A Real Hero: First Hurdle

First Hurdle

20:12, Wed, 16 Oct, 2047 [The West End]

It’s been a long day of lectures followed by continued experiments with Professor Bryce and now the West End is cast in the dim glow of streetlights and passing cars. It makes for an odd contrast on University Avenue, but as I pass by the old stone constructs and into the more grim reality of Glasgow proper, it begins to feel like this is the ideal scene for viewing the battered ‘modern’ buildings and listening to distant sirens.

Circumstance has dictated that this is to be my night off, which for a change I’m all for.  I can go home at a normal time, sleep at a normal time and do anything I like while I’m there without nursing any serious injuries. I’m celebrating by picking up some food for the house, which is excitingly banal compared to the rest of my life lately. I’ve passed by a few stores already, I’m heading to a specific place that I know to stock Jam Juice, an energy drink that tastes like rainbows, is probably not entirely legal and is one of the few things that can keep you amped up on a rainy night at 3am when a small scale gang war keeps you out way past bedtime.

The last few days I’ve been enjoying rap from the 1990’s, NWA mostly. Even now it sounds fierce and dangerous, not at all like post millennial rap. Tonight it’s Eazy E’s Boyz In The Hood, which somehow fits quite well with the looming, almost complete October darkness of Glasgow, even if it is a world away from the Los Angeles of half a century ago. I wish the thugs I fight now listened to stuff like this; their tastes are light years away.  As the small blue sign of the express supermarket comes into view, I realise that the siren I can hear quite clearly now is blaring right in front of me, not in the distance.  Without the rest of my suit, the balaclava like microfiber cloth that covers my face from around the ears down and an upturned hood will have to be enough to conjure my persona.

Running at full speed now, I should be there in less than twenty seconds. I’m expecting it to be a robbery, there’s a good chance I’ll be facing down some guns so I need the element of surprise. There’s a tremendous racket of metallic clattering from inside as I get close. It sounds like robots wrestling – could the shelves be being knocked over? A normal cash grab should be nowhere near this rambunctious, what I see next proves this is far from a normal cash grab.

From across the narrow street I see him emerge. Perhaps the biggest man I’ve ever seen in real life, and I don’t just mean tall, he’s big in every sense.  He’s rippling with muscle, obvious even under a black hooded jacket at this time of night, the man looks like he could put Zeus himself in a headlock with relative ease. All of that though is second to the fact that he’s gripping A FUCKING SAFE under one arm, and before I can quite process all of this, running with it.

STOP!”

Most people gear up and force cashiers to open the tills for them and a few other idiots, in and out real quick, no theatrics. This guy hits a supermarket and somehow makes off with the whole damn vault on his own, and he’s making a pretty respectable pace carrying what is basically a washing machine made entirely of steel and stacks of cash. That’s what’s running through my mind as I flit along the bonnets of cars, gaining quickly on the hulking black figure pounding along the pavement along with the thought of how do I stop him when I catch up?

That becomes a much more pressing concern when he reels around, holding the vault over his head with both arms. I’m beside him now, skidding to a halt on the rain slicked hood underfoot. He slams the vault down on the engine, and the shock ripples through the rest of the car, sending me flipping over onto the pavement in front of him in a spray of glass and failure.

Groaning to my feet I exclaim “Ok, just leave the safe there for me and come quietly – no need for me to hurt you” as nonchalantly as I can while rubbing the back of my head hoping it didn’t split when I went to ground. He doesn’t look convinced in the least, and my exposed eyes, showing naked uncertainty without anything to cover them up give the game away.

Time for you to run lil’ man” comes his booming retort in an accent I can’t place right now as anything other than not Scottish. He’s walking confidently at me, arms raised in a boxer’s stance. Overpowering him is not the solution, that much I know, so I make a quick dash in at him and try to weave and roll around to utilise my speed advantage. I had hoped that his punches would be clumsy and easy to dodge but they turn out to be furious piston blows, coming quickly with reckless force. Just one of these might be enough to break me so I need to hit back soon.

