving and saving shots and
spraying sand all over the fucking place. And I nail more spikes than a fucking railroad. We make a great team. A big crowd starts to form, and fuck, does that ever pump up the adrenaline.

Unfortunately, the opposition aren’t just a pair of jocks, they’re smart and experienced, and they adjust to our game. Early in Game Three, Michael runs out of steam, and by the end of the game, I’m pretty much on my own. We lose the match game 15-12. I almost feel like smashing the ball. Michael tries to console me, and I have to force myself to forget his last few really shitty plays so I don’t flinch when he puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Wish we could make it best of five.”

“I’d be dead by the end of the last fucking game.” Michael huffs.

I shake my head. I hate losing. While this isn’t quite as bad as losing my last duel meet to the stuck-up Omaha boys at fucking Millard South, it’s still a disappointment. The opposition, on the other hand, are pretty fucking happy to walk away from this with a win -- I get the impression they do this sort of thing for a living. They’re pretty generous with their compliments, but for two hundred bucks, they can afford to be.

“Sorry. My fault.” Michael says. “I’m a little out of shape. At least as far as endurance.”

“Yeah I noticed, muscle boy.” I tease him, squeezing one of his biceps. “But that’s okay.  We’ll just have to get your trainer to force you do more reps.”

“Not again” Michael moans. “I swear you goddamn superheroes and your workouts
and your fucking male bonding is going to give me a heart attack one of these days.”

“The last superhero you knew do this to you?” I ask.

“He was heavily into bodybuilding. I was pretty skinny before I met him, but he loved to work out with me, just so he could push me. And he loved basketball.” Michael smiles. “Matt liked to find the biggest and most obnoxious guy on the court and just feed him his game. He got into a lot of trouble. I got into a lot of trouble.”

“Sounds like fun. What was Matt like?”

“I’d rather not talk about him.” Michael is wiping off the sand that’s stuck in clumps to his body. I do the same.

 “You said he was still alive.”

“If you call what he’s going through living.” Michael replies. “But, in case the ‘big hint’ sign has not flashed brightly enough, that subject’s off limits. I’ll make you a deal: you don’t talk about Matt, and I don’t talk about all the sheep you’ve fucked.”

“I’ve never fucked a fucking sheep.” I snarl. “You California ‘dudes’ and your fucking preconceptions. There wasn’t a sheep farm within thirty miles of where I grew up. Dad grew wheat and corn and a bit of barley.”

Michael just smiles.

“Speaking of California dudes, what about the fucking surf you promised me?” I snap.

“Just give me a few minutes to recover from the game, and we’ll find some waves.” Michael says, “It’d be easier if we were heading down to Huntington Beach, the surf’s a lot better there. Hey!”

I’ve grabbed Michael and started to lift off the ground. “Huntington Beach is south, right?”

“Jesus Christ, could you at least goddamn ask before you use your fucking powers on me?”
 
“I could.” I smile. “But this is more fun.”

“One day, you are going to find yourself leaping headfirst into the biggest pile of shit” I laugh. “Goddamn it farmboy, I mean it!”

I surround ourselves in a sheath that’s guaranteed to reduce the effects of wind, allowing me to accelerate to my maximum cruising speed without suffocating Michael, and I generate a bit of a telekinetic field to hold him steady. We push up to about four thousand feet and get a really cool view of northern Orange County. He’s starting to relax. “How’s the flight?”

“It’s okay.” Michael frowns.

“Bullshit.”

“Okay, it’s pretty fucking awesome.” Michael admits, and then he notices a glint of something in the distance. “Holy shit!”

A long way away, a very big fireball goes hurtling into the sky. It looks like the old pictures of Hiroshima. I felt what was happening as soon as it went off -- I have the odd feeling that whatever this disaster is, it’s taking place about fifty miles northeast of us. I’m not sure what happened (I think if it was a real nuke, the danger level would probably cause me to shit my drawers), but I know instinctively that it’s my job to stop it.

