Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - VI - Epilogue

"Ellison, pick up that Polaroid. We can use it as his mugshot."



Shrugging his shoulders, the detective pocketed the picture.

"You're going to arrest him?"


I was unsure if they'd forgotten I was there.

"Kid, he's not going to prison yet. He's got to go to trial."


"What for? You said you had a confession."

"Only of intent. The trauma wound on Average Man wasn't consistent with an impact of sufficient force to have come from a direct hit from Anchor's fist, though the size and shape of the wound was roughly correct. Early this morning we found the body of the champion of the Hammer people with one arm missing. It's the only thing that could have reasonably been used in an attempt to frame Anchor. The death of Average Man is not common knowledge, so how could Obscura have known unless he was there?"

"So what happens to him now?"

"When he regains consciousness, and after Ellison has finished with him, we proceed to stage two of our investigation."

"Stage two?"

"Missing Powers turn him over to the relevant authority for Trial by Hammers."

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - V - Manifest Shadows

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - V - Manifest Shadows

It all ends with death. Any attempt to make sense of life will end up with an eye looking through the lens of death. So I found myself back in the Kingdom of the Dead. Escorted by ghouls into the private chambers of the Skeleton Master, I found him occupied.

"Gentlemen, leave our esteemed friend here with me. Prepare the carvers and a fresh acid bath for this evening."

He didn't look in my direction while he spoke. I had to imagine the crooked smile fixed in his skull.

"Sorry to alarm you, dear boy, merely preparation for a queen. You see, they say beauty is only skin deep. I concur. The flayed are certainly not aesthetically pleasing. I stopped to vomit halfway through last time. The urge to penetrate was sickening. Most unpleasant. Why couldn't they have made me a superhero? It seems only one murder is enough to condemn you. And here we are again. Only this time they are already dead. I may choose a male this time. After all, they're all more or less the same when you get down to the bone, aren't they?"

The smile I'd anticipated remained, as though his bone structure had changed and it had locked in place. After a moment, it disappeared.

"What was that you said about convicts becoming supervillains?"

The Skeleton Master turned and attempted a smile, only this time it seemed false. A distraction from the murder discussion drained the life from his jawline.

"When the Unfinished Man infiltrated the Council, he decided that seeing as the human prisons effectively acted as a catalyst for the criminal lifestyle, and did little to end recidivism, why not take things a step further? Actively turn the convicts into supervillains? Be honest about your intentions… After all, it gives all those dreadful superheroes something to do…"

*

Journalism can be a lonely pursuit. You get locked inside your own head, your body merely an empty box, hoovering up experience. You build questions from what little raw materials you can gather and use them to hunt down information. Distillation is labour intensive and you're working against time. Like most discoveries, you get a story by accident. A tip off.

Deathworld was alleged to be supplying body parts to other regions. The donors were not registered. Neither were they dead before the transplant process began.

There was a warehouse a mile or so out from the Kingdom of the Dead where this was all supposed to be happening. I'd been given the password for entry.

"Excoriate."

The door slid open and nobody appeared from behind it. That should have been the first clue, but voice activation and automation were nothing new. I had no idea.

"Welcome, esteemed friend, I didn't think I'd see you again so soon… At least, certainly not this fresh…"

"Hey, deadboy, time to go. Or I'll release the photos of you receiving those fresh bodies… still warm…"

Those voices… yes, I recognised them both. A brief flicker of light as the Skeleton Master crept back out into the dark. That light… a camera flash… Obscura.

"You're a little late to the party kid. You're a pretty lousy journalist. I think I've finally worked you out. You write about superheroes and supervillains because you're sick of not being good enough. Not top of the class. Not anybody's favourite. Unwanted. Wishing you were someone. Not that it matters now anyway."

A blade at his back again. Serrated, just like with Hollowheart. My knees buckled as the blade was shoved a little deeper. I cursed silently as they hit the floor. I couldn't see anything in the darkness, and couldn't sense if the blade was still close. In my mind, a thousand blades were ready to tear me into shreds. A picture for the front page. The psychological aspect that terrified me amplified, broadcast to the world.

"See? All your villains are the same. Can't you do any better? Just like all that recycled Hollywood bullshit. Remakes and shitty sequels. You've documented their weak points, but you've never written a villain that ever worked out how to really take out the heroes. Like your wunderkind Anchor. He's too dangerous to take on directly. Even physical harm at long range doesn't really work, not with him twisting gravity. It'd be stupid to even try. So… get him out of the way for a little while, fine. He'll come back. Too important not to. What did you do? Give him some bullshit about the girl wanting to see him? Predictable. Easy bait for a young kid. You didn't think it through though, did you? If he's got any sense, he'll remember Cypher isn't like that. They just worked together, that's all. Nothing more. You're no great saviour. She sent you to him because you have no powers. You're not important to anyone else who's chasing him. He won't come and save you. He wants a calm peaceful life, doesn't he? Shame really that he's so well behaved. Means he'll be compliant when arrested for murder."

"Murder?"

