Main Tough Guy: A Superhero LitRPG Adventure (My Chemical Hero Book 1)

Tough Guy: A Superhero LitRPG Adventure (My Chemical Hero Book 1)

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RWBY: Before the Dawn

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Tough Guy 2: A Superhero LitRPG Adventure (My Chemical Hero)

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32

Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Epilogue

Tough Guy
Book 1 of “My Chemical Hero” Series
by Andrew Karevik

My Chemical Hero: Book 1
Copyright © 2021 LitRPG Freaks
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission from the author.

Chapter 1
I wish I could say that the explosion had startled me, but
unfortunately I had grown so used to them that I hardly noticed.
While the rest of the patrons of the Hammy Burger were all
screaming and ducking for cover as the flames roared outside our
window, I was busy trying to remember the right ratio of the SuperX
Sauce we used.
“We’re all going to die!” a woman screamed.
“Please, remain calm!” my manager, Mr. Keith, shouted,
standing atop one of the tables. “Everyone make an orderly exit to
the nearest SuperSafe, there’s one right down the—” His words were
drowned out by another explosion, followed by the shattering of
glass.
I sighed deeply as I looked at scattered debris everywhere.
Looks like I’d be staying late to clean up again.
As the rest of the restaurant decided to take the danger-close
explosion as a signal to get the hell out of there, I continued about
my business, too busy to lose out on the eight bucks I’d be making if
I managed to at least see the hour through.
“Don’t move!” a gruff voice demanded as I continued to make
the SuperX Sauce. I paid him no mind, assuming the man was
squaring away with whatever hero had tossed him into the
restaurant. “I said don’t move, or you’ll be sorry!” he repeated,
prompting me to finally turn around.
The man was a short fellow, stocky and fairly mangled at this
point, his clothes singed and h; is ski mask so burned that I could see
the lower half of his face. He had one hand on his chest and the

other pointed towards me, fingers angled in a V-shape. Between the
V crackled thin blue strands of electricity, humming with life-ending
power. This wasn’t just a thug, it was a supervillain. Though, judging
by his clothing, he wasn’t a particularly high level one.
“What do you want?” I asked. “It’s barely noon so we don’t
have much in the register.”
The electricity in between the man’s fingers began to grow
wilder, wrapping around his entire arm, as if threatening to make a
point. “There’s a pissed off Super out there and I’ll be damned if I let
him get me like he did the others. So let’s take a little trip to the back
freezer.”
“Are you sure you want to add a hostage situation to your
charges?” I asked.
“Pal, I’d be lucky to live long enough to stand before a judge,”
the villain replied, the electricity growing even more frayed and
violent. “Now move it!”
I put my hands up to show I was being compliant. “Can I clock
out first? Mr. Keith will dock my pay otherwise.”
“What a jerk!” the villain grumbled. “But no dice, march!”
Another explosion outside rocked the entire building, this one
big enough to cause even me to worry. Maybe it would be safer in
the back. Keeping my hands raised, I led the man into the kitchen.
“Alright, there’s gotta be some way out of there,” the villain said
as he looked around. “There’s a backdoor or something? Maybe
sewer access?”
“Yes, a fast-food place has access to a sewer right below it,” I
replied, turning to face him.
The man scowled beneath his singed mask. “What’s your
problem, anyway? You got a real life supervillain in front of you and
you aren’t even worried? Nervous that I’ll kill you?”

“Why should I be?” I asked. “You’re probably after money,
right? Let me guess, judging from your mask, I think you got into a
batch of ChemX recently. I think it juiced you and your buddies up,
and you decided to rip off, what, a bank? Only to find a superhero on
you within a matter of seconds. Now you’re desperate and afraid,
thinking that a hostage will save you from them.”
My rather succinct summary of the situation caused the man to
balk. “H-how could you possibly know all that?”
“Because I’ve watched the exact same story play out on the
evening news every week since ChemX was first introduced,” I said.
“And it always ends the exact same way, too.”
“Where are you? Show yourself!” shouted a much more familiar
voice from inside the restaurant. It was the famed Captain Cook (no,
not the explorer), leader of the Fireteam and number one threat to all
villains, great and small.
“Damn it!” my captor groaned. “Stay out of the kitchen! I’ve got
a hostage in here and I’ll kill him if you try to come in!” He then
looked at me as if waiting for me to do something. “Come on, shout
for help,” he hissed. His fingers crackled once again with electrical
power as if that could possibly threaten me. Little did he know that
death by electricity was preferable to working the rest of my shift at
this damnable fast-food place.
I decided to play along, however, and let out a weak “help,
help,” so that the hero would know not to pour burning hot flames
into the kitchen. Captain Cook was well known for his efficiency, but
not his restraint.
“Release the hostage at once! Don’t make me call the rest of
the team!” Cook threatened.
Hmmm, that wasn’t good. This thug here might be a novice,
sure, barely schooled in the art of supervillainy, but he was still quite
dangerous with his powers. Desperation might make things even
worse for me. I better figure a way out of this.

“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Huh? Shut up,” he grunted as he looked around for a means of
escape. There was an emergency exit, but Mr. Keith had sealed it
shut because employees kept disabling the alarm and sneaking out
to smoke or vape or just cry. It wouldn’t budge now and it seemed
my new villain pal didn’t have the strength to open it. Or the sense to
use his powers to blast it open.
“My name’s Arthur,” I said. “Arthur Garcia. I’m 24 years old and
I’ve been working here for almost five years.”
“Oh…” he trailed off for a moment. With a shrug, he confessed
his name. “They call me Lenny, I guess.”
“Not much of a villain name,” I replied, leaning against the
table. I slowly placed my hands behind me, as if I were just leaning
back. In truth, I was looking for a knife or something to smack him
with. Just in case things went haywire.
“As you guessed, it’s my first day,” Lenny said, still frantically
searching for an egress. “And from the looks of things, probably my
last.”
“Why’d you jump into the crime game?”
Lenny looked at me suspiciously for a moment. “Why do you
care?”
“Just making conversation,” I said.
“What, you want to bond with me over a sick parent or
something?” Lenny asked. “Maybe find some kind of sob story to
explain why I ran afoul of the law? Truth be told, Arthur, I’m just
trying to get paid. That’s it. End of story. Life’s tragic condition is that
anything I want costs money.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” I agreed, sighing at that. “I’ve been
busting my back working four jobs and what do I have to show for it?
Not a damn thing.”

“Well, if I had a few bags of cash with those little dollar symbols
on them, like a proper villain, I’d happily give you one,” Lenny said as
he pushed on the fire escape door as hard as he could. “Do the
whole Robin Hood thing, but as you can see, my heist didn’t go as
planned.”
“This is going to be your last warning!” Captain Cook bellowed.
“Exit the kitchen now, or else!”
“Listen, Shockey,” I said, my sternness so abrupt that it caused
the man to snap his head in my direction. “Do you know who’s out
there right now? The Captain Cook. The Fire Champion, the Burn
Warden, as they call him online. He’s singlehandedly defeated
villains twenty times as powerful as you. I’m not sure what your plan
is, but I can tell you that you’ve already lost. And this isn’t me trying
to psyche you out. I’ve watched the news, I’ve read the online
reports. You’re quite literally playing with fire and it’s a miracle you
haven’t been burned to death already.”
“You think I don’t know that?” he growled, panic gripping his
voice. “This was supposed to be a quick job. We were gonna make a
few hundred grand and then call it quits. But Toni had to open her big
mouth…” he trailed off for a moment. “Is it getting hotter in here?”
Indeed, I could feel the temperature beginning to rise in the
room. Normally the kitchen was a bit warm due to all the cooking and
activity, but this was a strong, rising heat. Like someone had turned
the oven on and left it open. The door to the kitchen was slowly
turning bright red.
“Ahhhh crap,” the two-bit criminal cried. “He’s gonna breach the
door!’
The door wasn’t even locked. Did these heroes never bother to
check before blasting things to pieces? Or melting them down? “Last
chance. Surrender yourself, okay? If you come quietly, I’m positive
you won’t be burned alive,” I said. “I won’t even press charges.” As if
that would add any incentive to going to prison for 30 years.

