by Mike Sweeney
I’ve just dropkicked Calutron into the Raritan River but it won’t put him down for long. I need to get my bearings. I need to figure out what the hell’s gone wrong. Calutron was always a mechanized, mindless brute, but his power has been amped up. He can hurt me. He can make me bleed.
Also, purple lightning shoots out of his fists when he hits something. None of that is good.
My mind pulls up the details of his file. He was some sort of defense contractor testing out a new exoskeleton for NATO. It was supposed to help with disarming IEDs, make the operator invulnerable to explosions. Terrorists planted a dirty bomb in Brussels. He went in to disarm it. It detonated and he threw himself on the explosion. He saved the city, but the radioactive isotope fused the suit to his flesh and wiped away his conscious mind. Last I heard he was in stasis in a facility outside Chicago.
I weave up and down the aisles of the recycling warehouse looking for any sign of Warrior. I pass stack after stack of rotting pulp until I stumble upon the crumpled body of Professor Majestic – necromancer, dark shaman, and all around malcontent. On the ground next to him is a large, inverted pentagram drawn in blood with the word “Calutron” written in the center. Next to the professor is an ancient-looking book with the word “Majick” cut into the battered leather cover.
I don’t know much about the supernatural, but I do know that any time “magic” is spelled with a “j” and a superfluous “k” slapped on the end, it’s never a good thing. Whatever book Professor Majestic was using, I can bet it wasn’t about communing with the Mother Goddess.
Mixing dark mystical forces with cutting edge military industrial technology is always a bad idea. I’d like to tell Professor Majestic that he’s a magnificent jackass for doing so but since his head has been twisted nearly completely around, I don’t think there’s much point.
Magic is most superheroes’ Achilles’ heel and I’m no exception.
I don’t think this is going to end well.
His name is Jackhammer Jack and he was an old friend of my dad’s.
He’s short and squat and, even though he has to be pushing eighty, he looks like he could still rip the arms off a Deathray Android without breaking a sweat.
His hands are like catcher’s mitts and they envelop mine as we shake. He takes the glowing butt of a cigarette out of his mouth and stubs it out on the underside of the bar. He coughs, thick and wet.
He smiles and his face warms my heart. It reminds me of epic battles and purer times. I picture myself in my footy pajamas watching Eyewitness News. My dad and Jack are on TV battling the hydra-monster Khidro atop the Driscoll Bridge. Or I think about the time when they and Emerald Mage were the only local heroes to stand against the Red Gang. My dad put my sister and I into hiding while he and the others fought what would come to be known as the Polarity War.
They won, of course, but most said it was only because they finally got some outside help from Him. I think that always galled my dad: that his greatest victory wouldn’t have been possible without assistance from one of the heroes he always derided as “the Big Shots.” This was Jersey, he should’ve been able to protect it on his own.
I resist the urge to look at Jack’s chest, to see how far the cancer’s progressed at the cellular level. He looks good. His face is ruddy, his grin infectious. He’s telling me about his daughters and grandkids. He puts his massive hands on my shoulders and pulls me down close. He says what he always says.
“You know, Matty, your dad would be awful proud of you, right? You and your sister both. But especially you. You picked up the torch, you take care of business. That would mean a lot to him. It means a lot to a lot people.”
I smile and nod like I believe him.
They’re holding a party at the Union Beach Firehouse in a couple weeks to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the defeat of Doctor Centrifuge. I promise Jack I’ll see him there. We shake hands one more time and I watch him open the door and disappear into the daylight, his squat, bulky frame blocking out the sun for a moment.
The rest of Charlie’s Place is nearly empty. It’s just me, the bartender, and three guys in the corner arguing about hockey.
I don’t drink but I like coming to Charlie’s anyway. No one bothers me here and sometimes I run into Jack. I can sit quietly on my stool and pensively sip my Stewart’s Cream Soda. Charlie stocks it special for me. It comes in a brown glass bottle that looks like a beer from a distance. I like the fact that it gives me the perception of having a vice.
