Eighteen years, and this hadn’t changed: Supervillains still didn’t like being smashed into (and/or through) a wall by way of a civillian’s car. Or by any other means, really.
Necrophobe stabbed at me with those wicked claws, like I’d mortally offended him.
Fortunately, I’d not lost my instincts since my last battle – I dropped to the side while kicking down the gas pedal, keeping him pinned while I broke the shifter off. A few quick (well-practiced) moves (thank you, Cartastrophy!) allowed me to jam the pedal while pulling my foot off.
I kicked the door open and flung myself out just in time for another strike of his to miss me, then I ran not towards the hole in the wall, but the actual door out of the supermarket.
Aaaand I ran into two of Necrophobe’s minions – taking a close look at them, they had a skull-and-bones motif going for their clothes – right outside. The guy of the pair aimed a sawed-off shotgun at me, the woman an uzi.
Why did I get into this again? And what happened to the good old non-lethal raygun?
The monkey almost drooled with excitement, clamoring to be cut loose on them, while the two ordered me to surrender.
Not really, no. Never knew when to give up.
I dove forward – few people expected someone held at gunpoint to do that – into a roll, their first shots went wide over me, and then I was between the two of them.
They went down in seconds.
Nice to know that minion quality hasn’t gone up.
I took their weapons just as I heard a tearing sound and then the last sounds of my car’s motor, then a triumphant, croaking scream from Necrophobe’s half-rotten throat.
As I turned around, I saw him shoving the car off of himself, slower than one would expect from something of his size – probably little in the way of enhanced strength – after having killed the motor with his claws.
I was actually starting to like that car. Sure hope Cartastrophy’s still around to fix it.
I ran up to the monstrous supervillain, staying just out of range of his claws, and shot at his arms, destroying one clawed hand (again, no reaction that even hinted at pain) and then another.
Not going for the vitals – dunno how undead he really is, and he doesn’t seem that tough to begin with, anyway.
The villain looked at me with a hateful look. “I’m going to get you, asshole. Bury you alive, bury your whole family alive!”
“Alright, pal, two things. One, I’d really, really like to see you try and go after my family. Two, what the fuck is wrong with you – rule number two of the whole game, you do not involve family!”
I shot his left arm completely off at the shoulder, making the bony limb drop down, a few strands of a horrible smelling slime still connecting it to the ruined shoulder.
“Now be a good boy and stay put,” I said with a sneer, ignoring his curses as I turned to leave the supermarket.
Just then, Chayot flew in through the hole I’d made in the wall – Wrong, wrong, wrong, you don’t fly in the same way the enemy was smacked through unless you know you can take anything they can dish out or that they’re disabled for sure – ready for a fight, then stopped, hovering in place.
Her arms dropped down to hang limply next to her body. If she wasn’t wearing a full-face, rigid mask, I’d probably be seeing her mouth hanging open.
This also served to tell me that the winged crystal behind her was at least partially autonomous, as its wings bent around her body to shield her from an attack by me.
Probably a Tiamat, then. Or a very sophisticated Generator.
I dropped my weapons and raised my hands, entwining my fingers behind my head.
“I surrender!” I said with what I hoped was a roguish (kind of inevitable, with my face and my three-day beard) but non-threatening (I’d never been good at those) smile.
She looked at me like I’d gone crazy, or at least that’s the impression I got from her.
I probably had.
Then I noticed something.
The monkey hasn’t suggested attacking, killing or raping her even once. What the hell?
* * *
The police were very interested in talking with me, since I’d basically acted in the most stupid way possible there (though my medal and my new ID took care of that – people still revered war heroes around here, even if I didn’t feel like one), and then the only adult superhero I’d seen today (whom, by the way, I had not seen at the battle) – a rather intimidating woman with the legs and head of a goat and eight snakes instead of arms, dressed in a skintight emerald green bodysuit – who went by the name of Vek wanted to talk to me as well.
After fixing up my car by biting it, of all things. Well, one of her snake-arms did, and then it actually looked like time was reversed for the car, and suddenly it was ship-shape again.
I opened my mouth to thank her profusely, but she waved me off.
“You saved my girl, and probably my other kids, too. They couldn’t have fought Necrophobe and Patchwork on top of the others. Once you distracted Necrophobe, Chayot managed to take Patchwork down, then turned to the rest, and those surrendered once it became clear that Necrophobe wasn’t coming anytime soon.”
She stopped, taking a breath, and I heard a ‘but’ coming fast, probably along with a massive lecture.
“But, Mr. Paterson, that was the stupidest-“
“Ma’am, please, don’t bother. I know it was stupid, though I feel it necessary to mention that there are mitigating circumstances,” I threw in, to cut the lecture off. I’d always hated those.
