“Your time at University will change you”
The words sound far away, lost in the cavernous expanse of the lecture theatre. Eager young faces line the rows of seats, nervous and excited. Most of the eyes are fixed on the speaker, attentive, soaking it all up. He’s blabbering on about new experiences, all the usual induction waffle. Boring.
My eyes are wandering; this oration is pandering and pointless. I’m looking at the lectern, at the sigil printed on its front. A bell. A partridge in a pear tree. A book. A fish? The book makes enough sense, but the rest is just bizarre. The words beneath are latin – Via Veritas Vita. What would that mean? The way, the truth, the life.
“You have all worked very hard to be here. You chose to come here, one of the most renowned Universities in the world. You are some of Scotland’s best and brightest, full of potential an…”
He’s been talking this whole time. The small light above me is flickering, more annoying than it should be. He’s on to potential now, that and purpose. Telling us the same thing every new first year is being told in every other University in the country. I’m not sure if that latin motto or what he’s telling me now is the bigger crock of shit, but the latin does bestow a certain venerable respectability if nothing else.
As I’m glancing at my halfheartedly filled induction form I notice the movement. The address is over and people are moving with that nervous energy freshers have. The guy beside me is looking at me expectantly. We exchanged some conversation when I sat down but I’ve lost his name. John? I’ll go with James, he looks like a James. I guess he wants to continue our chat. Short blonde hair, slightly pimpled face, his shirt is too tight, he probably thinks his body is worth showing off. He’s almost definitely away from his parents for the first time and is drowning in the freedom. I avoid his eyes and walk down the aisle; I want no part in this. Not today.
I’m moving quickly down the stairs, edging past groups of new acquaintances, laughing, introducing themselves to each other and their new situation. I want no part in this. I leave quickly and decisively, handing off my induction form as an afterthought. The day is just beginning for my peers. Talking, laughing, human interaction. Not for me. Not today.
I’m outside now. The weather is decidedly rainy, with a slight wind ruffling the many trees adorning University Avenue. The rain confirms that summer is over, but I can’t say I miss it. It had been a strange time for me that I want to move past. The rain is upon me, my hair becoming slick and heavy. I should have an umbrella, a hood, something. But I don’t care.
I hold my Glass firmly in my palm, hands moving quickly to keep the screen dry. A few emails, not important right now. It’s been a bad few weeks, and today is a particularly bad day. I want some music to occupy my mind on the way home, a distraction. I settle on Kanye West. Nothing sounds like Kanye West anymore, one of my favourites. Most of my friends think I’m weird for listening to this old stuff, but the old stuff is the best.
I glance at the time before I settle my Glass back into my jeans. 10:20, Wed,15 Sept, 2047. That makes it six days since mum died. I move through the West End, one of the few acceptable places left in Glasgow. The music does help, just a little. That track was from The College Dropout, another song begins, from 808’s and Heartbreak. This is apparently the worst album, or so I’ve read online. It’s different but something about it appeals to me right now. I make my way past the students with the spring in their step, the coffee shops, the cash machines. Almost at the subway. I just want to go home.
11:12, Sat, 18 Sept, 2047
Here I am, night time in the city, on foot. This is exactly what normal people avoid, but I’m not normal. I’m moving along the pavement as fast as I’ve ever moved, flitting along under the streetlights. I’m breathing hard but I hardly notice it, it’s not hard at all moving this fast. I’m probably quite a sight, running like it’s been my life’s purpose and dressed like this.
It’s my first time, being scared would be natural but I’m not. I’ve found that nervous excitement I had been missing out on. The specifics of my plan are nonexistent. How exactly do you find crime? I see it often enough day to day. At this time I’ll run into it soon enough, surely.
Ahead I see a group of tracksuits, 4 maybe 5. I’m moving so fast it’s hard to tell if they’re Bad Guys or just guys in a bad situation. It’s easy enough to tell drugs are involved though, they look pale, ill. Suddenly I notice movement. He’s trying to push me as I go past. The neurons in my head are firing like a machine gun. Evading his clumsy advance is easy, I spot it way ahead of time and don’t break stride. A quick dodge and weave. I hop and launch up in the air, I look like I’m trying to dunk a basketball I’m so high in the air.
I land smoothly on a large black bin, at least 4 feet high maybe more because they’re looking up at me, faces fresh with surprise.
“WIT THEY FUCK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TAE BE!”
My ‘costume’ is kind of a mishmash of a biker jacket, a hood, wraparound shades, military surplus gear and some kind of microfiber cloth to hide my face. I bought it in an outdoor shop. I have no idea what it’s for but it’s perfect for this. The shouty one who tried to push me is walking forwards, he’s clearly pissed that I made it look so easy. I see a knife appear somewhere behind him. That settles it. These are the Bad Guys I’ve been looking for.