I am, in case you haven’t surmised, the boy scout of the family. I took to it naturally; it’s not forced. I think it’s because deep down I always wanted to be one of the Big Shots. I think maybe my dad wanted me to be one too. I think he wanted me to have that level of notoriety and legitimacy.
My father was a good man who saved a lot of lives. But the world never really let him forget that he was a construction worker who just happened to get struck by lightning atop a titanium I-beam.
No one ever understood his transformation really. Some said it was because of the special metal and intense electricity; others said it because of the Perseids that night. Whatever it was, when he woke in the hospital, he had the strength of twenty men and skin almost impervious to damage. The next morning, he got up and dressed like he was going back to work on the site, except he tied a blue tablecloth around his neck. Then he started helping people.
He couldn’t fly, of course. But, God, was he strong. And he could hit.
The Leveler, they called him.
For years, he was loved and revered by the people of New Jersey, until — as eventually happens to most things that are revered — he became a source of ridicule. In the Nineties, “silly” replaced “simple” in describing the blue tablecloth he still used as a cape. He started to be criticized over civil liberties, maybe rightly so. I don’t know. Other people questioned why he always turned a blind eye to the Jersey mob.
He didn’t have to endure the criticism long. Once my sister and I turned eighteen, it was like Dad doubled down on his smoking. When we were young, he knew we needed him. Once we were old enough to take care of ourselves, I think he did what he always wanted to do. He set about joining our mom.
He died eight months before the Towers fell. Afterwards, people wanted heroes again. Everything bad that was said about the Leveler was forgotten. He got a bronze statue in Newark. QMX released a limited edition reproduction of his blue tablecloth-cape. They go for two grand on eBay now. He was also given the highest honor any New Jerseyan can hope for: they named a rest stop on the Turnpike after him. It’s a nice one, too.
The next year, my sister and I came into our own. We helped some of the Big Shots (yeah, I call them that too) defeat the Invasion of the Cephalatroids. Suddenly we were legitimate heroes in our own right, not just teen curiosities anymore.
In 2004, Kelly joined an international team of heroes that responded to the tsunami in Indonesia. You’ve probably seen the photo of her holding that little girl on the cover of National Geographic. It’s when things really took off for Kelly, when presidential candidates started trying to get her endorsement, when she started getting invites to movie premiers. Vanity Fair asked her to guest-edit. If I’m the family’s boy scout, she’s the rock star. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’re complete opposites, but our powers are essentially the same. She can fly a little faster than me; I’m a little stronger than her. No one’s sure how we got the ocular powers and they’re our only real difference. I have Molecular Vision; she has Ice Sight.
Kelly says people like her better, but they rely on me more. She also tells me that she’s the Xena to my Hercules and I have no idea what that means. Pop culture isn’t my strong suit outside comics, and even there my knowledge stops around 1985. That’s probably why I went with the retro costume and the Golden Age moniker.
Kelly, on the other hand, picked her name because she thought it sounded cool. I tried to tell her a “U-boat” was a Nazi submarine. She said it still sounded cool. I stressed that the Nazis were led by Hitler. She told me she’d redefine it. I said that didn’t make any sense. She said she was going to take back “U-boat” and make it a good thing again. I said it never really was a good thing. She said she had the perfect leather jacket. She showed it to me. It was really cool.
And thus was born her costume. The “un-costume” as it would come to be known. Lady U-boat wore the cool hip-length black leather jacket with a white t-shirt, black Levi’s, and Doc Marten’s. The finishing touch was a pair of oversized, bright yellow roper gloves. They made no sense whatsoever, but somehow my sister made them work perfectly.
The world at large loved the costume. It’s always a best seller for little girls at Halloween. Parents like that it’s dynamic without being overtly sexual. The Huffington Post congratulated Kelly for being a female super hero who looks like she doesn’t get paid in singles.
