Death of a Hero, Chapter 17

“Just like that? Not even a thanks?” I was surprised at how surpised Cassie sounded. “If it was me, I’d have stuck around to thank you profusely and kick that asshole a few times.

I just shrugged it off. “She did the smart thing. There was no way for her to know why I jumped in. For all she knew I was an even bigger monster.” Or a cop. I didn’t see a reason to tell her the woman I rescued was a prostitute. “Sometimes it’s hard to know if someone saving you, and saving you for a late night snack.”

Kitten, as an example, was just as likely to go after villains as heroes. Back when she was part of Hunter/Killer, the pair would hunt down petty street criminals, killing both them and their victims. “Seriously, if you ever find yourself in that situation, I want you to run and not look back. It’s not worth the risk.”

Cassie fidgeted a little. “I guess you have a point.”

Hopefully she’ll never need that advice. “Anyways, after she ran off, I kicked the asshole around a bit, and then he cried until the cops got there.”

Cassie gave a quick laugh. “You have got to be making that up!”

“Honest to God, he cried the whole ten minutes it took for the police to get their lazy asses out of the donut shop. Light’s green.” I gestured toward the road, right before the asshole in the car behind us honked. Cassie hit the gas and I waited until we hit the next light, only two blocks away, before continuing. “And then, right after the cops showed up he pretty much confessed everything!”

“That’s like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

“What if it’s not dumb at all? Maybe it’s actually secretly brilliant.” The car jerked to life. Cassie’s driving skills left something to be desired, as she practically stomped the gas.

“Oh, this I gotta hear.”

“It’s like faking insanity.” I cleared my voice and then faked a no doubt shitty southern accent. “Ladies an’ gentlemen of the jury. My client pleads not guilty far reason of mental disease ar defect. On the grounds that he is dumb as hell.”

As always, her laughter was beautiful.

I gave her a chance to say something, but the light changed first, and we were off again. I didn’t let it put me off my game too much. “Man, I am really glad it doesn’t work that way. All you’d need to do to be immune to criminal prosecution is vote republicrat.” I paused for a second. “Actually, that would be a genius way to push voter participation.”

Cassie’s laugh wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, this time. “So, how’d you even come across them? Or is that one of those sexy mysterious secrets you superheroes do?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m not a hundred percent, but I’m pretty sure.” I doubted Muwth would want it advertised that she now had a way to send messages into her own past. Her power to see future deaths wasn’t as clean as her ability to see Imbued deaths as they were happening, but it was accurate to within a minute or so, and in my case multiple accurate numbers in quick succession. We were trying to find a way to send the equivalent of a telagraph from the future. But that was Muwth’s problem to solve. She was the one with a half billion dollars a year to burn, she could pay the code expert.

I, on the other hand, was giving myself a headache just thinking about thinking about it.

“As long as it’s not another woman.” Cassie’s voice was back to her default, flirty, state.

“Well, statistically, women are more likely to get powers than men.” True, though less now than in the past. “Same with minorities, homosexuals, and the poor. Also, I’m pretty sure ugly people have better odds,” such as myself. “But no one has the balls to say that out loud. Superhero gatherings are pretty much closing hour at the gay singles bar next to a cosplay convention.”

Cassie laughed at that one. “That’s something you don’t see in the movies.”

“I’m sure there’s an indie film out there somewhere that couldn’t afford good looking actors.” Cassie didn’t have anything to add, so we rode in silence for a bit, before I gestured ahead. “See the apartments on the right, that’s where my dad lives. And thanks again for driving me.”

“Not a problem. Though usually guys wait a little bit for taking me to meet their parents.”

“Yeah, trust me, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have to. If I had my way, you’d never meet my dad.” Well, that sounds dickish. “And neither would I.” There, that’s better. Sorta.

“That bad, huh?” Cassie’s voice took a softer tone. “I lucked out, my parents are great. But a lot of my friends have horror stories.”

“No, I guess he’s not that bad. I mean, there’s a lot worse out there. My dad’s just, well… you’ll see.”

Cassie took us into one of the parking spots. “I could just leave right now if you want. It’s cool.”

I opened the door. “Yeah, I’d like that. But it’s not the smart thing. I’m going to need to use you as an excuse a lot. Retroactively having you to get me out of last weekend is just a bonus.”

“What were you planning to do about it, before I came along?”

It wasn’t supposed to matter. The sum total of my plans were ‘kill Flux’ and ‘hide my powers forever’. In that order. Being a hero was forced on me. “Change of plans.” I stepped out of the car, and Cassie wasn’t far behind.