The heat continued to rise as the swinging metal door
continued to grow brighter and brighter. I could feel the sweat on my
forehead evaporate. “Now or never, man. Trust me, he wants you to
not surrender. He wants you to put up a fight so he can turn you into
a French fry. It’ll be less paperwork for him and more publicity too.
Everyone loves a toasted hostage taker.”
The masked man quickly ran the math in his head as the door
began to give way, melting down into a goopy mess that would be
guaranteed impossible to remove. Mr. Keith would still tell me to
clean it anyway. Finally, my captor made a decision.
“Ah dammit, you’re right. What am I thinking? I’ll surrender,” he
said. He dug into his right pocket and pulled out a vial of glistening
green liquid. Was that…ChemX? An actual dose of the stuff? No
way! “But you gotta do me a solid, man. Just hide this, anywhere, it
doesn’t matter. If I get caught with ChemX on me, while committing a
crime, they’ll put me away for good. But they won’t search you, right?
Help me out and I’ll surrender. Please!”
“Final warning,” Cook said as the heat continued to climb. I
could feel some of my arm hairs beginning to burn.
I stared at the glistening vial in his hands. ChemX. The
mysterious chemical that was the source of all superpowers. I didn’t
quite know where it came from, as few folks did, but I certainly knew
the charges involved if you got caught with it. Life without parole for
possession. Potential death sentence for trafficking.
In spite of the risks, I found myself reaching for the vial. If it
would make this man submit, so be it. I could just drop the container
off in a public mailbox later. No one would ever know I had it and this
idiot wouldn’t be facing life for what was undoubtedly the worst
series of decisions he had ever made.
“Fine, I’ll take it,” I said. “But I’m getting rid of it.”
“Don’t! It’s worth a fortune!” he hissed. “Trust me, I can find a
buyer. We can split the cash.”

“How about you focus on surviving the consequences of one
crime at a time,” I said, shoving the glass vial into my pocket. It even
felt warm to the touch. Something about it caused me to shiver
uncontrollably. They said that a single dose of ChemX could radically
transform an ordinary human into something far more. But it was
also said the process was rather violent and uncontrollable. Either
way, I’d definitely make sure to be careful biking home. Hell, I might
just walk instead.
“Thanks, Arthur, you’re a pretty good guy for a hostage,” Lenny
said as he knelt on the ground, interlocking his fingers together. The
way he assumed the position so swiftly made it clear that this was
not his first run-in with the law.
“And you’re a pretty decent hostage taker,” I replied. “Captain!
It’s clear, come in, I’m—”
My words were interrupted as the bold Captain Cook stormed
in, shoving his way through the parts of metal that hadn’t fully melted
down. It seemed the heat did not affect him. I have to admit, even I
was impressed seeing the Captain up close and personal. He was
impressively tall, with his signature orange mask, red tipped hair and
bright red gloves. The man had a chest chiseled like that of a Greek
god, though I could not help but wonder if that was merely just the
suit design. He couldn’t possibly be that ripped, could he?
“Stop right there!” Captain Cook shouted as he raised his
gloved hands high. Flames began to encircle his fingers, ready to
leap off at a moment’s notice. The light was so bright I was forced to
squint.
“Easy, Captain,” I said, pointing to the surrendered man. “He’s
given up. I’m perfectly safe, see?”
Captain Cook glanced at me, then at Lenny. “The man can
pump out enough voltage to stop a heart,” he growled. “Best to put
him down now.”

“Wait, what?” I asked, surprised and horrified at what the man
just said. But before I could say anything more, a torrent of flames
poured from his hands towards the prisoner who had agreed to
come quietly.
My legs acted immediately. I don’t know why I would dive in the
way of the flames to save anyone, let alone a criminal who was
clearly guilty, but I found my feet springing me forward to stop the
attack. I suppose in hindsight, diving in the way of a wall of fire was a
poor idea but there was nothing else I could do.
The flames struck me hard, the heat so bad that I actually
stopped feeling anything. My legs quivered and threatened to buckle,
but I held myself up. If I was going to die, I might as well die standing
up. Sitting on the job would certainly piss off Mr. Keith and I’d be
written up. Was that really going to be my last thought? Worrying
about getting written up?

Chapter 2
The flames eventually stopped washing over me, leaving me
on my knees, gasping for air. How was I still alive? The fire should
have consumed me instantly, burning everything to a crisp. There
was no reason that I was still breathing…unless the Captain could
control the intensity of the fire as well?
“Why’d you go leaping in front of me like that?” the supposed
hero said, taken aback by my actual heroics.
My clothes were burning still, smoke pouring from what had
once been my slightly too tight uniform. Yet I was alive, perfectly fine.
I glanced up at the Captain and cleared my throat. “He had given up,
what’s wrong with you?”
“Oh,” Cook said, noticing something on my face. His eyes
darted up and down for a moment and he relaxed. “You’re a supe
too. You could have told me you had it under control.”
What was he talking about? I was certainly not like him. Wait a
second, the vial! The ChemX in my pocket! I was quick to reach my
hand into my right pocket only to discover that the glass had
cracked. The liquid was gone. Had…had it seeped into my skin
when the captain tried to immolate my captor? That could be the
only reason I was still among the living.
I struggled to stand up, dusting myself off. The scraps of my
shirt were extremely hot to the touch, yet my hands didn’t recoil in
pain from the sensation. I could feel the heat, but not the pain that
should come with it. I glanced down to inspect my hands to see that
thin green lines were right beneath the skin, glowing brightly. Like
veins that had been newly formed within my body. They pulsed a
little, causing my fingers to twitch.

“You okay? I barely hit you with anything,” the captain
continued, unaware of the transformation that had taken place.
“Why didn’t you try to arrest him?” I asked, pointing to the
criminal who was still on his knees, face petrified at what happened.
He kept his head down, however, as to avoid causing any more
trouble, though it was clear he was starting to weigh his options.
“The man’s a lowlife scumbag. I’m sure you didn’t see what he
did to that poor security guard on the way out. I’m not sure what lies
he’s told you, but he doesn’t deserve to live. Not with that kind of
power pulsing through his veins.”
“That’s not for us to decide!” I replied, wagging a finger in the
man’s face. How strange it was to meet a man so famous and to
immediately come to hate him. I mean, I already had little love for
superheroes as it was, what with all the collateral damage they
caused, so I suppose it didn’t take much for me to feel such anger.
“Judges. Juries. You know, the laws of the land? You don’t have the
right to just make a snap decision and take the life of a man who
surrendered.”
The Captain rolled his eyes at that, letting out a little sigh as if
this conversation was overplayed at this point. Maybe it was. “Look, I
saw a hostage and I made a snap decision. No one’s going to cry
over an unregistered meta who immediately turned to crime after
somehow getting dosed with ChemX.”
“That’s not the point, the point is…” I trailed off and shook my
head. “You should know all this.”
“I do and I don’t really care,” he replied, pointing an index finger
towards the man in question. “No one’s going to question it. And
that’s good enough for me.”
I found myself moving right in front of the finger. I had survived
once before, right? “Take him to the police. Now.”
The Captain scowled at me. “I don’t know who you are, buddy,
and it’s unprofessional to ask, but once you’re in costume, we might

have a problem.”
I stood tall before him, trying to appear as threatening as
possible. It was hard to be this intimidating when my clothes were
quite literally shedding off my body, but I kept firm. There was a
moment of tension before finally, the costumed crusader waved a
hand dismissively. “Whatever. There’s a schoolhouse on fire that I
need to tend to. Or does the fire have an intrinsic right to live and I
shouldn’t tread on it?”
At that moment, a few police offers rushed in, guns drawn. This
dispersed the tension immediately as the Captain turned to greet
them. He didn’t seem terribly interested in pretending to be civil,
however. I guess he wasn’t two-faced in that regard. “Officers, arrest
the man in the back. He’s a level 1 meta at the most. Electrical type,
use Type 4 restraints. The naked fellow over there was a hostage. I
think his clothes were burned by an electrical attack.” He turned and
stared at me. “Isn’t that right?”
I nodded wordlessly. Lenny and I were in the clear here, thanks
to the arrival of the police. No need to further piss off one of the most
prolific crime fighters in the Pacific Northwest. Not when he had seen
my unmasked face, anyway.
One of the officers was kind enough to toss an apron to me as
they began to apprehend the budding supervillain. As I wrapped it
around my person, Lenny brushed past me. He looked up with
curious eyes, perhaps desperate to know why I had done this for
him. He said nothing, but I could see the question on his lips. Why
had I leapt in front of him?
“I would have done the same for anyone,” I whispered.
“Innocent or not.”
Lenny said nothing else, but merely nodded. I don’t know if I
believe that supervillains can be rehabilitated, but I suppose coming
that close to death was the best way to find out. The police escorted
him away and taped off my job. After they took my statement (and
gave me some pants), I was told to go home. The Hammy Burger