Neither of us wears a mask. Everyone knew we were the Leveler’s kids. There was never any question about who we really were. So we didn’t construct secret identities. We just had secrets.
I extract my face from the twisted metal and plastic of what used to be the back end of a Honda Accord.
A tattered bumper sticker hangs off my cheek. It says, “Snooki’s from NY.”
I have no idea what that means.
My head is still ringing from being flung through eight stacks of newspaper and a brick wall, before landing on the Honda. I wipe the blood from my chin and try to remember the last time I bled this much, if at all.
Across the street, a man and woman are huddled behind a VW bus. The woman snaps my picture with her cell phone as I take off. I have a feeling that’ll wind up on The Star Ledger’s website tomorrow.
My first instinct is to charge full bore back into the warehouse. Calutron is so much stronger than me, but he can’t fly. If I can keep dropping him in the river, maybe I can buy time for back up to arrive.
But first I need to find Garden State Warrior, to see if he’s still alive.
In the warehouse, I hear Calutron baying. Purple lightning flashes through shattered windows.
I can’t leave him alone for long.
I ascend a half mile and scan the area below.
My mind conjures an image from childhood: I once dropped an action figure from the top of the stairs onto the ceramic tile of our foyer. Warrior’s legs look the way the toy’s did when it landed. He lays motionless in an alley two blocks from the river.
I zoom in on him with my Molecular Vision: he’s barely breathing, with multiple broken bones and internal hemorrhaging. He doesn’t have long.
I brace myself and descend with a sonic boom. I swoop into the warehouse and ram my shoulder into Calutron’s chest. The two of us crash through an already shattered window. He gets in two good shots before I break contact. He draws blood from my arm and crunches a rib hard enough that I’m sure it’s broken.
By the time he’s splashing into the river, I’ve already pivoted and made it to Warrior’s position. There’s no way in hell I should move him, but there’s no choice. If he stays here, he’s going to die. I scoop him up as gently as I can and whisk him back to the destroyed Honda.
The man and woman have the VW bus started and are just pulling away when they see me. They stop and open the side door.
“Take him to the nearest hospital,” I say. “Please.”
The woman raises her phone to take another picture of me as I place Warrior in the backseat, his legs dangling from my arms like a rag doll’s. She stops and lowers her phone. There’s a question on her face, one I’m thankful she doesn’t ask. I swallow hard and it tastes like pennies.
On the riverbank, I can hear Calutron roaring as he climbs ashore.
It’s nearly eight and I settle my bill with the bartender. Charlie told me long ago that my money was no good in his place, but I insist on paying anyway. Dad always did.
The guys in the corner have made peace on hockey and joined forces to savage Eli Manning. I pass them on my way to the men’s room. We live in a world without phone booths, so I change into my costume in the dingy stall in back of Charlie’s Place before slipping into the alleyway. I don’t like people to see me take off if I can help it. It freaks them out more than you’d think.
Flying itself is more disturbing than you’d guess. In dreams, there’s not the bone-chilling cold, there’s not the overwhelming sense of emptiness a solitary human figure feels in the midst of the sky three miles above the planet. It takes some getting used to.
I do like the solitude of it now. I like to spend a half hour each night just floating off the Jersey coast before going on watch with the Lighthouse.
Kelly and I get our flight abilities from mom. Nuclear Woman didn’t have much in the way of invulnerability, though. She couldn’t even survive giving birth to twins.
Yeah, I get maudlin sometimes.
In our townhouse in Hoboken, on my bedroom door, my sister has taped a poster printed out from the Internet. It shows a red-eyed, cherubic teen of indeterminate sex, with multiple piercings. Underneath it says, “Emo: it’s like Goth for pussies.”
It’s her way of reminding me to cheer up.
