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I still remember the sound of the rushing water and the heavy groaning creak of the timbers as the boat made its way onward towards freedom. Here we were six families cold and afraid as we cowered in the darkness amongst crates filled with god knows what. I can still hear the whimpering of women and children all around me who wanted to weep but knew that any noise might alert someone to our presence, so we remained quiet in the darkness, praying for the moment when we’d arrive in the land of opportunity.
Almost twenty years later and I remember every detail clearly, peeking out from behind my mother’s fingers. The first sign that something was wrong were the boots, heavy boots clambering on the deck above, then the shouting, rapid fire Vietnamese followed by cries, and then gunfire. We all grouped together keeping deadly quiet as the gunfire increased. I heard my mother whispering in my ears, I didn’t understand back then exactly what was going on but I still remember my heart beating so loud and so fast that it seemed incredible that they didn’t hear it and find us.
When the gunfire was silenced we collectively held our breath waiting, hoping that they wouldn’t find us. With a squeak of rusty hinges the door to our hideaway squealed like fingernails on a dusty chalkboard and a stream of light filled the space, after almost two days without proper light it was nearly blinding, and then climbing down a silhouette against the light streaming in were a pair of the same big heavy boots that had lumbered about above us and they were attached to a thin, pale soldier with a deep scowl and a poor attempt at a moustache, followed very closely by other soldiers who filled up the available space with their physical presence as much as their malice. Their leader held a machine gun, close to his chest and observed the collective human cargo as if sizing them up, I remember my mother clutching on to me so tight, as if all the troubles of the world could be solved by shielding me from it. The soldier yelled in his thick accent, and pointed his gun at my father. What I remember of him he was a strong man but weeks of starving himself to afford passage on this boat and the journey itself had robbed him of much of his vitality. Nonetheless I remember him standing, unsteady after remaining seated for so long, he stared straight into the eyes of the shoulder and cursed him.
For the rest of my days, long after every other memory has faded I’ll remember what happened next. With my eyes tight shut I never saw what happened, but I remember hearing shots, precisely three. My father dropped first, with an almost inaudible note of surprise. I kept my eyes shut,
“if I didn’t see it then it wasn’t happening”
that’s what I thought as I felt my mother’s arms slip from around me as her body joined my father on the floor. I heard a strange grunt and in a moment of weakness opened my eyes and watched in confusion as the soldier who had gunned down my parents fell to his knees, clutching at a quickly expanding dot of red on his chest. He tried to gasp orders, but he collapsed before he could utter them and coughed a few times before becoming very still.
Everyone had frozen, even the soldiers who were far more familiar with death than a few farming families from the outer provinces. Somehow I knew that I’d caused his death, the bullet that was meant for me had somehow rebounded and found its way into his chest.
I’d been spared death but for what cause. Only a child I didn’t understand why these men wanted us dead, to be honest I didn’t even understand death, how someone could just be gone when they’d been there and talking moments before. But the knowledge that my parents would never again hold me and guide me through this dark world filled me with such an intense anger, so overwhelming that it was like fire, burning through my veins.
Everything went dark, and the next thing I recalled with any clarity was standing in the centre of the dark cabin, covered in blood. My hands shaking and my breath coming in sharp hard bursts, I looked up at the frightened faces of the families I’d travelled with and realized it was me that frightened them. The bodies of the soldiers littered the floor, a mess of blood and torn flesh. My heart sped up as I saw the destruction that surely only I could have wrought and the world spun at my feet. I keeled over and vomited until my stomach was empty, and I was left shuddering and terrified wishing that my mother would suddenly wrap her hands around me and tell me that everything is okay, but of course it wasn’t and curled up there in the cramped gloom with the bodies and the blood it felt like nothing ever would be again. I drifted into unconsciousness, waking hours later when the light no longer filtered through the open cabin doors. They had been left open and I was left alone. The dead bodies had been removed, and his fellow travellers were gone. I rubbed his eyes and eased himself from the floor, I felt empty and cold and alone. I climbed up a few steps and took a hesitant breath, letting the fresh sea air fill my lungs. I found myself gazing up at the night sky which was a deep indigo, the stars partially illuminating the world around me, the ship moving onwards towards safe harbour.