I use the risky window of opportunity between two blurry fists to kick out at the side of his knee and follow it with a right cross to his jaw. As hard as I tried to strike, I may as well have been punching that vault because his head barely moves an inch. I was too used to pulling punches for my usual opponents, but this was no ordinary fight and pulled punches could get me killed.

A mighty blow wrecks me somewhere along the right side. I can’t place the point of impact, it feels like the punch landed all over, stealing my air and filling my bones with scalding pain. My meager assault had given over momentum I couldn’t afford to lose. I hazily get both arms up to shield my head from a titanic jab which rattles my face around the meaty cage I had constructed for myself and knocks me several feet back on my ass.

This is no good, I almost got my head knocked clean off my shoulders. I had been concerned about the consequences of using my powers, but right now it was a chance I was willing to take to avoid being bludgeoned to death. Time to play my trump card.

Springing to my feet with surprising ease, I start firing off bolts of blue electricity which immediately fill me with the confidence I had been lacking.  Unfortunately the two shots that hit their target get shrugged off.  Before I can fully take in my surroundings, he flings a street sign at me, catching off guard right across the midsection and leaving me pinned to the ground, wheezing through pain and exhaustion. If he had wanted to, he could have dropped the safe on my head there and then, but apparently it was my lucky night and he opted to make off before anyone else showed up. My plans for a normal evening of junk food and video games were as shattered as that car windscreen, shards of which were still nestled in my hair.

15:39, Thu, 17 Oct, 2047 [West Medical Building]

Sounds like a rough night, looked like one too” Professor Bryce says, smiling. He hands me a screen about the size of a dinner plate.

Looking at it, it’s playing a vid, the man from last night on store surveillance.

“I don’t think I would have believed you but there it is. Ripped the safe right out of the ground and ran out, no help at all”

“I’m an electric man and a really really strong guy sounds far fetched to you?”

“Well I thought you were an anomaly, I didn’t think this was the X-men.”

Clearly he notices I have no idea what he’s referencing and continues on.

“So, I have good news, great news and disappointing news, which first?”

“Well I still think I might have a collapsed lung and it hurts to breathe, so how about you pick and I save my breath?”

“Right. Well, there’s no information anywhere on the safe snatcher. A small scale robbery with no real casualties is not a priority it seems, so we have to wait for his next move.”

“Actually I’ve been thinking about it and I do have a lead to go on. I noticed a few things about him before he handed me my ass. First, he’s big, that’s obvious. Then his accent, North American, maybe Canadian, not local. Third he’s black with short cropped hair, about my age. That’s not the kind of person you see in the city much, what it adds up to, I think, is that he’s here on an athletic scholarship.”

“Come on Sherlock, that’s not a lead just a hunch.”

“Have a little faith Bryce. I think I may have seen him before, back when all of this started. It was in the Stevenson building, some guy was lifting weights, attracting a big crowd – it fits, and it’s all we have to go on right now.”

“So what, you’re going to go catch him between reps?”

“No. The Stevenson building keeps very detailed data on everyone who ever uses the facilities. All I need to do is get in there tonight, hack their system and look for whoever fits his description.”

“Breaking into the facilities sounds like a good way to get expelled. And didn’t you get beat badly enough last night?”

“That’s for me to worry about. I can’t just run away, I will have to fight him again and I will get beat again if I’m on the back foot like last time. I need to take the initiative and fight smart. So I believe you had some good news for me?”

A few taps on the screen later, I’m staring down some bafflingly complicated graphs and diagrams.

“Good news doesn’t look like this…”

“That’s some schematics I made using the data we’ve gathered on you so far. I guess it’s a little advanced for you right now huh?

“In English then.”

“We’ve answered our two most pressing queries. Firstly your…” Bryce makes a sort of gun firing motion with his right hand.  “Those are, according to most law enforcement agencies which use tasers, considered to be non lethal in most instances. I’d still avoid shooting young children, the elderly and anyone unlucky enough to have a pacemaker though.”

I’m slightly distracted by my forearms, which are showing several large wine coloured patches of maturing bruises.

“And what about my safety?”