“Shit, I don’t want to carry you into a firefight,” I tell Michael.

“Put me down. I’ll make my way home.”

I look for a major intersection, spend about twenty seconds bleeding off velocity, and then land safely. I concentrate, and Michael’s back in his street clothes, with his cellphone in hand. He shakes his head, but says nothing.

“This really sucks. I’m sorry,” I tell him.

“Actually it’s kinda cool,” Michael responds. “Wish I could see you in action.”

“See you tonight?” I ask.

“Afraid not,” Michael says. “How about Friday night? We can get rowdy.”

“I was born rowdy,” I smile. “Weekends are when I go fucking wild. You sure you want to be around me?”

“I’ll make sure there’s no full moon,” Michael says, mocking me.

“But not tonight?”

“It can’t be tonight. Even if I wasn’t busy, you’re scheduled for your first night patrol,” Michael informs me.

I hadn’t even looked at the schedule they’d set up for me. Oh well.

“Get outta here!” Michael shouts. “Go kick somebody’s goddamn ass!” I make a very fancy, propeller twirl take-off, just to throw it in his face.

It’s a long ways from Seal Beach to Ontario, and I get my first lesson in just how fucking huge the Los Angeles basin is. Even traveling at 400 miles an hour, it’s still a thirteen-minute trip to the vacinity of the explosion, and after that, I have to circle for a few minutes to find the exact location. Eight minutes into the trip, I feel a sonic boom, originating from the direction of the
fireball. Oddly enough, the feeling of danger diminishes sharply.

Finally, I arrive. There’s more smoke here than at a Phillip Morris board meeting. I figure out quickly the best thing to do is to listen for the sirens and look for police cars and fire engines.

It looks like whatever caused the fireball happened in the middle of a huge warehouse. It’s surprising how much of the warehouse is intact; I’m seeing an odd black metal that coats the edges of the stonework. There’s the wreckage of a huge humanoid shaped black metal thing, scattered in about fifty pieces all over the ground -- is that fucker a giant robot? Shit.

There are a lot of police cars swarming the area; it looks like a fucking black and white anthill. There are also fire trucks, ambulances, and HASMAT details set up. The police cordon is impressive in its size and its lack of obvious cracks, and the biggest fucking police van I’ve ever seen is just making its way to the site. It’s marked "METAHUMAN CONTAINMENT UNIT." I land and look for someone in charge. Over at the van, a dozen police has surrounded some costumed figure -- he’s wearing what looks like a really high-tech straight jacket -- and
loading him into the van. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger!” he rants. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger! Do you hear me!”

“What a fucking loser,” I say with more derision in my voice than Judge Judy when she comes face-to-face with a card carrying Democrat. But this is depressing news. If they’ve already collared the perp, my chances of getting a decent headline out of this situation are zilch. And no one’s talking to me.

I finally manage to corner a police sergeant. “Who the hell are you?” he asks me.

“Omega,” I answer.

“Yeah, right. Go bother someone who cares,” Sergeant Burnout Case says.

I pick up a police car with one hand, then set it down gently. “Now you can arrest me, or you can tell me what’s going on, so I can help.”

“You’re too late,” Sarge says. “Blur was here. She already beat up the bad guy. We’ve taken the Dictator into custody. Why don’t you just run along?”

I head into the building, and hook up with a HASMAT detail in their spacesuits. This was an old supervillain lair, and everyone is very nervous about chemical leaks and booby-traps. I spend about an hour working with the HASMAT people doing high-risk work. Hopefully, I’m doing some good for someone.

The job takes longer than I expected, but the chemical situation is brought under control, at least long enough for the demolitions experts to come in and start expanding their search for bombs. The only things they find are explosive devices filled with the Dictator’s propaganda leaflets and tiny Dictator flags that would have fallen to the ground when the bomb detonated.