My arms shoot out sideways, held out in the universal symbol for come ahead.
“Hey guys. Looking is free. Touching is gonna cost you.”
Well if they were angry before that clearly didn’t help. The shouty one is insulting me as he moves in. Calling me a faggot or something, I’m not listening now. In the air like a shot, dropping down hands on his head. Landing on the other side of the bin, I slam his head into the top of it, creating a depression with the force and putting him out with ease. It all happens quickly in one motion, and wasting no time I dash towards the knife.
My fist flicks sideways meeting a wrist. The impact knocks the blade away, far out of sight and is followed by a swift jumping kick. My leg meets him somewhere central and sends him sprawling backwards off his feet and to the pavement. That whole exchange seems to have convinced some of the tracksuits that being brutalised wasn’t on tonight’s agenda because I can see their backs receding into the night.
Just this tall one in front of me now, moving in like an angry dog, clearly intending to pulverise me. Hit me while moving forward, get me down, keep hitting. The big clumsy blows meet nothing, I hit him hard in the jaw as he leans in and that’s all it takes. He had a significant height advantage that made him pretty overconfident. I can’t decide if he really was all that tall or just bigger relative to me but I guess it doesn’t matter much. I don’t look imposing, my new found strength is far beyond what could be contained by my build. I suppose that’s to my advantage.
Not to be an action junkie but that was exhilarating. I’m shaking a little, nowhere in particular, just all over. A good start. I made that look like it’s been my business for years. It was the ideal beginning, a confidence booster. They clearly weren’t prime specimens. Thugs sure but not real hard men. I spin on my heels and move off again. An idea has sprung into my head. I know where to go now.
12:44, Wed,15 Sept, 2047 [G67 AC772]
Back. I close the front door and enter a cold hallway. The house is dead, quiet. Not in a settled way, more like the place has been silenced. No one is here, we seem to have moved past the stage of mourning where the extended family rallies around, bringing food and company to help things along. Just six days…
Looking in the fridge, the subtle certainty of the bulb illuminates the scant interior. There isn’t much in there but I don’t want anything anyway. I’m really looking out of habit. Dad isn’t here. I’m sure he isn’t supposed to back to work for a few days yet, so where is he? Just out I guess and I don’t blame him. The house feels morbid without anyone here. We wouldn’t be able to say much to one another if he were in anyway.
My room is noticeably tidy. Nothing out of place and everything in its place. Videogames and books stare at me accusingly. I’ve had more than enough time for them for weeks but they’ve remained on the shelf. I can’t play them. I can’t read now. Well of course I could, but I’d be reading the words without reading them. Going through the motions; my entire life feels that way now.
Pockets are tight and moist so I empty them. No calls no messages. I do have (or should that be I did have) friends, but they drifted. It’s normal for people to move apart after school, everyone goes their own way. I just didn’t want to see anyone most of the time. There was understanding at first, but time separates people. I was in my own world here over the summer, and who wants to visit with an asshole like me? Ok, I drifted. I changed and it didn’t take a semester of University to do that. Just cancer.
The TV is on now. I never watch it, it’s boring and pandering. Today is no different and I’m in a worse mood than usual. A quick flicker and the image fades out, just my face looking back at me in the dark. Damn I look cheery.
No classes until Monday. Today and the rest of this week is for acclimating the new students. Meeting people, joining clubs getting to know yourself and others. I don’t even have any opinions on it right now other than disinterest.
I slump down on the bed. Feel empty. Looks like today is a write off.
02:44, Thu,16 Sept, 2047
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the night that everything changed.
I was in the car, roaming way out into the country. I had been driving for hours and was making my way back. It felt adventurous, took my mind somewhere else for a while. I had been listening to A Tribe Called Quest. Real old music. Normally it was good for driving but eventually I tired of it. It felt too… happy. Inappropriate.
Out in the country was another world from Glasgow. Away from the crime, the threatening air the city had. Out here felt like the way people thought Scotland used to be. Green. Bothies. Kilts. Like a Quaker Oats advert. I didn’t like it much, felt like a bygone era. Boring and with poor satellite coverage. A good change of scene for a time like this though.
It was a bad time for the car to break down. The sky was raging, wind and rain lashed the trees and my little black motor. Flickers of lighting rang out in the sky, claps of thunder rang out moments later. I was sure it was the battery as I rummaged around under the bonnet, rain streaking down my brow, squinting at the engine beneath me. It’s a good thing I’m handy, because I had no cover and no idea where I was.
