The hall sang back the clangs of my specialty boots striking its polished floor. Every armored window shutter rose, spurred to motion by the detection of my own headway towards the control room. As I walked, sunlight burst behind me. I might as well have had another special ability, beyond my strength and speed and nigh indestructible body. Instead of the moniker the newspapers had given me when I first flew through the city of Megannopolis, I could have been known as Sunburst or Morning man. Or maybe not. I never claimed to be creative. I dont have to be, I’m Commander Wow.
I’m an ultra hero.
It was, however, a glorious beginning to one of the darkest days this group had ever known.
The doors slid apart before I reached them. They showed an unusually active scene. The entire team was present.
Though they were plainly visible, rule #437.23-a absolutely decreed a roll call must be made at the start of each day. It’s a good rule. I wrote it.
I stood at the podium. I took great pains to ensure the act of clearing my throat didn’t produce a destructive sonic wave, I can never be too careful. The team assembled, at least most of them did.
One of our recent inductees, our rogue, never seemed to get the idea of working on a team. He was accustomed to soloing at night, clinging to the walls and ceilings with his archaic magics. I caught a glimpse of his flowing shadow just above the edge of the glasses I had accidentally forgotten to remove.
I pulled the spectacles off quickly, closed them up and tapped the frames on the podium. The lenses broke. The frames broke. The podium cracked.
Strong glasses… or a weak stand.
I continued anyway. It went alphabetically, as always.
A gruff man’s voice came from the back.
I bit my tongue as I saw the stubble covering his chin. Today, more than any other, made me allow it. Tomorrow, however, would push me to discuss the importance of physical appearance and hygiene. I shook my head and went on.
She was no relation to the now coughing slob, of course. The Lass was our most recent member. She was recruited directly from high school. It was a new practice which i wasnt sure about. She wasnt seasoned by working alone. It made me question her resilience. Her sobs formed around a single word.
Poor girl, it was hitting her hard. They had become such great friends. Some thought they took a step beyond even those boundaries. I didn’t know and I don’t gossip.
I did hear of a time which they both disappeared for an hour during a training session. If i had known for certain, i would have been required by my rule book to mediate the relationship back to a level of camaraderie. It just isn’t right for such a young woman to be consorting with her trainer, practically a teaching position. There was a joke going around for a couple weeks, they’d ask her how she likes her extra credit. She never got it. She wasn’t the brightest in the pumpkin patch but she was sweet.
I didn’t receive any answer. I looked at Joan. She was staring off to my left, where Kyle would have been standing. She wasnt crying. She’d cried enough when they divorced. There were enough tears coming from her when their only child was inducted into the scarlet guardian forces. He was a billion light-years away. Kyle, he was much, much further.
Everyone turned to glance. Some kept watching her. They were mesmerized by her grief. It was entrancing, those sparkling green eyes opened so wide yet with no noticeable attentiveness. She was one of the founding members of the group. That was years behind us. She had to focus twice as hard to retain he figure and beauty. Even though time, as it inevitably does, had begun to creep in, she was still stunning.
I leaned forward, sending a focused whisper, the kind that sound louder than they are to the one you’re talking to.
She started, swerving her head to look at me with that same blank gaze.
I tried to keep all evidence of annoyance out of my voice. Yes, it was a work day. Yes, we had so much more to do within the confines of the day. But she was a friend. She was a respectable Ultra. She deserved my patience.
“We’re doing roll call.”
She smiled, looking down.
“And it’s my turn, isn’t it?”
My nod brought her voice.
She began to cry. She didn’t make a sound but I saw the barely noticeable raising of her shoulders. I could hear the drops hit the floor. I knew half of the others could pick up the same faint sensory inputs.
“This is ridiculous…”
We all released a frightened yelp. He shouted it. He had to have known we were tuned in to small sounds, focusing our hearing. He may have been upside down on the ceiling, some ten yards away, but he couldn’t have had to shout it. We could have heard a whispered flatulence from a cricket in the gardens three streets over and he knew it.
He did grab our attention. That was what he enjoyed doing. I was close to fed up with him. He was what i call a ‘challenger’, rebelling against everything, even when it benefits him.
“Shadow Glory, If you wish to address the floor, please refrain until after we are all accounted for.”
He sighed and sneered and chuckled at the same time.
“I don’t care about addressing the floor. I’m talking to the people standing on it.”
I nodded and gave a polite smile.
“Ah, yes. Quite amusing. Can we go on?”
He released his grip. In a flourish of his long black coat and the sun glinting off his metallic body armor and faceplate. He landed on his feet, directly in front of me. One thing could be said, he knew how to make an appearance.
“No, im done with this stupidity. Everyday we’re all here. You have us sign in at the gate, subject us to fingerprint and retina scans. Then you actually require mandatory blood tests. Whats the point the roll call? How does that identify us anymore than everything that comes before it.”
I allowed myself a moment to collect. He couldn’t understand the necessity. He didn’t know the scope of danger we faced. How could he ignore the happenings of the last few days?
“We take every precaution. We have enemies. You should remember that, you had been one of them.”
His hands flew up.
“Oh, here we go. Every damn time we have an argument, you feel the need to bring that up. Yes. I was a villain"”
Vengeance, hidden by his cloak and skull-headed scepter, spoke through his hand in a cough.
“You killed me last year.”
Shadow Glory turned, pointing his finger.
“I apologized for that. But thank you for bringing up another point.”
Vengeance shifted his weight, looking away. He didnt want to offer any assistance to his old nemesis.
Shadow sat next to Amazing Woman, forcing Amazo and Amazor to scoot down the long, curved couch. He clamped his clawed glove on her shoulder, minding to avoid cutting her.