“What a fucking nutcase,” I say, picking up a pamphlet. A police lieutenant catches me by surprise, and immediately wrests the leaflet from my grip. He’s an African-American, bald with a goatee beard, probably in his mid-30s, (maybe older, given the grey hairs in the beard). He’s wearing the insignia of the LAPD Paranormals division. His posture screams "major bad-ass, don’t mess with me" -- maybe it’s because I just saw Shaft a few weeks ago. The surprising thing was that I didn’t even see Lieutenant Shitkicker coming.

“Don’t read the pamphlet. The Dictator may be a dork, but he’s dork with Class IV mind control powers that he can use against anyone who’s read this shit.”

“I can resist mind control,” I state.

“In a lab,” the lieutenant corrects me; he has one of the most fucking beautiful bass voices I’ve heard since James Earl Jones. “I’ll bet you haven’t tested that ability in the field, have you, Omega?” I give him a graveyard stare. “I’m Hawkins, LAPD Metahumans Unit.”

“I can read the badge, lieutenant.” I say. “Don’t I have appointment with you next week?”

“Tuesday, ten o’clock.” Hawkins answers. “I asked to get my hands on you earlier, but the brass wanted you to have at least three sessions of police training. I take it was you who was flying around over Venice?”

“So?”

“You surprised a lot of people. It could have caused a panic. The LAPD Matahumans Division would like to formally request your twenty-four hour itinerary so we can better deal with these little surprises.”

“Itinerary?” I shout. I’m about to start my itinerary by punching Hawkins in the face, but his stone faced expression stops me in my tracks.

“Okay, now that you’ve formally turned down my request, we can bring the conversation back to some semblance of reality.”

Procedure. What a load of bullshit. “What reality is this, lieutenant?” I spit.

“Mine,” Hawkins answers. “The reality that’s worried about a nineteen year old Nebraska kid with powers that just scream ‘loose cannon’. We’ve had our eye on you from the moment you stepped off your plane. You’ve done sex and drugs in the Jaguar Lounge, you’ve wrecked your hotel room, and you grabbed a half-naked man in Venice and started flying around with him over the beach and halfway to Orange County.”

“Are you saying you think I’m queer?” I start to say.

“How well do you know Mike Carleton?” Hawkins asks.

“I just met him.” I shrug.

“Not very well. I’m willing to bet you’re going to be in for a surprise or two.” He smiles. “You also prevented a prostitute named Maria Lucarno from getting hit by a bus, and you helped save a diabetic’s life by getting him to a hospital, even though you didn’t stick around for questioning.”

“How do you know all this shit?”

“What does the name ‘the Seven Chosen’ mean to you?”

Given the way he pronounces the word "Chosen," in a very Avery Brooks way, there should be a dramatic pause and a flourish of ominous music. But there isn’t.

“Are they some sort of supervillain group?” I ask, not taking the question particularly seriously.

“They’re quite the opposite. Prophecy calls them the ultimate heroes, the Omega, the final hope. Seven defenders against some great Evil. The lightning calls them, and bestows the powers of gods on them.” Hawkins shakes his head. “I’ve been wondering if you weren’t one of them. There are certain prophecies” I begin laughing. “Yes, I know what you’re thinking.”

“I ain’t no fucking hero of heroes. If there wasn’t so much money to be made in this hero gig, I’d probably be fighting for the other side.”

The lieutenant frowns, but ignores what I just said. “Look, kid, just watch your step. You’re being watched, and not just by me. There are forces out there that make Mike Carleton and his little band look like cub scouts. Just be careful.”

There is a ton of unspoken implications in that sentence, but I decide to ignore them for now. “You know lieutenant, once you get to know me, you may want me to be as uncareful as possible, just to get rid of me.”

“You’re an asshole. I understand that. I can be one too.” There isn’t a trace of levity on his features, which somehow remind me a lot of my dad’s, despite the fact that dad’s about as Caucasian as you can get. “But you’ve also put yourself on the line for complete strangers. That mitigates the ‘asshole factor’ by a considerable margin, at least in my books.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to work fucking harder,” I smile. “I’ll be seeing you soon, Hawkins. But let me give you one piece of advice: if I catch you fucking spying on me, you’re going to wake up in a hospital. I got rights, and I got an even better left hook.”