“And what might those be?” asked a melodic voice.
Chayot approached me – I was sitting on the back bumper of an ambulance, having just fought off the EMTs – flanked by four other teenagers in costumes of varying styles, suggesting that she was the leader of her team. The winged crystal at her back was gone and she walked with her feet on the ground. I idly noticed that the one other girl of her group (who was standing to her right) was the same size as she was, but only due to wearing substantial heels, while Chayot went without. Even though she could fly, and thus negate most disadvantages of wearing heels.
Practical. I like that. Even if I’d probably have preferred the flashy style back then.
I pulled out my medal and ID – they hadn’t seen them yet – and showed them.
“I’ve seen a lot of action. This was really rather relaxing, all things considered.”
“Who are you?” asked the girl next to her, her melodic voice contrasting with her rather harsh attitude. Her costume was far less practical than Chayot’s, a black-and-pink reinforced bodysuit with a heart-shaped window over her heart, exposing quite a bit of her chest. No, wait, there’s no hole there. Only see-through material. Her mask only covered her face from her forehead to her nose, fanning out into a pink heart-shape, matching her bubblegum-pink hair, which she wore open and straight, reaching down to her shoulders.
“Dearheart, please, show some respect. He’s a vet from the Califate War,” explained Vek, apparently recognizing the medal. “I didn’t see you on the TV, I think. When they gave out those medals, I mean.”
I shrugged. “I got mine second-to-last, and I did my best to be inconspicious. Prefer my anonymity, you know?”
She shrugged. “Well, these seem to be in order. Still, this was mightly reckless. Do you even have any powers?”
I nodded. “Don’t like to use them, though. Let’s not focus on that,” I replied, uneasy. The last thing I needed was to have to demonstrate my powers.
“What, you think they’d scare us or something?” asked Dearheart with bravado in her voice.
Damn, girl’s got an attitude. And a voice I’d like to listen to for hours.
And my monkey was still not making any suggestion in regards to abusing Chayot. It wasn’t as nice regarding Vek and this Dearheart, though, especially after the latter’s insolent behaviour.
“Call it an old man’s folly. So, what’s gonna happen to me, now?” Please no investigation, please no investigation. I scratched my chin.
Vek thought it over. “Well… I guess we can overlook this… once. Please don’t repeat something like this, unless you officially join the United Heroes. Speaking of which…”
“You want to recruit me?!” I asked with some surprise.
She nodded. “We’re short on manpower. No matter what your powers are, your experience alone would be invaluable to us. After all, you survived the war.”
I shook my head sadly. I’d already picked up on the problems the United Heroes, especially the American divisions, were having due to the threat of a war with the Sovjet Union. But… no. Not again, I don’t think.
“I’m really sorry, but… no. I just… just got back, I really don’t need another war now,” I replied. It surprised me that I felt honestly sad about not being able to help.
For God’s sake, I already did my part for Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Dearheart snorted dismissively, though Chayot put a hand to her shoulder to calm her.
The monkey was getting the weirdest vibes from these two. Chayot more than the other, but the other girl had to have some weird power, as well.
Strange that I didn’t notice her earlier.
Maybe it was a power the monkey only smelled while it was being used, and she’d just used it on Chayot. No, wait, Chayot had calmed her down, using some kind of power, but it had somehow allowed the monkey to smell her power, too.
Strange and stranger.
“What?”, asked Dearheart with an annoyed tone.
I shook myself. Great, stare at the teenage girls dressed in skintight costumes. That’s gonna put them at ease.
“Sorry, just an old man getting lost in his thoughts. Nothing bad, I promise.” Unless it’s supposed to be a secret that your friend over there just used her power on you.
“You don’t look that old,” replied Dearheart with a snort.
“Really? Thank you,” I replied.
“Dearheart, enough. If you’re not going to thank Mr. Paterson for his help earlier, then at least don’t pester him,” said Vek.
Dearheart snorted, but Chayot turned to me. A wave of gratitude and a little apologetic feeling (for her friend’s behaviour, it seemed) washed over me. Neatly bypassing my immunity to mental powers.
Strange and stranger and even stranger.
“You’re welcome, Miss. Now, unless there is something else, there’s someplace I need to be real fast.”
Vek shook her head. I rose, shook her… snakes… and nodded towards the teenage heroes.
Then I turned to go. I had just taken two steps when Vek stopped me again.
“If you would excuse me… my uncle fought in the Califate War, and he was supposed to have died during the Great Clusterfuck, but they never found a body, and you were there, going by your medal.”
I turned back to her. “Wait, they made a medal just for the poor asses that were in that mess?” I asked, looking at the platinum star ringed by a golden sunburst in my hand.
“The star is for participants of the Califate War, the sunburst for those who were present during the Great Clusterfuck.”
