Friday, February 18, 2011

Unlikely Heroes

The young man stood at the heavy metal door, his hand hovering over the handle. His mouth was set in a grim line and wrinkles formed at the corner of his eyes, which were squinted in thought. The wind whistled around the corner of the building, causing his dark hair to dance gently. Aaron Black was the leader of a bedraggled group of what many would refer to as superheroes. The term made his friends laugh. They were no heroes. The majority of them felt their innate powers were a curse, heaved at them with disdain, forcing them to step into roles they did not relish. Somehow, he had been unofficially elected the leader of this unlikely group of heroes. He surveyed the men and women arrayed around the door, poised and ready to assault the building on his command.

JJ held the left flank, machine gun in hand, his bespectacled eyes darting warily around the parking lot that adjoined the building. He was tall, muscular, and looked like he was ready to be the crap out of anyone who looked at him the wrong way. The others knew better. When he wasn't geared up for a fight, JJ was just a big softy. The rest of the group often referred to him as Martian, though the description wasn't necessarily correct. JJ hailed from a time far in the future when space travel had been concurred and the Earth was at war with alien races. Like a small portion of the human race, he had special abilities that others did not possess and he used this talent, the ability to manipulate time, to travel back to an era when the world was at relative peace. He joined up with the ragtag group of power-wielders, hoping to use his special skills to stop the chaos that destroyed his own world. His ability was difficult to use, however, and tired him quickly, so he learned to use the crude weapons of this new world to aid in his fight for peace.

Protecting the right flank was Davidson, the figurative brains of the group. His IQ far surpassed that of any human to have ever lived and he used his knowledge to his advantage. Learning came easily to him and he was a connoisseur of weaponry. Strapped to his back were a pair of Samurai swords, his weapon of choice, though he often stooped to carrying guns on certain excursions. Like JJ, he was well built and hoisted a machine gun as he surveyed the roadway in front of him. He wore black leather from head to toe and drove a motorcycle, earning him the nickname Davidson, despite his insistence that he drove a Yamaha. The right sleeve of his leather jacket had been destroyed in a previous battle and he had ripped off the left sleeve to match. His left arm was red and scarred, as was the left side of his face. Before joining the group, he had been head of a secret syndicate of scientists hired by the government to develop weapons powerful enough to level an opposing country's military with minimal damage. One of Davidson's experiments had gone horribly wrong and he had been burned beyond recognition. The government, afraid he would leak information of the syndicate to the public, attempted to remove all traces of Davidson's existence. Davidson fought back and enlisted the help of some of his friends, who set him up with the group.

Just behind Davidson, watching the backs of those by the door, stood Jeanne. She carried a short bow in her left hand and had a quiver of arrows strung across her back. On her left leg, she had strapped a short dagger to her thin, muscular thigh. Her ability to teleport allowed her to keep her distance in fights and she favored the bow over the dagger. She thoroughly relished her teleportation talent and made judicious use of it when the winds blew cold in New York, where the group was stationed most of the year. Jeanne owned small houses in the Florida Keys and Orlando, as well as the Bahamas and Hawaii. Her friends often wondered where she got the money to purchase so many houses in such optimal locations, but when asked, her responses were coy and noncommittal. Eventually the group gave up asking and resigned themselves to keeping their valuables locked in safes that were too small for Jeanne to fit inside.

Beside Jeanne stood Sizzlin' Suzie, the redhead with pale skin and a snarky personality. Her hands were already radiant with a passionate fire just bursting to escape. Suzie had been a rogue before joining the group, taking on mercenary contracts to pay the bills. She met the rest of the crew when they were pitted against each other in a villain's attempt to take her out. She had been hired to destroy a mob boss and the group had been contacted, anonymously, with a tip about her whereabouts and some fabricated evidence as to her wickedness. When she reached the location where the mob boss was supposed to be, she found only a trap, and the group of superheroes. Desperation overcame her and she nearly imploded, but the group managed to subdue her before she could destroy the entire city block. Aaron realized something was off about the situation and, after interrogating Suzie, they accepted her as one of their own. With much trial and error, they refined her skills and honed her ability to fire flames at her opponents in precise attacks. Upon the insistence of the men in the group, she also had an extra-sharp tomahawk strapped to her waist.

