HUMAN (Short Story)

Crimson Avenger:  Case File 283


What does it mean to be normal?  To be human?  In the world of superhumans it seems I’m much the fish out of water. Statistics show that for every twenty of us born a day there is one of them. Each gifted with a unique and extraordinary talent that allows them to transcend the normal bounds of mankind’s abilities. Yet, even without these strange abilities I’ve managed to suppress those who use their powers against the natural order using the most basic weapons of a normal man’s arsenal—the mind and body. It’s not hard to understand that brains can outwit brawn of any kind, but it doesn’t hurt to have physical stamina and agility when facing the laser beams of a wanker twice your size. Nevertheless I’ve come to realize that there is something to be said about a group effort against the evils that plague our streets.

Just a week ago, a man calling himself “Starblast” attacked a small bank in London. As per usual, this was taken by me as a direct territorial insult and called for retaliation. Unfortunately I found myself unable to subdue the brute with mere scientific distractions such as smoke grenades and knock-out darts. But the real problem occurred when I used the flash grenade to blind Starblast before striking a heavy blow atop my skull. Instead of being blinded it seemingly empowered the villain with light energy. I suppose I should have accounted for such a power with a name like Starblast, but these days you really can’t tell. Some twits name themselves after cars they fancy or their favorite band. How was I to know that Starblast was literal? Anyhow, as the light began to spread and blanket the entire scene in white, I caught a glimpse of something large striking the lug and sending him out through the bloody wall. With my vision returning slowly, I gazed on at the American superhero I’d seen on TV many times before. His name was Ultratank and I could clearly see why. Every vein in his body seemed to bulge with each strike and his legs were literally the size of my entire bloody torso. I watched him pummel the bloke until I realized his light was getting brighter with each punch. It seemed that in removing him from the bank and placing him in the sun was a bad idea. He began to grow bigger until Starburst was twice the size of the American hero. Before I rushed in to get the fool out of Starblast’s way, I heard an unfamiliar set of voices behind me. A green woman dressed like a caped whore flew by me blowing a kiss. Then another flew by on foot as a yellow blur that bloody near knocked me over. Standing up straight I heard a calm voice in my head saying “Everything is okay. We’re here to help”.

Ultratank squared off with the bright brute longer as the rest of the American super team joined in. The yellow one ran circles around him until a tornado lifted him off his feet. Then the green tramp flew right into him with blow after blow. I couldn’t help but be intimidated at the sight of such a fine-bodied woman (though she was green) pummeling a man three times her size with more strength than that Ultratank monster had used. Her dark hair bounced with each pound of her fist. She slammed him into the ground where Ultratank rejoined the fray. I could feel the ground cracking with each exchange and decided to move myself to a safer position. I watched on as the heroes gave it their all, but in the end the crook just threw them off. I ran to the edge of the Thames and noticed a man watching from the water. I looked again at him and noticed that he had gills. Gills. Right there on his bloody neck like a fish. An explosion of light caught me off guard and I had to ignore the fish man. The Americans were losing and I seemed to be the only one not watching the blast of light because of my aquatic curiosity. Seizing the opportunity I leapt at the foe with his back turned just before he was about to crush the green woman with his enormous fist. From one of the belts across my chest I deduced the best solution to our light-based problem. An adhesive that I had concocted to continuously grow and spread like the frothing of shampoo or a bar of soap. The density of the compound however was greatly superior to its cleanly muses and thus spread over the giant like a blanket of gray bubbles. This cage of suds encompassed Starblast until the light could no longer be seen from him. The ball of gray bubble-wrap rolled a bit before finally settling down.

“Whoa! What did you do to him?” Said a voice behind me.

It was the fish man from earlier now on land. His eyes were wide with excitement as water dripped from his short golden hair. I stared in amazement at the gills opening and closing on his neck.

“Oh…I just used a compound I created. It utilizes the attributes of soap with a higher density and puts the target to sleep at the same time.”

“That’s so cool!”

The brutish Ultratank pulled himself together and walked toward me while brushing the dust off of his bright red and white uniform. “Well that was new. Did ya kill the bastard?”

“No. It’s harmless really. The compound is a sleep agent with high density, but not enough to suffocate.”

“How the hell did you know that would work?” Said the green woman landing next to Ultratank.

“Well, I deduced that his abilities increased the moment your big fellow here moved him outside. With a name like Starblast it should have been obvious, but I missed it as well. From there I simply applied the compound in hopes that it would keep the sun’s rays from reaching his body and therefore weakening him. The sleep agent was just an added handling bonus.”