I made my way to the helm of the ship, slowly and carefully, not out of fear of falling but because my entire body felt drained. Sailing the ship through the night was one of the older men who’d been travelling with us, he kept his eyes firmly on some point in the horizon, and ignored me. Something told me that it had nothing to do with the job requiring his absolute concentration and rather he was treated me like someone who was cursed, unnoticed and unloved. I did not press my company upon him and returned to the lower deck, to watch as we drew closer, our small boat fleeing Vietnam for the safety and freedom of America. We were close, I could see the outline of buildings in the distance and knew that my new life would soon begin. The land of opportunity Indeed.
Something about me always seemed to attract a fight, maybe the street punk had seen one too many Bruce Lee movies and assumed that anyone who looked vaguely Asian must be a kung fu master. Somewhere along the way I learned to fight or at least I picked up enough to survive and that’s more than most can say. We arrived in New York under cover of darkness and although the real captain of the ship might have been dead the dock workers had already been paid to ignore us. So we entered the country more or less unscathed and in the past twenty years I’ve grown into a man, and more or less grown out of being Vietnamese, I no longer spoke the language, had any contact with my people and my family were dead. I was American through and through.
The years passed swiftly and the little boy Tran Phan Woo was gone, and in his place was the man Trey Phan. I’d changed my name as soon as I was old enough to realise that people were uncomfortable with the sheer ethnicity of it and because it was a constant reminder of my heritage and where I’d come from, or more accurately everything I’d lost on the Journey to freedom. My family were proud and very traditional and would have been ashamed but it was better to keep them in my heart rather than carry the name with me and have it be a bull’s-eye pointing out just how different I was. Especially when I already couldn’t be more different.
As it turns out that night on the boat something had snapped within me, too late to save my parents and that would always haunt me but I felt the power that had lain dormant within me explode, and I knew then that I was different. There was a power inside of me that could be used to do incredible things if only I could learn to control it. As a boy I often felt the power inside me, wriggling about, almost tangible. Begging to be set free but forever held in check by my fears that I might take the lives of those around me.
As I grew up and grew stronger my powers developed and became more defined. As a child still indoctrinated by the superstitions of the old country, I believed them to be a gift from the gods, or perhaps a curse. Eventually I came to understand them to be quite different, I was more superman than supernatural. I was stronger and faster than any other boy and that only grew as I became a teenager and then a man. I also found that through concentrating my thoughts I could move an object with my mind. I never considered how these powers might affect me, I only knew that they must be kept secret, although I was sure there were others out there like me who could do similar things, perhaps others who might make my gifts seem pale in comparison, I might be to them as I am to an average human.
I was no longer just human and despite trying to keep my burgeoning abilities a secret, somehow someone discovered them, and it was then that I was introduced to The men in suits, they belonged to some organisation that watched people like me, other abnormals and contained any that they considered to be a threat.
As it happens they’d been observing me for some time and they might have continued to do so indefinitely had they not needed someone with my skills. Until that point I’d been living on the streets, cold and alone, working for every meal and just trying to survive. I’d been careful never to use my powers openly, but it still didn’t escape anyone’s attention that when I could find work, I managed to do several times the amount in half the time it took any other worker.
The men in suits came, and at first I was afraid and confused little did I know that one day I’d be one of them, or at least we’d both be working towards a common goal. I remember waking up cold, back in those days I was always cold. I’d scraped together enough money for a hot meal and I was going to enjoy it.
I lived infrequently in alleyways all around the city, so I knew the streets well and when I crawled out from the gutter that had housed me that night something stood out, it wasn’t immediately apparent, but I remember looking around at the street from end to end and something not fitting in. After a few years I’d become a master at fitting in and that’s exactly what I did. Putting up my hood I merged with the crowd and made my way to somewhere nice, somewhere with food and waiters that would bring me it rather than me having to scrounge or beg. I suddenly realised what was wrong. The car. It wasn’t unusual for cars to park nearby, but only if they didn’t mind having it broken into, which meant they were always old clunkers that rusted and spewed their filth into the air. This car was sleek and black and the windows were tinted so that people could look out but people couldn’t look in. Now I had no idea if it was there for me, but you don’t survive on the streets without having a sense for danger and this car set off alarm bells, so I did the only thing I could I ran. As I mentioned I was considerably faster than any normal person could ever hope to be and I put that to good use, I kept to a normal speed until I turned to corner then I let loose, to hell with the consequences people might see but they wouldn’t for very long and the rational part of them would ignore it and make excuses for what they saw, and like a thin blur I hurtled down streets, outstripping cars and picking up speed. At fourteen years of age I was nowhere near my limit, and could reach about forty miles per hour, when pushed it could go up to fifty and I was certainly being pushed right now. So there I was like a bullet cutting through the mid-morning traffic. Bored people in shiny cars yawning and going about their lives and following behind me was the black car. No doubt about it, certainly after me but I had the advantage, I could go between the cars, cut corners and do things that no car could and that might just be enough to keep me out of their reach. I could hear them squeaking and turning, cutting across pavements, always staying just close enough to keep me in a state of panic.