was an active super-crime scene and that meant I’d have the rest of
the night off! Being taken hostage and immolated in exchange for an
unpaid night off? Not a bad trade.
While I walked home (I didn’t have a car), the darkness
seemed to ebb away as my hands started to glow a little. Soft green
light pierced the darkness as the green veins began to crawl up my
arms, growing longer by the minute. I checked and rechecked the
vial, over and over again. Same result every time. It had cracked
open and all the liquid was gone. The flames had opened it up and I
had been exposed. What was going to happen to me?
I made it a few more steps towards the apartment complex,
Shady Oaks, before the world around me began to grow hazier. The
lights in my veins were growing brighter and I found myself
staggering down an alley, to hide behind a dumpster. I wasn’t in pain
but something was certainly happening. Something in my chest felt
as if it were going to burst. Time slowed down and I found myself
slumped against the wall, sliding downwards.
Super Senses are now active! Those words drifted in front of
me, floating high in the air. They flashed neon green and I moved a
hand out to try and touch them. Nothing. It was entirely in my head.
They had mentioned something about this on the news, I think. That
supes had access to some kind of neural interface. Herovision was
the name…more words began to pop up. ChemX Dosage Level: 1.
ChemX Dosage Tolerance: 1.
My hands were now shaking terribly, the tremors so powerful I
felt that my arms might break. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move—all I
could do was watch as my limbs began to tremble so violently that I
feared my bones might snap.
Core Power Emerged: Toughness appeared in my vision.
Toughness…so that’s why I had survived the flames. But would I
survive this transition?
As I lay against the wall, slumped next to a dumpster and
spasming like I had a seizure, there came a loud whoosh sound,

followed by a woman’s voice.
“Oh great, another junkie,” she grumbled. “Hey, listen if you can
hear my voice, you’re undergoing your transformation. Stay calm, it’ll
be over in a few hours.”
My vision had blurred significantly by then. All I could see was
a vague figure standing before me, the colors of blue and red
blending together. A pair of hands grabbed me roughly, so
impossibly tight that I worried she would crush my arms. “Let’s get
you out of here,” she said. “We’ll take good care of you at the Base.”

Chapter 3
I don’t quite remember when sleep took me. All I could
remember was the unreal sensations that I felt crawling through my
skin. Muscles were growing and tightening, fat around my midsection
was burning off, undoubtedly fueling this transformation, and my
senses were growing heightened. When I awoke, I could hear just
about everything at once. The rustling of wind caused by doors
opening and shutting, the hushed sounds of doctors and nurses
whispering to each other. All of it as loud as if it were right in my ear.
“Where…where am I?” I asked as I slowly sat up. The world
was spinning but my arms and legs were feeling much better. At
least, they didn’t feel like they were ready to violently spasm any
longer.
Sitting across from me was a rather striking young woman,
dressed in her elaborate costume of red and blue. She wore a full
bodysuit, though it seemed to be padded with some sort of
reinforced material, possibly to augment her defenses. A pair of
goggles hid her eyes from me, but not her expression. She seemed
quite concerned.
“You’re safe,” she said. “You’re in a safe place.”
“You’re a superhero?” I asked, trying to sit up. At once I
became aware of a large amount of tubes that had been shoved into
my nose, mouth and into my arms. They didn’t want me to get up, it
seemed.
“Indeed. I’m Sunburst,” she said, gently putting a hand on my
chest.
“The Saint of Puerto Rico,” I replied.

“You a fan?” she asked, laughing at the title. She brushed her
long blond hair back over her shoulder, perhaps surprised that I
knew this about her.
“Nah, I just remember when the news cycle went crazy over
you stopping that Doctor…” I paused, searching for the name. “Ah,
Doctor something or other. I don’t remember.”
“Doctor Reaper, he called himself. Oh that was a fight…”
Sunburst trailed off for a moment. “Do you know why you’re here?”
I knew exactly why I was in this hospital bed. The ChemX
exposure had triggered some violent convulsions. Somehow,
Sunburst knew how to find me. It was probably the ChemX in my
veins. That must have made it easy for them to locate me. Should I
lie? Pretend I didn’t know what ChemX is? After all, there was no
legal way to get a hold of it. What if she were waiting for me to
confess in a half-conscious state, only to bring in the police and have
me arrested?
“A seizure?” I asked. This prompted a laugh from the woman.
She pointed towards the large medical console to the right, a
massive machine that had all sorts of stats upon it. A few lab
technicians were monitoring the device, typing on the enormous
console, making changes and bringing up new numbers. One of the
monitors displayed a nervous system, though the coloration of key
areas showed that parts of my brain and arms had turned bright
green.
“You aren’t going to get anywhere by lying,” Sunburst said. “We
know you’re dosed. Our scanner was able to detect the flare up of
energy. And I found you mid-transformation. We have you dead to
rights.”
“Then I’d like my lawyer,” I said. I didn’t really know what a
lawyer would do for me here, nor did I actually have a lawyer, but I
knew the number one rule. If you’re a suspect in a criminal case:
shut the hell up. Let the lawyer do the talking.

“No one’s under arrest,” she said. “What’s done is done. It
might be illegal to possess ChemX but it’s technically not illegal to
ingest it. So however you got it, doesn’t really matter to me. The
question is, what are you going to do with this new power?”
I shrugged, still trying to be coy. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Don’t play me for a fool, I can see it in your eyes, you’re much
smarter than you let on,” she said, her tone switching from sweet
and caring to a more irritated, but still sincere voice. “So here are
your options. You can continue to play dumb, at which point I hand
you over to Uncle Sam and tell them you’re uncooperative. What
happens to you then? I have no idea, but I doubt you’ll like where
you end up. Probably as a state asset, or worse, placed in the
military reserves. Or…you can be honest and we can discuss your
future with us.”
“Us?” I asked, glancing around. At once, I spotted it. On the
wall was an elegant painting of the Heroes United Limited logo,
which consisted of six fists all coming together in a circle, energy of
different types surrounding each fist.
Sunburst noticed where I was looking. “Ah yes, the mural. We
have them painted everywhere in the building. It’s called brand
solidarity. I don’t know. Anyway, we as in the United Heroes, one of
the most premier superhero guilds in the country. Right now, we’re
on contract to collect miscreants and unfortunate folks who stumble
into ChemX. If your record is clean or at least free of any S-class
felonies, you’re eligible to join.”
Join? As in become a superhero? “What? You’re just willing to
take anyone in?”
“Anyone who became a meta, sure,” she said. “The
government wants us to grab you before some other unsavory figure
tries to pull you off the path of righteousness. Now, I’m sure there are
other guilds you’d like to consider, but we have a zero to hero—
lame, I know—system, where if you complete our academy training
you get a guaranteed paid position as a hero.”

My neck snapped upwards at the mention of the word ‘pay’. “Is
it above minimum wage?” I asked.
Sunburst laughed at this as if I were joking. But my expression
suggested otherwise. “You’re kidding, right? Yes, it’ll pay much more
than minimum wage.”
Music to my ears. I could quit my job at the Hammy Burger!
And at the Tacotastic Shack! And all my other odd gig-economy jobs
as well. No more late nights working at the pancake place! This was
my ticket out of poverty. But not just that, I would have a chance to
do some real good in this world too. I could fight crime, help people
and maybe someday own an apartment with more than two
bedrooms. This couldn’t be better!
I rubbed my hands together, the grogginess of the
transformation fading away. “That sounds great. I’d love to be a part
of Heroes United.”
“Perfect,” she said, clapping her own hands together. “Now, we
just need to figure out a few things. First and foremost, where did
you find the ChemX?”
That was a tough question to answer. Part of me worried it was
a trap. “Errr, well, that’s the thing. I didn’t take the dose on purpose,”
I said.
“Accidental exposure,” she murmured, writing something down
on a legal pad I hadn’t noticed until now. “I see. Where did it come
from?”
With a heavy sigh, I decided to just tell the whole story. It might
be savvy holding back, but at the same time, I was already in their
custody. I’m sure they could throw me to the government at a
moment’s notice and honestly, I’d rather deal with superheroes than
with Uncle Sam, especially when I never bothered to declare my tips
as taxes. I certainly didn’t want them to find out about that.
Sunburst listened patiently, taking notes until I had finished. I
told her just about everything. I decided not to share what I had

