Could I be a hero? It felt more like a plague infesting my life than a question as I walked home. James had been my “liaison” for almost two years and it seemed like a near-constant pressure from him and a constant resistance from me. Being a hero was how you got yourself killed. I could ramble off a list of names who died in one way or another related to heroism. The great ones had their visages memorialized at Argus’s headquarters, the mediocre ones made the evening news, and the ones that didn’t die in the heat of battle ran the risk of becoming a laughing stock before being forgotten.
What would I be?
Knowing my luck, I’d end up at the latter.
People seemed to love the idea of superheroes and superpowers to the point it borderd on worship. Of course, there were some truly good men and women out there fighting to make the world a better place without asking for the smallest shred of recognition. But for every one of those, there was a media hog. The Eagle was the first one that came to mind. He was powerful, ludicrously so, good looking, and charismatic with a swarming support staff. If an opportunity to speak to the press came up, you could rely on him to take it.
I remember the first time I saw him on television. People loved him, but I just couldn’t shake that it didn’t feel genuine. It just felt like an act to me. Still, he has put several dangerous people behind bars, so I guess he’s doing something right. Maybe I’m just jealous of how popular he is, who knows?
But what about me? Could I do that: swoop in and save the day? I didn’t do anything in the gas station earlier. I just let them waltz in and waltz out; all I did was talk in a panic. I didn’t save the Clerk, I didn’t save his money, I didn’t stop the thugs. All I did was sit there and get shot! I didn’t even save myself; it was my fucking powers that did it for me!
Blue energy erupted from my fist and I flinched trying to get away from the sudden source of light. Anger was replaced momentarily with fear and panic as I tried to calm down. This wasn’t good. Anyone could look over and see my hand glowing like a neon sign. I stuffed my hand under my jacket and waited for the episode to pass. Several seconds went by and the glow showed no signs of fading. The anger swelled back. I couldn’t control it; my own powers didn’t listen to me. Glancing down, my eye caught on the dampener still clenched in my left hand. I didn’t want to admit it, but maybe James was right. I gritted my teeth and pushed the sole button on the device.
I felt it instantly: a humming, a buzz in the back of my jaw. The blue faded to nothing in a matter of seconds. A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I pulled my hand out of my jacket and inspected it for any more signs of rebellion. Everything was back in order on the outside, but internally, I still felt unsteady. I fastened the dampener around my wrist and looked at it for a second. It could potentially pass for a watch, but if someone gave it a second glance it wouldn’t take them long to work out what it was and by extension, what I was.
Luckily, there weren’t many people around and none of them were looking in my direction. Still, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I didn’t know why everyone wanted powers; mine never seemed to produce anything good. Just problem after problem after goddamned problem. My little pity party wasn’t going to solve anything, though, so I started walking home again, taking everything off the front burner to let it simmer on low heat.
Maybe this was for the best.
Eventually, my house came into view and the knot in my stomach that had waxed and waned throughout the evening without ever completely unraveling started to breakup. Familiar environments just made it easier. Maybe it was just a mental thing. I wasn’t any safer from my powers here compared to anywhere else, but I was more comfortable here, more at ease.
The front door stuck a little like it usually did, but it gave way without too much effort. Once I stepped inside, I leaned back against the door and took a deep breath. Not the best day ever. Not the worst day either. Happy thoughts, right?
Not too surprisingly, all things considered, I didn’t have much of an appetite. Passing up dinner, I opted to just go to bed. I still had work in the morning after all. I hung my jacket in the hallway and walked through the living room and up the narrow stairs. It was a small house laid out pretty much in a line. Nothing fancy. Nearly everything in the place was either a hand-me-down or a gift. I minded that a bit; always felt like I was living on charity. But that’s what the job was for.
Without a second thought, I slipped the power dampener off and got ready for bed. Sleep came easy enough, I guess I was more tired than I thought.
Alarms were the invention of the devil.
Despite my urge to hit snooze, I managed to switch the alarm off and swing my legs over the bed. Another day another dollar. First order of business was a shower and then breakfast. Thinking about food made me really regret skipping dinner the night before. That problem was easily fixed, however, so I peeled myself off the bed and walked to the bathroom.
I stepped out of the shower and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I needed to shave. A few minutes later and another box was checked with a clean-shaven face. During my post-shave-self-inspection I noticed my hair was also getting a bit long. Time for another trim, but that wasn’t something I could fix myself unless I wanted to look like I was the unfortunate victim of an animal mauling.
With nothing else to be done I stepped out of the bathroom and grabbed my clothes for the day; just jeans and a plain t-shirt. Coveralls tended to limit personal expression anyways. Now it was finally time for food, but as I reached over to grab my wallet and phone, I laid eyes on the dampener and all the memories of the day before came flooding back. What happened, happened, but accepting it didn’t make it feel any less heavy. Maybe more time would make it fade. This was going to have to be how I went about my day, wearing a damper like a tag for my weirdness. Unless I wanted to be sanctioned.
I mean, James was technically sanctioned. He had some sort of enhanced durability on the lower end of the scale, but he wasn’t a superhero. He chose, instead, to basically become a social worker. Of course, that wasn’t what he wanted me to do. That never came up in the monologues of all the perks of being a hero. Fame, money, women, and a laundry list of other things. But that was for the heroes the public liked. Money was probably one of the biggest twists to the truth since heroism was an unpaid gig. Governments couldn’t legally have any say over what teams and solo heroes could do or tell them who to fight. They could “donate” of course, but sanctioned heroes faced some of the strictest bribery laws ever. If a hero took a bribe and some innocents were killed or hurt in relation to action or even inaction on the part of the hero, they would have their sanctioning stripped and their sorry asses thrown in prison.
So how did heroes make money? Most of the time it required finding a generous benefactor or merchandising deals, and if all else failed: asking for donations. There were some other ways to make money, but most people thought they were less than savory. I wasn’t interested in any of that, though. I was fine with normal. Pushing all of that out of my mind, I grabbed the dampener and wrapped the strap around my wrist, making sure it was nice and snug.
Once I finally made it to the fridge, I grabbed some bacon and eggs and got to the business of transforming them into a meal. While I was waiting for the pan to heat up, I ducked into living room and turned the television on for a little bit of ambiance in the otherwise dead silent house. I turned back to the stove and was only half-listening to the news that was going over the weather and traffic. It looked like it was going to be a fairly nice day out, not that I was going to really be able to enjoy the weather.
Then, a sting suddenly sounded as the anchor announced they had breaking news. This really caught my attention: it was an Argus mandated alert to notify the general public about dangerous metahuman activity going on in their area. Breakfast was basically done, so I turned off the burner and walked into the living room to catch what was going on. It looked like all they had was grainy cellphone footage, but anyone could recognize the hero team standing in the street: The Regents.