Suddenly I felt the immense drain upon my body, not just because my powers were still developing and so therefore were prone to fluctuate but mainly because I hadn’t eaten anything more than a few mouthfuls in the past three days and my body was just screaming out for food. I needed that energy to keep going, I was running on fumes right now and my tank was just about empty. I could feel the strain as my entire body burned, imagine the most exhausted you have ever felt, and increase in exponentially and you’ll come close to how my body felt. With every passing second I was slowing, the world slowing down around me, and my heart jack hammering inside my chest until it ached. I felt myself decelerate to a near stop, coughing and gasping for breath, I collapsed onto my knees, hitting the ground hard. I choked hard on bile, forcing every breath into my tired body. The car pulled up slowly, almost hesitantly after the chase it had given me.
It parked and two men exited. Both were dressed in fine but discreet looking suits, one young and the other old. The older of the two approached while the younger remained with the car. The old man striding confidently towards me with his thinning blond hair that was going slightly grey, and his thick glasses seemed to reflect that world he observed around him. When he was close enough he extended a hand and said the six words that changed my entire life.
“How would you like a job”
The men in suits were just the type of covert, no sanctions no limits organisation that left me some nights wondering if I was part of the problem but it was hard to care too much when they’d saved me from the streets. I’d always thought of anyone official, anyone who seemed like the government to be the bad guy after all my earliest experiences with authority were the government back home, left in turmoil after the war and had started treating its citizens like criminals. But while the men in suits and whatever organisation they belonged to where necessarily good, they weren’t bad either.
It was their job to maintain the status quo, to keep the normal people unaware that there were people like me out there and to ensure that anyone who was like me was kept in check. That’s why the needed me, obviously they had the resources but what they lacked were operatives who could directly challenge people like me. They needed people with powers like mines, so that when a rogue element popped up they could be handled.
And so it came to be that I was one of those men in suits, although obviously I refused to wear the suits, they were uncomfortable and serious and after all I was more of a freelancer, they contacted me whenever there was a problem they needed handling and when it was completed a considerable sum of money would be transferred into my bank account, more than enough to live comfortably.
Going from living on the streets to a deluxe apartment in the sky, it was quite a radical change, although a very welcome one. I wanted somewhere big, somewhere that towered over the city, I’d spent so long being looked down on that when given the chance I went all the way up, penthouse, luxury at its finest filled with all the types of things that a young man could want, gaming consoles and gadgets for everything, but I spent very little time there, even after years of bad luck and poverty I still couldn’t quite accept everything I had. It was a fine place to rest my head but that’s all it was. The view was beautiful though. Every single night, or at least the nights where I actually made it home, I’d go out onto the balcony and watch the city below, the city that never sleeps living up to its reputation.
I had no idea how much I’d come to dread those same sights and sounds after just one long week.
I watched the twinkling streetlights and inhaled exhaust fumes and the curious lingering odour of onions, no doubt from some crappy vendor selling hotdogs and burgers that were an insult to anything with a stomach. I felt the rumblings of hunger in spite of myself but I put any thoughts of comfort out of my mind, after all this wasn’t a new feeling, I’d spent the past six days in the freezing cold waiting for my moment.
I closed my eyes and listened to the noises of the city, waiting for the signal that would allow me to finish this godforsaken mission then ease my aches and pains with a considerable amount of alcohol or at least some sleep. While not at the same superhuman level as my other capabilities I had highly acute senses and I was focusing them intently upon the streets below. High up above the noise and the commotion, the perfect vantage point to observe everything and when the target was revealed I’d make swift work of him.
Now twenty seven my abilities had grown considerably, particularly my strength, it was remarkable how much raw power could be contained within my thin, nimble form. But right now strength wasn’t important, I just needed to watch and listen and when the time comes respond, it would be then that the strength would come into play, but right now I needed to focus.