“As far as I can tell, there are no adverse effects at all for you regardless of how much power you’re putting out, so no worries about killing yourself with fried nerves or triggering a stroke.”

“As far as you can tell…”

“Look, this is your power. Why would using it hurt you?”

“It’s a reasonable assumption to have but it’s easy for you to say since it’s not your body on the line.”

“I guarantee you then.”

“Fine, that’s all I wanted to hear doc. Time for me to split, I have a gym to burgle.”

“Wait, don’t you want the the great news first?”

“Oh? I thought not making myself a paraplegic was the great news?”

Professor Bryce dumps a duffle bag on the lab bench we’re sat at, motioning me to open it. The room, the entire building in fact, is vast and quiet. This place used to be used for exercise sciences and had to be oversized to accommodate all the treadmills and breathing apparatus. Those departments have long since moved on to new specially made facilities off campus, leaving this fine old 19th century building for Bryce and his various odd contraptions:  batteries, wiring and work benches fully outfitted with vices and various electrical devices. Let the exercise scientists have their fancy Scobie complex, this place has character.

Unzipping the duffle bag, I see that this truly is great news. A new suit! My old mishmash attire was comprised of a biker jacket with some other bits and pieces. It had been ruined a few nights back. Trying to stop a gang burning out a local gay bar, I had to shoot the neck off a Molotov cocktail before it hit me. The flaming quill at the top popped off, leaving me to get soaked in tepid, own brand vodka. I could have made it wearable again with some serious dry cleaning, but the ensemble was put together hurriedly and at random so it really wasn’t worth saving.  This on the other hand…

“This is fucking Christmas!”

“Like it then? It’s an advanced material, a carbon weave that makes it both light and strong. It’s actually light enough to wear under your clothes if you really want to and pretty flexible, so it should be a lot better than that ratty leather jacket you were using. It’s quite sleek, used for skydiving I think, but I added in some extra protection in vital areas. Not stab proof exactly, but much better than before.”

“Everything is a sexy black colour. That’s going to be good for stealth.”

“Exactly. Now I got a helmet too, I can’t believe you haven’t had a serious concussion yet but this should take care of that now. It has a flip down visor that won’t catch glare and neck support to boot. It’s… combat optimised I think is the term.”

“Where did you get this stuff?!”

“You would be surprised what an interesting abstract and a research grant can get you, with a little imagination.”

“Here’s to academia then.”

“Last thing. Gloves. Gauntlets really. They provide good wrist support for climbing, and bind the small bones in your hand tightly so you won’t break them. I’ve made a few additions of my own, for now let’s just say they should improve conduction, carrying the charge along your forearm better. At the least they should help with your aim, maybe more.”

Slipping one of these gauntlets on, pulling it all the way up the crick of my elbow, I feel an assuring, comfy tightness. Extending my arm out in the usual gunslinger pose, I take pains to ape the Professors gun gesture from earlier. With one eye closed I take aim and drop my thumb.

“Pow…” I whisper.

23:12, Thu, 17 Oct, 2047 [Stevenson Building]

The Stevenson Building – the University’s own ever expanding, ever evolving on campus gym and sports complex is silent and dimly lit. As far as I can tell there’s absolutely no one here at this time other than me and save for a possible visit from a security guard on his late night rounds I should be free to come and go without any distractions.

The staff turned off the screens when they closed up, but the rest of the computer system at the second floor check in is still humming away. The increasingly indispensable hacking app I installed on my Glass brute forces the password login in just under two minutes, and it doesn’t take me much longer to dig through the registry database to locate my man.

Everyone with a membership here gives over their details to sign up, most of which are already held by the registry office proper and are simply shared with this database here when the membership is approved. From there, each individual person has detailed biometric data, such as heart rate, weight and exercise details recorded by the machines they use. It’s an astounding amount of data that gets gathered like this. Gathered, stored and then shared for profit with interested parties. Most people either don’t realise or don’t care that they sign away access to their private details when signing up here, opening themselves up to targeted advertising for protein supplements and body modifications – all tailored to their own particular preferences and habits.