“I see,” I said, chuckling a bit. “Great Clusterfuck… that really fits. What was your uncle’s name?”
“His name was Greenblock, he-“
“Ah, old Greenface! Now I remember, he used to brag about you all the damn time, saying you’d someday be a superhero for sure!” Damn, I miss that guy.
Her face brightened – at least I think it did, I wasn’t exactly an expert in reading goat faces – and she responded: “You knew him well?! Do you know what happened to him?”
I nodded. “Me, him and a few others were all in the same unit, and we used to get drunk a whole lot. I remember, that madman took down two of the Califate’s bodies, and then the other ones all ganged up on him at the same time. Killed three more of them before they killed him. I saw his body disintegrate when DiL hit us with a blast from outside the atmosphere.”
“Oh. Well… at least he went out fighting,” she said.
“He sure did. You can be proud of him…” I thought it over, then pulled out a post-it note (always keep a pack of those handy, you’ll find a million uses for them) and a pen, writing down my cellphone number (I’d bought one back in Esperanza – they’d gotten way small). Then I handed her the note. “If you call me a day or two from now, we can meet up and talk a bit more. But I’m really pressed for time right now.”
She thanked me profusely, this time with me waving her off, and finally let me go.
I took the car and drove off.
* * *
The apartment had changed owners. Not that surprising.
However, old Mrs Kuchen was still there, still the landlady, and still quite willing to gossip, so I got myself a new address (well, more like the general place she lived in now) and also some news.
Namely, the fact that she’d married, and even had a child.
As I drove towards the gated community outside of Chicago – it had been built down the shore of Lake Michigan, outside the city proper – I felt… glad.
Really, I’d been afraid she’d have tortured herself waiting for me all those years. I don’t think I’d have dealt well with the idea of her still holding out for me.
Though I won’t contest that it hurt. Part of me, I guess, had always hoped to return to her and… well, marry her. Make a family.
But now she was married, and had even gotten a kid out of the deal.
I hope she at least won’t hate me.
That I really couldn’t deal with.
I reached the entrance to the ritzy community – Three Heaven’s Gates – and had to laugh first. Used to be, she could barely afford to eat properly.
She made her life better. That, at least, I like unambigiously.
I doubted that she was still a superhero. One, that didn’t pay that well, two, knowing her, she’d probably dropped it the moment she realized she was pregnant.
A child would have come first, always.
Besides, considering the average powerlevel I witnessed just today, she’d probably be more of a liability than help, at least in open combat.
The guard at the gate first didn’t want to let me in without an invitation, or at least calling ahead (I wanted to surprise her, juvenile though that may be, so I protested), but again, my medal took care of that.
How useful, I thought.
* * *
I pulled in front of her house – the guard had been nice enough to provide me with the address, after warning me to be good.
The house was an expensive white-painted building, three storeys and a well-kept front yard.
And Mr Dewie, her fat old cat.
I almost wept when the little monster – he was about the size of the average dog, and probably twice as heavy – with his grey-brown fur and mottled ears charged into my legs.
“Gods, Dewie, how I missed you,” I said while scratching him behind his ears. “Nineteen years old and still growing, I see.” He had grown six extra chins, for crying out loud.
I sat up and straightened my suit, then walked up to the door, the purring cat right behind me.
Should I have brought flowers?
I fidgeted for almost five minutes before ringing the doorbell.
Even the fucking monkey was nervous.
It took a minute, but then the door opened, a cute little moppet no older than five, with black curls, amber-coloured eyes and dark, but not quite black skin, dressed in a pink princess’ dress with a sparkling tiara, looking up at me.
She married seven years ago. Just about right, I guess.
“Yes mister?” asked the little girl in a bright voice. Nothing about her bearing or speech betrayed any kind of fear, or even nervousness, at the tall stranger in a suit in front of her.
This girl’s grown up safe and sound.
“Hello princess. Say, I’m looking for Tamara Milton, do you know her?” I asked, crouching down in front of her. You have to, you’re so obviously her daughter.
“No, sir! My mama’s named Tamara, but we’re the Bennings!”, she said brightly.
“Charity! Charity, who’re you talking to, sweetie?” asked a male voice.
“Just a nice man! He even calls me princess, daddy! How did he know that?”
A middle-aged man, probably a year or so younger than me, came to the door and scooped the girl up, throwing me a suspicious glance from above (I was still crouching). The monkey wanted him dead, now. I shut it up.
“Probably because it’s just so obvious that you’re a princess, sweetie. Now, be good and go to mommy,” he said to her, putting her down behind him without taking his eyes off me, always keeping his body between me and her.
Strong protective instincts. Good.
