This was written in response to the Terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Challenge: Superheroes Plus. It was also an opportunity to dust off my favorite old City of Heroes character, the Marxist. Be glad it wasn't his trusty sidekick, the nuclear-powered Robo-Christ.
It was a very silly game.
Swinging around and throwing his best right hook, the Marxist flailed at thin air yet again, staggered back into the corner of the room clutching his head in agony. Behind his golden mirrorshades, a stream of blood ran like tears down his cheek. The Marxist fell to his knees on the cold, black marble floor. Could this be the end of Steel City’s mightiest hero?
Just this morning, Steel City’s top cop, police chief Justice, sent up the unmistakable hammer and sickle balloon. The Marxist wasted no time bounding downtown to the station. There was something happening to the children at the Hill School. The parents were starting to worry. The children weren’t playing with each other anymore, or even with their siblings. The chief sent three of his best officers in to the school. Two of them returned and quit the force on the spot. The third stayed in the school’s office and made phone calls, tearfully apologizing to everyone who’d ever helped him for two days before the calls stopped. No one has been in or out since.
The Marxist would charge hell into hell armed with no more than his own two fists, but he wasn’t above improving the odds if the opportunity presented itself. Child psychologist Louis Salome was the best there was at what he did, and he’s spoken to all of the children at Hill School after the “irregularities” began. The Marxist picked up his report. He didn’t like what he read.
“The children, all of them, are exhibiting a complete lack of empathy for other children. None of them will so much as lift a finger to help each other, their family, their friends or even their pets. There’s no apparent trauma or other proximate cause for this other this change in their behavior.
While there is no evidence for it, each of the children described a voice calling itself ‘Yanndar’ which visited them in the darkness. One child, the Nelson boy, described ‘Yanndar’ as an invisible friend who whispered ‘helpful’ things in his ear from just out of his range of vision. Other children described similar experiences. While none of them could provide any verifiable details, the fact that they all described these phenomena suggests that it is somehow related to the change in their behavior.”
“Marxist my man, what are you getting yourself into?”
Just this morning, Steel City’s top cop, police chief Justice, sent up the unmistakable hammer and sickle balloon. The Marxist wasted no time bounding downtown to the station. There was something happening to the children at the Hill School. The parents were thrilled. The children were learning self-reliance. The chief sent three of his own kids to the school and was considering quitting his admittedly unfulfilling job to teach there.
The building that housed the school had once been the home of disgraced industrialist Dan Rany. Rany was the great new hope of the “old” economy, building his empire on innovation and manufacturing (not to mention a family fortune). Rany made billions in government contracts making exotic alloys and telecommunications. Ironically, the whole empire collapsed when a minimum wage night watchman turned whistleblower and spilled the company secrets to the Marxist. Two months later, the DA locked the doors and Rany fled the country. It was one thing to be working on a secret device to broadcast thoughts into people’s brains for the C.I.A.; it was another to be surreptitiously shopping it to China and Russia at the same time.
Some heroes are subtle. Looking up at the old Rany family crest reading “Habeo Meum”, the Marxist briefly considered knocking before putting his black leather combat boot through the door. Entering the old building, he was struck by the pervasive silence and stillness of it. This may have been a school last week, but now, it was something else entirely.
Swinging around and throwing his best right how, the Marxist flailed at thin air yet again, staggered back into the corner of the room clutching his head in agony. Behind his golden mirrorshades, he caught the faintest glimpse of a grey, faceless figure out of the corner of his eye. Despite the pain, he forced his head to turn to face his foe, only for his foe to impossibly remain on the periphery of his vision.
The Marxist fixed the tilt of his red beret and waited for his eyes to adjust. It was dark, but not lightless, and when his deceptively ordinary-looking shades kicked in to low-light enhancement mode, he could make out the posters on the wall. A mundane poster showing cartoon children holding hands now featured the words “Sharing is scaring” in red paint, scrawled in a childish hand. The Marxist shuddered both in disgust and actual physical revulsion to this place. The Marxist was good with his fists, but that doesn’t do much good when there’s nothing to punch.
“Mr. Rany’s doing some very bad things, Mr. Marxist.”
“That ain’t exactly news, Charlie. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is, can you prove it?”
“Yeah, Marxist. I can prove it. It’s just that…well, my family’s got to eat. Job’s don’t grow on trees these days. Rany doesn’t pay much, but his checks don’t bounce, you know what I mean? He’s an asshole, but I got a family to feed and we’re living paycheck to paycheck”
“Charlie, you’ve got nothing to lose but your chains. Say the word, and I’ll find you decent work. It’s hard, but it the pay’s ok, better than what you’re making, and you won’t be protecting the guy who’s keeping you from getting ahead”
“You know, when you put it that way…you got a pen? This might take a while…..”
