Of Masks and Marvels (Part 1)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
Thunderbolt. What a great superhero name. I'm so glad that it wasn't in use at the time. There's an unwritten rule that you can't use a name that another superhero has used until they've been out of circulation for at least ten years. Even then, there are some names that you just don't use- if you went around calling yourself Superman, or Batman, or Captain Marvel, you'd have a small army of lawyers from the comic book companies making your life miserable. Lawyers-Gah! Give me a nice alien invasion any day!
There was still the problem of the outfit, though. Another unwritten rule was that even if you coopted a retired hero's name, you wouldn't steal his look. It's sort of the fine line between homage and plagiarism. To be honest, the real problem wasn't putting together an outfit with a thunder/ lightning theme- it was putting one together that wouldn't get me laughed off the street the first time that I put in an appearance. Y'see, even though I can throw jolts of electricity around, levitate, shrug off a direct hit from a Louisville slugger, deflect bullets and lift somewhere in the area of 400 lbs. without struggling (and I've tested all this, too- I'm not a complete idiot!), I'm still not very impressive, visually.
Y'see, when I fell off that transformer tower, I was fifty pounds over-weight and seriously out of shape. Most of the guys who work the lines are in pretty good condition, but not me! Oh, the fall off the tower? Hmmm...
I guess its mind-numbing, senses-stunning super secret origin time! My name is Dan Maxham, and I work as a lineman for the local Power Company. I had several years of college education for an engineering degree, but I had to drop out to help my family. Y'see my dad lit out on us when I was 10, and my brothers Hugh and Eli were 8 and 6. Mom got us through high school okay, but putting both Eli and me through college would've killed her, especially after that drunk driver hit Hugh. So I took a Leave of Absence and got this job with the Power Company to help put Eli through college. I would've gone back after Eli got his degree, but he couldn't get a job with his BSE. I pulled a few strings with the Union, and managed to get him a job at the local TV station ramrodding their hardware. So, I can't leave this job, and I can't afford night classes. Ah, well, into every life a little rain, and all that-
Oh, where was I? Oh, yeah, the tower. Like I said, unlike most of the guys who climb these things for a living, I never really managed to develop the light wiry build for it. I was up doing some solo routine maintenance- NO, I didn't get hit by a bolt of lighting or anything! I just fell! It happens. My safety harness slipped, I twisted around so that I was facing down towards the ground, and then the last clip holding me up went. I was falling. So, I did what any hardened, Union-dues paying electrician would do- I freaked. I felt a surge of power rush through me, and suddenly, I felt my drop slow. I looked down at the ground. I was still descending, but gently, like a feather.
I touched down, and spent a few minutes wrapping my head around the idea that I hadn't gone *Splat!*. My body was still tingling with the sense of power running through it. I looked up at the tower and saw my harness and toolbelt still hanging there, swinging in the wind. I knew, I just knew, in a way that that I could never take into a court of law, that the answer to what had just happened to me was up there. Besides, a good lineman never leaves his tools behind.
After dropping 6 stories, you'd think that it would take the Detroit Lions and a derrick to get me back up that tower. But I guess landing like a feather takes a lot of the terror of incipient acrophobia, 'cause I went up the ladder with nary a whimper. Maybe I'm braver than I thought. Naahh.
As I unhitched my safety harness, I became extremely aware of the electric power humming through the air around me. Now, most people do get a sense of that power when they get close to one of these towers, even most linemen feel it. Me, I haven't noticed it in years. But now I could feel it. Not like I had at first, a vague, generalized feeling of something you can't quite put your finger on- I could feel the power running through lines of force. I could sense them in a way that was more than touch and less than precise vision. I waved my hand through one particularly powerful stream of force, and it pulled me clean off the ladder. I freaked again for a second, but instead of dropping, I just hung there. After hanging there for a bit, I experimented with the current, and moved myself back and forth along the line of force. Finally, I decided it was time to get away from here before somebody like Ralph, my regular sideman came along and saw me. I slid over to the ladder, recovered by harness and tools, and started down the ladder. On an impulse, I stepped off the ladder, and glid down to the ground. I got into my truck and drove off to the power company watering hole. If this wasn't Miller Time, I don't know what is!
I chewed on the ramifications of what had happened to me for a few weeks. When I'd made up my mind, I let brother Eli in on it.
