It wasn’t a large fight, maybe one or two metahumans, but they were slightly outnumbered. At some point a large amount of dust had been kicked up: probably from the rubble that clogged the street. The dust combined with the poor quality of the cellphone video the news station was showing to make it difficult to pick out individuals, but one of the heroes was incredibly easy to identify. He seemed to be glowing a violent red and stood in a manner that made him appear ready for a brawl.
I scanned over the footage looking for signs of the other two hero’s identities, but they looked rather ordinary. One of them was unusually tall and seemed to be almost holding the glowing one back. The third one seemed to be normal height and was holding his hands up like he was trying to appear non-threatening as he slowly stepped towards the villains.
They must have been complete unknowns; not even the news seemed to be able to give their names. It was possible they had just manifested their powers, but the scale of the destruction and current lull in action made me think it had to be something else. A sad possibility crossed my mind. Its official name was Petrogradsky syndrome, but it was known by a slew of other terms: Meta-madness, Power-mad syndrome, the mutant high, but they all described the same thing. Some people didn’t have the right frame of mind to handle powers, and they would succumb to the rush of hormones that commonly came with abilities. With that came impaired judgement and the illusion they were unstoppable.
By now, the news had gotten their chopper in the air with a proper camera and my suspicions were confirmed. The one with red light swirling around his body was Wrath, a manifestation of anger. If you saw him on the street, you wouldn’t think he was a hero. He never wore a uniform, just jeans and a t-shirt. The tall one holding him back was Vindicator, an older hero with super strength who had joined the Regents after a brief retirement from an older team. He tended to wear plainclothes similar in style to Wrath, but a patch over his left eye easily set them apart. In front of those two was Animus. His powers were a little vague, but he was confirmed to have enhanced strength and some sort of healing ability.
This was far from the team’s full roster, though, and Animus wasn’t wearing his usual combat gear. It looked like they just happened to be nearby when the villains started causing problems.
Animus was about mid-way between the two unidentified metas and the other two Regents. The Police had set up a barricade around the rubble, and I noticed what they were standing in front of: a bank. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anyone inside when the metas attacked. It was early, but that didn’t make it impossible for some staff to be working before opening time. It was almost sickening. People used their powers recklessly and other people were hurt in the process. People always got hurt.
The running commentary of the news anchor pulled me back to focus, “It appears one of the unknown metas is becoming agitated…”
My eyes scanned the two men, and it was easy to see what they were talking about. The man standing closest to the collapsed bank front was beginning to crank up his powers. Sparks of violet energy began popping into existence around his body before quickly fizzling out. The second guy glanced at his compatriot and looked uneasy. He started inching away, and Animus’ right hand began to drop to his side. He never had a chance to reach the gun, though. A wave of energy erupted from the meta, throwing his friend out of camera shot. Animus dove to the ground, but it didn’t do much to keep him from being hit. He tumbled across the ground and slammed hard into a chunk of marble.
The blast of energy didn’t dissipate, though; it just slowed to a stop and formed a bubble. Waves of purple energy continuously pulsed outward from the meta, like static on an old tv. Wrath tore past Vindicator and charged into the field. He made it a few steps before he staggered and sunk down to his knees. Sparks swirled around his body like a swarm of amethyst bees. It almost looked like he was beginning to seize and convulse. By now, Animus had gotten up and didn’t seem very injured, but you could never be sure when powers were at play. He had the same sparks attacking him that were on Wrath, but they didn’t seem to affect him nearly as bad. It looked like he shouted something at Wrath, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Then, the screen went white for a moment as more of the red energy surged from Wrath. It looked like the air was boiling around his body; He was really getting angry now.
I’d heard the stories of Wrath going nuclear, but no one really knew if it was true. Some people rumored that if he were mad enough and let himself go, he could level a city as easy as squashing a bug. Juiced up like a ‘roid raged bull, he charged the human plasma globe, but a chunk of asphalt sailed toward him from off-screen and caught him in the head. He staggered but caught himself. Whirling towards the source of the projectile, Wrath suddenly shielded his face with his arms. A figure streaked across the screen and tackled Wrath in the midsection, carrying them both clear of the bubble and into the ruined bank.
It had to have been the second unknown meta from earlier, but it happened too fast for me to tell what his abilities might be. Animus glanced back at Vindicator before turning and running to help Wrath. That left the old, grizzled hero to deal with sparky. He didn’t run, if anything I’d call it a stroll. When he passed through the edge of the field, the swarm immediately formed around him like it had the others, but he didn’t even flinch. I guess nigh-invulnerability had its perks. The other meta didn’t seem to react as a man who could throw him through a wall with his little finger got closer. That was weird, but sometimes powers had caveats. There was the possibility he lost some of his awareness to use his powers like that. Still, I was used to powers jamming thoughts into your head, not blocking them out.
A wave of the energy washed over Vindicator and he seemed to pause for half-step, but it didn’t stop him. He was closing in on the meta, and it looked like the ground was cracking under his steps. It was a general unspoken rule that most heroes didn’t disclose exactly what their powers were as to not give a smart villain insight on how to take them down, but that didn’t stop people from guessing. Seeing this made me put more stock in the idea that he could somehow increase his mass and density.
Vindicator finally reached the meta and put a hand around his throat. He looked about as nonchalant as someone possibly could. After a few moments, the field of energy vanished as the meta passed out, his brain starved of oxygen. Vindicator slung him over his shoulder and carried him over to waiting paramedics who promptly clamped on a much larger power dampener than the one I had before checking his vitals. They gave Vindicator a thumbs-up and the hero nodded.