learned about Captain Cook, however, as I was unsure of her
relationship to the man. If they were friends or colleagues, she would
probably give him the benefit of the doubt and label me a trouble
maker. Instead, I just claimed I was caught in the crossfire. Not
entirely a lie, just not the whole truth.
“Thank you for being honest. We’ll pay Lenny a visit in jail. I’m
sure he’d be more than happy to cut a deal with us to get out of his
current situation. Who knows, he might end up right next to you one
of these days.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “You aren’t going to have him killed?”
Sunburst shook her head. “No. We aren’t like that. I know the
big 3 guilds are all pushing for harsher punishments, but at the
United we believe in second chances. And third, fourth and fifth.”
That was a good sign. A sign that not all heroes were selfrighteous jackasses like Captain Cook had turned out to be. “So
what’s next for me?” I asked.
“Well, first and foremost, I need to talk to my superiors,” she
said. “I’ll pass along what I know and hopefully they’ll want you to
sign on for training.”
“I thought this was a sure thing,” I said.
The woman slightly tilted her head left and right, making a
pained expression. “Ideally, you would be a sure candidate but…”
“But…” I echoed.
“Your exposure wasn’t an injection,” she said. “So there’s a
chance it’s reversible.”
“Wait, you mean you can unsuper me?” I asked, sitting up.
Whether my career was being a superhero or not, I didn’t mind being
fireproof. Hell, that alone would open up several new career
opportunities for me. I’d pass a firefighter’s exam with ease!
“There’s an extraction process if you have only been
moderately exposed,” she said. “Painless, quick and safe. We’ll cut

you a check for your donation, obviously, and you’re good to go.”
I frowned. “And if I refuse?”
“It’s not an…elective procedure,” she said through gritted teeth,
forcing a smile all the while. I got the feeling that this was not the first
time she had this conversation with someone. “But it is a rather large
check!” she added, as if that would make it better.
“Well, do what you’re going to do,” I said with a sigh. “Not like I
can do anything about it.”
“Cheer up, maybe it won’t come to that,” she replied.
It sure as hell wouldn’t, because as soon as she left the room,
I’d be making my grand escape out of this place. I had just gotten
super powers, there was no way I was about to give them up!

Chapter 4
My senses kept going in and out of focus as I tried to
concentrate my newfound sense of hearing. I found that with enough
concentration, I could extend my hearing past doors and even
through walls. I could hear the couple in the floor below me arguing
about something as mundane as coffee creamer. Across the street
of the building, an old man was pulling change out of his pockets for
the bus, coin after coin. Slowly, I was able to scan around, shifting
my hearing until finally, I heard Sunburst’s voice.
“I don’t know, Maryanne, the policy is pretty ironclad. If they’re
partial, we turn ‘em back. Government orders,” a gruff voice said. He
was a much older man, probably in his seventies. His voice was
weary and exhausted, as if he had been working this job way too
long.
“Government suggestion, at best!” Sunburst replied. “Look, he’s
a minimum wage worker from a burger joint. Buried up to his neck in
school loans, just trying to make it in this world. Let’s give him a
chance. Come on, think of the press we can get! A bona fide nobody
to somebody tale!”
“For every one of those stories that comes out, there’s at least
a hundred kids who get themselves killed trying to get ChemX or
trying to use it without proper procedure,” the stodgy man replied.
“I’d rather not inspire the masses.”
At this point, I grabbed a few of the tubes stuck into my arm
and began to pull them out. “He hasn’t tried to escape yet! That’s a
good sign!” she said, prompting me to immediately release my
medical bonds and lie back in bed. “I told him what he was facing
and he hasn’t bailed. He’s still lying in bed, perfectly still.”

“To be fair, Toughness isn’t a power set that lends itself to great
escapes,” the man replied. “Sure, he could walk out of here without
getting a scratch but it’s not like he could come out blasting.”
“Just give him a chance, please?” Sunburst said. I could detect
genuine emotion in her voice. “Aren’t you tired of always having the
same old career-driven heroes in here? Getting new transfers who
are just as jaded as we are? Let’s get some fresh blood! An outsider
to keep us on our toes and maybe someone who wants to do some
real good in this world!”
“You’re not going to let me win this one, are you?”
“I am prepared to ugly cry to get my way,” she retorted.
The man groaned. “Fine. Have it your way, Maryanne. Put him
in the meatgrinder with the other potentials. If he scrubs out, we
reverse him. No questions asked, no crying and complaining,
agreed?”
“And if he makes it through, we put him on contract. Same
terms as you outlined, no crying or complaining,” she said.
“Deal,” the old man replied. I heard the pop as hands clasped
together in a handshake, followed by a brief sound of someone’s
bones cracking. “Ah, I give, I give,” he said, chuckling. “You certainly
are getting stronger.”
“Been leveling up my strength,” Sunburst said. “It’s been useful
so far.”
With that, their discussion devolved into a conversation about
what upgrades they’d been taking lately. I felt a little guilty for
eavesdropping and quickly pulled my focus away. I could still sort of
hear them, but it sounded just like background noise, blending in
with all of the other voices in the building. Over time it turned into a
meaningless hum, like an air conditioner running in the background.
I lay back in bed and tried to get some more rest, but I couldn’t
stop thinking about what was going to happen next. The
meatgrinder? That was some kind of test, right? Or maybe it was an

actual meatgrinder that they’d toss me in, to test my strength. No,
wait, that was insane. Right? Like…they couldn’t just do that, could
they?
As the theories went wild in my head, the door opened and
Sunburst rushed in, carrying a white t-shirt and some slacks in her
hands. “Good and bad news,” she said, throwing the clothes onto
me. “The good news is that you have a stay of execution. The bad
news is that you’re going to have to prove you’re worth keeping.
Otherwise, we’ll have to dechem you.”
It was hard not to notice the excitement on the woman’s face.
There was clearly some significance to my joining up with the team,
but what exactly? She had spoken about wanting new blood and
about career heroes…was all not well in heroland? I’d have to find
out later.
“So what do I need to do?” I asked.
“We’ve got a Combine coming up in a few weeks. Folks around
here call it the meatgrinder because, well, it is. A lot of hopeful
heroes from other smaller groups show up, as well as independents
who decide they want some stability.”
“Like football?” I asked.
“Exactly, just like football. Everyone shows up, does some drills
and tries to look as skilled as possible. We evaluate everything.
Power control, professionalism, knowledge of the law, etc. Very few,
if any, make it into the United. I’ve sat on the judges’ panel and I can
tell you, we’d rather send everyone home than take in one
unqualified individual.”
Immediately I could feel the blood rush to my head. A
superhero try-out? And I was invited! Well, mandated technically, but
who cares? I had a chance to join this guild and I certainly couldn’t
turn it down!
“Sounds good,” I said, donning the shirt. “So when do we start
training for it?”

Sunburst gave me that same forced smile as before, gritting
her teeth. “Here’s the thing…we don’t have training facilities for nonunies, sooo…” she trailed off. “You’re kind of on your own. I mean,
figuratively speaking. We’ll have a team monitoring you while you’re
off premise, but we can’t do you any favors. It would be
unprofessional for the Combine.”
I shrugged. “Ah, okay. That makes sense.” And with that, I
began to put my pants on, struggling to keep everything beneath the
sheets as I worked. The tubes were not helping in this situation.
“You aren’t mad?” she asked.
“Look, I’ve been around long enough to learn that life doesn’t
really do you any favors, you either adapt or get rolled over,” I said.
“At 18, I found my bags packed and on the front door to my house.
Parents said it would build character for me to suddenly be
homeless. That was a hard lesson to learn. And while I’m ungrateful
for it, deeply ungrateful, I must admit that it at least taught me that
life gives you nothing and expects everything.”
“That’s…depressing,” she said, sinking her head down. “My
God, if I ever thought like that, I don’t know how I’d keep going.”
“Eh, it’s not so bad,” I replied. “Well, actually it is, but you
usually have alcohol and video games to numb the pain.”
“Well, cut all of that out,” Sunburst said, trying to change the
subject. “Because you’ve got a Combine to win!” She looked around
real quick and then leaned down to whisper something to me, at the
same time picking up a silver tray. “Go online,” she whispered as she
tossed the tray onto the ground, causing a rather painful clatter, one
that was amplified by my super hearing, causing me to wince. “Look
up the Vigilante’s Guide to Meta Heroics, it’s illegal but you can find it
anywhere. The government has officially denounced the book as
false, but everything in there is true.” She slid her chair back,
causing a loud grinding as she pushed it with her leg, still hovering
over me. “That’s pretty much your only shot at figuring out how to
use the Herovision.”

“Got it,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Wish me luck!”
“You’re going to need a lot more than luck to win,” Sunburst
replied. “Unless you have a luck-based power, that is.”