The building that housed the school had once been the home of brilliant inventor Dan Rany. Rany was perhaps the last great industrialist and it would be by his example that Steel City, and later America, would be saved. Rany was a self-made man who proved that anyone could succeed if only they worked hard enough and kept their nose clean. An ungrateful employee, jealous of Rany’s success, planted lies of the ears of the credulous and he was brought down by the weak and the lazy and the powerless, a victim of his own success.
Some heroes are subtle. Looking up at the beloved Rany family crest reading “Habeo Meum”, the Marxist felt an uncharacteristic reluctance towards striking the door and forcing entry into the school that once housed America’s greatest business family. He reconsidered kicking his way through the door, turned the handle, and slipped through the huge oak doors into the marble entryway that was incongruously littered with splinters.
The sense that he’d been here before and done this many times over would normally have provided the Marxist with a bad case of déjà vu, but this was more like microphone feedback in his head. The Marxist had taken the best punch the alien warlord Pugilistrix could muster without so much as flinching, but that was nothing compared to the pain deep in his skull. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a grey figure, crouching and whispering.
“I know who you are, but I don’t know where you are.” I’ll take the house down if I have to. The Marxist crouched deeply and sprung up through the ceiling, penetrating two floors of the house and landing on the third. The school rooms and the attic were empty. The grey figure appeared once again in the corner of his eye. He swung he elbow behind him, catching nothing but empty air and then what must have been a load-bearing two-by-four.
Half of the roof collapsed, but it was the pain inside his head that made the Marxist wince. He swung his right arm wildly, catching nothing but thin air yet again. He staggered back into the corner of the room clutching his head in agony. Behind his golden mirrorshades, he closed his eyes to try to clear his head and prevent his eyes from deceiving him again. The pain was getting the better of him.
“You want me to say some bad things about Mr. Rany, Marxist?
“That ain’t exactly news, Charlie. I got sixty-four thousand dollars for anyone who will do it.”
“It’s like this: Rany pays me good, more than I’m worth, but I want more, you know? He makes so much money and has a great car, a great house, and I want some of that, you know? I deserve it!”
“’course you do, Charlie. We all do. You got nothin’ to lose by doing this. You just give me some dirt, something inside that I can twist to make it sound shady, and I hand you the cash, easy peasy.”
“Well, when you say it that way….you just make sure I don’t wind up in the pen…”
The Marxist staggered and fell to his knees. His shoulders slumped with the effort of just staying upright. He saw the grey shape, just out of focus, just off to the side, slumped over, as if whispering into a…..
The Marxist summoned the strength to fight through the pain and stumble to his feet, struggling to the hole he’d made through the floor, and dropped back down to the black marble entryway of the first story of the school. He landed with a heavy, echoing thud. Even though his head felt as though a spike had been driven through one eye and out the back, he smiled.
And he stomped, shattering the marble and exposing the basement.
It looked like something out of a terrible forties sci-fi movie, full of tubes and valves and blinking electronics that couldn’t be anything other than props but were, impossibly, much more.
“You left the prototype in the school, you Scooby Doo motherfucker!” The Marxist jumped down to the basement floor and clutch his head. The pain was, if anything worse.
Dan Rany had been knocked over by the falling rubble, but he’d managed to get back up. Rany was in good shape, but he took one look at the Marxist and knew better than to struggle, but he couldn’t quite believe the Marxist was still standing.
“Your machine’s good, Rany. Real good. Turn it off. What’s it do? Take people’s memory and play them back, only with whatever ‘improvement’ you or the C.I.A. makes?”
“Close enough. I can’t program new memories. I have to read them out in real time, but that should have worked. That should have been enough.”
“It almost was. It would have been if someone else had been on running the show. You don’t know how I think, Rany. I don’t think you understand how any people think. Your version of ‘my memory’ was so alien, so jarring, it didn’t do anything but hurt. Turn it off, Rany."
“So you say, Marxist. But everyone I know thinks like I do. I get one phone call, right? I’ll call my lawyer and we’ll get this sorted out. I’ll just wait it out in Antigua until the legal mumbo-jumbo gets sorted out with my buddy the D.A.
“Ain’t gonna happen Rany.” The Marxist swung his arm, keeping his eyes on Rany He fist smashed found several very expensive-looking devices and reduced them to rubbish. The pain stopped.
“Oh, surely you’re not going to ‘take things into your own hands’, Marxist. You, of all people.”
The Marixst grabbed Rany by the neck and lifted him off the floor then grinned a very, very scary grin. “Oh hell no. I’m turning you over to the World Court.”
Rany turned paler than he already was, something that would have seemed impossible just seconds prior.
“Oh, and Rany? That ‘Yanndar’ business? Obvious anagrams are a dead giveaway.”