I could hear cars passing below, beeping horns and people talking. I kept my eyes tightly shut to focus more clearly, the thudding sound of hundreds of footsteps and so many voices, all melding into each other. I continued to ignore the complaints of my body, because this was necessary and because I’d been through worse, but despite that I had to admit that after nearly an entire week of stationing myself on this rooftop, perched to observe everything below, unmoving and unflinchingly focused that my body was screaming out for action or at the very least relief. Each night when it became apparent that the target would not be coming I slinked of into the night, or often early morning to steal a few hours of sleep, before attending to the duties of the day, then making my way back to the roof to keep watch.
Completely still and unmoving, I’d felt too much like a poor parody of a stone gargoyle, my body felt tight and uncomfortably solid, almost like I’d actually started the transformation to stone. Superhuman or not I was still human and although I could take a considerable amount more before my body succumbed, I still suffered from the same aches and pains as every other person.
It was a welcome reprieve when the signal finally cleared. I’d been waiting for the alarm, the piercing bell that warned that someone was up to no good. It was now my job to intervene, and to do so before the police arrived and become casualties. My eyes snapped open, the world unusually bright after having my eyes closed for so long. I dragged my fingers through my short black hair, and standing slowly easing the tension in my muscles, after remain still for so long my entire body seemed unwilling to respond correctly.
So focused on the alarm, it sounded like It was all around me, I felt adrenaline flood my body, washing away the multitude of dull aches that were spread across my body. I turned and followed the sound with my eyes, just beyond my line of vision was my target. I hesitated for just a moment, allowing the adrenaline to fill me up, it felt now like my body was vibrating, I could feel the power fill me up, and taking a quick breath to steady me, walked off the ledge and felt the ground rush up to meet me. I felt my legs take the strain of the impact, it still ached but I was built of stronger stuff than most. I’d landed in an alleyway just beneath the building I’d been standing on, taking a moment to prepare myself I walked out into the crowds of people passing in the connecting street. Slipping on a pair of fingerless gloves and pulling up the hood of the jacket, obscuring my features I approached the target.
I approached the alarm, blaring and screeching into the night, I was feeling the familiar mix of dread and excitement that came with an impending combat scenario. When I was closing in on the source of the commotion the alarm was suddenly cut short, but I knew where I was going, I’d been expecting this for the past week, and he was late. Not that I could expect punctuality from someone who was willing to steal millions of dollars from a bank. I’d decided to stake out this particular bank because rationally it made the most sense, it was the fifth largest grossing bank in New York City with $256,638,7000 in assets currently which made it both big enough to be worth the risk, and small enough that the money could still be laundered.
The target had been involved in a series of small scale bank jobs all across the country, so he knew the best places to hit and what he could handle, and obvious he’d come to the same conclusions as me and targeted this bank. I might have been wrong of course, who says he was rational enough to make the right choice, I just made a choice based on the understanding that he hadn’t been caught yet and was tired of small scale but wasn’t brave enough yet to go for something like the federal reserve. So for the past week I waited, and waited and finally I was proven correct. His previous jobs had all been pretty tame, he wasn’t the man in charge, and no one ever got hurt, at least until eight months ago, when he and his friends had held up a small town bank in Kentucky, some local cops had open fired, he’d been shot through the shoulder and one of his friends had been killed. It was in that moment that his powers had activated, one moment he was just a normal guy, a criminal but otherwise an average Joe and the next he’d changed. He’d become a hulking mass of muscles, and rage and destruction. He’d practically levelled the bank, he’d killed the cops and his remaining cohort before disappearing. The police treated it as a random terrorist incident chalking up the damage to some sort of concussive explosion because of the incredible damage, but the men in suits knew different and started tracking him, it was a couple of weeks ago when his pattern of bank targets had become active again right here in New York that I was put on his tail.
I was told to apprehend him with maximum prejudice and I fully intended to make sure that he never had another pay day again.
I could see the building now, the door was locked and secured, fortunately he’d found another way inside. A massive chunk had been torn from the outer wall of the building, like something had bulldozed it out of existence. I approached the opening slowly, my entire body as the rush of power and panic filled me up. I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that I needed to contain this threat before he could cause anymore damage. It was late at night so the bank was technically closed, but there would be security guards, and the first priority was to ensure their safety.
