This is my attempt at a deconstruction of the superhero genre. One traditional superhero origin story, patterned after a traditional fairy tale format, involves an unsuspecting and average human who is given superpowers to combat a powerful evil bent on destroying humanity. I’m warning you in advance; there’s quite a bit of blood and violence in this story. Read at your own discretion.
I raise the handgun to my temple, pull back the hammer with my thumb, and squeeze the trigger. The bullet races down the barrel and stops upon contact with my skin. My eardrums bleed, but soon close up. “Limitless power,” I tell the horrified young man whose gun I have taken. “You had more options to choose from than the number of cells in that body of yours, and you chose THAT?” My left arm snaps forward, bones cracking under the sudden strain, and Robert’s—that’s the name he’s going by, at least— jawline explodes under the impact as my lead-lined gloves flatten the side of his head like an egg dropped upon a sidewalk.
Contemptuously, I throw away Robert’s gun, leaving his body to bleed out on the basement floor. He’s one more down, but I enjoy it more when they provide a challenge. My brothers and sisters, the gods.
That’s what the humans have called us throughout their history, and so that’s what I’ll call us. We’re not really gods, though. Well, I suppose to the humans we might be. We occupy a higher dimension of reality. Time and space, the natural reality of the human world, are toys to us. I myself am still in… I suppose you could call it school. Along with many others of my kind, I’m participating in a creativity project. A kind of test to determine my aptitude in certain areas. This has been done many times before, and I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them. The participants weave together a mortal body and descend into the human world, set at a certain task. The Greek pantheon was a class set at creating a government, and for a while they did a pretty good job.
Personally, though, I think Zeus and his boys were pretty boring. They each just took a few elemental abilities, a dose of agelessness, and called it a day. Like Robert did, actually. He’s dead now because he didn’t pay attention during class, and he ended up with simply an incredibly attractive and athletic body. That’s it.
I don’t claim to be a genius, but I knew exactly what I wanted. My body is average at a glance, but the abilities I have drawn up are anything but. I can manipulate the inertia of my own body and the matter close to me at will, giving me incredible speed and strength should I so choose. I also made a simple regeneration matrix which will heal my physical body as it is damaged at a remarkably accelerated rate, lowering my body’s natural life span considerably as it does so. I won’t need it for long, though, because our exercise is almost complete.
The project simply involves slaughtering each other with the abilities we have constructed. The last man standing wins.
I like it.
As I exit the building wherein lies Robert’s empty corpse, a twenty-foot metal spike comes rushing towards my chest from Evelyn, another student from my class. I flick it away with a light brush, bat away the barrage of twisted steel which follows, and leap from the ground into the air, driving my fist through Evelyn’s heart faster than the human eye can see. We fall to the ground together, her already empty shell splattering upon the asphalt, and myself coming to an abrupt stop as my feet touch the pavement. I withdraw my arm from Evelyn’s body and run swiftly down the street towards massive sleet storm I see in the distance.
All around me, the city lies in ruins. I pass hundreds of destroyed buildings and leap over vehicle upon abandoned vehicle. The corpses of many bystanders litter the streets, and many more survivors hide in fear, but no emergency sirens fill the air. One of my careless or cruel brothers must have destroyed them all.
My opponent this time is John, my best friend. I like the guy, but he’s really never been very smart. I race through a half-mile of sleet which is so thick it shatters glass and coats the ground in inches of black ice, the frozen rain stopping and sliding away fractions of a millimeter before coming into contact with my skin, before I come upon John hovering fifty feet above the ground, slinging ice and wind around with obvious glee. Finally he notices me and waves, a huge grin plastered on his face. “How’re you doing?” he shouts above the wailing of the storm.
“Not bad!” I call in return. “Having fun?”
“Yeah!” The gale subsides somewhat and he descends to my level. “Ready?” he asks, still grinning. He spreads his arms wide and the swirling winds pressurize into intensely cold and vicious tendrils. My mortal eyes can’t see them, but I can sense them just the same.
“Ready!” I almost laugh at the look of disbelief on his face as I move so fast as to flicker from view. I don’t just kill him, though. That’d be no fun. Instead I fling my body upwards and to the left, ricocheting off a half-broken skyscraper, gathering sleet around me in a sheath of ice as I move. Finally I come to a momentary halt thirty feet above John, and give a barking shout of warning.