I was up on the roof, kicking back a couple of brews when Eli got back from the TV station. He was on his way in, but I called down to him, "Hey, runt! Wassa matta, you 'fraid to come on up here?"
Eli grinned up at me, started up the ladder, and shot back, "Hey lardass! The only thing I'm afraid of is being below you when you fall off!" He pulled himself over and dangled his feet. He picked up one of the beers and sampled the vintage. "Mmmm! Good week! Saucy, impertinent, with just a touch of sodium triphosphate, to give it that carcinogenic tang!"
We sat there, feet dangling in the wind, enjoying a bit of brotherly silence. Then I started. "So, how's things down at the TV station?" He started carping about this and that and the other thing- same shit he'd been bitching about for the better part of two years. "Have you ever thought that maybe you could be more than the guy who keeps the infomercials from skipping?"
"Only every day of my life! But that blackball is only gonna go away if ol' Fescue gets caught molesting a Cub Scout troop!" Fescue was the dean who couldn't keep Eli from graduating, but made sure that he'd never get hired anywhere. I mean, c'mon, the hologram UFO invasion was a good gag!
"No, I mean more than being a tech geek with a BS! Being something great, someone that people will look up to and say 'why can't I be like that?"
"Bro, are you tellin' me that yer gonna quit your job at the power company and join a rock band? 'Cause if you are, I gotta remind you that your guitar playing wasn't even good enuf for the junior high school band!"
"And since when was that ever a barrier to rock'n'roll godhood?"
"Dan, your voice was real good- right up to the time it broke! Now- well, you know Mom's feelings about singing in the shower! Coincidence?
I think not!"
"Eli, little brother, you wound me! You take my dreams of musical triumph and squash them like they were so many squashy things!" With that, I pushed off the roof into thin air (why do they call it thin air? Is there thick air in contrast? Well, maybe in Los Angeles...)
Eli gasped, and launched himself after me in a desperate attempt to catch me. Instead, I caught him, and kept him from falling, as I floated in mid-air. He goggled up at me as I grinned down at him. Yeah, I know it was a rotten thing to do, but, hey, we're brothers!
I lowered us both down to the ground, and then lifted up to the roof. Hadda get the beers. When I got back down, Eli hustled me down into the cellar. "Oh, Man, when- how did this happen?"
With a snicker, I twisted the bottle open and told him what happened.
"You just fell? No bolt of lightning, no super-soldier serum, no UFO abduction, no mystic artifact-"
"Nope, not even a radioactive gopher bite."
"So, what else can you do? Are you super-strong? Can you..."
"Well, I dunno about SUPER strong-" I went over to the cellar fridge and lifted it over my head,"- but the only reason I'm using both hands is 'cause this is clumsy, not heavy." I gently put it down. "It's lighter for me, 'cause it's metal. This whole thing seems to revolve around electromagnetics."
When I told him it was all electromagnetic, his eyes lit up like I'd just told him that dean Fescue had been arrested for molesting a Cub Scout troop.
"So, when are you gonna start?"
"Y'know, the superhero thing! Like you were saying before, about being something great, someone people would look up to!"
"Ah, man, why would I want to become a superhero? No pay, people are always emptying their guns at you and then throwing them at you, and y'gotta wear a stupid costume!"
I eventually let Eli talk me into doing what I'd already decided to do. If I hadn't, he probably would've tried to talk me out of it. And I knew that I needed him, if I was gonna do it right. And whatever misconceptions I may have had about the superhero gig, I knew that I'd have to do it right, or get very dead, very quick.
We spent the better part of three weeks doing that preliminary testing I told you about. We hadda know what I could do before I went out. We found out that I could shoot a stream of electricity that could punch a hole in a brick wall, but not a 2-inch thick plate of steel, courtesy the local scrap yard. I could sense the movement of electricity in wires, but not control the operation of electrical devices (damn!) While I could project a crude kind of radar, I couldn't interpret the coding of various radio frequencies. I could move things around with magnetism, depending on their ferrous content. And last, but not least, I was shrinking.
Not the Incredible Shrinking Man shrinking or Ant-man shrinking, but the pot belly that I'd been lugging around since third grade all but disappeared, and the width of my arms and legs was diminishing. But I wasn't losing that much weight, at least not in proportion to my volume loss. We figured that my body was becoming denser and tougher. We thought that once my body tissue had reached a certain level of density, I'd start building up muscle tissue. At least I wasn't losing any height- yet. According to some geek's posting on a Superhero Web-shrine, both Justiciar and Power Woman of AEGIS (our local super-team) weigh 30% more than their frames and the estimated weight of carried gear suggest. HOW he got the facts for that claim, I do NOT know. I don't want to know. I should probably find out...