"Average Man has been found dead. Severe blunt force trauma, equivalent to say… a punch from a living weapon?"



I couldn't see his face, but I could almost feel the sneer, another blade in the dark.

"Look at you, you're fucking pathetic. You're weak. You won't even dare look at me. You're not strong enough to fight me. How dare you even come here? I'm insulted that you're even in the same room. Scum."

I flinched as I felt the saw drop on my back. He'd thrown it at me. Too disgusted to kill me.

"I think we've heard enough, don't you think, Ellison?"

"Confession's good enough for me, Manifest."

A torch from above lit us both. I shivered as I looked up into the light, but the new voices remained hidden in the darkness.

"Funny, isn't it? I got here first. I did all the hard work. All the superheroes just get given their powers, but the villains earn their curses. The inadequate achieve immortality, but what of the rest of us? What of those who seek to be a mirror to the world? I reject journalism and all of its empty promises."

Then Obscura shot himself.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - IV - Gravity

I saw him from a long way off. Someone that big is difficult to hide, but he seemed smaller this time. I tried to convince myself it was a trick of perspective, but as I approached, my suspicions were confirmed.

Anchor was alive. Moving among the trees I hoped he wouldn't see me. Recollections of his benevolence clashed in my mind with the images of him chained like a recently captured feral dog. I'd already seen him kill, and the circumstances of his escape raised questions about his mental stability.

Suddenly I realised he was no longer in my line of vision.

"How the hell did you find me?"

I'd forgotten how fast he was. As I noticed his axe, I'm sure my heart stopped for several seconds.

"Cypher. How else?"

He leaned the axe against the nearest tree.

"Go away."

I'm not sure why I didn't leave immediately. Perhaps I felt reassured when he put down the axe, though I may have just been too scared to move.

"It took us over six months to get anything close to an approximate location for you…"

"And you think they've not been watching you? They'll be able to get me now. I just want a normal life, a normal job. See? I'm using an axe to cut down these trees. You know I could just punch them down if I wanted to. Why did she send you?"

"She wanted you to come back. She thought you were dead."

"She's psychic, damn it, she must have known…"

"Clouded by grief. Strong emotions throw out psychic abilities, apparently. Guess she's not as insane as we thought…"

"She just wants me to fight again. I can't do it. I can't just watch people die over and over, I'm so sick of it."

I caught his eye wandering to the axe.

"People die all the time Anchor, you can't avoid that."

"Normal people don't see it as often as we do. They can pretend it's not so bad. Please just let me be happy. That's all I want. It's all I ever wanted. Don't make me go back."

I turned away and started to walk on to my next interview.

"Wait… tell her she can come see me. I miss her too."

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Heroes and Villains Series 2 - III - Visiting Hours

"We've been driving for hours now, and we've visited almost every orphanage, and there's been no sign of him."

"Ellison, he has to be at, or have been at, at least one of them. There was a sighting. The subject was too shaken to remember specifics. Besides, we're eliminating a pattern. It seems The Thing only targeted one orphanage."

A sharp turn as the car hit a corner harder than expected.

"No confirmed casualties?"

"None yet, Ellison, but we can't be certain there aren't any."

Manifest pressed a finger behind his jaw on each side, and his face plate slid forward.

"Ah, come on, can you not do that in the car?"

"Shut up and concentrate on the road..."

Reaching into his suitcase, Manifest selected an appropriate face plate for the orphanage. Replacing it with the one he'd just removed, he slid the plate on in line with his jaw bone.

By the time they got to the orphanage, all the children were asleep.

*

"Yes, you're correct. We did have a visitor a few days ago, Mr..."

"Armitage. The name is Armitage, and this is my associate Mr. Ellison. We received a notice of a suspicious individual around this area."

Her voice twisted up a tone. 

"Are you from the police?"

Ellison answered.

"Not exactly, no… we investigate dangerous persons."

"Oh, I see. No, this one wasn't dangerous. He was from the local Council."

"The local..."

"Oh yes, he was in a big furry monster costume, and he was here to help some of the children get over their fears."

"Ellison, have a check run on that when we get back to the office."

Ellison scribbled into a notepad.

"The children were all excited. It was something new. They love visitors. They don't get many. The younger ones wanted to touch the costume, but were told not to. We didn't want them getting into any trouble. One of the younger boys asked how the monster learned to speak English. The man made a joke about teaching his translator how to speak Monster, and then they all had a shouting competition as he tried to get them to learn some monster words. It took quite a long time to calm them down after he left, but they've been sleeping well since. No nightmares at all… He gave us an address for the children to write to if they have any questions…"

"May we see the address please?"

"Yes, I have it written down somewhere… I'll just go to my office and find it."

When the address came, Manifest turned away from the others.

"That's all. Come on, Ellison, we're finished here."

*

"What was that all about?"

"Ellison, it was Thing. He runs an agony aunt column for children. He's not dangerous at all. He was trying to be their friend for heaven's sake. He went home afterwards. This whole thing has been a catastrophic waste of time."