I slipped through the gaping hole in the wall, keeping a careful look out for the target, from the noises just out of sight, he was in the vault. I couldn’t see him which meant he couldn’t see me either. I wanted to move quickly but I held back because rushing headfirst into things could get you killed. He appeared to have battered right through the wall like it was nothing, with just his fists and his thick skull. The door to the vault, which appeared massive and imposing had been torn from its holding and discarded on the floor like it was nothing more than crumpled up paper masquerading as steel.
Two guards were crumpled on the floor, they were unconscious but otherwise they appeared unharmed. Keeping my sights on the vault as I approached the limp forms, checking for pulses, first one and then the other. As I was about to check the second guard, he attacked. I felt a pair of powerful shoulders collide with me and my unprotected back, I hit the wall hard and imagined this is what being struck by a freight train might be like. It was fortunate that I could take a lot more punishment that a normal person, and that he hadn’t been able to build up enough speed and momentum to cause maximum damage. I ended up upside down, a tangle of limbs, with a potential concussion on the horizon but I could still stand and that was more than the guards had managed and I probably had much less of a warning.
He looked at me, eyes filled with savage brutality and he threw one giant arm at the wall, his fist sinking deep into the concrete. If I’d been slower he might have been able to get me and his fist would have ploughed through me instead of the wall. Fortunately he was just pure animalistic strength, like a bear or an elephant whereas not only did I have enough strength to at least even the odds I was also much faster and that might just give me the edge, if I could just get the potential causalities out of the area first. In the moment he’d blinked, confused that he’d missed, I’d managed to get behind him, and wrapped my considerably thinner arms tightly around his beefy neck and applied as much pressure as I could without killing him. He was caught off guard confused as to why I wasn’t a mangled mess on the floor right now, but he didn’t remain so for long. He roared loudly, words seemed to be at a loss, he was just anger, like hulk without the primary colours. He tried to shake me loose, but I planted both my legs on the small of his back and held on tight, this had the advantage of limiting his movements, he writhed trying to get me off but he couldn’t quite reach and I was strong enough that it’d take considerably more to break my hold. That’s when he charged backwards, a few great big lumbering steps, and smashed me right against a wall. I ruptured, and I was covered in dust and debris, he pulled forward and repeated the motion, less intense because he didn’t have a run up this time, but it was enough, my body felt winded, my ribs ached and my back was killing me. Not exactly the superhero I wished I was, but I still managed to hold on, and it appeared my choke hold was beginning to have an effect, the permanent red hue of his skin was slowly changing to a deep purple and his movements were becoming more jerked and out of control. He might be durable but he could still be brought to his knees.
He kept smashing our bodies against the wall, desperate to catch his breath, and I could feel myself weakening under his fevered onslaught, the wall itself was also threatening to buckle, so I let go. And as quick as possible slipped both my hands from around his neck and slammed both fists into his skull. He stumbled forward, gasping desperately for breath and disoriented and weakened from my attack. My body ached but between the two of us, I still held the upper hand and unlike him, I wasn’t mindless, I could outthink him. I wasted no more time and decided to use his own move against him, I charged throwing as much speed and power into it as was safe, the resulting impact lifted him from his feet and sent him spiralling through the air, landing on the ground hard. He roared, clearly in pain but not out for the count, not yet anyway. He was tangled in his ungraceful, heavy frame however and I decided to use this to my advantage. He looked at me twisting his body, trying to get up, I grabbed a heavy piece of rubble and fired it at his face, it slammed into it hard, and shattered creating a cloud of white dust. In the confusion I grabbed the unconscious security guards, one under each and at near my top speed I fled through the hole in the wall, ensuring their safety.
I put them a safe way away before returning to the bank, in the distance I could hear police sirens, and they were getting closer, I had to wrap this up soon before I needed to explain this to some cops who were way out of their depth.
I approached the makeshift entry to the bank, when from behind me I heard the hollering growl and turned to see the raging brick wall of juggernaut proportions hammering down on me. Barely any breathing space, he filled up the alleyway, grunting and roaring as he charged, I steadied myself allowing a calm to exert itself and clenching my fist tightly, channelling all of my energy and anger into this one strike which felled the charging brute with an uppercut square on his chin.
He was all muscles and destruction but my power happened to be greater, which was lucky because I had no idea of the outcome when I threw that punch and if this hadn’t happened my night might have taken a different turn. He lay groaning on the floor, he tried to get up but a shock-wave of power had travelled down his entire body, it had rendered his limbs about as useful as jelly. He’d be able to get up soon though, as soon as he’d recovered and he’d be pissed. I extracted a gun from the inside of my jacket pocket and fired, a tiny little dart struck his neck and within a few moments he passed into dreamland, by courtesy of bull tranquillisers and a customised 9 mm.