Besides the testing and working up blueprints for various gadgets, Eli busied himself nosing around the news department of the TV station he works at. The TV stations in our region really haul butt competing with each other, especially trying to cover the Super Scene. There is something about athletic men and women in tight clothing fighting pitched battles that is pure ratings magic. I mean, the WWF never uses plasma launchers! So the station is very up on who's up and about in colored tights. They even managed to get a local Emmy for their expose of Owlwoman's secret identity (breathe easy, that aint gonna happen to you. You don't even own a fusion reactor to sabotage.) Eli kept hanging around, and made noises about maybe wanting to be a field cameraman. He hadn't found anything really juicy yet, but hope- or at least self-delusion- springs eternal.
At least we were getting somewhere with the costume and the name. Thunderbolt. Now, is that a great superhero name, or what? And we had decided on black and gray for the colors, with metallic gold trim. Okay, a little 80's, but still a great look. Things were coming along just fine, which should have been a sure sign that something was gonna come along and fuck it all up royally- which, naturally is just what happened.
Y'know, for somebody whose trying to become a big-time superhero, I shoulda been a lot more paranoid. Eli and I were in the cellar bench-testing my power gauntlets. That's a fancy way of saying that we'd stuck some gear in a pair of motorcycle gloves and were seeing if it'd blow up if I actually used it. We'd reinforced the gloves with a packet of powdered lead and hard plastic reinforcements along the striking surfaces, and Eli had wired a pair of rubber eraser-sized UV laser units across their backs. The idea was that the lasers would ionize a path for the current that I produce in one of my electric shock attacks. This, in theory, would make the shocks more accurate, more powerful and less tiring. The part about accuracy was still theory, but with some effort, I could punch a hole in that 2-inch sheet of steel.
After a particularly flashy test-run, Eli and I were huddled over the gloves, geeking out over how to make the lasers tougher, or less power intensive, or maybe squirt orange juice. Hey, when you're a tech geek, you think about these things. Then, Eli tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards the door. There was a dark-haired woman in a tan raincoat there, avidly filming us with a hand-held camcorder. "Hey! Reyes! What d'you think your doing! Don't you ever knock?" (Memo to Self: remember to lock the fucking door when we start testing equipment.)
The next thing I did was pretty stupid, but I was more or less on autopilot. I lashed out with an electric stream and snatched the camcorder out of her hands and into mine. With a cascade of sparks I immolated the evidence. But there was still the witness. Who was standing there, not at all worried by my display of power. I gotta work on my commanding presence.
"Dammit, Reyes, you have no right to come sneaking in here while we're working on an invention..."(eh, a pretty feeble save, little Bro- here's hoping it works)
"Oh, and you have a right to go snooping around the news department's Ongoing Investigations files?"
"I never went anywhere near the news department. You slimedo- ooops, Journalists never let anyone in technical support even so much as breathe on you precious file cabinets!"
"BULL! I saw you pull that little number on Melinda so she'd have to reboot and re-enter her computer, just so you could watch her type in her password."
I gave Eli a disappointed glare- I mean, Geek Trick #26? Nobody uses that old groaner any more!
The woman, utterly unintimidated, started strolling around the cellar. "Invention, hunh?" She looked at the costume blueprints that we had oh, so discretely left out on the worktable. Hey, Ma never comes down here any more, and the neighbors think that we're building an A-bomb down here! "Looks more to me like you boys are planning to knock off a bank or something!"
Then I placed her. Ilena Reyes, one of the Eyewitless Newsfaces at the TV station where Eli works. Ma insists that we watch that channel out of some kind of brand loyalty. It would really matter if we had a Nielsen box. She's still out in the field, covering floods, fires and kids in wells, so I guess that she's pretty hungry. Still, how much trouble can we be in? I mean, no-body ever got a Judas Emmy for unmasking a superhero before he even started. Still, we were at a Mexican standoff (Latino standoff? Hispanic standoff? Chicano standoff?) We couldn't do what we had set out to do, 'cause the second we did, she'd pull my mask off on Prime Time. But she didn't have a story until we did, and we could wait a lot longer than she can.