“Your enemies don’t give a shit about your rights, Omega,” Hawkins says. “But I’m sure we’ll have a long discussion about this later. Just watch your back, and don’t give your trust too easily.”

“Like I ever fucking do.” I nod. The bomb squad is starting to finish, and most of the press left after Blur took off. I lift up into the air again, hoping that a due west course will take me pretty close to Los Angeles. I go higher than I’ve ever gone before, eight, maybe nine thousand feet. I keep my out for the Hollywood sign, and use it to make a course correction. It takes me about
twenty minutes, but I’m back at the hotel. Cool. I navigated all the way across Los Angeles without getting lost. If only I could’ve beaten Blur to the Dictator! Then I’d have my headline, and I’d have a lot less shit to worry about.

I wonder about the meaning of Hawkins’ words about Michael. Was he gay? I know I tell a lot of jokes, but I don’t fucking mean them. When Steve Doerksen came out of the closet, I didn’t give a shit; in fact, we became closer than ever. Steve was the first person who accepted me after everyone found out about my powers. If Michael was gay, I wouldn’t care. Not really.

"His little band?" Those words were harder to forget. Was Hawkins referring to Nike? Or was it something more sinister? Maybe Michael’s a supervillain, or a cult leader. A gay supervillain cult leader? No, a gay supervillain boy band cult leader. From Nike.

Screw this. I’m not going to waste my fucking time getting paranoid, especially since Michael’s treated me pretty damn good, all things considered.

I put on the early evening news. The headlines are all about Blur. She gave a brief interview with the press just before I arrived at the scene. She looks tired, and there’s a nasty gash in her costume where the Dictator’s "Spear of Destiny" stabbed her. She must be a fast healer, since a wound that deep would normally require over a dozen stitches.

“Firefighters and HASMAT workers reacted quickly contained the blaze. Reports said that a new metahuman showed up on the scene to assist the HASMAT team.  Police are keeping silent about this metahuman, except to say he’s a male Caucasian in his early 20s and is not considered a threat to the general public.”

“Dammit.” I mutter to myself. “I suppose it’s a start.” But what’s this ‘not a threat’ bullshit?” I smile.

It’s time for my patrol. It takes some effort to rouse myself out of my hotel room. This tells me just how shitty the day’s been; I’ve got plenty of faults, but they don’t include laziness or procrastination. Flying in the night air, even with the summer smog, makes it worthwhile. It’s my first time prowling the streets at night. If the statistics on Los Angeles supervillain activity hold
true, I’ve only got two chances left to make my headlines before the deadline runs out, and I’m going to have to do a better job than Permafrost to win the spot. I wonder when he’s going to show up?

Goddamn Blur. And worst of all, she didn’t even stick around the disaster area long enough for me to fucking meet her.

So it’s time to patrol the streets. Los Angeles is so much better at night, when it gets cooler and the night dims all the shit. And the downtown core isn’t that bad, if you know which neighborhoods to ignore and can stand the graffiti.

I’m not really concentrating on the patrol. Too much shit is happening in my life, and every time I’ve tried to help well, I guess I’m turning into a fucking whiner. The whining fucking stops now.

I wonder if I should end my patrol and just go get something to drink, when suddenly it hits me -- another strong premonition of trouble. I should have anticipated it: what I didn’t tell Frigia about supervillain attacks is that they tend to come in clumps. Committing a supercrime can be contagious; once one lunatic gets media coverage, they all want it, and this leads to a domino effect of madness, stupidity, and superhumans in tights with big pecs having a good time
smashing each other into a bloody, unconscious pulp.