Chapter 5
I didn’t exit the limousine as much as I was pushed out of it.
While Sunburst had been pleasant with me, the legal team who
escorted me home was rather hostile. There was a great deal of
paperwork that I had to sign, stating various acknowledgements of
treatment and giving waivers in case ChemX stopped my heart at
any time in the future. I was forced into a non-disclosure agreement,
to never mention my meeting at United Heroes or how I was found.
A lot of legalese that I didn’t understand, but the head lawyer didn’t
much seem to care to explain anything to me. I signed whatever they
needed and was then unceremoniously released from the vehicle.
“Yeah, thanks for the ride,” I shouted as the limo peeled out,
narrowly missing a garbage can as it drove. My neighbor, Mr. Sidney,
was sitting on the corner step leading into my apartment complex.
“You didn’t make it home yesterday,” he said.
“I had a late shift,” I lied.
“Your boss came round here this morning, from the uh, oh
what’s it called. Hammed Burger?”
“Hammy Burger,” I groaned. My responsibilities suddenly
returned to me like a ten-pound hammer on my head.
“He was mighty mad, but I covered for you. Said the amount of
fluids you was spewing out was unholy and liable to infect anyone
and everyone at the restaurant,” Mr. Sid said with a chuckle. “He
went pale at that and quickly left.”
“Yeah, the man’s a germaphobe. Thanks, Mr. Sid,” I said as I
climbed up the stairs.

“You aren’t in any kind of trouble, are you?” the older
gentleman asked. Mr. Sid had been at Shady Oaks longer than
anyone else. He was an old soul, retired and quite content to just sit
on the steps, watching the city slowly unwind. Occasionally he’d be
reading scripture or poetry, preaching the good word to any who
would listen, but mostly he just drank and smoked. Not a bad way to
live out retirement, that was for sure. Oh how I envied that man.
“Not trouble as much as opportunity,” I said. “A big one. Say a
prayer for me, will you?”
“I pray for you every night, son. But the Lord never answers my
prayers cause you never come home with leftovers for me,” he said
with a laugh. With that, he went back to his drinking and reading of
Relativity, the Special and General Theory, one of Einstein’s most
famous works. Not a leisurely read. At least, not for some folks.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I said, climbing up the steps to my
apartment. In truth, I had no interest in ever going back to work if I
could avoid it. Instead, I closed the door, scrambled over the intricate
maze of empty soda cans and pizza boxes, and landed on the couch
where my laptop was waiting. The couch creaked beneath my
weight, threatening to give way, as I typed the words ‘Vigilante
Guide’ into the Internet.
What came up were several official-looking websites warning
that the book was a hoax. The third search result was a link to the
PDF, proving once again that you could quite literally find anything
on the Web.
October 17th. A month from today. That was how long I had to
prepare for the Combine. To show these folks that I was worthy of
having the title of superhero. “Superhero,” I whispered aloud. I
couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me!
Yet before I could become elated, letting my head swell up with
dreams and hopes, the tired old cynic within me brought up the cold
realization that this could all be taken from me in a heartbeat. The
transformation process was reversible due to my method of

exposure. I had to take this seriously. More seriously than that
damnable archeology degree that I had wasted so much money on.
And so, for the entire night, I read. Read everything I could
from this incredibly shady book. The source document itself was
rather paranoid. I suppose it read exactly like a vigilante’s handbook
would read, warning about the dangers of the government, the grand
conspiracy that all superhero unions were a part of, etc. But beneath
the ramblings came an extremely clear explanation of what a ChemX
infusion did to the body, as well as instructions on how to properly
interface with Supervison—or as it was officially called Metasight.
Come morning, as the light tried to force its way in through my
curtains, I felt that I had learned enough to test out accessing this
Metasight. So, in my den/bedroom, I pushed everything aside to
make a small clearing for me to sit, cross-legged. I sank into a
meditative stance, cleared my mind and tried to focus on the energy
that was now within me.
Metasight active! appeared in my vision. Then suddenly an
entire barrage of words came my way, completely crowding out my
ability to see the world around me. There were many alerts trying to
get me to take some kind of action.
Stat Increases are available! Power Advancements are now
available!
This was the interface designed to allow me to actually control
my own growth. ChemX, that mysterious, wonderful chemical,
actually created a computer-like system to manage my abilities.
From here, I could begin to refine myself.
My heart was pounding hard as I looked at the options vying for
my attention. My only area of focus was on the words Power
Selections. Here was the real meat, the real purpose of ChemX. The
ability to unlock and refine new powers. To become superhuman.
With a deep breath, I selected the Power section and looked at
what my options were.

Core Power unlocked!
Toughness: This core power drastically increases the physical
tolerance to pain. At lower levels, this significantly reduces pain
thresholds and increases resistance to all types of damage. At high
levels, Toughness can even grant impenetrable skin.
You have 2 Advancement Points
Available Toughness Advancements:
Passive Advancements:
Extreme Recovery: Life-threatening injuries quickly
heal in a matter of hours, other less severe injuries
recover in minutes.
Cutproof: Blades no longer affect your skin.
Bounce Back: Recover lost stamina at an
accelerated pace. Increases your natural stamina
levels.
Elemental Tolerance: Choose an element. Attacks
from those elements do considerably less damage to
you.
Long Hours: Your need to sleep is reduced by half.
Active Advancements:
Grit: Severe injuries have no effect on you. Duration:
1 hour.
Endure: Significantly increases your physical
resistance to all forms of pain and injuries. Duration:
30 seconds.
Hard Strike: Unleashes a strong attack that
corresponds to your health level. The less damage

you have taken, the stronger it will be. Duration:
Instant.
Wow! Look at all these abilities that came from my Toughness
power. I must admit, I had been a little disappointed to discover that
my core ability would just be “being tough” but now that I could see it
broken down, there were a lot of advantages I could have. So, what
to pick?
I only had two advancements, but that didn’t matter too much.
According to the book, the best way to gain more advancements was
to use your powers repeatedly, just like muscles. Eventually I’d
unlock more points, just by utilizing these abilities.
Extreme Recovery made the most sense for starting out. I
mean, I was just about to embark in the life of a superhero… I’d
probably be getting my ass kicked quite a bunch. Ideally, I’d like to
avoid that, of course, but let’s be honest here. Dressing up in tights
and fighting maniacs on the street was definitely going to leave some
bruises. If I could bruise, that is. So rather than end up in the hospital
for weeks, recovering from a knife wound or a lightning blast, I could
just sleep the injury off like a bad hangover. Perfect!
Second, I’d need some offense, to make fighting crime a little
easier. Hard Strike was my only option here. It was hard to beat a
really good punch, I suppose. I selected that ability and quickly felt
my muscles begin to shift—an aftereffect of the ChemX dosage.
Once I had made my selections, it was time to enhance my
stats. It took a bit more concentration to switch from one set of
menus to the other, but with enough focus I was able to do so. The
stats page appeared, displaying my natural characteristics.
You have 5 Stat points to allocate!
Strength: 1
Speed: 1

Agility: 1
Constitution: 1
Endurance: 1
Focus: 1
Each of these stats governed my natural abilities in some way.
Strength was obvious as was Speed. Agility enhanced my reflexes
and reaction time, Constitution my natural health state, and
Endurance was my ability to sustain use of my powers. Focus was a
key trait that governed my overall ability to utilize my senses, refine
my abilities and shut out all the noise created by my enhanced
hearing.
There were a lot of choices I could make, but fortunately the
Vigilante’s guide provided some easy preset options to choose from.
Since my power set was connected to Toughness, I would be better
off investing in other skills than Constitution. After some
consideration, I decided to go with the following set up.
Strength: 3
Speed: 1
Agility: 1
Constitution: 1
Endurance: 3
Focus: 2
These were complimentary skills, something a brick or a
brawler might have, as the books terminology explained. Bricks were
able to take a lot of punishment and Brawlers were extremely
efficient fighters, able to deal damage in melee with ease. I was

going for a mix of the two, so I picked the stats that would help round
me out in that area.
Even though it was early morning and I hadn’t slept all night, I
found myself beyond energized. My new abilities were kicking in
already and I felt amazing! My senses were heightened; I could lift
my coffee table with ease and I even tried to do a backflip! I failed, of
course, and landed right on my neck, but didn’t even feel a thing! If
superheroing didn’t work out, I could easily go into stunt work!
There was only one thing left to do, now that I had chosen my
abilities. I had to test them out on the streets. That meant it was time
for me to do what superheroes did best. It was time for me to fight
some crime!

Chapter 6
Superheroes were a necessary evil in the modern world. They
commanded great power, sure, but they also caused a lot of
collateral damage. Entire industries had popped up around the
advent of metahumans, paying for damages, repairing what had
been broken and even in some cases, completely rebuilding sections
of various cities. But for all of the monetary damage they did, they
provided something that no one else could: protection from
supervillains.
It all started maybe forty years ago, when for some reason or
another, ChemX was let loose in the world. The rumors that a drug
could make someone superpowered took off like fire and soon, all
manner of low-lifes and goons were getting their hands on the stuff.
For a while, most major cities found themselves at the mercy of folks
who were just looking to get paid. Give a man the power to explode
and he’d use it to make a rather hefty deposit from the bank. Pay up
and you’d be safe. And for a short while, that was the world’s biggest
problem.
That was until the long-term effects of ChemX started to affect
these individuals. Many had gained tainted doses, or had tried to
replicate the chemical so they could ingest more to become even
stronger. In doing so, something in their minds became unhinged.
Unloosened. Maniacs, pure and simple, started popping up left and
right. Some wore elaborate costumes, taking inspiration from old
comics from World War 2. Others followed suit, enjoying the sense of
flair and falling deep into their own fantasy world. These villains
didn’t just want money. They were after power, prestige or some
twisted sense of pleasure from their actions.