“Well done dude! Though I thought his name was Starburst. You must be the Scarlet Avenger! We’ve heard stories about you! Super intelligence and agility right?” said the yellow blur coming to a halt in front of me.

“Well, no not really. I’m not a superhuman at all.”

They were silent a moment and then started to laugh.

“Haha well yer alright ta me man!” Said Ultratank slapping me hard on the shoulder (which made a loud pop). He picked up the blob of gray with one hand, “C’mon Starburst. Hey ain’t that a candy?”

“That was just amazing. I’m so glad I got to see you in person!” Said the fish man. He reached out for a handshake. As we grasped hands I couldn’t help but stare at his gills, but his grateful face was hard to ignore.

The yellow speedster glared over at him, “Take a note from him, lilly-pad. Learn how to be a real hero.”

“Yeah. Too bad this fight wasn’t in the water right? Then you could have shown us what you’re REALLY made of.” Said the green woman with a laugh.

“Yeah, well the Avenger here is one of the best to learn from. Heh Heh!” Said the fish man with a soft smile.

I wondered if he meant it or if he was just covering the pain of their insults. I didn’t know, but there was a certain look in his eyes that I recognized. The desire to prove himself. To show his worth to the world. Before they all took off as fast as they arrived they left me a card with a number in case I wanted to join. Said we did some real good out there and they wanted to add me to their new global peace agency. Something called “The Hero Society”. I admit I laughed at first. Thinking that a British human like me on some kind of superhuman team to protect the world was just mad. But the more I thought of it and realized the potential, eventually I just couldn’t say no. And where else would I get to prove MY worth?

The government building they occupied was large, but the interior struck me as a joke. Its structure was more like a dormitory that made my Cambridge one seem like heaven. Long halls leading to a single circular room with a large table. It was just like a cartoon super hero show only more pathetically designed. I had to reserve my judgments and act like the whole bloody thing was astounding when asked, but there was no wonderment in my eyes. All I saw was a stagnant government building with apartment-style rooms.

They had placed me between the fish man and the green harlot. I suppose it was better than being next to the uncivilized hulk of a man. I imagine it would smell better where I was. I couldn’t help but notice the fish man walk around sullen with boredom more than the rest. Often he would wander up and down the halls reciting poetry from Tennyson and Donne—a refreshing dish of intelligence not found in the others. The green one would strut about like a rooster and demand the attention of the others. It sickened me to no end how obvious her insecurities were. The meetings were short and pointless. Mostly they just talked about abilities of others and their own. Every strong foe would end in a bet between Ultratank and Green Wonder (which I found out was the slut’s name) over who would take them out fastest. The fast one, Speed, would talk so much and so fast that nobody could really keep up with the wanker. The fish man, ironically named that, would sit and listen as I did, but every now and then they’d mock his abilities. They’d joke about his uselessness and how his powers had no practical use in their field. He’d laugh and play along, but I saw the sadness in his eyes each time. I said nothing.

We were called upon about four times a week, and each one was more than a joke. American superhumans used their powers for ridiculous means. My first mission took down a man whose ability was to make anyone who heard his voice obey him. You’d think he’d be the next bloody Hitler, but no. He had walked away from a car accident that was his fault and convinced everyone that he wasn’t involved. It didn’t occur to him that witnesses that he didn’t talk to would still see him get out of the car and leave. Instead of robbing a bank or stealing some great painting from a museum, we caught up to him at a movie theater where he used his power to get free movies. We never gave him the time to utter a word. Afterward the others joked again about Fish Man.

“Too bad we couldn’t have let Fish boy take that guy. He had to have been our easiest mark yet,” said Ultratank.

Green Wonder brushed her dark hair out of her face and exposed her cleavage once more, “Whatever, I bet he’d still find a way to lose.”

“Aw c’mon guys, that guy could have been something scary! What if he told us all to kill each other? Or worse, ourselves?” said Fish Man.

Ultratank started to laugh.

“Are you serious? This guy was sneakin’ into movies and doing small shit! There’s no way we could have lost to him!” said Speed.

“No. He’s right,” I said. Everyone went silent and stared at me for a moment. “Just because he didn’t doesn’t mean he couldn’t have. He may have been working small crimes, but eventually he could have gone pro. We’d stand no chance.”

Ultratank walked up to me and sneered in my face. “You sayin’ I couldn’t beat a wimp like that, you little shrimp? You ain’t even got a power ta begin with. You think you got a better chance?”

Before I could tell the red-headed lummox that his ignorance knew no bounds in regard to fact that we would all be equally matched against a power like that, Fish Man stepped between us.

“Guys, it’s ok. We got him. That’s what matters. Let’s just go back.”