My friend looks up and the dawning comprehension of fear fills his face as the sleet comes slicing towards him like the bullets of an icy firing squad. Forgetting the abilities he himself chose, he instead twists to avoid the majority of the ice, though a sizable cluster still rips an arm away. John screams in agony, and the storm rages in response. I bounce from building to building to avoid the icy tendrils of wind which threaten to rip me limb from limb, as I haven’t mastered my abilities enough to influence something as incorporeal as air. One tendril just barely catches my calf, slicing a tendon and simultaneously burning the flesh with its intense cold, blackening it and causing it to crumble. I wince and regenerate the flesh, but the shock of the pain is enough to make me stumble.
John takes advantage of this to throw all his sleet and every tendril at my heart, seeking to impale me, but I quickly dig my fingers into a crack in the street and heave up a gigantic section of asphalt, using it as a shield. The sleet shatters harmlessly upon it, but I know the compressed air will punch through the crumbling street if I give it a chance. With a bellow of rage, I rush forward and upwards with the asphalt barrier still clutched in my white-knuckled hands, slamming into John and driving him through the side of a brick-walled bistro. Slowly, the storm dies down, and I stagger out of the ruins of the bistro, breathing heavily. I finally grin. That had been fun.
After two grueling days of encounters with my classmates, I feel tired. I’ve given my body the minimum amount of time required for rest and recuperation, allowing the body’s life force to do most of the sustaining, but I know it won’t stay active for much longer as it is. I also know the few opponents I most likely have left will be incredibly powerful and cunning, and I can’t risk sleeping.
As I run at a breakneck speed through the streets of the burning and broken city, I notice a multitude of lights all over pointing to one building, an enormous skyscraper near the heart of the city. I had avoided it earlier as I was sure there would be too many contestants in one central location like that, enough so I might fall victim to a stray stone or accidental kick, but with the field so cleared, I decide it’s worth the risk.
I take a split second to plot my trajectory and leap nearly a half mile, coming to a solid stop on the building’s roof. Standing across from me is Annie, who I know to be the most gifted student in our class. I tense my muscles, but she smiles and holds her hands up in protest. “Hold on a moment. Just so you know, we’re the last ones left.”
I relax—just in the slightest—and cock my head. “Really?” I don’t doubt Annie has known exactly where we’ve been the entire time. I don’t know her very well on a personal level, but I do know she’s a very honest and honorable person, so I don’t expect a trick. “So you know I killed most of them. Are you ready for our final fight?” I’m not sure I can win, especially without knowing what her powers might be, but I’m willing to give it my best shot.
“No, no,” Annie says, and walks slowly towards me, her hands at shoulder height, palms up. “I don’t have any powers left.”
Suddenly, I realize she’s telling the truth. The buzz of energy present near each of my classmates isn’t present in Annie’s mortal body. Could she have found a way to hide her energy? Maybe I was wrong about her being honest. I move into a fighting stance.
Annie stops in front of me, raising her chin. “Please just make it easy. If you cut through my throat and spine at the same time, I shouldn’t experience much pain.”
“You’re just going to let me kill you?”
“Like I said, I’m all out of power. I’m forfeiting.”
I remove my glove and raise my hand, growing my nails to a length of two centimeters. She’s convinced me. I guess she was honorable after all. I might as well give her a clean death. “What were your powers?” I ask curiously.
A chilling smile spreads across her face, and her eyes narrow. “I was saving them for the last of you,” she says. “I want to see just how high humans can rise.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“I made a superhero. You can kill me now.”
As I draw my hand from Annie’s throat, I wonder what she meant. I didn’t realize the man was coming until I found myself slammed into the roof, the ribs on the right side of my body crushed beneath the punch of Annie’s superhero.
“You’re the one who did all this,” the man growls. He looks perfectly ordinary, except for the hazy glow in his eyes and the fact he’s levitating three inches above the surface of the roof. “I’m gonna kill you!”
As his kick shatters my shoulder (I’m too shocked to react) and catapults me over the side of the roof, I get it. Annie saw the wreckage of the city, and gave one of its inhabitants her power. My only consolation is he’s probably merely a battery. I highly doubt a mortal can comprehend the kind of knowledge it would take to make creative use of our powers.
