John watched as the Seven walked out of the building, leading a group of released hostages. The image cut back to a news anchor “this was the scene today as the Seven pulled off a heroic rescue operation. Death Mask had taken seventy people hostage and demanded a large ransom be paid for their release.”
The screen cut to an interview, showing Paragon standing before microphones, “during the battle, Death Mask was killed. It was unavoidable. I apologise to those who seek rightful justice as it was not served today. We have failed both the public and ourselves and we can only promise to try and do better.” Paragon held up a white mask, splattered with blood, a thin crack going down the centre of it. John shivered slightly, he had seen that mask plenty of times before, everyone had, but never empty. He wondered if this meant they would reveal who Death Mask truly was. They usually didn’t for fallen heroes, should any villains seek revenge on those left behind, but they occasionally revealed the identity of fallen villains. John wasn’t sure how he felt about the practice. He always felt bad for the families, for the most part none of them ever knew what their loved one was doing and despite their ignorance, they were ostracized from the communities they lived in. Even moving didn’t help sometimes. Still, it would be nice to know, people had been debating over the identity of Death Mask ever since he had exploded onto the scene twenty years ago. He had a high death count and despite the best efforts of multiple heroes he had never been caught. John wondered how Death Mask had been killed. He knew the Seven didn’t kill unless it was absolutely necessary. They preferred that the courts decide the fates of those they caught. Most of the other groups followed their lead as the Seven were the strongest heroes out there. Of course there were a few unofficial vigilante type groups, but they mostly took out small time crooks, leaving them near police stations or tied up at the scene of the crime. They used to take matters into their own hands, occasionally killing a few here and there until the Seven put a stop to it, declaring any unofficial group found to be killing suspects would be considered villains.
John had always loved the heroes, and to a lesser extent the villains, ever since he was a boy. His room was plastered in posters of his favourite ones. Some of the villains weren’t really proper villains, they were just acting, playing a role. Everyone seemed to like them. They never did anything outrageous or dangerous, they’d do something to thumb their nose at the heroes, something that reminded everyone that the heroes were not infallible.
The camera cut back to the studio and the anchor started to talk again, there was nothing too interesting in the rest of the news. A natural disaster somewhere, natural, not villain caused, some kind of political thing and then the weather. John waited until it ended, then changed the channel. Later he’d go online and check out the hero and villain websites for any updates or real news. He enjoyed seeing the footage on the TV news, but the rest of it was just so boring.
Up in his room John checked the various websites, then he turned off the computer and spun his chair around so he was facing his favourite poster. It was the Life Centre, the place where they trained all the heroes. One day he’d get there, even if it was just working as a janitor. He didn’t care, he just wanted to see them all in action and up close. Someday he’d get there. He knew it, he could feel it in his very core.
The next morning John woke up slowly, it was a Saturday, so he was free of the usual weekday rush. Both his parents worked on Saturdays, so he had the house to himself too. After a while he got out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. He was on his own for breakfast today and decided he’d make himself some French toast. He grabbed out the bread, then two eggs, as he was walking to the counter he stumbled, one of the eggs slid from his grasp and fell. John gasped and reached out with his hand to catch it, the egg froze mid air. Stunned, John slowly wrapped his hand around it. He walked to the kitchen table and sat down heavily, dumping everything he was carrying onto the table. He could feel a bubble in his chest growing bigger. He wanted to laugh, shout, whoop, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t seem to even catch his breath. He gasped once, twice then let out a shaky laugh. The laugh deepened, and after a moment he let out a triumphant cry and started to jump around the kitchen. It was real, really real! He had powers, actual real life powers! He could go to the Life Centre, he’d be a student, he’d be taught by all the heroes, he’d get to meet everyone single one! He punched into the air and let out another cackle. The laughter began to slow, then it died. What would he tell his parents? Could he even tell them? What was the protocol for heroes and telling their family? They’d want to know what he was doing if he started sneaking off. And what about his friends? How would he protect everyone? He took a deep breath. He needed to stay calm, rational. First things first, he would need to figure out exactly what he could do and how strong he was. Training would make him stronger of course, but it would be a good idea to get a kind of a baseline, to help him figure out where he landed on the scale of powers. Some only had small stuff, useful in their own way but not exactly practical for crime fighting. They lived regular lives, occasionally doing something heroic. Would that be him? After all it was only one small egg. Then of course there were the others, the ones like Paragon, ones so strong they might as well be gods. Paragon himself had been a hero for the last seventy years, he aged, but did so incredibly slowly, he still looked and sounded like he was maybe 26 at the oldest. John took up a small fork and threw it in the air, he held out his hand and concentrated, trying to stop it. It clattered as it landed on the ground. Sighing he picked it up and tried again. And again. And again.