“Yeah, we got him—no thanks to you normals.” Ultratank walked away and Fish Man looked down at the ground. I could tell how much it weighed on him to be kind to such hateful arrogance. I put my hand on his shoulder and walked back to our jet.

That night I had to get out. Ultratank and the slut had shacked up next door and the intense shaking of the walls more than enough to keep me awake. I decided to head to the roof and have a warm cup of tea. I thought I’d be alone, but as soon as I arrived I noticed Fish Man sitting on the edge. Moonlight struck his golden hair that shimmered as if it were constantly wet. I walked over to him and sat down.

“Long day, old boy?”

“Yeah. Always is.”

“Good to see someone else wants to get away from that nonsense.”

“They’re always like that. So full of themselves. I dunno, I guess I would be too if I had powers like theirs.”

“I wouldn’t bother. You seem to be able to handle it pretty well. Not sure I’d be able to.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you kidding me? I’d have knocked the red one’s block off if you hadn’t stopped him from trying to do mine the same.” I said, sipping my tea.

“He just has a temper. Wonder is the same, just not as mad. Her telepathy helps with that.”

“Ahhh, so she’s the one in my head when we met. I wasn’t sure which one of you was the mind talker. I honestly thought it was you.”

“Haha, no…I wish I had something that cool.”

“Speaking of, what exactly are your powers, I mean, aside from the fact that you’ve got some impressive gills growin’ on your neck?”

He didn’t look at me when he replied, “That’s about it, really. I can swim really fast and I can detect things in the water. I know it’s pretty lame.”

I took another sip of my tea and looked over at him, “Wish I could do something like that.”

He turned to me astonished. “Wh-what?”

“With a power like that, I think I’d just spend all my time explorin’ the ocean. Though there are some pretty scary things down there ya know?”

“Well, actually yeah! There was this one time when we had to recover a ship out in the Atlantic and a giant squid got a hold of it…”

He went on and on about the depths of the sea and what he’d explored. All the creatures and the different settings. I told him about my time in England as a caped vigilante. How the cops didn’t like me, but never complained when I showed up to stop a super. We laughed and talked for hours until he finally turned in for the night. I couldn’t help but wonder how a person like him got involved with such bloody idiots. He said he was recruited, but why would he stay when all they do is ridicule him?

The next day was a bit of a turn around. It seemed my tiff with Ultratank was the beginning of a new era. Instead of the usual making fun of Fish Man, they turned their attention toward me. Speed made a joke about England and how all we do is drink tea and play cricket. I ignored it. Wonder made a comment about how she didn’t know how she could live without powers. I ignored that too. Eventually I just left the room and went back to my room to continue researching the major supers in America that still needed to be apprehended. Fish Man stopped me at my door.

“Hey, um…we got a mission call about a chick in Maine throwing a hissy over a hospital letting her son die.”

“What’s her ability?”

“Some kind of energy blast. She’s also invulnerable.”

“God help us. Let’s move.”

We flew to Maine with the snow pouring down on the jet the whole way. In the furious blanket of white we found our mischief in front of the hospital holding a doctor up by the throat with bullets bouncing off of her skin.

“This is a delicate mission, we don’t want casualties,” said Green Wonder.

“I say we hit’er hard and fast, right Speed?” Speed nodded to Ultratank.

“Guys, this is a bit more serious with innocents all around. We need a plan.” I said.

Ultratank pointed at me, “You do all the thinkin’ ya can stand while us with real powers clean this up.”

He and Speed ran out first leaving the rest of us to yell pointlessly at them. Wonder flew off after them while Fish and I tried to strategize. By the time we’d come up with something good, the fight had already gotten fierce. Ultratank had rushed her and attempted to damage her invulnerable skin to no avail. She didn’t have strength, but her defense was enough to take a blow without flinching. It was like he punched a steel wall. Green Wonder tried to get into her head, but was blasted. Seems she could only do telepathy while immobile—left her wide open for attack. Speed got clothes-lined in the first few minutes. Hate that I missed seeing that.

I hid behind a cop car and motioned for Fish Man to follow me. “Fish, we have to be careful, it seems we’re going to be the only ones left. I need you to distract her, but be careful.”

“Right, energy blasts. Great.”

“Don’t run toward any bystanders and make sure you give me enough time to reach her. I think I can knock her down with a sonic disruptor and possibly some knock out gas. Her skin makes her invulnerable to needles, but if it’s airborne then it might do the trick.”

“You think we can do this, Avenger?”

“Call me Wes, and yes. Just don’t get yourself killed.”

“I’ll do my best Wes. Oh…and my name is Jon.”