The fight wasn’t over yet, though. Unknown meta #2 was still in the bank with Animus and Wrath. A bright flash of red emanated from inside the bank followed by an almost reptilian looking man flying out. He landed roughly on his back with burn marks covering his body. He had several areas that looked like they had grown armor, but the one that covered his chest was cracked and smoldering. In the middle of the shelling was the glowing imprint of a fist. Wrath charged out of the bank and looked like he was about to continue to pummel the meta, but he suddenly stopped and looked back as Animus walked out the bank. It looked like he was shouting at Wrath who shouted back before doing something with the watch on his wrist. The glowing aura around Wrath faded and he looked noticeably calmer.
I would have kept watching, but the feed was cut, and they went back to the news desk. I wasn’t really interested in having the whole fight broken down an analyzed for the next three hours. Getting up to head back to the kitchen, I happened to glance at the clock.
I was going to miss my bus…
Minutes later, with breakfast hastily shoveled down, I barely made it on the bus before the doors shut. Winded, I scanned my bus pass and filed back to an empty seat. I couldn’t be late. Well, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing if I was late, but I didn’t want to give my bosses any reason not to like me. I hadn’t had any incidents so far: I was just a normal person with a normal job. Not a weirdo or a freak or a dangerous meta.
The power dampener on my wrist may complicate that image a bit. After all, they didn’t force people with benign abilities to wear them. Speaking of the dampener, my breakfast really wasn’t setting well, and I couldn’t help but think it was possibly a side effect of the device. I had no idea how it really worked, and that was a bit unsettling, but I knew it had to do with EM fields or something like that. It was actually some fairly old tech pioneered in the CADMUS era. Ironically, by a meta.
Maybe I was stressing over nothing. I leaned my head against the window and felt the vibrations as the bus took me further into the heart of Chicago. I liked the city well enough, but I’d never really traveled enough to like anywhere more.
I glanced out of the window and saw the rubble from this morning’s skirmish. The purple energy bastard and his shelled friend would probably be carted off to Asphodel. That wasn’t its official name but calling it “Site II” was pretty boring, and Asphodel was a tad more descriptive when comparing it to the other two metahuman prisons. Elysium, or Site I, was a minimum-security prison. Metas who had only committed minor crimes, or had trouble controlling their abilities were sent there for a while. Site III, on the other hand, was lovingly called Tartarus: a maximum-security prison for the world’s supervillains.
Not happy thoughts to dwell on.
After a few more blocks, I pulled the cord to signal the driver to stop, and I hopped off to walk the rest of the way on foot. The headquarters of Daedalus Technologies came into full view as I rounded a corner. The large structure dominated the Chicago skyline. It took up an entire block and looked like the cutting edge of architecture. Quite literally. It had so many sharp lines it looked like it would make for a good weapon against some hostile giant. And inside its intriguing façade held some of the world’s most cutting-edge research into artificial limbs, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, yadda yadda. It had its fingers is just about any pie you could think of.
And I worked there.
That impressed most people. They automatically filled their head of me working on some kind of advanced robot, or complicated algorithm to find cat videos on the internet a little faster. I let a smile grow as I swiped the card that let me past security. It would probably be cool to be responsible for a breakthrough in anti-gravity tech or something, but I didn’t have the head for it. I didn’t usually correct people’s assumptions, though, it was sort of nice to have them impressed for a second. I reached the elevators and pressed the down button, the universal symbol of progress and advancement, said no one ever.
It took a while for an elevator to decide to go down with the throng of researchers and corporate types ascending to their various floors and offices. Meanwhile, there was me, sinking into the basement. I’d never envisioned myself as a janitor, but it paid the bills. When the doors opened, I walked through the maze of halls that connected parking decks with storage areas and a locker room for the other janitors and similar employees. The night crew had already cleared out, but there were a few people other than me who worked during the day. My locker was in the far left corner of the room and I walked over to get my coveralls.
“Peterson, cutting it close, aren’t you?”
I grinned and looked over to my manager, an older man with thinning white hair and moustache that stood out against his dark complexion.
“Sorry, Sir, my bus had to detour around some rubble,” I replied as I zipped up my coveralls.
“Didn’t I tell you to cut that ‘sir’ bullshit?” He chided with mock agitation in his voice.
“That’s better,” He said with a chuckling smile. “So, I guess you saw that beatdown the Regents gave those thugs this mornin’?”
“Yeah. It looked like Wrath was about to pummel the one with the scales.”
“I know what you mean. I don’t know about that Wrath guy. He seems like he could do more harm than good if Cypher let him off his leash.”
“Maybe,” I said, trying to stay away from the subject of metahumans doing harm. “Anyway, is there anything important going on today I should know about?”
“Eh, not really. Everything is business as usual.”
That was good. When you were dealing with cutting edge research, it could sometimes result in messes that could give you nightmares. Believe me. I’ve had them.
“Oh, wait. I think Dr. Stathopoulos is testing his whatchamacallit again, so good luck,” Craig said, followed by a hearty laugh as he walked out of the locker room.
Last week dear Dr. Stathopoulos had tested something that looked straight out of a sci-fi movie. As I was scrubbing up the mess, I was told it was a device that used ferro-fluid as some kind of liquid arm. I knew ferro-fluid had to do with magnets, but that information didn’t really do much to help when you’re faced with gallons of goop coating every possible surface of a lab area.
Just another day at the office.