Saturday, July 7, 2018

1 : Max-Out


Sunlight forced me awake as a gap in the blinds allowed a band of bright gold to crawl its way up to my face. I grunted and pushed myself up, feeling the loose weight of an arm slowly slide off me. I looked to either side to see a couple of dudes flanking me, passed out on a large, but dingy looking bed. I chuckled. I guess I was more than they bargained for.

We’d been up and at it quite late, but in my natural state, I didn’t need much sleep. I could subsist off a couple hours a night. On trained instinct, I shifted my energy to focus on durability the moment I awoke, and any lingering tiredness washed away. I could slip myself out of here and leave these yahoos to their beauty rest. I slid down the foot of the bed gingerly, and strode across the floor, fetching my clothes.

The place we’d ended up was a real trash heap. Peeling paint, water stains on the ceiling, furniture that looked like it had been around since the 20s. The 1920s. I took a glance into the bathroom. I supposed I should wash the smell of sex and booze off myself, but even with just the indirect light from the window, I could see the hard water stains in the tub from here. I’d just shower when I got home.

I fished my clothes off the floor, black jeans, black jacket, red shirt, blue panties and bra. I wasn’t what you’d call fashionable. I slid them on as quietly as possible. The floorboards, however, were just as old as the rest of the room and creaked as I walked around. One of the two guys grunted and jerked awake as I stepped on a particularly loud board. He blinked, bleary-eyed at me, confused for a moment. Then, as he sat up, he winced and put the heel of his hand against his head. “Ugh… Christ… hey, get up.” He swatted the guy on the other side of the bed. The guy had been half-hanging off it already, and as he started to come to, he slid of the side with a thump.

“Agh…AGH!” The man grunted first as he hit the floor, then again as the hangover kicked in. “Ah, fuck man… what the hell…?” He suddenly clutched his mouth and half-staggered, half-crawled towards the bathroom.

Fully dressed, I finished lacing my boots and smirked. “You boys are such liars. You told me you could hold your liquor.”

“What the fuck, man,” the first guy said. A strapping blond just an inch or two shorter than me, he wasn’t uncute, but probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for a companion. The second guy, after filling the toilet from the wrong end, and rinsing with a faucet that leaked from the knobs, leaned heavily on the bathroom doorframe.

“Ugh, god… how much did we drink?” he said, running his fingers through his scraggily hair. Ugh. Now he was a guy I would have definitely passed over if he didn’t have a wingman.

I laughed as I checked my face in the dusty mirror. “Between the two of you? One less than me.” I swept a hand through my short black hair, combing it into something halfway manageable with my fingers. I let the single lock of white in the front hang down in that stylish way I wouldn’t admit I thought looked cool. After my quick inspection, I was satisfied that there weren’t any embarrassing substances decorating my head. I hadn’t been entirely sure what might have ended up where last night, and certain substances tended to stand out rather starkly on my light brown skin.

“No fuckin’ way…” said the first man. He suddenly burped and clutched his stomach, then quickly shoved his way past the second man to add to the toilet. The second guy hadn’t even flushed, the slob. I don’t think either of them realized they were naked yet, either. Or maybe they were just comfortable with it. Clearly they’d done this before, but they were used to being the ones to skip out on girls who got plastered before they’d even got a full buzz.

I pat my stomach and laughed again. “Ultra tough body, ultra tough stomach.” I let out a burp. “Maybe next time you try to roll a girl, you check to see if she’s a Super first.”

The second guy paled, his eyes widening. “Oh shit!” he said, then winced as he felt another stab of hangover pain. “W-w-we d-don’t usually do this… sort of thing… I s-swear—”

I held up a hand. “Spare me. Girl lets herself get hammered with two sketchy looking dudes? I’m not saying she’s asking for it, but she ain’t exactly closing the door. She’s definitely regretting it the next morning, and I know chuckle fucks like you don’t give a shit about the aftermath.” The first guy, the blond, was watching me over his friend’s shoulder, partly because the friend was still in the doorway, and partly because I could tell he didn’t want to get close to me.