“Let’s move!” We split apart and instantly she noticed Fish Man’s light blue costume shimmering in the light. He ran as fast as he could and when her attention turned to him I took off full sprint toward her. Leaping into the air I dispersed the gas as she shot blasts of energy in all directions. One grazed my shoulder, but I managed to pull the trigger on the sonic disruptor device. A loud pulse of sound rang through her ears and together with the knock-out gas took her down. The smoke cleared and the bodies of my comrades slowly perked up. I could hear Ultratank moaning from aches as well as Green Wonder climbing from beneath debris. Speed wasn’t getting up that fast, but I imagine running super speed into a steel pole would do that to a person. Really hate I missed that. I collected the disgruntled woman and before I could lift her I realized that Jon hadn’t returned, nor did I see him when the smoke cleared. I called his name and searched about until finally finding him over by a torn police car. He had been shot through the chest by an energy blast and was now bleeding out profusely.

“Wonder! Hang on Jon, you’ll be fine, I promise. Help!” I cried.

“Wes…did we get her?”

“Yeah we got her; don’t worry about that, just hang on. You did good.”

Wonder got him into the jet and back to the government building where I could operate. The blast had gone clean through him, but thankfully nothing seemed too damaged. I repaired him best I could and when all was done it was a fifty/ fifty shot at a full recovery. Ultratank made the mistake of entering the room only once.

“S’what he gets! What the hell was he doin’ thinkin’ he could actually fight like that?”

I turned to him with a scalpel at his jugular, “That man allowed us the only opening we could get in order to save those lives. Show some respect and get the fuck out of my operating room.”

It was late that night that I made the discovery that would change everything we knew about the man known as Jon the Fish Man. Several tests were pending as I operated and left me with little time to get them completed. As Jon lay on the table recovering, I took the time to finish them up and analyze what I could about him. In just one blood test I found terror and excitement all at once.

“What the hell are we doing here so late?” said Green Wonder rubbing her eyes.

Ultratank chimed in, “I was getting’ the good sleep too. Why’d ya wake us?”

I turned on the overhead projector and displayed an image of what I’d found. “This was the blood sample I took when we brought Jon in just minutes after he’d been hit.”

“Who’s Jon?” asked Speed.

“The fish.” Said Wonder.

I changed the image, “This is what it looks like now.” The image clearly changed from a vial of red blood to a vial of clear liquid.

“I don’t get it,” Said Ultratank, blinking in confusion.

“When we brought him in he was bleeding blood. When I took his sample it turned to water.”

Wonder looked at me with a furrowed brow, “And what does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. My theory is that he’s not really made of flesh, but rather is a construct of water.”

“So…you mean he’s really Water Man?!” exclaimed Speed.

“I’m not so sure he’s a man.”

“But how come he was bleedin’ blood earlier?” asked Ultratank.

“I believe he only bleeds because he thinks he should. He only gets hurt when he thinks he should. I checked his past medical records and it showed that he’s never been sick. Not one day. He avoided serious injury up until now.”

Everyone was silent staring at the images. After a moment, Wonder spoke up.

“What do we do about him?”

“What do you mean what do we do about him?” I asked.

“Well…do we tell him or what?”

“For now, let’s not say anything. I want to be able to say for certain that my theories are true. In the meantime, all of you keep it to yourselves.”

The weeks passed and each day led to another miraculous recovery. Fish Man had gone from completely comatose and critically injured to awake and moving around in just a month.

“C’mon Wes, you’ve run test after test! Have I got a clean bill of health yet?”

“You’ve recovered quickly and your stats look fine. I’m just making sure that we haven’t missed anything,” I lied.

The next few missions, I allowed him to accompany us with limited actions on his part. The others made fun of that saying that it would be just like normal. His demeanor was fine and his athleticism the same. It baffled me how quickly he recovered and yet it didn’t surprise me in context of my theory. I wondered if he was human ever at all. What if he was something more than powers and abilities? What if he was a god?

The others stayed away from him as if he’d gotten some kind of disease. They acted as if he’d become unworthy of their insults. It wasn’t too long before I heard the whispers. They began to talk about what I’d considered. If this man was ever a man, or if he now was a god. He’d be above them. A super power beyond a super power. This one technically couldn’t die. He was born of the sea and breathed it as life. To them, that meant a new evolution beyond their own ascension. Needless to say that didn’t go well with the wankers. Soon, a secret meeting was called to discuss our aquatic friend.

“We need to do something. We can’t just let him walk around here,” said Wonder.

“That guy isn’t human. We can’t trust him,” said Speed.

“Technically none of you are humans,” I replied. They all glared at me.