Rounding out the crew was Maria Reddy, a bubbly little thing whose ability often sent her comrades into fits of laughter. With proper concentration, Maria could turn a human being, or any animated object, into a fluffy baby bunny that would melt the heart of even the most vicious killer. The effect lasted approximately three hours and gave the group time enough to cage and neutralize their target. The main problem with Maria's talent was that it took her exactly twenty seconds to complete the transformation and it often backfired if she was the least bit startled during those precious moments. Aaron bit his lip as he recalled the fight where Maria successfully gave their target a massive rabbit's foot, which he then used to launch JJ through the wall into the street. Maria was also a nurse by trade and served as the group's all-important healer. She carried pistols on each hip, but avoided using them whenever possible.

Aaron's own ability was both difficult and dangerous to use. With intense concentration, he could force someone to age anywhere from a year to several decades. Depending on the person's initial age, this act could disable or even kill them. To accomplish this feat, Aaron needed several minutes of uninterrupted silence and he had to give over a small portion of his own life force. He had no indication of how much of his own life force was used each time he aged a target and that gave him incredible pause. As a result, he used his talent sparingly, relying on the guns and swords he carried with him.

Sensing Suzie's growing anticipation, Aaron put his hand on the door handle and gave the group a once over. As he met each gaze, he received a nod in return. Once they had all acknowledged him and had their attention on the door, he pulled it open. Maria stepped toward the back, pulling out her pistols to cover them. She would remain near the door until called. Suzie stepped through the door first, fists ablaze, lighting the interior. A pair of guards near the door cringed at the sudden light, attempting to shield their eyes as they fumbled for their weapons. They fell beneath Jeanne's arrows before they were able to loose the guns from their holsters.

Aaron moved in, followed by JJ and Davidson, pacing steadily forward toward the corner. Suzie took her place just behind him and Jeanne slipped in front of Davidson, having refused repeatedly to “bring up the rear” based on principle. Aaron stopped before the turn and peered around. He counted the guards, then held up three fingers. He looked to Suzie and JJ, who both nodded. At his silent count, all three of them moved around the corner, selecting their targets swiftly. Aaron's target was down with a hole in his chest before he knew he was dead. JJ's man followed close behind. Suzie scoped out her target, then raised her hand, forming a narrow blue fireball. She released it and it flew true, burning through the man's fleshy throat quickly. He raised his weapon, but it dropped from his hand. Off to his right, something barked and light flashed for a brief moment. Suzie, feeling pain rip through her shoulder, dropped to the ground.

Aaron fell to one knee, inspecting the wound. It bled profusely and blood pooled beneath her rapidly. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she began gasping for air.

“Shit. Jeanne, go get Maria.”

“No, wait. I got this.”

Aaron looked at JJ briefly, calculating the chances of Maria arriving in time and her ability as nurse with the bare essentials. He pursed his lips and nodded. JJ disappeared for several tense moments before the air grew fuzzy and began to shift, much like it does over hot desert sand. The breath was pulled from their lungs momentarily and then they found themselves back at the corner. Suzie felt her shoulder tentatively before accepting JJ's offered hand.

“Okay, take two,” said Aaron, taking stock of the situation once more. “JJ, Suzie, same targets. Davidson, you take the guy on the left.”

Aaron pulled a small grenade launcher from his back and loaded it. “So much for doing this quietly. On three. One... two...”

They all stepped around the corner in unison, zeroing in on their targets. JJ and Davidson's brought their targets down swiftly, followed closely by Suzie. The double thump of the grenade launcher came last and they all ducked behind the corner as two grenades clanked behind the boxes on their right. The consecutive explosions rocked the building, making the walls shudder and their ears ring. When the blasts were finished, they stood up to survey the damage. The boxes directly around the grenades were non-existent. Large splinters studded the metal walls and ceiling and chunks of melted material plastered every surface.

“So much for stealth. Did we get him?” Jeanne looked around at the destruction and frowned. “What a mess.”

Suzie held up a bloody finger and grinned. “Yeah, we got him.”