It was his thirty fifth try that he managed to stop the fork falling. After that it seemed easy enough. By the time the hour was up he was able to hold a kitchen chair in the air, seemingly indefinitely. Grinning and sweating slightly, John wondered what else he could do. Stopping gravity was all well and good, but could he move things around too? He practiced for a short while, moving small things at first, moving on to bigger as he had done before. It all seemed so easy. Soon he had multiple items in the air, zipping around the kitchen. He let them all slow and gently placed them back where they belonged. He sat down, the kitchen chair moving to underneath him, and grinned. It was truly happening to him.
John walked quickly, trying not to look furtive. He had a backpack with some things in it and a heavy jacket, the collar pulled up around his neck, he was also wearing a pair of large sunglasses. He didn’t expect to run into anyone he knew, but it was always a danger. What if they saw him going in and put two and two together? Sure regular people visited all the time, but why risk it? The Life Centre was a large and imposing building, the front façade was made of glass and metal, it gleamed in the morning sunlight. He entered behind a family with two young children, the mother paused as she held the door open for him, then continued on her way, frowning slightly. John felt his cheeks redden as he saw those around him. They were dressed like everyday people. He took off the sunglasses and caught the eyes of one of the secretaries, who smirked at him. He adjusted his clothes slightly, then marched up to the desk, trying to look confident, he chose a woman sitting a few feet down from the smirking girl.
“Welcome to the Life Centre, how may I help you?”
“Um, yes, hi, I uh, want to, need to talk to, um. Mr. um.”
“Uh, yeah. Him.”
The secretary nodded and smiled, “It’s ok, everyone’s nervous their first time. Go into the elevator and press number 6, he has an office on that floor. They’ll tell you what to do.”
John let out a small sigh of relief “Thank you.” He hadn’t realise before how worried he had been that they would simply turn him away, tell him that there was some kind of mistake, that he didn’t belong here. He approached the lifts and waited patiently for one to arrive When it did he was the only one to get on it. He pressed six and tried to quell the nerves in his stomach as the elevator started to rise.
The doors opened revealing a large and brightly lit hall. There was another help desk up here. John stepped out and approached, “Hello, how may I help you?”
“I was told Mr. Jacobs office was up here?”
“Um, where is it?”
The secretary pressed a button in front of her, “And what, may I ask is the purpose of your visit?”
“um. I don’t think I should say.”
“Look kid, this button here prevents anyone from overhearing or seeing what we’re doing. He’s a busy man, I have to screen people.”
“I Uh, I have powers.”
“Ok, can you show me? It doesn’t have to be big and flashy or anything, just something to prove your legit.”
“Is…is it safe?”
“Yes. My memory of this will be erased once you’ve confirmed your powers.”
“Look, kid do it or don’t, I haven’t got all day.”
“Oh, um of course. Yeah.” John picked up a pencil from the desk with shaking hands and threw it in the air. He froze it midway and started making it do a figure eight mid-air.
“Ok, you can stop now, perfect. His office is down the hall, the sixth on the left. Have a good day.”
The pencil clattered to the floor, John picked it up and hastily put it back.
“Thanks, you too.” Then he hurried down the hall.
He knocked on the door and waited, “Yes. Come in.”
John opened the door and stepped into a large office. A desk faced the door, to the left was a large window providing a beautiful view of the city.
“Yes, that’s me, and you are?”