As you can guess, this facilitated the need for an organized
response. The government started hiring reformed villains or those
accidentally exposed to ChemX to serve as foot soldiers in this new
war. Over time, an elaborate culture started to come into play, as
heroes dressed up to protect their identities and to even feed into the
fantasies of these villains. The pageantry seemed to cause these
fiends to take on rivals and change their focus from tormenting the
general population to simply antagonizing heroes. In a lot of ways,
the battles became a sporting affair between both sides.
The rest of the world suffered because of this, of course. While
a hero might love zapping and blasting away at an enemy villain,
making quips and jokes, the rest of us—diving into shelters known
as SuperSafes, which were nigh-impenetrable—weren’t so pleased.
Anti-hero sentiment was rather common, and I was certainly no
different. After all, collateral damage had just become a routine part
of my life.
But that came with the territory of living in any big city, Eon City
included. And now, rather than grumble and complain about heroes
and villains, I had a real chance to get involved. I know one thing, I’d
do everything I could to not damage any property. That was my rule
number 1. My rule number 2 was no spandex. I don’t care how my
body had shifted due to the transformation, there was no way in hell
I’d be wearing a codpiece.
Instead of using some outlandish garb, I had donned a simple
hoodie and ski mask, meant to give me a lower profile. And to hide
my face from goons who would undoubtedly be looking for me once
they got out of prison. I suppose in the future, I’d have some nice
costume, but for now I had to make do with what I had in the house. I
certainly didn’t have the money to be spending on pretty much
anything that wasn’t rent, pizza or energy drinks.
I was perched on a park bench in the middle of Hendriks Park,
waiting for some action to occur. And no, I don’t mean that I was just
sitting around, hoping a crime would happen. That would take

forever. Rather, I had a nifty little app on my phone, designed to
quickly alert me should someone be in trouble.
The app, HeroFindr, had been created as a joke in a college
dorm at MIT, as some nerds mocked how there were apps for finding
everything. They even put it up for crowdfunding, ridiculing the idea
openly in their video (alcohol may or may not have been involved.)
The next day, they had raised over 10 million in cash. They sobered
up and got to work. Now, anyone with the app could call for help and
any registered hero (or 14 day free trial user) could attempt to
intervene. This was the number one suggested method for finding
villains to fight, as normal channels were off-limits to an unregistered
hero like myself. Technically, I was a vigilante, which the government
didn’t quite ban, but also didn’t endorse at the same time. At least,
that was the book’s explanation.
I stared at the app, waiting for something to happen. Eon City
was riddled with crime, that was for sure. Just had to wait for…
“Got one!” I cheered as the map suddenly blipped, a large blue
dot appearing half a block away from me. Distress Level 1, it
warned. Level 1 meant no costumes or obvious metahumans, but
that was about it. There was no indication of what kind of danger I’d
be facing, just that whoever was perpetrating the crime didn’t look
like a villain.
Either way, it was a bona fide chance for me to try out my new
abilities! To test myself and, best of all, help someone out in their
time of need. I leapt out of my seat and took off towards the location,
running as fast as I could. And while I certainly did not have superspeed, I did find that maintaining a full sprint was relatively easy on
the lungs. Normally I’d get winded just going up some stairs, but now
I was charging as fast as I could without needing to slow down or
even stop. I could keep this up for miles, it seemed!
I arrived in the back lot of an industrial park, where a large truck
was sitting. Four men were surrounding the vehicle, all of them

armed with pipes. Each one was smashing their weapons fruitlessly
against the side of the truck, unable to get in.
“Come on! You’re just gonna make your beating much worse!”
the leader jeered. He was a tall man with an ugly scar across his
nose. He was standing atop the hood of the truck, metal pipe in
hand. Someone was inside the vehicle! And apparently wasn’t willing
to come out and face these goons. That was probably the individual
who was in distress. I had better intervene before they smashed
open the windows and pulled him out.
“Hey!” I shouted, jogging up to the group. “Knock that off!”
All four of the men turned to face me at once. The leader
laughed at the sight of me. “Knock it off? What, is that your heroic
catch phrase?”
“Don’t have a catch phrase yet,” I said, cracking my knuckles.
My heart was pounding and the adrenaline was certainly kicking in.
This was so surreal, to stand confidently in front of armed goons
without any fear of the danger involved. I had been immolated
before, I’m sure a few whacks from a lead pipe wouldn’t do much
harm. Though I should probably try to avoid it if possible.
“I am so sick of you first timers coming in and messing with our
business,” the leader grumbled, pointing the pipe right at me. “So I’m
warning you, piss off now, or else…”
“Afraid I can’t do that,” I said, raising my fists. “Last warning, go
home or face the consequences.”
The leader scoffed at that. “Get him,” he ordered. This
prompted his three goons to quickly turn their attentions towards me.
They rushed at me, weapons raised high, ready to crack my skull in.
My heart began pounding even harder and I took a deep breath to
ready for what was to come.
Fights in the movies always seem so slow and intricate, but in
real life they were rather fast and frantic, so quick I could barely
register what was happening. One of the thugs charged forward so

quickly that it caught me off guard. He swung the pipe right at my
skull and I narrowly was able to dodge it. I focused for a moment to
activate my Hard Strike ability. A surge of energy rushed through my
entire body and I felt my right arm fire itself out towards the enemy,
striking him hard in the ribs.
“Oof,” the thug cried as he dropped to the ground. The pipe
clattered to the side as he bent over, trying to catch his breath.
I hesitated after that, just for a moment to observe my
handiwork, but that was too much time wasted in the heat of battle. A
pipe caught me in the side of the head, cracking me right in the skull.
I felt the vibration pulse through my head and everything seemed to
stop. No pain. Even though the guy had tried to bash my brains in, I
was perfectly fine. The thump was like a mild bonk on a helmet,
noticeable but without any damage.
I rotated my head to face the wide-eyed goon who just stood
there, still holding the pipe against my scalp. He looked rather
terrified and didn’t have a chance to react as I grabbed him by the
shirt and lifted him up, throwing him into a pile of trash. He dropped
his weapon and sank down into the garbage, undoubtedly preferring
to feign injuries, rather than facing me again.
The other goon—the last remaining opponent—was in a frenzy,
striking at my arms, legs and head as fast as he could with his pipe,
but the damage was pitiful. It felt like a child trying to punch you in
the shoulder as hard as they could. I whipped around and caught the
pipe in mid-swing with one hand and delivered a Hard Strike to his
chest with the other. He flew back onto the ground and slid several
feet, one of his shoes flying off in the process.
I grimaced, watching as he gasped for breath, hoping I didn’t hit
hard enough to kill him. A collapsed lung could be fatal. I’d have to
call the paramedics after this.
“A tough guy, are you?” the gang leader called, returning my
focus back to him. He was now standing atop the truck trailer,

looking down at me. “Took a pipe right to the brain and nothing.
Pretty impressive stuff. You looking for work?”
“Afraid not,” I replied, walking towards the truck. Despite the
adrenaline pumping through me, I barely felt winded. But I got the
feeling that this man wouldn’t go down so easily. “Last chance, take
your pride and get out of here.”
“Why do you do that?” he asked. “Why do you ask me to run
away? Shouldn’t you tell me to turn myself in? Or surrender so I can
go to prison?”
I shrugged. “I mean, who in their right mind would do that? It’s
a better offer to let you run, so you might actually take it.”
“Yeah, but then I might just attack someone else.”
“And if you do, I’ll show up to kick your ass again,” I said. “Easy
enough.”
This seemed to amuse the man to no end. He laughed heartily
and threw his pipe down at my feet. I didn’t get the impression that
he was disarming himself, however. Instead, he drew a gun from
behind his back and aimed it right at me.
My heart stopped at the sight of the weapon. Was I bulletproof?
I highly doubt it. One good shot to the heart or head and I might be
done for. Ohhhh, this wasn’t good. Why had I forgotten that guns
existed?
“You seem nervous,” he said. “And for good reason. Most low
level supes don’t realize how much damage a little bullet can do.
Hell, I’ve killed two who thought they could soak up the hit. Imagine
the look of surprise on some young up and comer’s face as he lies
on the ground, bleeding out from his wound, unable to reckon that
his magical little ChemX couldn’t save him.”
I swallowed nervously at that. I glanced over at the window of
the truck to see that the man inside was watching me, face pressed
against the glass. The driver could help me here. I mouthed the