All that aside, that Orwellian information gathering has come in quite handy for me tonight. Kenard Washington, a quintessentially American name. Looks like I was exactly on the money, he’s from Arizona, in his third year studying exercise science on an athletic scholarship – basically he’s purely here to make the University look good, which he presumably does in between petty larceny.

Voices.

I quickly power down the screen and duck down behind the counter. Flipping down my visor which I hope really doesn’t catch glare, I carefully peer round to put faces to voices. One small guy with broad shoulders wearing a Stevenson building polo shirt and one titan from Greek legend. Why is Kenard here now? Late night workout? I can hear them talking. Kenard says he’s headed for the weights room next and takes a swipecard from his pal before disappearing off. Polo shirt guy then starts moving in my direction. Good, I need to ask him a few questions…

23:22, Thu, 17 Oct, 2047 [Weights room]

I catch him off guard when I enter the weights room.

“HEY BIG MAN!”

He swivels round, startled, holding a huge barbell in both hands. The barbell catches my electricity eagerly, forcing his hands to instinctively tense up then release. The barbell drops heavily on his toes. I waste no time, sprinting forward and sending a heavy punch into the center of his face while he’s doubled forward in pain and surprise. No pulled punches this time.

“AAAARRRGGH!” He moans while retreating.

“That’s for last night Wash. No mask tonight?”

“YOU AGAIN? Don’t you ever learn?”

“I’ve learned a few things.”

He’s moving in, clearly pissed but not noticing that I’ve snatched up a fully loaded dumbbell. The dumbbell clatters against his left knee with real force and again I make my move. Hitting him in the face is tough, to put it plainly there’s a serious height disparity between us. That was last night’s mistake, I’m ideally placed to hit him in the body so I unload a flurry on his midsection, working the body like a seasoned pugilist. I’m going mainly for the liver (another boxing trick) because no matter how tough and resilient he is, a good liver shot can KO the biggest heavyweights, or so I’ve read.  The assault works well but gets cut short when Kenard catches me around the shoulders and swings me against one of the machines, clearly winded from the blows.

My back hits something soft and welcoming. I’m seated at one of those ‘peck deck’ machines. Grabbing the large handles at my sides, I pull them in front of chest, blocking a big punch that dents their metal struts inwards towards me. I boot out at his groin in response, giving me the space to get to my feet and face up with him again. I’m switched on tonight, noticing in good time that he’s about to fling a barbell at me. That won’t work twice.

Hopping up in the air, I grab the pull up bar above me with my left arm, bringing my whole body close to it as the big weight slams the wall beneath me. By the time my feet contact the floor again he’s almost all the way out the door. I shoot fiercely, making no effort to control how powerful the shots are.  Just need to make him seize up, make him fall. A few hit but he gets lucky and clears the doorway getting out of my sight. I take off in pursuit.

Skidding to a halt at the end of the now silent corridor, I avoid the ragged glass edges and peer through the Kenard Washington shaped hole in the window into the darkness below. It’s a huge drop into the swimming pool, which unfortunately is currently empty, making the drop that much more precarious. He’s already just about out of sight. I could try and make the drop, but breaking both ankles might impair my ability to fight, so I opt to let him escape for now.

22:32, Fri, 18 Oct, 2047 

Rain falls heavily from a looming sky, lashing me and my newly minted black nylon poncho, which flaps quietly in the breeze. Earlier today I had been arguing with Bryce about the poncho. I told him I wasn’t the kind of superhero who would wear a cape, that it would be cumbersome, that it would be noisy. I was wrong about all of it. He told me I would thank him for it later, I’m not a petty man – I will. I couldn’t have surveyed this place in the downpour for the last 40 minutes without it.

Tracking down Kenard had been easy, his acquaintance from last night had been exceedingly forthcoming.  The polo shirt man had let him in through the service entrance. The plan was for the big guy to steal the more expensive equipment in the night, load it up in a van driven by his other accomplice then bring it here to store and fence later. The banalities of this hair brained scheme both bored and troubled me. To think, gifted with super strength and toughness, his best idea was to rob his local supermarket and gym. What a waste.