Wonder opened her mouth, “We have to let the government know about him. He’s a possible threat to us all.”

“How is he a threat? He thinks his only power is swimming really fast and breathing under the bloody water!

Speed looked over at me with his hand pointing, “If he ever found out–then what?”

“Look, first of all, he’s a hero.  One of us.  Secondly, none of you have ever spoken more than an insult to him.  You wouldn’t know that he’s the most splendid person on this team!”

“You’re wrong about one thing.  He’s not one of us.  Whatever he is, he’s beyond superhuman.  We can’t just let him stay here.  We need to contact the authorities,” replied Wonder.

I stared at them all for a moment and realized that none of them really gave a damn about anyone else on the bloody team other than themselves.  I slammed my fist down and muttered insults as I left the room.  I couldn’t let them turn him in to the government.  Who knows what they’ll do to him.  I’d heard rumors of the Americans and their experimentations.  Some of the supers that were captured by teams like ours often ended up missing.  It’s funny how the unwanted seem to disappear when you aren’t looking.  I could not let Jon become some lab rat.  Well, lab fish.

That night I found him on the roof again.  Sitting there, watching the waves in the distance from high atop our headquarters.  Just a few miles off the coast and yet it looked as if it were right there.  He had that same look on his face.  That humble, meek face that rivaled an innocent child’s.

“How are you feeling, Jon?”

“Oh hey Wes.  I’m doing alright.  Just couldn’t sleep.”

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah…It’s…do you think the others are acting funny?”  He looked at me dead in the eyes.

“Not too much.  I imagine you gave them quite a scare.  Shouldn’t take long though before things get back to normal.”

“Can I tell you something?”  He looked away into the ocean so far away.

“Of course.”

“I don’t want things to go back to the way they were.  With the insults and all of them bragging all the time.”

“I…I can see why.”

“Those guys, they think they are better than everyone else.  Better than humans.  Better than supers.  But they’re not.”  He put his head between his knees raised up to chest.  I couldn’t see his eyes anymore, but I knew they were full of rightcheous fury.  I didn’t really know what else to tell him.  I knew he wouldn’t leave and I knew he wouldn’t stand up for himself.  I couldn’t tell him about his real powers.  About the fact that he was immortal.  Much more powerful than any of the others.  A unique being like him could do anything.  He didn’t have to be stuck here putting up with their shit.  There was only one way.

“I got something I wanna show you.  Something I wouldn’t show the others.”

“What’cha mean?”

“It’s something I’ve been keeping.  Something I only wanted to share with a friend.”

“O-Okay.  I dont’ drink or anything though.”

“No.  It’s nothing like that, Jon.”

He followed me into the basement of the building where I’d set up my own personal shop.  I wanted to keep an eye on the others and no one had gone down there in years.  The first week I was there I built a state-of-the-art laboratory and surveillance system.  I don’t trust Americans as far as I can see them.

“Whoa! This place is awesome!  When did you?  This is so crazy!  And the others don’t know about this at all?!”

“Nope.  Just you and me now.”

“This is like some secret lair!  Did you have a hideout like this in England?”

“Several actually.”

“Oh man!  I wish I had a place like this!”

“Come here.  I’ll show you what I was talking about.  What I wanted to show you.”

I led him to the furthest corner into a dark room with a steel door.  As soon as he went in, I knocked him out and closed the door behind me.  I sealed it up turning the heavy wheel on the door slowly.

“I’m sorry Jon.  I really am, old boy.”

I then reached to the outer panel and pressed a series of buttons that filled the chamber with cold air.  I couldn’t think of anything better than freezing him.  If I left him out he could be taken by the government.  If I told him of his powers, there was a possibility that he’d use them against the team that ridiculed him.  I couldn’t heat him or he’d just turn to vapor with the chance of coming back down in the form of rain.  The only real option was to freeze him and keep him in my own protection.  For his own good.

And the good of normals and supers alike.

After that incident I left the team.  Everyone assumed it was because my only friend had run off after finding my reports in the lab about his powers.  I told them I’d find him.  They didn’t know I had already shipped him to a place where no one would ever find him.  Everyday I’m reminded the line between us and them–the normals and the supers.  And then there’s Jon.  I wonder what he could have been.  What he would have done.  Maybe he’d have destroyed the whole bloody world with a flood.  Or maybe he’s just rid us of the damned supers.  Either way I found the most humanity in a man that I doubt could ever exist without consequence.  Funny thing is that I”m not really sure he was human to begin with.  That fine line between us is growing thicker with each new power born.  When the war begins, I wonder who will win.  Us or them?





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