By the time I hit the ground, I’ve mostly healed my ribs and shoulder, and have composed myself enough to halt my inertia so I don’t splatter like a rotten tomato upon contact with the asphalt. I swiftly turn and try to swipe away the incoming hero, but he must have some kind of deinterlacing field around him, because my powers are nullified somewhat as I touch him. He still slams me into the ground, but I am able to kick him back into the sky. I leap upwards, taking a Chevy with me, and swing the vehicle like a bat, smashing the car into pieces and sending my enemy spinning into and through the side of a building. I leap off one of the falling pieces of the Chevy and pull many of them with me, rocketing forwards towards the gaping hole in the steel structure. The hero flails a bit and manages to dodge my entry, though a large piece of windshield gores him in the back, causing him to cough up some blood. I watch as the glass shard extrudes itself and the wound closes. Of course, regeneration, though it seems to be of a higher caliber than mine.
This time the hero manages to get a couple hits in as my powers are once more nullified by whatever ability Annie gave him. I lose several teeth and a ringing fills my ears as the man batters at my jaw with three lightning-fast punches. I growl and respond by head-butting him in the nose. He skids backwards, blood streaming from his mashed face, and I take the opportunity to kick him out of the building.
I heal quickly, but I can feel my powers are beginning to run out. I can’t take this for much longer. Somehow this idiot mortal has caused more damage to me than any single classmate thus far. I leap from the hole in the building and bounce between two skyscrapers to minimize my power usage as I return to the ground. I look up at my opponent, who is hovering thirty feet in the air and glaring down at me.
“Why did you do this!?” He screams, fists clenched, veins standing out on his forehead and neck. “My wife, my kids, my neighbors, my friends! You killed them all! WHY!?”
I roll my eyes. “Whatever.” I need to get him to drain his power before I drain mine. I suppose I could just give up and let him kill me, and I’d still win the exercise, but this has been a big enough annoyance I want to see it through.
Kneeling down, I dig my hands into cracks in the street as I did earlier, and heaving, rip up two massive chunks of asphalt wider than cars. I spin swiftly around and heave the two at the hero, one after another, and grabbing a twisted section of light pole, leap after them. The hero smashes my projectiles with two well-placed punches, but takes my weapon through his stomach, allowing me to continue forward, sliding grisly along it and ramming into him with all the force of a freight train behind my body. The two of us speed swiftly through the air, smashing with a devastating shockwave into the side of the building whereupon Annie died.
We slide together to the ground, my body broken in a hundred places, oozing blood in irregular spurts upon the sidewalk. I twist my head to the side, wincing at the grind of chipped and slipped vertebrae, and see the haggard face of an old man in a reflective sheet of broken glass lying a few feet away. I know I don’t have nearly enough energy in this body to even begin to heal my injuries, but I smile knowing at least I was able to take my opponent with me.
“Hey.” A thick hand grabs my head and wrenches it around, causing agony to shoot through my body. I see the face of the hero staring at me. It’s broken and knobbly, and the huge hole from the light pole still gapes in his abdomen, but he is healing. The battery of power is almost faded, I can tell, but he has enough to survive. “I wanna know. Why. Tell me why.”
I draw in a ragged, wet, bloody breath—and laugh hoarsely. My laugh dies away into a gurgling wheeze as the life leaves my body, and then I wake up.
“Well done,” our teacher tells me as I shake off the last few scraps of time and space clinging to my being. “You were the last survivor. You won.”
“No,” I say. “Tell Annie she won. It was a good fight, though.”
“If you say so. You seem to be taking this awfully well.”
“Hey,” I shrug. “It was just matter. It’s not like it really matters. I’ll just tell Annie myself.” I walk away, content with an exercise well performed. Even if I didn’t beat Annie’s hero, I still had a great time.
Alexander Hughes fell to his knees, sobbing over the corpse of the monster who had slaughtered an entire city without a thought, and then had laughed. Not a shred of remorse, nor even anger. Just… A laugh. Alexander turned his eyes to the heavens, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He could feel the power within him fading, as the angel had said it would when his task was complete. The world would never be the same, especially for Alexander, but life would go on. Even if the world never knew why the unholy monsters had come to destroy the city, they were gone now. Alexander had stopped them.
That was all that mattered.