“You’re cute when you do mysterious and brooding. But not that cute. Dish.”

“Getting my identity blown publicly kinda threw a monkey wrench into things. I was hoping to have more time to get established, first.” On the plus side, it did get me the hottest girl in school, but that was on the list of things I wasn’t going to say out loud.

I sighed, psyching myself up. She’d figure most of this out after meeting Dad, anyway, at least this way she’d be prepared. “To hear him tell it, he was the sports hero and ladies’ man in high school and college, right up to when he married Mom.” He didn’t stop after they got married, either. Explaining the divorce.

Cassie nodded. “Sounds a lot like my uncle.”

“So he was always on me to get into sports, which I was never any good at before and now can’t do at all. And to get a girlfriend, and the occasional implication that if I got a boyfriend he’d disown me.” Hopefully, if Dad thought I was riding Cassie’s ass literally, he’d stop riding mine so much figuratively. Things were going to get ugly enough after telling him about my powers.

“Oh, really?” Cassie’s hand rested on her hip. “So I’m your girlfriend, now?”

Oh, hey there conversation land-mine, fancy me standing on you for a while? “Uh, well, I thought, umm…” I trailed off, interrupted by her laughter.

I just watched as she laughed and my face got warmer. It felt like an eternity before she spoke. “God, you are so easy! Like blushing is one of your powers! It’s cool, but if we’re officially dating now, I demand shopping trips.”

Well, not as bad as it could have been. “I really can’t afford-”

“Not an excuse.” She scowled as she walked over to me. “You’re not supposed to actually buy anything. That defeats the whole purpose of shopping.”

That makes no sense at all. “What.”

She shook her head. “This is gonna take work.” After a moment she clapped her hands together. “Okay, let’s go say hello to your dad, and after I go home I’ll jot down all the rules of proper shopping date behavior. I expect mister I-don’t-sleep to have them memorized by the time next weekend rolls around.”

“Assuming you don’t run screaming after you meet my family.”

She wrapped an arm around mine. “Nope, too late, you’re stuck with me.”

As we went to the house, I couldn’t think of a reason to complain. Unlike my home, Dad’s place only needed a key to get in. I tapped on the door a couple times, just to be polite. I opened the door and peeked inside, noting Dad was in the living room, but he had turned to look as I opened the door. “You’re about a week late.”

“Yeah, I know.” I stepped in. “Brought the reason with me.”

Dad’s smiled widened. “I thought you were making that up! Give me a sec.” He gripped the handles of his chair and struggled to his feet, grunting in pain. He had a wheelchair somewhere around here, but I’d never seen him use it. He’d rather make due with crutches. I suspected it was so he could smack people with a metal stick. “Okay, boy, let’s see her!”

I glanced back at Cassie, and she made her entrance. Her clothes were much more conservative than usual, in that they didn’t show her belly button. Or her elbows, because I told her to wear a sweater. Luckily, the weather was perfect for it.

“Dad, this is Cassie. Cassie, my Dad.”

“Hello, Mister Parker. Your son’s told me so much about you.”

“All lies, I assure you.” He leaned over to me, stage whispering. “Can’t blame you for wanting to spend your weekend with her instead of your old man.” I could smell the alcohol on his breath. Unlike most drunks, my dad didn’t act drunk when drinking. He seemed perfectly normal. At least until he went more than a few hours without booze, that’s when he started acting drunk. I never could figure out how that made sense.

I shrugged. “Still feel bad about it.” Dad could draw his own conclusions, as long as it wasn’t about how my weekend was really spent. And I really did feel bad about ditching like that, even though the cause was a good one. The fact that I’d likely be doing it a lot in the future didn’t ease my conscience any.

He’d lost interest, turning back to Cassie. “So, how long have the two of you been dating?”

“Not very long. We have classes together and last week we did a group history project. One thing led to another.”

Dad smiled just a little too much. “I keep telling him he doesn’t need to be so shy around girls, about time he listened.”

“He’s never been shy around me.” I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that line.

I stumbled forward as Dad’s hand smacked my shoulder. “Glad to see he’s finally taking my advice. Want to stick around for dinner? I’ll fire up the grill.”

Cassie shook her head. “Sorry, I’ll have to take a rain check. I’m visiting my sister and just agreed to drop Zach off on my way.”

Dad nodded. “I know how that goes. Don’t be a stranger, you’re free to visit whenever you like.”

“Thank you, sir, I’ll be sure to try.”