They continued on through the building, moving carefully. Upon reaching a set of stairs, Jeanne teleported back to the front to escort Maria to their location. The rest of them waited, fidgeting restlessly. They could hear movement up the staircase, heavy boots clunking on the floor, weapons being readied. JJ, Davidson, and Aaron all refilled, locked, and loaded their machine guns. After what seemed like a long wait, Jeanne finally returned with Maria in tow.

“Alright, Maria, you wait at the top until I call you. The rest of you, with me.”

They all followed Aaron up the stairs, Maria stopping once the reached the top. The rest continued on down the hall toward the loud racket. It turned and they turned with it. At the end of the hall, double doors stood wide open, leading to a large room. Half a dozen guards were waiting in the door, guns at the ready. The group ducked to the sides of the hall, avoiding the hail of bullets.

Suzie threw a ball of flame down the hall. It burst against one of the doors, throwing sparks over the men cowering below it. Screams echoed through the fire and she smiled with a brief satisfaction. Davidson fired his machine gun until the clip ran out, then pulled his samurai swords from their sheaths, throwing himself down the hall. JJ followed suit, pulling a set of pistols from his hips. As a group, the men advanced down the hall, fireballs and arrows whizzing past their heads. They attacked the guards at the door, tearing into them savagely. Those that did not fall beneath the superheroes attacks quailed in their valor and many turned tail and ran into the interior of the room.

With the fight waning, Suzie and Jeanne cut back on their attacks, afraid of causing friendly fire. They attempted to watch the battle, but Suzie's flames were licking up the walls and obscuring their view. Suddenly, a black figure leapt through the smoke, over their heads, racing toward the corner. Suzie took off after him while Jeanne fired arrows at other black shapes moving toward them. She rounded the corner and loosed a small fireball. It sizzled past the man, burning his robes. He yelped as the flames touched his skin and paused to put the fire out. Suzie saw Maria concentrating on the man, her lips moving. The air around the man sparked and he disappeared. Where he had stood sat a fuzzy, black bunny. It gazed up at Maria with big, curious eyes and she stooped down to pick it up. Suzie shook her head and left Maria standing by the stairs, stroking the rabbit's long ears.

Back at the doors, Jeanne and Suzie moved forward to join the men. They headed through the doors joined the men, who were in a stand-off with half a dozen sword-wielding guards. The guards were clad in black robes and surrounded a big, bulbous mass. The blob had no definable gender, as far as the group could tell, and was named Mayondo, or, less pleasantly, Mayo, as it was called by those who had seen the mayonnaise-like substance that it often hacked up.

“Put down your weapons, and move away.” Aaron's voice echoed through the silence.

He was answered by a hollow laugh from the center of the robed assassins. The laugh turned to a hacking cough and the group turned up their noses in disgust as the black-robed guards moved to intercept them. Davidson took out one man swiftly with his sword, then swung the weapon up to counter another incoming attacker. JJ's pistols barked and he took down two men before he was forced to retreat and reload. Aaron met one of the guards in hand-to-hand combat as Suzie's flames engulfed another man. Jeanne's arrows fired steadily and the last man fell to a fatal wound as Aaron's opponent crumpled with a broken neck.

“You're finished, Mayo.”

Aaron moved toward the blob, hands raised, eyes squinted in concentration. Mayo pulled a pistol from its folds of flab and took aim. Flames engulfed the hand. As its eyes grew wide, its mouth opened to scream, only to be blocked by a black cloth that Jeanne shoved into the gaping hole. Aaron took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The rest of the group held their breath as well, unconsciously waiting and silently praying. As they watched, the blob in front of them wrinkled noticeably and its mousy brown hair grew gray. It began gasping and clutching at its chest, then slumped over, already decaying rapidly.

Aaron fell to his knees, clutching his head. Suzie moved to his side and helped him stand, handing him a bottle of Ibuprofen. As a group, they left the room, leaving the ever-growing stench of death behind them. They picked up Maria on the way downstairs, still holding her bunny, and headed out into the sun.

“I think I need a beer.” Aaron turned to the rest of the group and they nodded. He smiled and turned away. “JJ's buying.”

“Wait, what? But I don't even drink!”  The group laughed as the big man's protests followed them all the way to their van.

**Origin of the story: I asked my friends on Facebook what superpower they would choose if they could choose anything. Some gave some very interesting answers, and I decided to run with it. This is the result. I'm in the process of working on some more in the series**

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