words “floor it” to him a few times, hoping against hope he’d
understand.
“You praying down there?” the goon said. “Look, you seem like
a good kid, so I’m not gonna shoot you unless you really make me.
I’m just here for the truck. So back the hell off and we’ll call it a day.
Unless you really want to test your ability to—” His words were
interrupted as the truck driver finally realized what I was mouthing.
The engine roared to life as the truck took off, throwing the gang
leader off.
I rushed the man and kicked him rather hard in between the
ribs. Not a particularly sporting thing to do, I suppose, but it would be
difficult to resist arrest with a few broken ribs.
“I give! I give!” he shouted once he realized the firearm was
nowhere near his hands. He had dropped the weapon when the
truck took off.
I put a foot on the man’s chest triumphantly. I had won! Though
not without some help, that was for sure. “You know the drill, I’m
sure,” I said. “Hands behind your back…”
A few quality zip ties later, all four of the criminals were
restrained and sitting on the curb, waiting for the police to arrive.
Their injuries were rather harsh and none of them seemed to have
the energy to fight against my orders. They merely sat in silence,
glowering not at me, but rather at their leader who had undoubtedly
told them that this would be an easy job.
The truck driver, Vikram, was plenty thankful for my aid. “That
was quite a thrill,” he said as he climbed out of his truck. “But not
something I’d like to deal with again.”
I glanced at the truck for a moment. It was white, unmarked
and had no significance of what the cargo was inside. Why would
these goons be after it? “What’s in the truck?” I asked.
“Ah, yes,” Vikram said, motioning over for me to follow him. He
fiddled with the lock and opened up the trailer, revealing hundreds

upon hundreds of cans of paint, all packaged neatly in translucent
coverings.
“Paint?” I said, looking at the man. “They were trying to steal…
paint?”
“Don’t look at me like that, my friend,” Vikram said. “Do you
have any idea how much this stuff sells for? This truck is easily worth
a few hundred grand.”
I shrugged, unsure of what to say. I had not been expecting to
rescue paint, of all things. “Well, I’m glad you and your paint are
safe,” I said.
“Indeed,” Vikram said. He dug into his pocket and produced a
wallet. “Now, let’s get you paid and out of here. I doubt the cops are
going to like you hanging around without any kind of official
licensing.”
Paid? “Oh, no, I absolutely couldn’t…” I said, pausing as the
man pulled out a few twenties from his wallet. The money absolutely
would help me out right now. But wasn’t it unethical to take money
for doing good deeds? Then again, I’m sure I saved this man a great
deal of cash by rescuing his truck.
Gritting my teeth, I decided against taking the cash. I wasn’t
here for money. I was here for experience and training. “Don’t worry
about it,” I said, raising my hand to refuse the money Vikram was
eagerly pushing towards me. “I don’t want anything.”
“Come on,” Vikram said. “You need a little compensation for
your work. Here, take it!”
I refused once more. This seemed to cause the man to grow a
little agitated. He dug into his wallet and produced a few hundred
dollar bills. “Was my offer not enough? Come on, take the cash, call
it a day,” he said. He was starting to sweat a little.
Call it my enhanced senses or just a gut feeling, but something
just felt off here. Why had he tried to give me more money when I

refused? Originally he had been offering a few twenties, but now he
was adding hundreds into the mix? Something wasn’t adding up.
“You said this was paint, yeah?” I asked, climbing up into the
truck.
“Hey, the cops will be here soon, I already called them,” Vikram
protested. “You really don’t want to be around for their interrogation.”
My enhanced hearing didn’t pick up the sound of any police
sirens nearby. If they were on their way, they were taking their sweet
time. Ignoring the man’s protests, I bent down and inspected the
paint cans more thoroughly.
They were packaged in large square pallets, twelve cans to a
pallet. Lifting the top of the storage container revealed something
quite curious. One of the paint cans was unsealed. Hardly a fitting
state for a brand new shipment of paint. I knelt down and gently lifted
the top of the can to see nothing but crimson red paint. With a shrug,
I reached my hand into the liquid to discover something tightly
packed at the bottom of the can.
What came out was unmistakably a brick of cocaine. Pure,
white powder, carefully concealed in a plain brown package in order
to avoid getting tainted by the paint. It looks like these goons weren’t
trying to break into the black market arts and crafts scene at all.

Chapter 7
Apparently, there was a slight drawback to allowing anyone to
call for help via the use of this app. Criminals could summon you to
aid them in their endeavor and if you weren’t careful, you’d be none
the wiser. Vikram had been a smuggler, bringing in some high end
drugs into the city. That gang had gotten a tip of where the shipment
would be and tried to hijack it. In the end, all I did was defend a
criminal from other criminals. Not a terribly heartening way to start
your first foray into the crime fighting world.
But still, I had done some net good, I guess. The police would
find five men tied to the truck, a few cans overturned, revealing the
secret payload. They would be able to handle the rest. As for me, I
quickly made an exit, unwilling to reveal myself to the police. I don’t
know how grateful they’d be, since I wasn’t a registered hero yet.
“You look down,” said a man in a trench coat, stopping me as I
exited the alley. He had been following me all day and probably all
night too. He didn’t really try to hide his presence, as I knew I’d be
monitored by the United Heroes leading up to the Combine.
“I’m sure you saw what happened,” I replied.
The stranger nodded. “Mmhmm. You sure kicked some ass. So
why the long face?”
“It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. The uh, guy I was
trying to help turned out to just be a manipulator. Even tried to give
me a bribe.”
“I saw that,” the man replied. He leaned up a little to where I
could get a better look at his face. He was middle-aged, with deep
wrinkles across his face and leathery skin that suggested a life out in

the sun. “You did good, though. It’s not easy to say no to cash.
Especially when you can justify it.”
I shrugged. “So is there something you want…”
“Just wanted to say good job,” he replied, grinning at me. “Keep
up the hard work. Maybe you’ll get through the grinder.”
I nodded at that, not terribly heartened by his words. I turned to
walk back to the park, but only made it a few steps before a surge of
intense pressure rushed through my hands and thighs. “Errg!” I
gasped, falling to my knees as my fingers began to grow bright
green. What was happening?
“Looks like all that exercise has triggered the ChemX,” my
assigned observer said as he watched from the wall. “Right on
schedule too.”
My vision grew blurry for a moment. Secondary Power
Unleashed. Select New Power Set appeared in my vision.
Everything inside me felt like it was on fire, for a brief second, and
then the rush was gone. I was left on my hands and knees, gasping
for air in the middle of a vacant alleyway. “Make a good choice, kid,”
the man said as he strolled off, leaving me alone. “You got a hell of a
challenge ahead of you.”
Using my powers in that fight had triggered an expansion of the
chemicals within me. Secondary powers were weaker abilities that
often rounded out or complemented a hero’s ability set. While Core
Powers seemed to emerge organically and were inherently innate,
secondary powers were a matter of choice. Why this was, I didn’t
know and neither did the book I had read. But it was nice to know
that I had some options on how my powers would be shaped. My
vision returned to normal quickly and I discovered a new section for
me to choose from, immediately prompting me to make a decision.
Secondary Power Set:

Bolster: Increases your stats through focus and determination,
allowing you to push far past your limits.
Sense Enhancement: Allows you to refine your Super Senses,
expanding their natural abilities.
Super Strength: Increases your natural strength tenfold.
Only a handful of options. Though, I knew that there would be
many more to come down the road. Super Strength stuck out to me
immediately. Being able to take a hit was important, sure, but being
able to dole out punishment was equally vital. Plus, becoming
stronger would give me more options on the battlefield. If I had
immense strength, I would have been able to just tip the truck over
when that fiend was holding me at gunpoint.
So, without a second thought, I quickly selected Super
Strength. Immediately I could feel my muscles begin to swell up
even more. Super Strength Unleashed appeared in my vision for a
brief time and I sensed everything within me shift even more.
With the change came an increased vigor within me. Maybe it
was a second wind, but I suddenly felt like getting right back out into
the field. Perhaps it was due to my power increase. After all, while it
might not have been too rewarding fighting goons on the behalf of a
smuggler, the ChemX inside me didn’t seem to care. It expanded
after I had exercised some of my abilities. And that expansion would
get me one step closer to joining United Heroes.
I turned on my phone to see that unfortunately the screen had
cracked. One of the pipes must have hit me in the pocket while I was
fighting those thugs. “Aww, come on…” I groaned as I tapped on it a
few times. The phone was still functional but I should probably get a
protective case for it. Once I had money, that is.
HeroFindr quickly alerted me to a situation a few miles away, in
the poor part of Eon City (well, the most poor anyway), known
collectively as Forgotten Climb. Forgotten Climb had gotten its

nickname from the massive public housing project that had been
abandoned about ten years back. While the majority of the
impoverished and disadvantaged lived in the neighborhoods
surrounding the Climb, a large majority of criminals and supervillains
found the actual abandoned building to be a perfect lair.
I grimaced at the sight of the alert. Distress Level 3 blinked
rapidly, indicating that a metahuman was definitely involved. I
wouldn’t be squaring off with any regular types of criminals here. I’d
be facing an actual villain, or at the very least, a criminal doped up
on ChemX. Either way, this would not be a walk in the park. But hey,
this was a great opportunity to flex my new powers!