“John, it’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Jacobs stuck out his hand, John crossed the office and gripped it, they shook and Mr. Jacobs gestured for John to sit down.
“Now John, Tell me, what can you do?”
“Well, I can make stuff float, I can stop it falling and move it around.”
“Maybe. I’m not sure. I only found out this morning.”
“Wow, you don’t waste any time, do you?”
“Don’t worry, we’ve seen many eager young people come through these doors. I commend you for coming here so quickly. It’s better for everyone if you’re trained in a safe and secure environment. I assume you live at home, yes?”
“Do your parents know you’re here?”
“No, they’re at work. They don’t know I have powers.”
“Good, we’ll keep it that way. We’ll give you a cover story for where you’re going for training in the meantime. Don’t worry, it’s only to keep them safe. When you’re older you may tell them if you like. First things first through, we need to figure out what kind of powers you have and how strong you are.”
Mr. Jacobs pressed a small button on his keyboard, then typed something, his fingers moving so quickly they were just a blur. There was a faint beep and behind him the wall parted to reveal an elevator. Mr. Jacobs stood, “C’mon John, lets find out what you can do.”
They rode the elevator down for what seemed like hours. Mr. Jacobs didn’t say anything and John didn’t want to break the silence. Finally the elevator doors opened and they stepped out into a wide open space. It looked like a gym, but there were no people in it. “We hold classes here and in those rooms over there, everyone has Saturday and Sunday mornings off, they’ll come in in another hour or two for their lessons. I’ve contacted the necessary staff, they’re already in the testing rooms. Now, it will be scary and dangerous, it’s designed to startle and scare you into using your powers, out of pure instinct and reflex. If anything goes wrong at all it will be shut down and if needed you will be given immediate medical attention. Don’t worry though, it’s been a decade since that happened, and two since anyone has died.”
They stopped at a door, “right, if you will please step through there we can get stared, afterwards you will meet the techs and a few of the heroes that are here today, they’ll give you some advice, all that good stuff.”
John took a deep breath and stepped through the door into a white room.
Mr. Jacobs stood behind two techs as they typed away at their computers. “How is it going?”
“It’s absolutely astounding, he’s an all rounder. I’ve only ever seen test results like this from Paragon and that was when he was already thirty years in the business. You say this kid only developed his powers today?”
“Yeah, this morning. Came straight to us.”
One of the techs whistled, “Incredible.”
Mr. Jacobs took out his phone and dialed, “We have something.”
John sagged against the wall, panting. It had been a tough hour, but he had managed to counter everything they had thrown at him. He felt weak and a little light headed, he had skipped breakfast in his excitement. He could barely believe the things he could do, he looked at his palms, remembered how fire and ice had jetted from them. It seemed impossible that he had powers, after all, he was a nobody. The door to his right slid open and John stood up straighter as he saw who it was. Paragon entered the room, smiling at John.
“They tell me you’re the new guy?”
“Oh my god. It’s you, it’s really you. I mean Mr. Jacobs said I’d be meeting heroes but I didn’t think I’d be meeting THE hero!”
Paragon smiled, “I take it you’re a fan?”
“Yes sir, a huge, huge fan.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you John.”
Paragon stuck out his hand and John grabbed it excitedly, pumping up and down.
“C’mon, lets get lunch and we can talk about your new powers.”
“That would be amazing!”
Paragon gestured for John to go first, John walked passed him smiling. Paragon reached out and grabbed John, snapping his neck instantly. Johns limp body fell to the ground. Paragon looked at the body without emotion.
Mr. Jacobs walked into the room, “Good. I’ve wiped the minds of the techs and anyone who saw him come in. We’ll dump the body somewhere, blame one of the villains. We’re lucky we caught him so early, another day or two and the kid would have been invincible.”
Paragon glowered and Mr. Jacobs, “Thankfully that was not the case. I have things to do.” Paragon swept out of the room, leaving Mr. Jacobs behind. Mr. Jacobs rolled his eyes, “what a dick.” Then he turned and looked at John, “Sorry kid. House rules.” He took out his phone and stared dialing.