She pulled out the chair, spun it around and sat down, resting her chin on her arms crossed against the back. "Okay, obviously you guys aren't planning a bank robbery or anything- if you were, I'd be a crispy critter right now. So, if you aren't planning to be the Masked Marauder, what are you up to?" She tapped her cheek with an air of faux puzzlement. Eli and I just glowered at her. Okayfine, BE like that! But, now that I think about it, there's no need for us to be sniping at each other-"
I raised a cynical eyebrow.
"After, all, what a perfect setup! After all, Superman draws a salary from the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, and Spiderman sells photos of himself to the Daily Bugle; why can't Captain Electricity here-" My glower turned to a disgusted sneer." -or whatever, work (very sub rosa, you understand) for our Station?"
Since Eli was somewhat on speaking terms with her, he pointed out the flaw in her plan. "Yeah, and what happens when you decide that you wanna move on to an anchor slot in some other town, and decide that a journalism Emmy for unmasking, ah, 'Captain Electricity' <ecchhh!> would beef up your resume, hunh?"
The smirk slid off of her face. "The Judas Emmy? Hey, I know better, weasel! Admunsen had to move on after he sold out Owlwoman. Yeah, he got an Emmy, but NOBODY in the super-community would talk to him after that. Not even the crooks! The Cops, firefighters and paramedics all treated him like he had leprosy!" Eli and I broadcasted a chilly indifference to Roy Admunsen's plight in stereo. "Now, why would I screw up a beautiful arrangement- footage almost on demand, inside information on ongoing projects, AND an eventual pipeline into the rest of the Super Set- just to get an exclusive that will probably wind up trashing my career as well?"
Eli was weakening. "And exactly how are you gonna sell Schroeder on having an in-house Superhero?" Schroeder was the Station Manager, and the man I'd wind up answering to if we went along with this. Having a boss who told me how to be a Superhero was not what I had in mind when I started all this.
"Why should I? The fewer people who know about this, the better!" Finally, something I could agree with. "I have Schroeder kick you up to being my field cameraman- you do know how to operate one of those things, don't you?" Eli smiled the goofy smile of a true tech nerd in his element. He almost got fired his first week for taking one of those cameras apart. Luckily, it worked better after he put it back together. "And brother Dan here fills your spot as tech support in the station."
"Waitaminnit! How did you know he was my brother!?"
I slapped him upside the head. " 'Cause she read your employee record before she came here, runt! You listed me as a reference, remember?" I had a few things of my own to handle, "Now, waitaminnit- you expect me to drop my Union gig at the power company, blow off seven years of seniority, and come be a console monkey for you?"
"Hey, Dan, how exactly do you expect to get away from your job at the drop of a hat, which is exactly what your going to have to do if you decide to put on this cape-" She looked at the costume design, "- Hmmm, no cape, where's your sense of tradition, man!" She had a point. Oh, well, at least I knew that the Station was a Union shop.
Reyes must have had more pull at the Station than I realized, 'cause it took just over a week for her to leverage Eli into a cameraman job. It took me the usual two weeks notice time to get out of my job obligation. Y'know, you work someplace for nine years, and they don't even blink when you decide to up and leave. (Memo to self: Remember to make sure that the Union dues are paid up.)
There were already two Dans working there, and Eli was on a first name basis with some of the people there, so I became Maxham to one and sundry. What I lost in job seniority, I recovered in the fact that I was now actually making more in take-home pay for doing stuff that I could do in my sleep. Unfortunately, I no longer had to deal with only my shift supervisor and sideman, I now had to deal with white-collar types. Fortunately, as the Union man who makes sure that the blinkie lights stay on, I can be rude to damn near anyone and get away with it. Reyes manged to get me assigned part-time with Eli in her Mobile NewsLemon. I think this goes beyond pull- Reyes must know where a few bodies are buried. (Memo to self: Get something on Reyes- FAST.)
Reyes came through in other ways- I think she wants this bad. She found an old condemned assembly plant that I could practice things like battering down walls and recovering from high-speed slams. Hey, these things are important in this line of work!