His villainous lair is slightly more interesting at least. A short drive out of the city proper, he’s held up in a large house that’s just about bordering on a mansion along with about four semi pro thugs. The house itself is still decidedly under construction, the entire area is a new build so no nosy neighbors to worry about. I have to admit it’s not a half bad place to hang out in by night and store inconspicuous looking stolen goods during the daytime. Of course, knowing this guy, that safe he swiped is probably sitting slap bang in the middle of a half finished kitchen, ready for some workmen to stumble across assuming the build is still ongoing.

I leave my rain slicked poncho on the tree branch I had been perched on before stalking in towards the house and my first target, who has been locked in a phone argument with his girlfriend Lisa for the past ten minutes. I’ll dispense with these four individually as a warm up for my rematch with Kenard.

22:40, Fri, 18 Oct, 2047 [House Interior]

Looking down on my quarry from the second floor, he’s lounging on a chair he doesn’t own, oblivious to the fact that his boys are now unconscious and listening to a clashing, electronic nightmare soundscape. Is a little classic hip hop too much to ask of these people? Inside, the house is barely fitted, but it does have those garish fake Roman columns that tasteless rich people love. The place kind of looks like a knockoff of Tony Soprano’s house. All in all I don’t care if it gets trashed in the impending brawl.

Whipping out my arm assuredly, I first deal with the noise emanating from the speakers below, and while Kenard is still scrambling to his feet I turn my attention to the grand, tawdry chandelier, which falls with a wonderful racket on his head. Landing neatly on the floor below, I note that these gloves really do help with my aim.

“I hear you’ve been going by the street name Ox. Is that because you’re as smart as a farm animal or because you look like one?”

He doesn’t have a retort for me, just crude grunting and punches. I suppose that’s as good a comeback as any. That fury is exactly what I was looking for, weaving between the blows I lure him towards one of the columns, which shudder against two heavy blows, chunks crumbling off. I was reasonably sure they would just be made of plaster or something, but going by his grimace of pain they’re made of sturdier stuff than that.

With this chance I open up on his body, hitting fast but failing to knock him over. He’s hurt, but makes a real good go of shoving me, sending me smoothly through the air and into a wheelbarrow and some assorted construction paraphernalia. It’s much less comfortable than the peck deck.

The fight rages on, rivaling the fierceness of the rain battering down on the patio furniture outside, visible through some actually quite handsome French doors.  I land more hits of my own while gracefully avoiding others but to no avail. For the first time I get a look at his face. Brown eyes brimming with rage look back at me, blood seeping from a cut on the left side of his head soaks into his cropped black hair.

It’s around the time that he throws me through a partly constructed wall that I decide things have to change. A straight fight like this is winnable but far too risky, one wrong move could get me killed. I need to think of something soon to knock him on his ass.  Ox is panting pretty hard now after the exertion of tossing me, so now looks like the time to make a move.

After a few punches that serve mostly as a distraction, a couple of hard kicks buckle the left knee I know to be weak, letting me drive him backwards, stumbling clumsily outside. My boots crunch on the shattered remnants of that once lovely set of mahogany French doors as I step out into the rain. His feet are still planted, but he’s wobbling precariously, heels just in front of… just in front of an empty swimming pool.

I charge towards him yelling, knowing that I have to make this count. Punch punch punch. Punch punch, duck, kick, punch. Every hit lands heavily on his meaty body, but not hard enough. In my exhausted desperation it happens. My hands feel light, like punching after holding heavy weights. Free and flighty, my fists strike out like lightning. My hands are buzzing, literally. They are coated in blue licks of energy and every punch lands with a stinging hiss.

Now Ox can barely defend himself from the countless impacts. That good liver shot I had been anticipating finally comes, dropping his beefy arms down limply. The final left cross to the jaw cold knocks him out, felling him and dropping him with a splash into the pool below. The puddle of rainwater does little to deaden the impact of his head on the concrete.

I look up at the angry sky, arms aloft, letting the water wash over my bloodied hands and face. Tired and sore, I scream out. Cheering my victory up at the heavens.

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’ve cleared my first hurdle. One superpowered goon down, but how many to go?

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