I wish I could say I could help it, but I can’t. I’ll give you a moment to go Google “dysthymia” if you’ve never heard of it. Literally, it means “ill humor” in Greek. Clinically, it’s described as a long-lasting – in some cases lifelong – low-level depression, with occasional forays into major depression. Being dysthymic is a bit like have the psychological equivalent of AIDS: your emotional immune system just isn’t up to the task. Little things can bring you down; big things can trigger something far worse.
When I was seventeen, I drove my ‘75 Duster into a concrete embankment at 90 miles per hour. I had a titanium blade duct-taped to the steering wheel and pointed at my heart to seal the deal. The car was incinerated; the blade bent in half. I woke up with a really bad headache, my eyebrows singed off, and not much else wrong with me.
I couldn’t tell you exactly why I did it now. I’m sure it had something to do with a girl, most likely a blond one. Beyond that… it’s hard to explain why you want to destroy yourself. It’s just seemed my whole life that something wasn’t right, that something was off, that I didn’t get what most people get. It just seemed, far too often, that things would be simpler if all this was over.
It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older, I think. The SSRI helps a lot. It changed everything in my twenties. And being a superhero isn’t a bad thing. I know that sounds conceited, but there actually is an upside to having a profession where evil geniuses and space monsters are constantly plotting your demise: it makes you want to live.
There are times though when I still think of a form of self-destruction, more societal than physical. I think about just leaving.
Back in ’04 while Kelly and the others were in Indonesia, the Lost Continent of Lemuria surfaced off the coast of New Jersey and made a land claim to Monmouth and Ocean Counties. They said the territory was promised to them before recorded history by Elfar the Impertinent under the Treaty of Pangaea.
Needless to say, it surprised the hell out of everyone. First, Lemuria was supposed to be in the Indian Ocean. Second, well, it was a lost fucking continent surfacing off the coast of New Jersey.
I was on my own pretty much. I tried to be diplomatic. I pointed out that no one (including the Lemurians) had an actual copy of the Treaty of Pangaea since pre-recorded history had no records. I might’ve also offered them Staten Island instead. I forget. Either way, they declined my parlay and launched Killer Aquabots. I destroyed the attack wave and defeated the Lemurian Queen’s champion in personal combat on the sands of Seaside. The land claim was withdrawn. Queen Nera and I negotiated a peace and Lemuria receded beneath the waves.
That was the moment Jersey really took me into its heart. I’d saved the state single-handedly. The governor gave me an award. The cast of The Sopranos sent me an autographed poster of the Bing Girls. Bruce Springsteen invited me over his house for a barbecue. Kelly made sure I listened to some of his CDs before I went. I actually liked the acoustic stuff. I remember leaving his farm that night after dinner, thinking I really should’ve been happier than I was.
Before Lemuria re-submerged, Queen Nera offered to take me as her consort. When I asked what that would involve, she replied, “Not wearing clothes a lot.” She also told me she knew I’d never accept, that I could never leave Jersey or my sister. Some nights, I don’t know. Some nights, I’d like to prove her wrong, to forget everything about myself, and disappear with Nera forever beneath the waves, a kind of living suicide.
Like I said: maudlin.
The communicator on my left wrist beeps, my sister’s personal line.
The voice on the other end is tentative, unsure.
“Um, hello? Hello? Is this the Captain?”
Unconsciously, I drop my voice two octaves before answering.
“This is Captain Neptunium, how can I help, friend?”
“Um… uh… wow.”
“It would help, friend, if I knew to whom I was speaking.”
“Right. My name’s Kenny. I manage a K-Mart. Down in Hazlet.”
“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Kenny. Why do you have my sister’s communication device?”
“It’s…uh…she’s here in my store. In one of the dressing rooms. She doesn’t seem like herself.”
“Right, friend. You did the correct thing contacting me. If you give me your address I’ll be there shortly.”
“Oh, wow. Okay. It’s on Route 35. By the Pathmark.”
“I’ll find it. Captain Neptunium out!”
I click off the communication device.
My sister is in the worst kind of trouble.
