(From an unpublished superhero novel)
Just as The Invincitron predicted, they come out through the wall, a structural weakness in the side of the bank. While every cop watches the front and back entrances, they make their own side door with a crash and a cloud of dust. They step out into the light: four of them, each carrying a black briefcase.
There's four of them to our three, but it's a fair fight. I've seen Photon immobilize a crowd of 200. The Invincitron is as big as a house (well, more like a mobile home). As for me...
I'm the weak link in the team. I'm the teenager who built a costume out of stolen, failed technologies. I'm the one who's just human. I'm the one who can get hurt, get scared, die.
I'm the one who looks over my shoulder at the growing crowd rushing over to watch the latest fight between powered freaks. At least they keep back a safe distance.
We face off with the bad guys. They're as disparate as we were. A pile of moving sludge. A homeless man who must have gotten his clothes in a dumpster behind a Halloween store. An elf. And a pale guy in jeans and a t-shirt with the letter K drawn on it.
I figure I'm in the same league as the elf woman. Her bow to my throwing stars. The Invincitron could go after the sludge pool. Photon versus the homeless guy. But the guy in the t-shirt scares me. He doesn't look like he has abilities. Why is he here?
In addition to being the weak link in the group, I'm also the voice. "Put the money down and give yourselves up. We don't want to hurt you."
The elf puts down her black briefcase, and I'm heartened for a moment, but then she pulls an arrow and nocks it. The pile of sludge grows a few pseudopods that look like fists. The homeless man's eyes glow. The guy in the t-shirt smiles.
"Stand down guys," he says, raising his hand. He has a trace of a Scottish accent. "I'll handle them."
His team relaxes and my heart starts thudding wildly. I pull the oversized shuriken free from my chest and step into a charging position so I can use it as a hand weapon. I can reach him in two steps. Maybe that's fast enough to stop him from letting loose with whatever he's readying, but the shuriken is the only armor I have. If his attack hits my heart or lungs...
He looks at The Invincitron. "1-NV. Cold bootstrap. Username, Scott. Password, Tiger." It freezes. There's a whirring noise, and it goes silent. Dead.
He looks at Photon. "Your lord is watching, Princess. You've disappointed him." She gasps. Curls into a fetal position. Shrinks down to a wisp of feeble yellow and drifts to the ground.
He looks at me. I'd planned to brain him with the side of the star, a nonlethal take down. I shift into a defensive throwing stance. I can cut him in half from this distance.
"Now, now," he says. "There's no need to fight, Tashawn." My fingers go numb. I glance over my shoulder again. There's reporters in the crowd now. If one of them has a parabolic microphone. If one of them caught that... There are only so many Tashawns in the city; it'd only take a little while to figure out who I am under the mask.
"Do you know what the difference between us is?" he says.
I don't have a voice. I shake my head.
"You see everything -- your country, your people, your government -- as worthy of your devotion. No matter how many suffer. No matter how often the rich and powerful trample on the poor and helpless. No matter how often you fail because the system is set up against you. You keep trying to protect it. You see the world as a perfect diamond, no matter how often you're proven wrong.
"We see the world as it really is. We're brave enough to bring it down. We're strong enough to rebuild it."
He turns back to his team. "Leave it." They stare at him. The sludge guy even grows an extra pair of eyes to stare at him even harder. "I said drop the cash. Let them have it." He looks back at me. "We just won something far more valuable."
And they do what he says. They leave a pile of black cases. At his unspoken command, at a twitch of his head, they leave. I'm too freaked out to do anything but watch them go into the sky, lifted by energies from the wild, homeless guy.
T-shirt guy stays behind. He turns back to me. "Understand that when you come to us, there will be a price. You're going to have to prove yourself worthy to each of us. You'll have to get your hands dirty. Be prepared."
And he just... Walks away into the crowd. I stare at him like an idiot as a team of police officers challenge him. They freeze at something he says, and let him through. Then the reporters are in my face, flashing away with cameras, shouting questions, and I lose him for a second. When my eyes adjust, I can't make him out in the crowd. He looked so normal.
Photon slowly uncurls from her fetal position. She glows brighter and, without a sound, flashes off into the sky. A few notes sound from The Invincitron, and it moves. It scans the area, finds something it doesn't like, then charges off as it always does.
The reporters won't back off, so I climb. I'm only halfway to the roof when I deploy the wings and ignite the SRMs, leaving a black mark on the wall and sulfurous dust in the air. I dump the rockets over the river and reverse back over downtown. As the sun sets, I run out of thermals and glide down to a tenement near park street. I switch into street clothes and hide my equipment in a corner of the roof before climbing down to the street.
It takes my shaking hands a while to open the padlock I'd put on the door. Inside, I look around at my studio with new eyes. It's dirty. It has a half refrigerator, and the stove has one working burner. The water never comes in hot and tastes like iron and dirt. The toilet overflows twice a month.
It had been my sanctuary. An oasis in a violent city. But that villain, whoever he was, was right: this was what the world had deigned to give me. Druggie parents. Broken schools. And a tiny stipend to keep me out of overloaded group homes.
It takes me almost a minute to shake the rage clouding my mind. That's when I realize I'm not alone. Someone's been waiting for me.