This time, I sense that the trouble is a lot closer than fifty miles away.  This time, I’m gonna fucking beat Blur. I quickly zero in on a large, heavily barred building about four miles from the hotel. The street scene looks pretty generic; sex toys, video shops, and a few cheap Chinese restaurants and dry cleaners in a crumbling mini-mall, but the target zone looks big and its brickwork isn’t rundown. From a distance, I can see a flash; an explosive has been set off
at the front door, and then the boom hits my ears about a half-second later. There are several shadowy figures running into the building through the smoke: I count at least four.

My instinct is to charge through the largest opening in the rubble and swash my fucking buckle, but I’m facing multiple opponents of unknown strength and motif. They could be demons, or ubermen, or high-tech trekkies gone bad, or hypnotized dupes of some jackass like the Killer Klone Klown. I concentrate, and I bend light around myself so I become practically invisible. It’s not one of my favorite powers -- I’m not fond of sneakiness -- but I don’t have a lot of
information on my opponents, and I’ll need an element of surprise to balance out what they might be able to do.

There are six thieves in the building, wearing some sort of plastic-metal mesh body armor that looks like it was designed by the same person who made the Stormtrooper armor for Star Wars. I hope they’re just as lousy at shooting as their movie counterparts. I haven’t received advanced training in fighting villains yet, so I have to improvise. My plan, such as it is, is one of the simplest and most effective known to man -- sack the quarterback. Since communism and cat burglars don’t mix, these guys have got to have a leader, the man with the plan.  My goal is to identify that leader, catch him by surprise, knock him out, then wipe out the rest of the thugs before they can regain their bearings.

I observe the criminals for about thirty seconds, long enough to figure out the logistics of what the bad guys are doing.

First, that this place is a diamond exchange, but the object of their hearts’ desire isn’t cut, high quality gemstones, the sort you’d use in an engagement ring (or give as a gift to find out if your girlfriend is a greedy, ungrateful bitch who doesn’t give a shit about you until you’ve paid her a one caret dowry). These gems are raw, uncut. One of the thieves wonders that aloud, and is told
in no uncertain terms to shut his trap.

My guess is that the person giving that order is the leader, but I can also hear some faint voices in some of the goons’ earpieces, which leads me to believe the real brains of the operation is broadcasting from a remote location. I’m almost tempted to abandon the operation and see if I can trace the signal to its source -- but I won’t. Not only is fighting more fun, going after some guy at a computer terminal in a basement isn’t about to earn me the rep I need to get my
job.

It’s time. I walk into the middle of the group, and drop my cloak. I wish their faces weren’t covered by those stupid masks. I like to see my enemies and look them in the eye, and know what they look like the moment they shit their drawers.

“Here’s a kiss for you, asshole!” I shout, and I slam into the leader with a right uppercut. I’m not using my full strength, but I still wallop him. He goes flying into a back wall and lies still. I’m sorry that I didn’t send him flying through one of the glass cases and got the cool definestration effect, but I don’t particularly want to risk getting harassed by an insurance company.

“Kill him!”

“Get him!”

“Don’t let him escape!”

“Holy shit, Frank’s not moving!”

With greater speed than I expect from normal humans, the thieves train five really high-tech looking guns on me. Suddenly I hear a lot of pinging noises, like a submarine sonar going fucking nuts. There are a lot of mini-missiles heading toward me at least thirty! I instinctively flinch, but they connect.  Fortunately, all they do create small burns in my costume.

I really am one fucking tough mother-fucker.

I hold out my arms and make an inviting hand gesture. “Bring it on boys,” I say. “Beating up shitheads like you is almost as good as sex. And I hate quick sex, so let’s keep this slow and dirty.”

The boys from Thugs R’ Us fire their mini-rocket guns again. This time I concentrate and influence the missiles in flight, sending them hurtling back at the people who fired them. I don’t want to let any stray shots damage this building any further. There are numerous small explosions; even with the armor protecting them, three of the stormtroopers are knocked unconscious, and two others are real wobbly. I take three large steps forward, grab the two standing stormtroopers and slam the two shitheads together. There’s a crack, and they fall to the
ground like fucking ragdolls.