Have you ever had fireworks go off inside your brain while undergoing an unanesthetized root canal?
Me neither, but that’s the best comparison I can make to what it feels like when Calutron rams his fist into my face. The metal-reinforced tissue of his knuckles cuts and rends my flesh while the purple lightning invades and sears.
He has me by the neck with one hand while the other pummels me steadily, rhythmically.
At least the blinding pain is keeping me from passing out.
I can’t take much more of this. I need to break his grip.
There’s only one option.
Did you ever wonder why superheroes run and jump when they take flight? It makes no sense: if you can defy gravity, should you really need to jump to get airborne?
We do it to ease into flight. It’s less harsh on the body. I could go from standing still to 300 miles per hour in under a second, but it’s not a healthy thing, even for someone with super powers. The torque on the body created by a “cold start” is tremendous.
A “cold start” is exactly what I’m about to do. Sideways.
I suspect one of two things will happen: either I’ll break Calutron’s grip and be free or I won’t, in which case my neck will probably snap or possibly come clean off my body.
When this is all over maybe I can I have a nice philosophical discussion about what it means that someone who once deliberately tried to kill himself employed a near-suicidal tactic in an attempt to live.
Calutron cocks his arm back, ready to deliver another blow. Purple static crackles along his knuckles. I tuck my legs up into my abdomen and kick down for extra force. I surge ahead into flight and ramp up my speed to maximum in milliseconds.
I don’t break free.
Calutron drags along behind me. My neck goes numb. I can’t breathe. I feel like my Adam’s apple will pop through the front of my throat.
We crash through the warehouse wall.
I have one more chance: I stop dead in mid-air, tucking my shoulders forward. Every muscle in my body screams. Calutron finally lets go and hurtles over me towards the river, his howl a long bleat of rage as he speeds away from me.
I spiral down onto the tattered asphalt of an abandoned parking lot and make a small crater on impact.
I hear Calutron splash into the water.
The good thing about people trying to kill you is it makes you want to live.
That might make a nice epitaph.
I alight atop a pallet of Die Hard batteries. Kenny the K-Mart manager looks up at me in awe. Theatrics are more a part of this job than I like. I bound up onto the loading dock and Kenny follows me into the stockroom.
“It’s Toxic Jane, isn’t it?” he whispers. “She’s back and up to her old tricks, right?”
I stop in my tracks and put a hand on his shoulder for emphasis. I make a display of looking around, even though I know we’re the only two people in the stockroom.
“Can you keep a secret, friend?”
Kenny nods his head dutifully.
“It was Taranis,” I say gravely. “He escaped from the Imperium Dimension. We sent him back but not before he dosed Lady U-boat with Avalon Gas.”
“Taranis,” Kenny repeats. He mouths the word silently a second time, as if afraid to say it out loud again.
“You see, friend, the panic it would create if word got out.”
Kenny gathers himself and nods, slowly, signaling that he grasps the full weight of the situation. He sets his hands on his hips and looks me square in the eye. “No one will hear it from me, Captain. I swear it.”
“Good. And my sister’s current condition? It would be best if no one knew about that either.”
Kenny places his hand on my forearm. He’s my ally now. My comrade.
“I won’t breathe a word of it. I know how the kids look up to her. My little one goes running around the house with those big yellow gloves on.” His eyes brighten as he remembers something. He pulls out his cell phone.
“Her name’s Annie. She’s four.”
I stare down into a little square of light. It shows a tiny blonde girl wearing a miniature version of my sister’s leather jacket and big yellow gloves.
“She’s a darling,” I say and I think Kenny can tell my voice is cracking.
“It was Halloween,” he says.
It’s my turn to nod gravely. I hand him back his cell phone.
“I should get to my sister,” I say in a low husk.
Kenny points me towards the employees’ entrance to the dressing rooms. He’s a good and decent man to whom I’ve consistently lied. He straightens his back and salutes me.
I stop myself from wincing. My right hand juts up to my brow, stiff and firm.