The cops would be here incredibly soon, their sirens were blaring all too loudly, drawn by the alarms and the wreckage but by the time they arrived I’d be gone. I looked at the brute, whose body seemed to be going through some sort of change, he seemed to be shrinking, his broad muscles were dissolving into nothing, he was becoming a much smaller man, and with each passing second he looked less like some hulking man-beast and more like a normal guy, he looked almost frail, the transformation no doubt took a lot out of you and he looked like he’d spent a lot longer than he should have as a great big rage monster. He looked almost content, unconscious, drugged and bruised. Raising my hood, and mourning over the tattered remains of my jacket broke into a run, nothing but a blur passing the police cars that were just pulling up. They’d find the target of course, but the knock out dart also suppressed superhuman abilities for up to 72 hours and within that time the men in suits will have managed to remove him from the system and lock him up where he could do no more harm.
After subduing the target, I crawled home, not literally of course, but my entire body was wracked with twinges, and there were cuts and bruises in all sorts of places and as soon as I was out of the immediate vicinity of the bank, I cut the breaks and just walked at a normal speed, I felt like crap but I’d made a difference, helped to save lives and that was enough, plus a considerable cash payment also made the pain more bearable.
When I finally made it back home, I found myself taking a long hot shower, and letting it cascade down my body, the intense heat of the water burnt but I needed to wash away the blood and the grime and dust. I stood under the water for what felt like hours, until I felt clean, and my skin felt tender and red. I dressed in something casual and eased into the recliner chair that faced out onto the balcony and just stared into space, slowly feeling my eyes become heavy, the soft leather of the chair cushioned my body and I fell into a deep unbroken sleep.
When I awoke I felt groggy and disorientated, someone was standing over me and I internally chastised myself for losing the instincts that I’d picked up on the streets, even asleep you had to be aware of any potential threats. At some point I’d gone soft, but that wasn’t important right now. The man standing over me was older now, older than when I’d first met him, still with thinning hair and big glasses, he looked impassive but he only ever appeared when something had gone wrong.
“We sent you to do a job”
“And that’s exactly what I did”
“The target is no longer in police custody”
“He was arrested but there was no evidence that actually connected him to the crime, and he looked like just another victim. The security guards might have been able to ID him but he doesn’t look like the kind of man who could tear apart a steel door like it was chicken in a dog’s teeth,”
“Well that’s not my fault, even if he didn’t look like he did this, he is a wanted criminal for a string of other bank jobs, they should have at least held him for that”
“Indeed but he has the advantage of people thinking he’s dead, there being no reason for the police to think he’s a notorious bank robber and most importantly because he was severely beaten they didn’t even question him, they just asked him questions and then let the hospital take it for their”
“Do you want me to bring him in then? or is this just me having my wrist slapped for someone else’s mistake”
“We aren’t entirely sure when, but given that he was released two days ago it could have happened at any time between then and now…
“Two days? that means….
“Yes you’ve been asleep for the better part of 48 hours, in fact I wasn’t sure if you were going to wake up at all, you didn’t when I broke the door in”
“You broke my door?”
He glanced round and sure enough his door was in splinters and hanging of the frame. He sighed and turned back to the nameless older man who had been my handler since I first hooked up with the Men in Suits.
“Yes, but as I was going to say, we had a team following him, but he’s been pursued for most of his life, and we aren’t infallible he managed to elude the team, but that was only temporary we caught up with him eventually it just so happens that he was dead. As for how, it’s safe to say that it was one of your kind, but that’s all I’m going to say, you’ll see the rest, we’re going to the crime scene.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you downstairs, I need to get ready”
He nodded and walked through the wreckage of the door, and down the hallway. I eased myself slowly and walked to the bathroom. I found myself staring at the mirror, at my reflection. My eyes looked tired, not like I’d slept for two days straight and more like I hadn’t been to sleep for even longer. I dragged my palms down my face, trying to freshen up but I felt absolutely wrecked. My injuries had already begun to heal, a benefit of my superhuman nature but not enough to ease the pain considerably. I went to my bedroom, which was clean and ordered and unslept in and grabbed some clothes, we were off to a crime scene, so my usual clothes weren’t up to scratch, I grabbed a shirt, blazer and a pair of black skinny jeans and dressed quickly. He was waiting and he didn’t seem like the man who was known for his patience.