Suddenly, I feel a sharp and electric pain in the back of my left leg, and it almost buckles. Frank’s not finished anymore; in fact, the lead stormtrooper has gotten to his feet with a weird gun in his right hand, and he’s trying to pour a stream of high energy particles into my body.

“What is that shit?” I say, annoyed. It’s put a really big hole in the side of my costume.

“Static plasma,” Frank informs me. The idiot actually answered the question! I wonder if he’d give me the correct answer if I asked him for his address and a notarized copy of his boss’s master plan? “Eat flaming plasma, fool!” he shouts, training the gun on me. Man, the guy’s dialogue is just downright embarrassing!

I shake my head, reach out telekinetically, and whip the gun out of Frank’s hand with a lash of raw energy. “No weapons, Frank,” I say. “By the way, to whoever’s sitting in the chair stroking the pussy and watching this shit through your evil eye, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you’d burn a DVD of this fight for me!”

Frank turns to run. I vanish, appear in front of him -- wow, that trick worked! -- and put him a fireman’s carry, using his momentum to give him a back toss from Hell. He hits pretty damn hard. He’s moaning, writhing on the floor and clutching his back. I get on top of him and finish him off with a short left to the jaw.

That’s when I feel a real hard blow to the back of my head. I quickly turn around and I spot a man in a glittering blue costume standing behind me. His fists are glowing, and he’s bringing them to bear. I lash out with a spin kick that misses (I’m a wrestler, not a kung-fu master) and he connects with a blast of white light that knocks me back with moderate force into a wall, but otherwise barely manages to sting me.

“Surrender,” Halcyon says.

Yes, I recognize the costumed guy as a superhuman fossil. Halcyon’s career was big in 1985, but that’s a long time ago, and I don’t ever remember him winning a fight against a real heavyweight in the last ten years. If anything, he picks around the periphery of the Los Angeles superhero scene, a self-appointed elder statesman of the costumnati that everyone has ignored for years.

“Surrender, or feel white hot justice!” he cries.

I just sit on the floor and laugh. God, please save me from these fucking Mystery Science Fiction Theatre rejects! He fires an energy bolt at me. I concentrate slightly, absorb it, and the "Halcyon Stellar Fire Bolt" does no damage to me whatsoever. He fires again, with identical results.

I can hear sirens in the distance. “If you review the security footage, you’ll find that I came in here after the felons to stop them. My name’s Omega.”

“I’m”

“the fucking white hot knight of justice.” He looks miffed by what I just said, but I remember what Michael and Leona said about not making enemies in the superhero community, so I hold out my hand and hope for a reconciliation. “Uh actually I’m pleased to meet you, Halcyon.”

At this point the police arrive, and I’m asked to give them a statement. About three minutes later, the press starts showing up. It takes about ten minutes to answer all of the police’s questions three times, and emerge from the building only to find Halcyon locked in a deep conversation with a reporter from the Times’ metahuman crimes division and a kid from KCAL.

“Well, I can’t say that I ever faced a weapon like that before,” Halcyon bullshits, “but you don’t stay in the game as long as I have without learning a few tricks. I managed to improvise and use my light powers towell plug up the guns so they wouldn’t fire. They were easy to beat.”

The fucking asshole! I put my life on the line! I fucking beat the shit out of these stormtroopers, and this idiotic has-been is stealing my fucking press!

“You have to think quickly when your life’s in danger, but experience almost always prevails,” Halcyon says. “I completely stopped these thieves in their tracks. Now Los Angeles’s diamond trade is safe from these greedy felons and their larcenous gang.” Halcyon continues.

You fucking idiot! Aside from the dorky language, you don’t even know what you’re talking about! The thugs were stealing rough, uncut diamonds, probably best suited for industrial use! Considering how heavily the stormtroopers were armed, they could've attacked a series of ATMs if they just wanted money... There was obviously more going on here than a simple robbery. Even I can see that, and I’m not even a fucking detective!