“Umm, I’ll walk you to your car.” I followed Cassie out, waiting until the door clicked shut before speaking up again. “Sorry about that.”

“When you told me to dress conservatively, I thought it was because he was military.”

I shook my head. “Sorry about that. He’d never actually do anything.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve had boobs since I was eleven. I’ve learned to spot the difference between dangerous and just creepy. So, have fun breaking the whole powers news.”

I gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks. I’ll see you at school Monday.”

I turned and walked back to the door. Joy. I stepped inside, to see Dad had returned to his place in front of the television and the football (American, FYI) game that was going on.

“So, Dad, I have something important to tell you.”

He turned and glared at me, and I was metaphorically quaking in my boots. I wasn’t sure how my barely-able-to-walk father could intimidate me, considering the stuff I’d been through, but he did. “Please tell me you remembered to wear a condom.”

“What?! No! Wait! I mean we haven’t done anything like that!”

Dad sighed. “Thank god. I’ll let you have a few of mine, just in case. I am not ready to be a grandpa.”

Eww. Supersized, with a bonus helping of awkward discomfort. “The thing I need to tell you is, well, I have powers now. And I sorta accidentally used them in class so now everyone knows I have powers.”

That got his attention. He tried to stand again, but by this point I’d gotten to the couch and sat down. “This better not be some kind of bullshit stunt like that time your sister pretended she was a dyke for six months.”

“Nope, real deal. I’m a Tank eight, can’t be hurt by anything. I don’t need to eat or even breath. I can’t get sick, can’t be poisoned, and can’t get tired even if I want to. Not being able to sleep is boring as hell, by the way.”

“Was this before or after you hooked Cassie?”

Yup, afraid of that one. “Yeah, I know. She’s way out of my league and is totally only interested because I have powers. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun.”

“That’s m’boy!” He was far, far too happy with that. Made me feel more than a little cheap for saying it. “You’re gonna try out for the football team now, right?”

“Not happening.” I watched the look on my father’s face darken, but interrupted before he yelled at me. “There are laws against Imbued competing in sports. They don’t want the glowing noses making the games unfair for all the other reindeer.”

“That so?” Dad chewed that over for a moment. “Damn liberals always hung up on fairness. Life isn’t fair.”

And don’t I know it. “I’d be kinda pissed if I worked hard to be the best and someone comes along and wins just because he could cheat with powers. Besides, I’ve tested it out. Turns out I’m already faster than half the track team.”

Only in the mile or longer runs, but he didn’t need to know that. Now that I had a better handle on my powers, Alex couldn’t beat me at the mile anymore. I still needed a lot of work if I wanted to be a better sprinter.

Dad just shrugged it off. He’d be kind of a hypocrite otherwise, considering his opinions of cheating sports athletes. “Know who doesn’t give a fuck about playing fair?” Oh god, here it comes. “The army. As far as the brass is concerned, unfair is code for paying extra.”

And be a slave to assholes who outrank you and know it. No thanks. “I’m thinking about it. Gotta finish highschool first, they don’t let kids lie about their age to enlist anymore. And I may come across a better offer in the meantime.”

The military really was likely to be my final destination, anyway. I was going to kill Kitten, and that probably meant jail time, depending on the jury and judge. But courts didn’t exactly smile on supers who used their powers to kill, no matter how much the victim deserved it. Bargaining a few years in the army to dodge a prison cell wasn’t the worst idea in the world. “I’m kinda thinking of trying out the indie hero thing for a while.”

Dad just watched me for a minute. “Couldn’t hurt. If you can make a name for yourself, you might be able to skip the gruntwork and go straight to being an officer. They got all kinds of special deals for Imbued looking to enlist. I can talk to Gunny, he knows all the tricks, and how to get you the best offer possible.”

Thanks a lot, Dad. Way to support my life decisions as long as they involve hot girls and shooting people.

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13 thoughts on “Death of a Hero, Chapter 17

  1. It never occurred to me that the lack of patrolling Heroes might change how people reacted to one that actually did patrol. Also Zach’s family continues to be fucked up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah. Most indie heroes in this setting exist somewhere between real world bounty hunters, and a volunteer fire department. And of those, usually closer to the latter. Depends on how cocky the hero in question is.

      Some few are closer to the neighborhood watch, choosing a very small area and keeping it, and it alone, protected. And it works- most gangs would rather move than deal with the headache that is a vigilante fucking with their business on a daily basis.