One place where we all kind of fell down on the job was the super-hero suit. I mean, I'm tough enough these days, but to tell the truth, the spandex that they use on TV is really flimsy. One or two good hits and I'd be in tatters. Not good for a rookie super's image. The best that we could do was come up with a one-piece black leather motorcycle racing suit, on which we decaled a couple of tasteful metallic gold lightning bolts. The suit was black, which is slimming, or so Reyes tells me and it's sleek look made me look a little more impressive. The full motorcycle helmet makes for a nice mysterious touch, too. Okay, it's a little low rent, but when I start bulking up, we can change the outfit to something that says superhero a bit more. But the thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the power belt.
Even Reyes, who screams bloody murder when we had to shell out anything from her precious expense account, thought it looked cheesy. I mean, a couple of freaking fanny packs? She was even more aghast we were when showed her the actual batteries.
She picked up the squarish packet filled with neon-blue gel and asked, "What is it?"
Eli started in on Geek Trick #12: bombard the Norm with technically accurate information that said Norm has no foundation for. I, naturally followed up with Geek Trick #13: patiently fill in the details so that the aforementioned Norm follows you to where you want them to get to, one nugget of info at a time. Like a trail of breadcrumbs. "They're plasma gel batteries. The gelatin traps little bits of plasmic liquid inside the gel walls. This makes the ionic charge consistent."
"Waitamminit! I thought that plasma was this superhot gas! A plasma should melt these things in a second."
Eli and I pulled Geek Trick #22 in stereo: Give the Norm the oh-so condescending 'you never really studied, did you?' look. Eli took the podium. "No, the super-heated gas is the only form that a plasma takes in nature. In terms of pure physics, plasma is a collection of particles that has an equal number of positive and negative ions. The trick is keeping the ions balanced, which the gel does."
"Can't you use more conventional batteries?"
"These are lighter, non-toxic, and less easily damaged."
"Wait, what about a hydrogen battery?" Reyes may not have studied, but they had her doing stories about damn near everything. Hydrogen energy storage is one of those things that the labs try to get people excited about periodically, but so far, nobody's bitten.
"Nice idea, but the canisters would be heavy, and if they were ever breached, a single spark could set off an explosion-" I ran an arc between two fingers to illustrate,"-Not a good thing to be carrying around a grenade you can't even throw at anybody."
All together, it was a little low rent, but serviceable. We installed an encrypted 2-way radio link, and I was ready to rumble. Reyes took a look at me a look at me and shrugged. "Not bad. Needs work, but until we see if you can really survive your first real fight, it's gonna havta do. So, have you decided on what your gonna call yourself?"
"THUNDERBOLT!" I proclaimed loudly.
Reyes gave another unimpressed shrug.
We stashed the T-Bolt costume in a couple of film canisters in the Mobile NewsLemon, and waited for our first big break. And we waited. And waited. I have since learned that being a superhero is kind of like being a cop, a medic or a rescue worker. You're either swamped, doing paperwork or maintenance, or bored out of your mind. You jump on trivial things like getting kittens out of trees just so you're doing something where people aren't in immediate danger of dying.
We were doing a piece on youth gang violence, and seriously considering sending me in. Start out as a grim urban avenger type, and work my way up. Then a Code 3 came in. As Eli pulled the NewsLemon out, Reyes started listening in on the various police and rescue service band, and I trotted out the T-Bolt costume.
"So, what's going on?" I said as I zipped up the suit.
"Apparently this 4-story tall robot-thingie popped out of a semi-trailer downtown, and has been leaving a wake of destruction behind it."
Eli called over his shoulder. "What's it heading for?"
Reyes listened in some more. "They don't say. It's just walking down south on C_______, only attacking anything that approaches. Shit! Justiciar and Titan have just started to deal with it." She looked at me as I was pulling on one of the boots. "Sorry, Maxham, but it looks like the Big Boys are gonna take down your playmate before you even get there."
Eli pulled the van over. "Check the other bands. This stinks! There's nothing south of that position worth sending a MacroComBot after. The people who sent the MacroBot must want the cops and the regular super-heroes busy, while they pull something off somewhere else."
Between the three of us frantically checking the airwaves, we managed to overhear a desperate call from a rent-a-cop saying that H_____ Inc. was being attacked by a monster.
Eli peeled out while Reyes called up a city registry to figure out where H_____ Inc. was. I was still listening into the cop bands. "They think it's somebody called Berserker."
Reyes did a quick search on the known offenders list. "Hokay, Berserker- two-bit punk who became a two-bit supervillain called Basher after an industrial accident. Stepped up a grade to full-fledged menace a few years ago, when he picked up a dermal symbiote."