“Thank you, friend,” I say and turn with my trademark flourish, the silver and black of my cape snapping in the air.
I haven’t made his day; I’ve validated his life.
The store is closed and the dressing rooms abandoned. I find Kelly sitting on the floor in the corner. She has her hands wrapped around her legs and she’s rocking gently.
She makes a fist of her right hand and holds it up to me. I do the same and we touch the knuckles of our ring fingers.
“Wonder Twin powers,” she starts.
“Activate,” I finish.
I’m guessing we’re about seven years old right now.
I stopped on the way for bagels – from Eli’s, her favorite. I hand her one and she reaches for it cautiously before snatching it greedily. I set a box of apple juice on the ground in front of her, making sure to remove the little straw from the plastic and plug it into the drink for her.
I sit cross-legged on the ground, my cape tucked underneath me. I chew my own bagel.
I take out the bottle of her medication that I always keep with me. I carry it because, well, after a while that’s what you fucking do. I don’t say anything about it. I set it down beside me.
We talk a little.
She smiles sometimes.
We talk some more.
I wait for her to take her pill.
It takes about twenty minutes until she finally extends her hand. I pass her one of the little blue tablets and she weighs it in her palm before popping it into her mouth. She downs it with a gulp of apple juice.
Kelly nods, resigned. I scoop her up and fly her home.
The side of the recycling warehouse looks like Swiss cheese. Calutron and I have made at least a half dozen man-sized holes in the brick wall that faces the Raritan River. Most of the windows are blown out too.
I roll out of my mini-crater in the abandoned parking lot and start stumbling back. I don’t think I should try flying just yet. My neck feels like it’s three feet long but at least it’s attached to my body.
I still have a few more minutes. The only good thing about Calutron being half metal is it takes him a while to get out of the water. Maybe if I could get him out to the ocean somehow…
The communicator on my right wrists buzzes.
“Still with you, Panther.”
“Matty, maybe I should come down there.”
“No. I need at you at the Lighthouse.”
Purple Panther would just get herself killed here. She has no meta-powers and is also starting to get on in years. She still keeps in great shape though. Warrior says she should change her name from “Panther” to “Cougar.” Warrior still subscribes to Maxim.
My mind shuts down the image of his legs, mangled and bent in the alleyway.
“Any word?” I ask.
Panther takes a long time answering.
“Warrior’s in surgery,” she says. “Fifty-fifty. At best.”
“Any luck with the outside? I could really use Him.”
“I know,” Panther says. “But He doesn’t always answer. I can’t get a hold of any of the heavy weights.”
“Keep trying,” I say.
“Your sister?” Panther asks.
“Stays out of this.” I click off the communication device.
Calutron’s pulling himself ashore again. I hear his howls, manic and furious. Even for someone filled with mindless rage, he sounds particularly pissed off.
I look around. I could use something really big to drop on him.
The upper floor of our Hoboken townhouse is all Kelly’s. An award from GLAAD is framed over the fireplace. She was their Woman of the Year in ’09. She does a lot of outreach with the LGBT community, especially with teenagers. She’s become something of an icon. She’s sleeping now on a leather settee, wrapped in a Powerpuff Girls blanket I got her for Christmas when we were nineteen. For someone so powerful, she seems incredibly small right now.
I’ll sit with her as long as I can, in case she wakes up. The pills make her sleepy — one of her many complaints about them. Especially when she first starts taking them again, the drowsiness is at its worst. She should be on them full-time – or on something anyway – but she won’t go see a doctor. I got the medication through a combination of explaining her symptoms to my own shrink and research on the Internet. Then I stole a batch from the factory in France.
Not very boy scout-ish of me.
She won’t go see a psychiatrist. Asking her to do so is a guaranteed way to get her to stop talking to me for a week.
Once she dropkicked me to Uganda at the end of our “discussion” of the subject.