Nonetheless he spoke next. “Look, lady, we didn’t—” but I cut him off by putting up a hand again. Both of them shrank back, putting their arms up. They didn’t know what I could do. They didn’t know I didn’t have a blast power of some kind. I could practically see their hearts skip as they thought for a moment that they might die.

Well, if I wasn’t sure before, I was sure now. They had definitely done this before, and they knew exactly what they’d been doing. Unfortunately for them, they’d schmoozed and boozed a girl who could drink a whole six pack of kegs and not even feel tipsy. So when they tried to drink me under the table, they ended up being the ones so sauced, they thought having a threesome with the chick who would carry them over her shoulders like sacks of potatoes was a great idea.

Maybe this would teach them some compassion for the ditzes they usually dragged half-conscious to shitty hotel rooms. I doubted it, though. Whatever. At least I got some fun out of it.

“W-w-we won’t d-do it again, I p-promise!”

I reached into my pocket, and they flinched back again. Maybe they thought I had a gun. Instead, I pulled out my wallet and tossed a twenty on the ground at the second guy’s feet. “Here’s some cab fair, ya whores. Stay outta trouble. And by trouble, I mean loose women.”

I shifted my energy, dropping durability and partitioning some to speed. The second man had hesitated before stooping to pick up the money, but as I shifted, his actions slowed until it seemed like he was moving at barely a fifth of the speed. I didn’t wait to watch, instead gingerly opened the door and stepped outside. I looked around, seeing a dim hallway with a thin stained rug, and a few noticeable cracks on the wall. Down the hall, where the stairwell started, there was somebody passed out on the last couple of steps. On the other end, one of the windows was busted.

I blanched. Maybe I’d been affected by the alcohol a bit more than I let on. I don’t know why I’d picked a dive this bad, except maybe it just happened to be the closest place. I figured I’d let the two guys handle the check out. I double checked my pockets for a key, found one in my back pocket, and chucked it back in the room while the door was still slowly sliding closed. It was still floating through the air when I started running.

Super speed is always a bit of a bugbear to deal with. To the outside observer, you can cross a mile in two seconds. You practically seem to teleport. To you doing the running, though, you’re jogging through a world in slow motion. You could barely talk to a person, as their words slowed to a distorted bass and yours to a high-pitched whine. I could read a whole a comic book in the time it took them to finish reading the first word bubble. No one could keep up with you when they ran, which meant if you wanted them to keep up, you had to carry them, and you had to do it without killing them with whiplash and inertial forces. That was assuming you were strong enough to carry them a long distance in the first place. If you needed a task to be finished that you couldn’t do yourself, a few minutes could quite literally feel like hours to you while you waited.

It meant that even though, objectively, I crossed the two miles from the dingy ghetto hotel to the breakfast joint in under a minute, for me, it felt like a twenty-five minute walk. I could have just gone at normal speed, but it was easier to navigate the world when you could just walk down the road and step around cars before they even knew you were there. In fact, at this speed, the road was easier than weaving through the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.

I was lucky, though. Unlike the few speedsters I’d heard about who were stuck in high speed, my power let me shift my abilities around. I could wind down the speed and allocate it elsewhere, so I could re-synch with the rest of the world.

As I finally approached the door to the breakfast joint, I shifted. The world sped back up, and as I opened the door I saw a few dozen people at the tables, a couple at the counter, and the two morning waitresses moving at normal speed. I sat at the long counter and nodded to Jem at the grill.

“Hey, Max! Usual?” Jem was all bright-eyed smiles, like always.

“You got it,” I said, smiling back. Her bubbly attitude was infectious. It helped that the brunette cutie wore her red chef’s apron nice and tight, as usual. People sometimes think Jem’s place mainly gets its business from its adorable staff. It does, of course, but it’s the food that really brings them back, much better than the usual greasy spoon offerings. I was just early enough to avoid the place being too packed yet.

Jem set to work making my loaded omelet. I watched her work as she twiddled her fingers, and several utensils floated and spun in the air, moving as if on their own to flip eggs and squish down sausage patties. A mug popped out from under the counter, and the coffee pot poured itself. The mug floated over to my hand, and once I got a hold of it, I felt its weight settle into my grip. I sipped without waiting for it to cool down. Even at its baseline, my durability was enough to handle a simple scalding-hot beverage. Jem glanced over and I nodded in approval. I never asked what brand of bean they used, but they had a better brew here than most other places.