When I woke up I was staring up at that sky, a puddle forming around my shoulders. I had no clue how much time I had lost and didn’t want to check. I hurriedly settled my business with the engine and took off back home. I wanted to get back without dad realising what I had been doing, he had enough to deal with without my shit.
10:44, Thu,16 Sept, 2047 [Central station]
I was striding through Glasgow Central station, keeping step with the suits and the clicking high heels. My shuttle leaves me in one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the station. This part is above ground and links directly into the atrium. This is easily one of my favourite parts of the city. The station is expansive, full of glass, metal struts adorning the cathedral like interior walls. It’s grown much larger in the last forty years. I think I like the busyness of it all. People with jobs and purpose moving swiftly to their destinations.
I feel active today, the weather calm, bright. I ate breakfast, which I never do. I was hungry, really hungry. Dad was around this morning, we talked a little at the table. It wasn’t much, neither of us are happy about the situation but the talking was better than the silence.
I headed to the gym. Not feeling so empty today, not exactly happy either but better than before for sure. I didn’t feel like talking much, but this was better than staying home. I wanted to seize the initiative while I had it, so I made my way to the West End again, to the Stevenson building.
12:13, Thu,16 Sept, 2047 [Stevenson Building]
My workout clothes hang loosely on me, they feel strange. Music is humming from the monitors, they’re playing vids. Not loud enough to really hear, but still enough to be annoying. This music just sounds like shopping trolleys and car alarms, there’s no composition. It sounds violent.
I’m using a machine, not sure what it’s called but it’s for bicep curls. My hands fixed on the handles I move the big mechanical arm. It glides. Must not be set right. I paw at the glossy screen, tap at the plus indicator. There’s no counter for the weight, ugh this machine is on a personal setup. Some gym genius has been on before me. I don’t know how to reset it. The arm moves too easily. I tap the plus a few more times. And again. It’s getting hard to lift now, this seems about right.
There’s a guy in the corner of my view. I keep going, three sets is how this normally goes right? He’s still there, holding a towel, sweaty, hovering around. He clearly belongs here, probably wants the machine.
“Hey man are you almost”
He stops short, looking bewildered.
“What’s up, do you want to use this after me?”
He doesn’t register. He’s looking slightly behind be I think.
“How can you lift that much?”
He sounds kind of concerned. I tell him I have no idea how much I’m lifting, I never come here. A few decisive taps of the screen later and I’m as confused as he is. I look at the figure, that’s almost three times as much as I weigh. I’m scrawny, I don’t work out really. How can you lift that much?
Towel guy looks like he’s going to vomit or call the police or something so I make a quick exit from the situation and head for the changing rooms. What is going on?
A loud cheer startles me as I head for the exit. It’s coming from one of the weight rooms. A large group is gathered around another machine, still cheering and clapping. Someone is breaking a record maybe? He seems pretty big but I can’t make him out very well through the crowd. Whatever he’s doing it must be a pretty big deal to impress all of these regulars. I keep walking, my life is more interesting for a change.
14:02, Thu,16 Sept, 2047 [Buchannan St]
I’m still hungry and just finishing my second lunch of the day. The street is huge, one of the most vibrant and populous in the city. It’s safer than a lot of places because of the number of people, but you still won’t see many parents with kids here. You can’t be sure what might happen even in the crowd.
My mouth is still full when I notice. That’s a weird gait, moving funny, leaning. There it is, he grabbed that woman’s purse and knocked her down. People aren’t looking, they’re moving out of his way!
I’m not thinking about it, I’ve put myself in his path. He shouts and puts an arm out to deal with me but I easily grab it and redirect him to the pavement with force. Clattering over a bench, he gets back on his feet and decides the purse isn’t worth it. He takes off.
As I hand the lady her purse our eyes meet briefly. They’re glassy and grateful. What am I doing?
18:00, Thu,17 Sept, 2047 [G67 AC772]
Most of the day had been spent on the Net, searching around for reasons not to do this and for encouragement that it was the way to go. I ended up nowhere in particular, stories about vigilantes being arrested, superhero wikis, harrowing accounts of beatings and gang violence in and around Glasgow.
None of it made much of an impact, it became increasingly clear that my mind was already made up. Tomorrow would be spent collecting the gear I would need. I was doing this.
I didn’t think about the danger, the consequences, that I might get hurt or arrested. I didn’t think about comic books, the fighting, the thrill I could get. I thought about those eyes. When I handed back that purse. I thought about the bystanders. Indolent, impotent, all too familiar with the everyday of it. Either too scared or too callous to help one another.
People need a hero. A real hero, and no one else is prepared to step out of the crowd and help.