"A dermal what?"
"A kind of weird tar-like living covering that protects him, increases his strength, filters out gasses and stuff, and allows him to form claws and spikes and stuff." She turned to me and went into a little more detail. "It seems that things like this come in trends; super-soldier serums, power armor, psychic powers, cybernetics- d'you remember back in the 70's when it seemed you couldn't go to the bathroom without tripping over ninjas or some other martial arts goofball? They come in, they're hot, everybody's got them, then smart people figure out how to beat them, and they kinda fade away. The current big thing seems to be these tarry coverings that turn second-raters into contenders."
"So, how do they work? Where do they come from? How do you fight them?"
"Well, in order, I dunno, I dunno, and *I* am not gonna fight them, you are." Oh, Lovely. Then Reyes saw something on the screen that completely changed her expression. She typed something in, and peered at it. She turned to me, her expression strangely blank. "Maxham, he's got seven First Degree Murder warrants pending- including warrants for the deaths of two cops and a paramedic. Maxham, TAKE HIM OUT."
Hmmm- no hedging on the publicity factor. No weaseling about getting on the cop's good side. No sending up flares to announce it, just take him out. Maybe there's more to Reyes than spotlight hogging- Nahhhh.
They let me off a few blocks away, where we would hitch up again later. I powered up to roof level and began advancing on my own. Now, this is the part of the movie where the soundtrack starts playing this stirring score, heavy on the brass. For me, the loudest thing I heard was my gut tying itself in knots. I mean, what was I doing? I'm not tough- I was the kid who always got the shit kicked out of him on the playground. It usually took my brother Hugh to haul my ass out of those things. Now he's gone, and I'm flying take on a guy who coulda eviscerated both of us.
Then I cleared the roofs, and I could actually see the target of my anxiety. He looked like some nasty kid's ceramics class project. Human looking only in the roughest sense of the word, kinda lumpy, but smooth except for the razor edged flanges that lined his (?) back and the crests of his arms and legs. The head was utterly featureless, and flowed into the chest without bothering about trivialities like necks or chins. His forearms were overlarge at the ends- kinda like Popeye, if the Sailor Man had long nasty claws instead of fingers. And his skin-if that's the term- was a livid red. If that were a kid's ceramics project, I'd hate to see what he does in metal shop!
The arrogant slab of concrete was hauling big pieces of electronic hardware out of the warehouse and setting them by a van, acting for all the world like he was getting paid by the hour. Heck, if there wasn't the bloody body of a security guard lying by a great big gaping hole ripped in the side of the building, Id've thought that he had every right to be there.
I waited until Lumpy was just coming out of his impromptu loading dock carrying something that looked heavy enough to take both hands. I accelerated straight at his blind side at Warp 12 (or close as I could)-
-and he swatted me like a fly.
I mean, I thought I had him nailed, but he caught me at the absolute last second, right in the labonza. I must have been travelling at over 100 M.P.H. but he sent me flying back at least twice that. I hit a cinderblock wall, and felt the hurt all over my body. Then I slid down to the street, and I began to seriously reconcider my career choices.
Then he did the absolute worst thing he could have done- he dismissed me. He just turned his back on the no-name no-body in the motorcycle suit and went back to his business. Nothing like being totally dissed to get your Irish up.
I noticed the running gashes in my suit. Then I noticed that the power leads were, only holding my power belt (I still think that's a stupid term for a couple of fanny-packs), onto me. Lumpy's flanges had cut clean through them. I ducked behind a Dumpster and checked my options. I was gonna need at least a couple of gel-packs for power if I was gonna take this asshole down a peg, but I had no way of holding them on me without the fannypacks. I unzipped one of the packs and disconnected two of the packs. Without thinking about it much, I unzipped the suit, tucked the packets in side, and linked up the power leads. I zipped up, and was ready to kick some dermal symbiot ass.
Not being a complete idiot, I didn't thunder-charge him again. I powered up to about 20 feet, and began pelting him with electric shocks. The shocks got through his symbiot armor, but didn't really hurt him that much. I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow description, basically, I kept him from getting away, and he simply wouldn't go down.
Then my 2-way radio link spoke up ["Hey, Maxham! (Memo to self: Have LONG detailed talk with Reyes about on-air security) I thought you'd like to know, Justiciar and Titan have wrapped up with that robot, and are on their way."] SHIT! Just what I don't need: to be the superhero who has to be saved by the Big Boys.