I turned my attention to the small television up on the screen. The news was on, but the sound was off, so those of us who cared had to make due with the delayed captions. I watched with half-hearted disinterest as the announcer nattered on about sports. Then the story switched over to more coverage of the event that had everyone on edge lately. A stylized logo with the letters SFF superimposed over a down-pointing triangle flashed onto the screen, then shrank down to the upper right corner to show the anchorman. I felt a slight pang of trying-not-to-be-hope well up in my chest and tamped it down as the stern looking man next to the logo mouthed his announcements. I didn’t even need to wait for the captions to catch up to know the news wasn’t good.

[We have breaking news on the fate of the Super Fem Force, whose last known battle ended with the detonation of a thermo-nuclear bomb. Previous attempts to investigate were hindered from the fallout, but with superhuman assistance, the blast zone has been finally cleared of the deadly radiation and toxic materials. Several bodies have been found and positively identified as members of the SFF. Several unknown persons have also been discovered, as have the bodies of at least two known villains the SFF was battling.]

“Goddamn,” said Jem as she slid me the omelet. She gave the screen a sad look. In fact, I could see her eyes moisten a bit. I held up my napkin for her. She took it without protest and dabbed her eyes.

“Yeah,” I said, tucking into my meal. “Bad way to go.”

“They’re announcing the names,” said Jem. “As if we didn’t know already.”

I glanced back up at the screen. I almost missed the names as they scrolled, and briefly switched my speed to its base level to catch it. [-Force members: Neon. Fire Fighter. Mother North. Blue Bardess. Tactech. Dragondancer. Mist Mage. Razorbeam. Echo. Chameleon. Emberlight. Andreas the Mighty. G—]

I caught up on the captions, so I switched my speed off again. Most of them I didn’t know. They’d changed rosters enough times that most of the names on the list hadn’t been on the team when I’d met them. But I did recognize Echo. I felt a pang in my chest as I read her name. But the next one hit me almost as hard.

The anchorman paused, swallowed, and said. [Glorifica. Jesus Christ, even Glorifica? I thought she—]

[coughing noise]

[Of… of course we, uh, don’t know all the details of this event, how exactly these tragedies came to pass. Some members of the SFF should have survived the explosion, but of course, there’s no telling what other superhuman abilities may have come into play. The two villains identified were Chain Master and Corpse Eater, but the other individuals found have not yet been identified. Whether these others were new players in the supervillain epidemic, or whether a known party was involved and managed to escape the destruction, we are still not sure. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.]

I turned away from the screen and popped another bit of omelet in my mouth. Jem went back to the grill, dabbing her eyes once more before concentrating back on her work. Some people in the diner kept watching the show, but most went somberly back to their meals or drinks. One old man in the corner pulled out a flask, raised it in a toast towards the television, and took a long swig.

The rich, but clean flavor of my food didn’t do much to pick up my mood. Echo. Glorifica. Two of the earliest superhumans. I’d known Echo personally, worked under her briefly. And Glorifica, everyone knew her. Long-standing leader of the Super Fem Force. A cheesey-looking team with an even cheesier name, but when she showed up to a scene, you didn’t doubt them for a second. You knew everything was going to be okay.

That ended two weeks ago, when a laboratory in North Dakota went up in a mushroom cloud. When not even Glorifica crawled out of that mess, we all knew the worst had happened. But to see it finally confirmed...

I finished off my omelet faster than I intended and slugged back the rest of my coffee, wishing I too had thought to carry around a flask of drink. I let myself feel the heat. God, what a shitty way to start the morning.

I felt a clap on my shoulder and heard someone slide into the seat next to me. A familiar scent of smoke and trashy perfume assailed my nose. “Tough break for them, huh?” said a rough voice. “Great break for us, though.” Before I even turned around, I knew my morning was about to get shittier.



  1. Well, I have to say, this is a nice change of pace.

    A snarky, tired protagonist who seems far too weary for the world despite their super powers. I'm so used to alutrustic do-gooders and rogues that this pretty much turned it all on its head.

    But I won't judge just yet how it will all work out.