“I know this may seem really dark right now. But you have to understand something… Felix will be back.”
It would be very dramatic for me to say that a hush fell over the crowd. The reaction was a little closer to an awed murmur. No one could believe what he was saying.
Joan turned to him. She looked as if ready to slap him in the face but she held back. Curiosity got the better of her.
She parted her ruby lips in a dull tone unbecoming of such a unique woman.
“You can’t be serious.”
Shadow shook his head.
“Joan, do you remember a few months ago when chuck died?”
I could see movement in the far left region of the circular room. He didn’t have the best powers and he wasnt the greatest fighter. We didn’t talk much about Charles, the fantastic flinger, so he tended to listen when his name was mentioned. He climber on top of a chair and craned his head over the others.
Joan saw him too. She gave him a cordial wave.
“I don’t think the great Darwoo will be willing to resurrect another one of our members.”
Shadow was undeterred.
“Ok. How about Amazor, here?”
He extended his arm past Amazo and patted Amazor’s back. He didn’t let Amazing Woman reply.
“This man was crushed under generalissimo judgement’s Great Enormator. I found his body in the wreckage. Well, i found his upper half, Speedus found a leg, and grunt ran away with part of the spine.”
Amazing Woman ticked her tongue against her teeth. She waved a hand in his face to say her peace.
“You and i both know that the man who died that day was Amazor’s illegitimate clone…”
She leaned forward, addressing Amazor.
“May he rest in peace.”
Shadows leg began to shake. His boot tapped the ground.
“Fine, fine. What about me?”
She smiled. I could tell it was hidden. I was remarkably close to stepping in. I must confess, however, that i was hoping to get to Shadow’s point as well. I honestly had no idea where he was headed. She cocked her head to one side.
“What about you?”
He stood up. He was a tall man, a very well built and formidable figure. He spread his arms, making it seem as if he was twice his own size.
“I’ve died three damn times! Last year, I was shot in the head by my cohort!”
I was wondering when he would dredge that open wound up. It was the reason he had switched sides. I walked around the podium, joining in.
“That was an android.”
His eyes transfixed on me.
“It felt pretty real to me.”
Amazor’s voice came for behind his full-face mask.
“Doctor demented placed you in a sensory device that linked you to the android. You felt everything it did, you saw everything it did. You controlled it. It was like you were here, only you actually weren’t.”
Shadow’s head dropped.
“Yes, i know.”
Chuck raised his hand. He jumped up and down on his chair until i pointed to him.
“Chuck? This isn’t a classroom, ive told you that before.”
He nearly fell off his perch. I usually ignore his plea for speech. He was overly excited for his chance.
“Uhm, I was just… like, wondering…”
He took a long breath. If he was going to raise his hand, why didn’t he have his statement ready?
He finished formulating his sentence, though it was still a pelting of stops and tentative language.
“Uhm, like, why did Doctor Demented do that? I mean, like, I cant think of a good reason. It didn’t actually do anything, did it.”
Shadow spun around, shouting like a mad man.
Chuck lost his balance and toppled into the arms of Great Gerta. Shadow didn’t notice. He turned back to me.
“Thats my point. All of there little explanations just seem a little, I don’t know, convenient. It’s like our lives are being written by lazy teenagers.”
Theres an anger that comes with hearing something that is so ridiculous. I couldn’t contain it. I snorted derisively in his direction.
His entire body questioned me.
“Do you even hear yourself. By the way, mr. Commander Wow, your death still hasn’t been explained. You were buried. BURIED!”
I breathed. It wasnt a subject i liked going over.
“Mine is a special case.”
I could hear the eyes turning in their sockets. All around me, my friends and allies stared.
Amazing Lass had stopped her tears when chuck had fallen. She looked at me with the adorable questioning that only one so young can muster.
“What do you mean?”
This was all hitting too close to home. They were soon going to stumble upon my secret. Shadow, of course, wouldn’t let them simply blunder their way into a subject which made me uncomfortable. He was the damned gentlemen. He guided them.
“Commander Wow is an alien.”
I tried to hush the spirited replies and questions. Alien Hunter instinctively drew his weapon and had it pointed at my chest before even i could react. After a short standoff which involved his gun shaking, me pleading and Shadow Glory busting a gut i turned to face the latter.
How could he have known? There was no evidence. There was no sign. I looked human, in spite of my otherworldly handsomeness.
“Do you have a green card?”
The southern drawl gave the speaker away.
“Shut-up, Border Patrol!”
That’s when the laughter started. They were all guffawing at me. Shadow Glory put his hands up beside his head an stuck his fingers in the air. After a few seconds, i realized he was mocking antennas.
I couldn’t see anything but him, the rest of the world was red and blistering. I took a step forward. He didn’t stop. He pointed his finger in the air and made its tip glow white with his powers.
I didn’t get the reference but that was the last straw.
My fist didn’t so much collide with his jaw as it completely obliterated it. Thankfully, the faceplate crunched in and plugged the hand-sized hole. Shadow Glory fell to the floor without another word.
My breathing returned to normal. I stood over his body, that’s what it was at that moment. The others had all stood. They crowded around to see their crumpled ally, dropped by their leader. It wasn’t my proudest day.
A soft echoing of footsteps crawled over the silence. A tall, regal looking man with salt and pepper hair broke through the crowd. On his face was a smile. On his hand laid the ring of rejuvenation, an artifact i had woefully forgotten. Felix frowned as he looked down at Shadow, then he shrugged and started to walk away.
“Eh, he’ll probably be back.”