The pills help, when she takes them. Beyond that I’m not even sure what the hell is wrong with her. A few times a year she just sort of…shuts down. Sometimes, she’s almost feral, like a super-heightened sense of panic. When she gets like that, it’s easy to understand how people used to think the mentally ill were possessed. It’s not just her behavior that changes, it’s her appearance as well: her eyes seem to recede into her face, her shoulders hunch, her movements become rapid and jerky. It scares the shit out of me.
Other times it’s milder, more childlike, like tonight. But her mannerisms still change: the way she chewed on her bagel, nibbling around the edges exactly the way she did when we were six. Watching her at those times is like being in a time machine – a really disturbing, unsettling time machine.
And then she’s fine. She takes the pills – the ones you’re supposed to stay on for six months or a year – for about ten days, feels better, and is the same old Kelly: my best friend and the one person in the world I’d most want to have at my side staring down a mutant giant squid with deadly hot plasma breath.
I think sometimes I have it easier with the dysthymia. It’s always there and that makes it clearer that you have to treat it fulltime. There’s no let up. Kelly can go long stretches without an episode, long enough for her to convince herself that they’re never going to happen again.
But they always do.
And I worry every day that this will be the day she has another one.
And I lie to people like Kenny the K-mart manager to keep it secret.
And I steal drugs from France so that she sort-of-kind-of treats it, but not really.
I’ve said she was stupid about her condition before. When I’m feeling less charitable – like now – I think “selfish” is the correct word.
The first time it happened, I got a call from the Electrician. He was a minor supervillain who my dad busted so many times he was practically family. They’d stop off at Charlie’s for a couple of beers on their way to the jail.
Kelly had wandered into his lair down in Egg Harbor and settled under a card table. She wouldn’t come out. She wouldn’t speak.
It was a few years after our dad’s death.
I sat with her and talked for three hours until she’d move.
In the other room, the Electrician’s minions were counting his latest haul. They’d knocked over the main vault at the Borgata. It was a big score, the Electrician’s retirement money.
I should’ve arrested the lot of them.
The Electrician put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Keep it quiet, kid. Keep it in the family. I had an aunt like that. She’ll be all right.”
I told him to take the money and leave the country.
He’s got a place now in the Bahamas. I hear it’s nice.
The communication device on my left wrist beeps once before I answer.
“Yes?” I whisper.
“Matty? Where are you?” Purple Panther is trying to keep the panic out of her voice. She’s not doing a very good job.
“Hoboken,” I say. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Warrior. He’s in trouble. Down in the Amboys. Calutron.”
We’ve been at this for over two hours. Calutron is worn down, winded, but still has plenty of fight left in him. The same can’t be said for me.
I’ve done enough damage that another hero should be able to finish him off.
Whatever dark force Professor Majestic infused him with is fading. When Calutron hits me now there’s no more purple electricity. Just pain.
If I could just get some help…
It’s a big “if.”
It’s a big world with lots of problems and even more monsters.
I don’t think anyone is coming.
Calutron knows he doesn’t have to hurry. I sit wheezing and leaden, seven broken ribs, lungs filled with blood, and arms too spent to even defend myself.
He winds up. I grimace.
We both freeze.
Something moves through the warehouse – a blur of light and wind that sends yellowed newspapers flying everywhere.
Lady U-boat hovers just outside a broken warehouse window, her yellow gloves clenched into fists.
She shouldn’t be here but then there’s a lot about my family that’s impossible.
Her eyes find mine and I read the concern there: I don’t look very good.
She blinks back tears. I don’t think she’s ever seen me bleed.
A moment: she sets herself.
She gives me a wink to let me know everything is going to be okay.
“Calutron,” she says, “would you care to step outside?”
The behemoth forgets me and hurtles towards her. With what’s left of my strength, I follow.
I feel my power coming back at her side.
We are mighty.
The bad guy doesn’t stand a chance.
MIKE SWEENEY lives in Central New Jersey where he writes constantly but never quite enough.