He was dead, no longer any need to think of his as the target, in fact it’d probably be disrespectful, he was Ken Scott a notorious bank robber whose power had corrupted him. I think it ends up doing it to us all. I felt tired, suddenly just so tired, not just physically but emotionally, the whole system was broken, why did we exist, why were we given these powers. And if we were given them to do good then why was it so easy to do bad. I found my reflection and stared at it, the eyes were dark and heavy and I felt the weight of everything, and even with my strength the burden didn’t get any lighter.
The men in suits were never known for being discreet and when I finally left there was a black SUV waiting, I climbed into the back seat, and we were driven to the crime scene, it seems he’d reached the limit for conversation, at least for the moment so we travelled in silence, allowing me to truly reflect on the minor panic attack I was currently happening. I’d dealt with death before, I’d even taken lives but something about this felt different, except for the killer I was the last person of consequence to see him alive, and it might even have been my fault, he might have been able to fight of his attacker had be not been dealing with the aftermath of his encounter with me. Guilt prickled at me like a thousand thorns. We cut through the traffic easily, and I tried to maintain a veneer of calm, at least until this was over and I could just sleep.
How unconsciousness would help I don’t know, all these thoughts came from my subconscious dreaming would only provide them with more space to fuck with my head. I ignored the thoughts, the doubts and focused instead on the searing pain in my chest, and the bile that seemed to be rising in my throat. While I was getting dressed I’d noticed a long thin scar right across my chest, the weird thing was that I don’t recall it being among the injuries I’d had when I’d come home after…after my mission.
I felt sick to my stomach and I couldn’t place why, I’d never felt this beaten up after a fight and I’d definitely been in tougher situations. Perhaps it was just stress, maybe I’d peaked at twenty seven, I was no longer as young as I was, and maybe my body just wasn’t reliable as it used to be. On the other hand, I feel stronger than I ever have, and they say that you’re in your physical prime in your late twenties and thirties. All these thoughts swirled round my head, and it was a relief when the car stopped and I could get out into the fresh air.
I stepped out of the car, trying to maintain control, even though my body felt like I was recovering from the worst binge imaginable. The relief was short lived because I remembered why we were here. I walked slowly, trying to look official even though I was sure I was perspiring like I was in the midst of some gritty drug detox, and it certainly seemed like I was detoxing from something, I felt dizzy, like the world was doing laps around me, jeering and laughing and…..No stop. I needed to focus. Then I saw it, behind tape marked police secure area, was a mess of blood and bones and flesh, I felt the mad desire to laugh. Like this was all some joke and cameras would be pointed at me and presenters would be asking how it feels to be punked. But that wasn’t my life and this wasn’t a joke. I closed my eyes and took in a few sharp breaths, and saw in my mind’s eye the target, Ken Scott he looked beaten up, I felt my fist strike him hard and he hit a trash bin, and collapsed coughing up blood, my eyes snapped open and I tried not to show any outward signs of distress. I’d seen me hitting him, but it wasn’t a flashback of our fight in the bank, he was normal, and he was injured, I saw me hitting him after he’d disappeared.
Ignore it. Ignore it. It couldn’t have been me, I was asleep and besides I don’t remember it, that wasn’t a memory that was some grim little day dream, because I’m feeling guilty that I might have contributed to his death, that’s all I didn’t kill him. I looked at my hands, more specifically my knuckles, they were bruised but that could have easily happened during our first fight. I mean our only fight. I looked again and blood, so much blood all over them. I closed my eyes and told myself it wasn’t real, maybe I had the flu, I’d never had the flu before, super immune system and all that, who knows how it’d affect someone like me. I do feel like shit, and the only time I could probably get it is when I’m weakened. Like after a big fight. Yeah that all made sense. I just needed a few moments, so swallowing and feeling my throat tighten painfully. I decided to ask the most obvious question I could think of, anything to make me seem calm, and on the ball. And not like I’m about to snap. Taking one last glance at my hands, no blood. But they were shaking. And I said
“So, what do we think killed him, you said it must have been one of my lot but how can you tell I mean did they leave a calling card?….evidence?”
I let my question tail of hoping that he’d take the initiative and give me as much information as possible without me seeming too curious.
