What Kind of Hero? by Aeryn Rudel

Fiction

“Look what I made.” Alyssa held up a black jumpsuit. It looked tight.

Daniel shook his head. “No fucking way I’m putting that on.”

“A superhero needs a costume, babe. It’s like a rule.”

“Bullshit. Wolverine wears jeans and a tank top.”

“Come on, just look at it. I spent a lot of time on it.”

Daniel rolled his eyes, but set the bag of Cheetos down and got up from the couch. “Fine, let me see it.”

Alyssa handed him the costume, suppressing a grin. “Look at the symbol on the chest.”

Daniel unfurled the jumpsuit and chuckled. “Okay, the comet looks pretty cool.”

“Right? That’s where you got your powers, so that should be your name.”

“The Comet, huh?” Daniel scratched his chin. “I dig it.”

“Then suit up.”

*

“So, what kind of hero are you?” Alyssa leaned against the wall of the alley. She spoke louder to be heard over the alarm from the bank across the street. They’d heard it on patrol and were waiting for the men robbing the place to come out. Alyssa said it would be easier to avoid collateral damage that way.

“What do you mean?” Daniel tugged the crotch of his comet suit. It fit snugger than he’d like.

“Well, are you like Batman or Daredevil, with a code to never kill the bad guys? Or are you like Wolverine and the Punisher, killing fools that need killing?”

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Jesus, I don’t wanna kill anybody. I figured I’d catch bad guys and turn ‘em over to the cops.”

Alyssa nodded. “Okay, Batman-style. Then you gotta be careful.”

“What do you mean?”

“Babe, you’ve got super strength. Remember when you knocked over that telephone pole because you leaned on it too hard?”

“Yeah, that was bad.”

“Well, if you’re not gonna kill people, you gotta learn control.”

“I still don’t under—”

Four men in black ski masks and body armor burst from the front door of the bank, firing their pistols into the lobby behind them.

“Never mind,” Alyssa said. “Show time. Go get ‘em, Comet.”

*

“Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit,” Daniel said, shaking and trying not to cry. “Look what I did!”

“Didn’t I tell you to be careful.” Alyssa squatted next to the headless corpse of one gunman. The other three had disappeared after witnessing their companion’s fate.

“I just punched him,” Daniel said. “Like, to knock him out.”

“You knocked his head clean off.” Alyssa covered her mouth to hide the grin. “I mean, that’s kind of fucking cool.”

“No it’s not! I killed him.”

“Eh, you’re still learning. Cut yourself some slack.”

He wiped his mouth. He’d already puked once. “Jesus, they never show that shit in the comics.”

Sirens sounded in the distance and Alyssa stood. “We better get going.”

“We should wait for the police. So I can explain what happened.”

Alyssa chuckled and shook her head. “No way. You kind of, uh, murdered this guy. Well, the Comet did.”

Daniel’s knees went rubbery. “Murdered?”

“Manslaughter, technically. You weren’t trying to kill him.”

“I’m so fucked.” He punched a parked car, flipping it onto its side with a metallic crunch and a spray of broken glass.

“Not to pile on, but that’s vandalism and destruction of property. You ready to go now?”

*

Daniel hadn’t worn the costume in almost a year. It was tighter than he remembered. Too many Cheetos. He ran down the street, using his super strength to make huge leaping bounds that propelled him faster than a race car. It was one of the few powers he’d practiced since his short stint as the Comet.

He still listened to the police scanner, but he’d never acted on anything. That’s why Alyssa left. She’d been so pissed that he had these gifts but, as she’d put it, was too chicken-shit to use them.

Things changed when Shockwave appeared and the bombs started going off. After the second attack, he couldn’t ignore it anymore, not when he could do something. He hated that it had taken something so awful for him to realize his powers came with responsibilities whether he wanted them or not.

The police had Shockwave cornered in a car dealership, and they were afraid to go in. There were hostages and enough explosives to level a city block. By the time Daniel reached the scene, the police had set up a wide perimeter.

He’d been thinking a lot about how he might handle such a situation. How to get into a building without law enforcement getting in his way. He leapt high into the air, clearing the police perimeter, and came down square in the center of the dealership’s roof. He blasted through the concrete and landed in the middle of the showroom floor.

Daniel hit the ground behind Shockwave, and the villain whirled around, detonator in hand, innocent people cowering at his feet. The world slowed to a crawl, and Daniel saw the minute muscles of Shockwave’s thumb tense over the detonator switch. Rage gripped him. There were already hundreds dead and at least fifty people in the dealership. He charged, hoping he would be fast enough.

Daniel hit the bomber with one shoulder, knocking him across the room and into the cinderblock wall hard enough to crack it. The detonator went skidding away, and he leapt atop Shockwave, pinning him to the ground.

Laughter rose up from the floor. Daniel recognized the voice. His stomach roiled, and he pulled the mask off Alyssa’s head. “Why?”

“You gave up, babe,” she said, her breathing labored. He’d likely broken some of her ribs. The thought sickened him. “Had to do something…to get you off your ass.”

“You killed so many people.” The rage returned, this time mixed with bottomless despair. She hadn’t made him a mask to hide his tears.

Alyssa smiled up at him. Blood stained her teeth. “So, Comet, what kind of hero are you?”

Biography
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The ArcanistHavok, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

Image: photo-nic.co.uk