11:48, Sat, 18 Sept, 2047
So it’s all brought me here. Riding high from the triple knockout half an hour ago, I approach my destination. I hear it before I see it. The roar of motorcycle engines in this district is a good warning for people that they are not welcome here. This gang pretty much own the bar here from the looks of things. Graffiti signals that I’m entering their territory as I pass a chain fence and enter the car park at the rear.
A burly guy in a grimy white t shirt drops his cigarette and comes at me readying himself to kick my ass. I’m getting good at finding trouble. He doesn’t bother trying to warn me off, he just starts in with some surprisingly quick punches. He can’t see it because my face is covered, but I’m smiling at this whole scenario. A short dance and it’s over. I swiftly bring him to his knees exposing his head for a clinical knock out. If I can keep it to one on one encounters like this I should have no bother at all.
The thought is interrupted by the three men rushing out to meet me. They share the same uniform, all bikers, all armed. A pipe, a chain, a bat emerge. These guys are noticeably built. They are confident, surrounding me, coming in unison. This is a different league of thug than before.
I’m dodging between their swinging implements, but it’s not the skilled boxer weaving like before. There’s some of that, but it’s more of a gradual tactical retreat. I’m losing ground and giving over momentum. It’s not like I’ve never been in a fight, but this feels dangerous. The idea of danger is there, overwhelming, frightening. For the first time I feel out of my depth.
I remember the fighting in my crappy old school. For some reason I’m thinking of when I transferred into the new school. How happy I was, it was so peaceful. I’m thinking of Mrs McCowan, a nice old teacher, the kind everyone probably has at some time. She called me a “bright little spark” when she noticed all the books I had been reading in my spare time.
I had been backed up to the chain link fence from before, stupid. I was brought out of my daydream when I caught a pipe blow in the arm. SHIT it hurts…
I throw out a punch and make no solid connection. I snatch the end of that damn pipe catching it’s wielder by surprise. One shot to the forehead does the job and he’s out of commission. A bat finds my head and I fall to the ground. A baseball bat. We don’t even play baseball in this country; it only exists for violence here.
I’m being rocked around by blows, being kicked and stomped for good measure. One kick hurts more than the others, I think it cracked a rib. This hurts more than I expected. This is bad.
There’s a lull in the assault, then I feel a searing heat in my side. It’s not hard to figure it out. I’ve been stabbed.
I feel anger. I think about the purse. Bright spark. About Dad losing the rest of his family. I’m full of resolve as I swing my arm into a knee, collapsing Mr. Switchblade before he can do any more damage. My feet are planted beneath me now. I remember the big jump from earlier as I uncoil myself into a spectacular leaping uppercut, netting my final KO of the night.
The landing is somewhat less spectacular, but stab wounds tend to have that effect. As I try to get upright again I see it. Another biker, aiming a pistol right at me. I wasn’t prepared for this, how could I be? In history class we learned that Scotland used to have almost no guns at one time. Glasgow was the knife crime capital of the world then. That doesn’t sound like much fun either but probably preferable to this.
Two shots shout out at me, hitting something somewhere behind. I don’t run, maybe because I can’t. But my hand, my hand extents out to point back at the gunman. My fingers extend loosely, dancing almost. It’s a desperate pose, I look like a dying man reaching out to grasp someone’s hand. The gunman looks perplexed, hesitates just for a moment. What am I doing?
Every sign indicates to me that I’ll die here tonight, but for some reason I know I won’t.
And then it happens. With a twich, a flex, an intention it happens. Lightning shoots from my fingertips.
I don’t know how I’m doing it and I can’t exactly aim but out it comes. It arcs perfectly towards the gleaming, metallic pistol and in a fit of pain and surprise the gunman is disarmed. As I find my feet more men holding guns emerge from the bar. I fire off again and again, wildly and repeatedly. This time it isn’t perfect, but no less effective. The hot flashes leap all over, wildly hitting nothing in particular and everything. A car alarm sounds. I may as well be firing off panic and chaos from my hands.
I’m exhausted. In a matter of seconds I find myself out of breath and slightly dizzy. I make my move while the gang is regaining its composure. Using a car as a springboard I clumsily clear the chain fence, cutting something on the barbed wire as I go. Shooting off down the middle of an empty street, bullets stream by. I am fucking terrified.
When I finally feel I’ve turned enough corners and ventured far enough away, I collapse under a streetlight, gasping in mouthfuls of air and relief. Via Veritas Vita. I was hoping for Veni, Vidi, Vici but I’ll settle for just being alive.
My side hurts way more than before, definitely something wrong with my ribs. Blood trickles onto my left ear. Need to get a helmet for next time, that’s another definite. Concussions won’t help me study.
Flexing and extending my fingers, I watch as crackles of electricity course along the length of my arm.
I squint at the streetlight above me. It flickers back in response.