      At least, in the developed Western World, with Modern Western Superhero culture. Japan’s is especially vibrant, with a huge celebrity culture revolving around powered individuals. There’s still some highly traditionalist holdouts that default to religious interpretations… but those are seen as archaic and irrelevant by most.

      Other places? Well, South America tends to ignore the “superhero” culture entirely, instead taking up a more religious angle of miracle workers, champions, and witchcraft.

      The Middle East falls into a similar camp, though there’s less “witchcraft” and more “Servants of False Gods”. Israel, as you might imagine, is even more violent in Price than in our world.

      India and China angle toward shamanistic interpretations of powers. Much to China’s eternal frustration

      Africa… is actually better off. Sure, you can’t throw a rock without bouncing it off a warlord, and everything south of Egypt looks like the era of Greek city-states. But populations tend to be ruled by bands of superhumans born of the oppressed populace… and they tend to only rule a handful of villages at the most… so on the average there’s pretty good odds the locals have reasonably kind god-kings and wise women to keep them well advised on the ways of leadership. Until they go too far, get murdered by the new upstarts, and the wise women have new rulers to advise.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is something to be said for the effectiveness of feudalism. It may not be as “advanced” and “civilized”, and I’d rather live in a republic with rule of law than in a feudal society, but it did work reasonably well for a really long time, so it makes sense that places that regressed to cape-led feudalism wouldn’t actually be too bad off.
        Zach’s interactions with Cassie really make it seem like their relationship isn’t that bad a deal. Sure, she wouldn’t be with him if he didn’t have powers, but it’s not like she hates being with him. They’re still doing all the standard couple-y things. It seems to me like she just used the criterion of “who’s the most socially-interesting person I could get with”, and used that to decide who to have a pretty normal relationship with.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well… strictly speaking, “regress” isn’t the right word. Much like in our own world, Much like our world, Africa’s never really made steps toward “modern society”. Not ones that had any staying power, at least.

    And thanks, I’m glad my portrayal of Cassie is realistic. I hate it when writers turn characters- whether the good guys or the bad guys- into caricatures. Everyone has depth, everyone has layers. I may not be able to show those layers for every character, but they all have them.

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  3. In “Hello, Mister Parker. My son’s told me so much about you.” , “My son” should probably be “Zach”.
    Also, “my bar-able-to-walk father” -> “my barely-able-to-walk father”

    I find it interesting comparing Zach’s interactions with his parents, and their response. The mom’s reaction that basically ‘nothing would have to change’, compared with the dad’s response about how this would be useful in (his own plans for) Zach’s future. For both of them, I found it surprising how quickly they accepted the fact that he has powers. It’s hard to tell how much of that is part of the parents’ own disconnection from him, or just a fact of life in the world itself.
    Also, I noticed that neither parent has seen him apply his power to himself (in fact, his did didn’t see any demonstration of the power). I’m curious how they might react once they see that “I can’t be hurt” actually means “I keep disintigrating into new copies of myself”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shoulda been “Your son”, but yeah, eff’d that up. Thanks for the catch.

      As far as the parents go… yeah, there’s some disconnect there. That and powered individuals are fairly well understood in a layman’s sense. The experts ain’t got a clue how powers really work, but the generals on what they do and how to handle people who have them is pretty stable.

      Plus, well, try to look at it from their perspectives. Zach didn’t exactly have much by way of life prospects. Okay but not good grades in a shit school, no motivation to do better, and they couldn’t exactly pay for him to go to college even if he wanted to…

      Powers at least means he’s guaranteed a decent paycheck somewhere.

      They’d never say it in exactly those words, but they were both thinking it. Well, his dad was more along the lines of ‘my son can have the military career I always dreamed of but never got!’, but the premise remains the same.

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  4. >laugher
    laughter

    >That got his attention. He tried to stand again, but by this point I’d gotten to the couch and sat down. “This better not be some kind of bullshit stunt like that time your sister pretended she was a dyke for six months.”
    Um, was she pretending, though? Or did she get tired of arguing about it after six months?

    >Thanks a lot, Dad. Way to support my life decisions as long as they involve hot girls and shooting people.
    Hooray for living vicariously through your children.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think some mention needs to be made of there being a law that says his mother must be informed but not his father. It is true that many laws are enforced in a sexiest pro – female fashion with regards to how parents are treated, but they are usually written in a less biased way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually written that the legal guardian/custodial parent (however lawyers decide to phrase these things) is who the school informs. As is pretty much every law to do with a school reporting information to the parents.

      But Zach is an unreliable narrator that does not know this bit of legalese. His mom’s the custodial parent, so everything goes to her.

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