“Well we know what killed him, extreme physical stress, and we know it was someone like you, another abnormal because he was torn apart by someone’s bare hands, they practically shredded him”
I gulped, feeling a strange itching behind my eyes, like something was begging to get out. I ignored it and just focused on seeing straight and talking clearly.
“So extreme physical strength, lots of…”
I hesitated before saying the next word, I found it unpleasant and offensive but it did define what we were accurately even if it wasn’t politically correct.
“….abnormals have enhanced strength to some degree. Remember that kid in Toronto that could lift trucks over his head, he called himself Hercules. Ended up trying to rip a bridge apart because he wanted to stop people from leaving him. Died in the end. Poor kid.”
I felt that I’d rambled and I looked nervous, I could feel sweat dripping from my brow and I wanted to retch. I was staying back, because I was scared what would happen if I say the body. And as if he could sense my thoughts, and sometimes I genuinely thought he could, he said
“Well I think you should have a closer look, you might be able to see something out team’s didn’t and besides you’ll be assisting in the capture of the rogue abnormal element”
I nodded, not trusting words. I lifted the tape over my head trying not to look at the body. What’s left of the body until it was absolutely needed. I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I allowed my eyes to drop to the mess of blood on the floor, this had once been a person. As soon as I looked at the body the disorientation and feverishness disappeared, or at least became less pronounced. Perhaps the shock of seeing a dead body, a real dead body for the first time in twenty years was enough to for the moment overcome whatever was wrong with me. I turned to my handler, he seemed to be observing me intently, although he always seemed to be observing everything with the same intensity, so perhaps I was just being paranoid.
“There was one thing that our team found to be particularly unusual. The heart. Whoever killed him, took the heart”
Something was wrong, he never volunteered information, so why would he do so know, it just wasn’t in his nature, you didn’t get anywhere in a secret organisation by sharing information freely. I ignored it and continued to examine the remains, and came to the same conclusion, this could only have been done by someone like me…..someone like me but it wasn’t me I just went for a really long nap.
“That is unusual. Anything else missing?”
“Nope just the heart, didn’t you deal with a case involving someone stealing hearts a few years ago, some sicko thought he could take the powers of his victims if he consumed the heart”
I recalled the case, but didn’t answer, he knew I did, he was the one that gave me the mission and he never forgets. I felt a copper metallic taste on my tongue. I could taste blood, hot and wet on my tongue, and my heart raced. It was almost a relief when I realized that I’d been biting at my cheek so tightly to keep my face from reacting that I’d drawn blood. I breathed a sigh of relief and walked away from the body, back under the tape and I was safe.
I gripped the wall and vomited, my stomach felt empty and my legs felt weak but anything physical was a blessing, because it distracted from the onslaught of thoughts and feeling bubbling away inside me. What was happening, why was I having such a strong reaction, I hadn’t really dealt with death since my parents murder and the deaths of those soldiers at my hands, but that shouldn’t leave me feeling like this, so empty and torn apart. It wasn’t my fault.
It wasn’t my fault. My parent died at the hand of some thug with a rifle, and Ken Scott was just another unfortunate statistic, it wasn’t my fault. Then why was their blood on my hands. Why wouldn’t it go away. No matter how many times I closed my eyes, when I opened them it was there. I screamed but no one seemed to hear. I was back home, looking into the mirror, someone else’s eyes were looking at me, they looked like mine but they weren’t. Those hands wrapped around his neck, they were mines but I couldn’t stop them. It was like I was a puppet, with hooks dug into my skin, I was left to dance to someone else’s tune.
But then why could I remember it now, did I do it? I suddenly remembered it all clearly. He found me. He’d been released after the police had questioned him, all he needed to do was act like the victim. He’d laughed and then pulled a gun. He couldn’t use his powers, he was still under the influence of the drug, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hurt me. Bad things seem to happen to people who pull guns on me though. I remember looking at him and feeling so furious, it felt like venom coursing through my veins, thick and hot and all consuming. Poisoning every rational thought I had, until all I could think was hate. He laughed and fired. Then he died.
I found myself curled on the floor, breathing heavily like I’d just ran a marathon and chain smoked a hundred cigarettes. I don’t remember when the Men and suits came, they lifted me to my feet, they were surprisingly gentle, and took me somewhere where I couldn’t harm anyone ever again.
With each step towards the padded cell I felt myself collapse inwards, I was going to find safety in my memories where my parents were still alive and I was still a child, safe in their arms.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org