“That asshole” I’m ready to turn Halcyon into street pizza, but Hawkins appears, seemingly out of nowhere and holds me back with a hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t let it bother you. He pulls this shit on everyone. He’s done it to Blur twice.”

“I’m going to kill the lying little fuck,” I say. Hawkins gives me a sudden jerk.

“Don’t say that, Omega. If anything were to happen to Halcyon, saying that would make you be a suspect. Just take a walk and calm down.”

“Did you know that I need to win favorable press within the next three weeks or I lose an eight million dollar a year meal ticket?” I rant.

“Now you’re really being stupid, Omega.” Hawkins said. “Not only are you making threats, you’re providing motivation. Let it go.” I take a deep breath. “There’ll be other opportunities,” he says.

I stomp over toward Halcyon, and into the middle of the press corps. Time to work on polishing my image. “I’ve checked the back and made sure that no one else was lurking in the area, just like you suggested.” I bullshit.

Cameras start swiveling onto me. I’m a helluva lot more photogenic than that old man.

“Uh right” Halcyon doesn’t quite know what to say.

I stick out my hand and we give a handshake for the camera. “Man, it’s really cool that a professional like yourself would take the time out to help train a newbie. How’d I do?”

“Uh” Man, is this guy ever tanking. “You did uh fine”

“It’s great to know that ‘Omega’ has the Halcyon seal of approval. You’re” I need to get in a moment of Nebraska bashfulness, otherwise I’ll appear too slick. “I’m really glad there are a few role models left, sir.”

Yeah, I’m laying it on thick, but it’s fun. It’s even more fun because when I shook his hand, I secretly attuned myself to his location so I can track him wherever he goes.

I fly away, suppressing the urge to really camp it up by saluting. But I don’t want to go too far. I remain within listening distance.

“So Halcyon, you managed to beat these agents all by yourself?” Hawkins asks him. Halcyon takes one look at the words "Metahumans Affairs" on Hawkins’ badge, freaks, and runs away as fast as his legs will push him. I nearly bust a gut laughing.

“I think Halcyon made a real mistake this time,” Hawkins says. I think he’s talking to himself, but then I hear a female voice coming out of nowhere, just beside Hawkins.

“Young Mr. Champion isn’t going to forget this.”

Hawkins chuckles. “Well, I can’t say the old lying fart doesn’t deserve what’s coming to him.”

Shit, what’s going on here?

It’s best to ignore it, for now. I follow Halcyon as he runs into an alley, climbs into a dumpster, and changes back into his normal clothing. He’s a Caucasian male,  with thinning black hair and a moustache; he looks like he’s in his late 30s or early 40s. His build isn’t any reason to alert the bodybuilding magazines, but he’s managed to keep a gut from forming and would still look okay in beachware. I’d guess that he pads his costume to make his pecs and arms look a little bigger, or perhaps there’s a physical transformation involved when he summons his powers.

He half-staggers his way to an old blue Dodge, and starts driving westward. I shadow him. He lives near the beach, in a dilapidated old beachhouse. He has a slow, defeated step, but it’s going to get worse.

I position myself on the roof, and listen through the walls to see what’s happening. He’s channel surfing, focusing on all the local newscasts. The explosion in Ontario is still the big story. But eventually they get to us.

“At 8:43 this evening, downtown Los Angeles was rocked by an explosion as another wave of high-tech terrorists attempts to rob a local diamond exchange. But they learned that Old Glory isn’t the only superhero who’s staging a comeback -- the explosion alerted 1980s superhero fixture Halcyon, who tracked down the criminals and foiled the robbery attempt.”

“Yes!” Halcyon shouted.

“Also, in a bid to modernize himself for the new millenium, it appears that Halcyon appears to have taken on a sidekick, a young superhero named Omega.”

Sidekick? Sidekick! Oh man, is that fucking old bastard is going to fucking pay for this!