I gave Lumpy a disgusted look. How could he see me coming? There weren't any openings for eyes, ears, OR nose. Hell, how could be breathe?
The symbiote of course, for both questions. It probably lets him see all around him, and acts as a full-body lung/filter. Then it hit me. If he could have seen the smile under my cracked full helmet, he might have realized that I had something up my tattered sleeve.
I dropped to where I was just out of his reach. This was gonna take more power than I had on hand, so I used one hand to draw energy from a nearby powerline. With the other, I dropped a gentle stream of foxfire on Lumpy's misshapen head. It took a few frantic minutes, with him flailing away at me, all twinkly with static electricity covering him from head to toe. His swings became slower, and more erratic. Then he began stumbling, and eventually, he fell flat on his face. I kept it up for a few more minutes, and then dropped to check on him.
He didn't move when I touched him. His symbiot was soft and gooey. I turned him over and pushed the tarry goop away from his lips, which were blue with cyanosis. Once I was reasonably sure that he wasn't going to choke on his own gimmick, I checked the security guard.
As I got to him, I saw that he was unconscious, but still bleeding, so he was still alive. I heard something from behind me. When I turned around to check, I saw a good sized crowd of cops, paramedics, media types and civilian gawkers had formed. They'd been waiting to see if Berserker was playing possum, but when I turned to the guard, they'd come forward.
Well, ALL RIGHT! The elated, if dazed, realization that I'd just come out of my first superhero fight victorious washed over me like a warm shower, making all that hurting go away. The cops were here, and so were the paramedics- they could do a much better job than I could at this point. Since I didn't want to make my first public statement in a torn suit with a cracked helmet, I lifted off in the classic "who was that masked man? Why that was *THUNDERBOLT*!" exit.
When the NewsLemon picked me up at the pre-arranged spot, Eli pulled me in a tight hug, completely ignoring my full-body bruise. Even Reyes has ecstatic, "Gaw Damn, Maxham!" she said laughing," What did you do to that Asshole? What WAS that blue shit you poured down his throat?"
I waited till I'd killed the celebratory brew that Eli had handed me before answering. "Just static electricity. I figured that the only way that he could breathe was through that symbiot thing of his. So, I covered him in a charge of static electricity, which bonded all the oxygen immediately around him into ozone-"
Eli cut in, feeling the need to remind everyone that HE was the one with the degree, "Ozone, which people can't breathe, and is even toxic in concentrated amounts!" He finished with a laugh and pounded me on the back in congratulations.
Reyes was still unsure. "But what if the symbiot had just filtered that out as well?"
I shrugged. "Wouldn't matter. I used the static charge to bond the ozone to his shell- even if it didn't let the ozone in, he would have run out of oxygen sooner or later. Besides, ozone is too much like oxygen for it to really notice, even our lungs have a hard time telling the difference."
Reyes came over and poked at the gel-packs nestled against my chest. "What happened here?"
"I hadda improvise. Lumpy caught me on the fly when I first charged him. One of his spikes totaled my power belt. This was the best I could do."
"Oh, must've happened before we got set up. You were trading lightning bolts with him when we got set up."
"Yeah, well, we gotta work on that anyway- I mean, a superhero with fanny-packs? How tacky." With that, I lay down on the floor of the van and concentrated on the serious business of hurting.
I woke up the next morning, still aching and bruised, but feeling far better than I had any business to. I made sure that my coveralls showed no sign of my quickly fading injuries and went downstairs to have breakfast with Ma.
I made a point of not checking out TV or newspapers before I went to the station. I wanted to read my first "reviews" with Eli and Reyes. Oh, yeah, I wanted to see the name Thunderbolt in BIG capitals.
When I got to what passed for her office, Reyes was there with Eli, with what looked like every rag in town on her desk. There was an unreadable expression on her face as she picked up the one on top and wordlessly showed it to me.
Dominating the front page was a large news photo of a black-clad figure projecting a very dramatic lightning bolt at Berserker's brutish form. The distance and lighting made the black figure slender, and a trick of the angle made the bulges of the gel-packs too prominent. Above the photo was the simple title, all in capitals: LADY LIGHTNING.
To Be Continued in Part 2 of Masks and Marvels!