He was tall, not as tall as me, but still above average, and dressed in jeans and a bright blue dress shirt. Brown hair, a fashionable (probably) pair of glasses and a rather non-descript, cleanly shaven face helped make him look nice, but rather plain.
“What do you want, Mr…?” he asked.
I rose up on my feet, straightening my suit and tie. “Sorry, Mr Bennings, my name is Kevin Peterson, and I’m looking for Tamara Milton, who I believe is your wife?”
He looked at me with a queer look. “You know Tamara? How, I don’t think she’s ever mentioned a Kevin among her acquaintances.”
That’s because she didn’t know me under that name. I wonder how much she ever told you.
“I guess she wouldn’t, but I assure you, we know each other. If you could just let me talk to her for a few minutes?”
He looked like he wanted to send me away, but then another voice spoke up.
“Phil, honey, what’s going on?”
Her voice had barely changed. And then she appeared next to Phil in the door – and froze, just as I did.
She’d changed, aged, but in a good way. Adonis-types usually did. Her jeans and white shirt showed that she’d gotten a bit heavier around the waist, and her chest had expanded quite a bit, as well. Eighteen years and I still looked at her chest, damn. Her black hair was no longer in messy dreadlocks, but instead in a practical ponytail, and her black skin was still flawless, as far as I could see. And her amber-coloured eyes…
God damn, how I missed looking into those eyes.
“Aap?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Phil tensed, his eyes, which had moved to look at her, zeroing back on to me.
“Meow-meow,” I whispered, fearing that my voice might break if I spoke any louder.
Phil slapped his forehead, and I think she blushed a bit. It was hard to tell.
You weren’t embarrassed about your cape back then. But I guess we both had to grow up sooner or later.
We stood there, looking at each other, until Phil pulled his wits together and – I liked him more and more – grabbed my shoulder and pulled me in, closing the door behind me.
“Living room,” he said and steered both of us there, sitting her down on the couch and me on the opposite side of the small table in a cushioned chair. He himself sat down next to her, taking her hand in his – the hand with their wedding ring.
Protective instincts and appropriately possessive. Good.
I’d probably have reacted far worse in his place, if my wife’s old lover had suddenly shown up on my doorstep.
“So, you’re back. After eighteen years,” he said, almost snarling. There was a lot of anger in his eyes.
Tamara seemed to be on the verge of crying, in contrast.
“I am. And I’m so, so sorry, Tamara,” I said to her, forcing back a few tears. I really didn’t want to cry right now. “I never wanted to just van-“
“Stop,” she said. I stopped talking. “We… we both knew it couldn’t last. Wouldn’t last, no matter what we did. Not with the kind of life we led back then. But… not even a word? A letter, anything? Why?“
I looked at her, unsure of what to say. No, I knew what I wanted to say. I just didn’t know how.
“I… I was planning to…”
Just then, the door opened. Little Charity’s feet pounded the floor as she ran from wherever she’d been to the door, and I heard her greet “bigsis”, apparently by jumping into her arms. Her sister didn’t say anything in return though, it seemed.
After a few more, quieter, words – I was guessing that there was someone else there, as well – I heard steps coming towards the living room.
Tamara tensed up, a panicked look on her face, while Phil seemed just tense.
Two stunningly beautiful teenagers walked into the room, the one in the back holding the little princess’ hand.
The one in the back was almost four inches shorter than her friend, pale-skinned and blue-eyed, with long blonde hair that ran straight down to her shoulders. She was wearing tight jeans, boots with heels that raised her up to be as tall as the other one, a pink shirt and a jeans jacket over that. Her eyes widened in recognition, even as the monkey reacted to her in its usual way.
The other one was taller and built enough to pass the Adonis-test with flying colours, with a darker skin than even Tamara’s, but completely Eurasian features, and soft black hair, reaching down to her butt in natural curls, her eyes almost glowing in a deep golden amber colour, her face as a whole solemn and almost unnaturally relaxed. She was dressed in a white one-piece with long sleeves and a black pair of tights, with knee-high, soft brown boots. I felt a dizzying mix of emotions emanate from her in waves as she looked directly at me. The monkey wasn’t reacting to her in its usual way.
And a sudden wave of… not dread, it was nothing like dread, but more like… I don’t know, a wave of not-dread-but-close ran through me as the pieces fell into place.
Kuchen got the order wrong. She got the child first.
And judging by her reaction, she was putting the pieces together, as well.
Tamara rose and walked towards the stunned girl, taking her hand.
Then she pulled her closer to the center of the living room. She looked between me and her.
“Hennessy? Meet your father… Aap Oordra, or Kevin Paterson.”
One thing really hadn’t changed. Supervillains still didn’t like being slammed through a wall by any means.
Though she, at least, only blasted me through the glass door leading to the porch, not the wall.