“Sidekick?” Halcyon wonders aloud too.

“Police are not commenting on Omega’s involvement, but Omega does match the description of a young metahuman who has been spotted flying over the city for the last two days, and who reportedly assisted HASMAT units at the explosion in Ontario.”

“That’s a busy day for a young hero, Paul.” A female commentator says. “He’s kinda cute.”

“Cute!” Halcyon snaps. “Goddamn it, what about me?” He abruptly changes the channel, looking for other newscasts and more cheap ego boosts.

I concentrate, and fall through the ceiling and remateralize in the middle of Halcyon’s living room. Man, is this place ever a dump. Halcyon lives like a college student who never grew up. There’s garbage everywhere, the place stinks of unwashed clothes and sweat-stained bedsheets, and the furniture would be rejected at a garage sale. The only thing that’s received any upkeep is a wall of newspaper clippings, stories dating back fifteen years, stored behind glass cases and displayed on the walls in neat rows.

I guess this loser doesn’t have a clue as to how to protect his secret identity. Except that I’ll bet no one’s visited him in years.

“What about you, Halcyon?” I say as I step out of the ceiling.

Halcyon doesn’t know what to say. “Get out. I don’t need a sidekick. I don’t need some twenty year old kid to steal my press!”

“You’re accusing me of stealing your press?” I can’t fucking believe what I’m hearing. “Your press?”

“Get the hell out of my house!” he bellows. His eyes begin to glow. Good. Now I don’t have to hold back.

I walk over to him and sink my fist deep into his stomach. He keels over, coughing.

I grab him by his hair, lift him to a half-standing position, and bitch slap him at half-strength, feeling his cheekbone crack. I follow it up with a second fist to the stomach. He falls to his knees, and then onto his side. I give him a slight kick to the ribs.

“You fucking old asshole!” I yell at him. “Asshole! It’s one thing to get beaten to a job, it’s another to have your work stolen by a goddamn over-the-hill parasite!”

“You don’t understand.” He’s sobbing now. I follow it up with a kick to the ribs. “Please”

So the fucker’s now begging. “Look old man. I need to make my mark on this town, or I lose an eight million dollar a year contract with Nike.”

“Eight million?”

“Yes. Eight million. Eight fucking million. Eight and six fucking zeroes a year. Do you fucking understand what you cost me!”

“Eight million?”

“Yes, eight million dollars!” I shout.

“Can I borrow some money?” he asks me in the most fucking pathetic voice I’ve ever heard.

I draw my fist and connect four times with the asshole’s face. Each time, I feel bones fracture and hear a sickening crunch. By the third blow, there’s a lot of blood, and after the fourth punch, I let him go. He slides to the floor and lies motionless.

Jesus fucking Christ, did I just kill him?

No, his chest is moving. I’m not a paramedic, but I can check his vitals and brain activity and make sure he’s not going into cardiac arrest. I also take the phone and call 911, using my powers to mimic his voice. I tell them that someone came into his house and attacked him. The ambulance is coming. I remove the clippings from the wall and teleport them out of the house, rifle the closet to find spare costumes, and look for other ways to protect his secret identity. I
get back to him and check him -- there’s still a heartbeat, respiration, and brain activity. He’s still unconscious. I cloak myself and watch him to make sure he doesn’t die on me.

Ten minutes later, the paramedics arrive. They check his vitals, confirm that he’s not going to die, and take him away to the nearest hospital.

I just sit down in a chair and take a deep breath. The weird thing is that I don’t feel guilty about this attack whatsoever. I really don’t. If everything that Hawkins said was true, this guy has been pulling this bullshit for years, stealing other people’s glory just because he doesn’t have the balls to get his own. It’s about time someone put him in the hospital.

There’s definitely no guilt whatsoever. It surprises me, but beating this shithead into a bloody pulp, force-feeding him some payback for stealing my press, actually feels pretty good. Damn fucking good. I teleport above the house, get some altitude, and fly back to the hotel.
 

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