Chapter 8
Finding the source of the distress call was not terribly difficult. I
could see the billowing smoke a half mile away. It was unfortunate
that I had to run in order to reach the area, but my enhanced stamina
allowed me to keep up a full sprint for most of the trip. I was tempted,
just a little, to try climbing a building and running rooftop to rooftop,
but I didn’t have any jumping or acrobatic abilities just yet. It wouldn’t
make a good first impression on this villain to land face first in front
of him.
The lonely Forgotten Climb loomed over me as I rushed
towards the source of the smoke. I could hear laughter and screams
coming from one of the few businesses that still operated in the
Climb: the Pawn Express. My blood started to boil as I realized
where the trouble was. The Pawn Express had been one of my most
frequent stops after I had graduated high school, either to sell my
stuff to make ends meet, or to buy back what I had originally sold.
Ramiel, the shop’s sole proprietor, was a good guy. The fact that
anyone would try to harm his shop really burned me up.
There was a rather dense crowd in front of the lone strip mall
where the Pawn Express was sitting. These folks were pushing and
shoving to get out of the area and into the nearest SuperSafe. But
search as I might, even with my enhanced senses, I could not find a
single safe nearby. Did the government forget to put one in the
Climb? Seemed like a major oversight to me.
A single cop was trying to direct traffic, but to no avail.
Passersby did not listen to him, instead shoving past him, nearly
trampling the poor guy. I was quick to grab him and pull him out of

the way of the throng of people exiting the area. It seemed like the
whole neighborhood was getting the hell out of the Climb.
“What’s the situation, officer?” I asked.
The cop turned to face me, relief on his face. But when he saw
who I was (or more likely saw my ratty vigilante costume), he
frowned. “Who the hell are you supposed to be?”
“Er…just a concerned citizen,” I said.
“Right…” he said, trailing off for a moment. An explosion near
the shop caused the ground to shake beneath us, jostling loose his
hesitancy. “We’ve got a loony threatening to destroy the entire
Climb,” the cop said. “Can’t seem to get any backup and the cape
cavalry hasn’t shown.”
Another explosion, this one a little smaller. I took a step
forward, feeling my heart begin to jackhammer. A supervillain was
out there. Did I have what it took to fight him?
A hand tightly grabbed my shoulder. “I can’t let you go out
there, son,” the cop said. “You’re clearly unregistered and there are
laws against suicide.”
I looked the man square in the eye. I could see the weariness
on his face and the fear of what was to come. “You from the Climb?”
“Born and raised,” he said.
“And when was the last time you saw a superhero come in
here?” I asked.
The man sighed long at that. “They do show up. Eventually.”
Another explosion.
“Do we have enough time to wait?” I asked, putting my hand on
his, gently trying to pry it off of my shoulder. “Let me go in there.”
“And if you die?” he asked. “This isn’t like those stupid
cartoons; this villain won’t capture you and send you to his easily
escapable lair. He will kill you with zero hesitation.”

Those words caused my stomach to drop. He was right. This
was a serious thing…but, at the same time, no one else was
showing up. This lone cop certainly didn’t have the ability to save
these people. A lot of healthy, able-bodied people were able to flee
the Climb, but what about the invalid? The elderly? I didn’t see many
old folks in the fleeing crowds. If I was to be a hero, if I was going to
do some real good in this world, then I needed to take these risks.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “If I don’t act, others will die. Let me
go.”
The cop released me and shrugged. “Good luck. I’ll keep trying
to get someone over here. But uh…listen, if you do end up defeating
that guy and a cape shows up, you best get out of the area quick.
They don’t like unregistered. At all.”
I thanked him and rushed to the source of the explosions.
“And they called me a liar! A liar! Can you believe that?”
shouted a man who was pacing outside the Pawn Express. No one
was around except for him, but he ranted anyway. “So I mean to
make good on my promises! Oh yes! Yes I shall!”
As he spoke, green pulses of energy emanated from his hand,
sometimes exploding in place, shattering what little glass remained
in the windows of the store. The villain was dressed in a garish lime
green costume, complete with green gloves and boots that looked
like they could glow in the dark. On his back was a large canister
with dozens of tubes running from the container to his gloves. He
wore a pair of goggles, but nothing else atop his head, not even
bothering to cover how balding he was. Certainly a supervillain,
though one I had never heard of.
He seemed to be charging up for a bigger explosion as he
babbled, his hands glowing brighter by the minute. I could glean from
his ranting that he meant to destroy the entire block if possible. I had
to get his focus off of the Climb and onto me. These unstable types
loved it when you played their game. Usually enough to get them to
leave citizens alone.

“Stop right there!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, trying my
best to sound heroic. Unfortunately, my adrenaline and terror had
betrayed me, leading me to squeak out the words. This caught the
madman’s attention, however, and he turned to face me.
“You dare challenge me?” he hissed, raising his gloved hands
high. The canister on his back, the large silvery thing, made a loud
ka-chisss sound, releasing steam out the back. Dark green liquid
started to run from the container, through the tubes, into the man’s
gloves. This effect seemed to augment his blasting abilities and in
the blink of an eye, a single green beam came flying towards me. I
had no time to react, no chance to even register the attack.
The green bolt crashed into my chest, sending me flying
through the air. The pain was searing. And yes, I could feel the pain
this time. Whatever attack that was, it hurt like hell. Something hit me
from behind too, something solid. Or at least, something that had
been solid, for I plowed right through a brick wall into a long
abandoned convenience store. I slid several feet across the ground
before coming to a halt. My torso was on fire, but the rest of me
seemed unbothered by the brick wall.
“Urg…” I groaned, staggering to get up.
“Tell me my plans are idiotic!” the villain shouted, returning to
his rant as if I hadn’t even been there. The man was powerful.
Strong enough to put me through a wall in the blink of an eye.
I slowly rose to my feet, trying to regain my breath. The world
seemed to spin for a moment, but after a few seconds, the pain
began to subside. A smaller explosion caused the doors and shelves
in the dusty old store to rattle violently. I had to act and I had to act
fast. But confronting the lunatic didn’t seem to be the best idea…
I scanned the store, looking for something I could use as a
weapon. Maybe something to throw? My eyes fell on an old
Lightning Cola vending machine in the corner. It was square, bulky
and quite heavy. The little sticker with the stick-man being crushed to

death by the machine, warning about tilting the dispenser gave me
an idea. It was time to test out that super strength of mine.
With a heave, I wrapped my arms around the machine and
lifted. It came off the ground with ease, as if I were just picking up a
can of soda instead of a 900 pound vending machine. Grinning, I
hoisted the machine over my head and focused, tuning in to my
enhanced hearing to target the man. He was rambling even louder
now, making it easy enough to pinpoint him.
I turned towards the source of the sound, the brick wall
blocking off my view of him. This didn’t count as excessive property
damage, right? I mean the building was abandoned and if I didn’t
succeed, the whole block would be leveled anyway. Hmm, maybe I
was being too hard on heroes for this kind of thing.
“Grahhhh!” I shouted, throwing the soda machine forward with
all of my might. The large vending machine smashed through the
brick wall with ease, flying logo first towards the rambling villain. He
yelped in surprise, raising his hands to shoot at the unexpected soda
delivery, but wasn’t fast enough. The machine plowed into him with
full force, chucking the man like a rag doll into a nearby light pole.
The pole groaned hideously as it bent down, the force of the blow
enough to warp the metal.
My eyes went wide at the carnage I had caused. Was…was he
dead?
The villain groaned and rolled over, dislodging himself from the
pole. He wasn’t moving very quickly, but much to my surprise, he
was able to stand back up. He examined his hands for a moment
and then looked at where I was peeking out from. “So the bark has
some bite to it!” he shouted. “But is that all you got?”
With that, he raised both hands and began to unleash his beam
power towards me once more. But the machine on his back, that
strange contraption that either fueled or at least boosted his power,
began to hiss and shriek, grinding loudly. The machine popped one
last time before releasing another blast right towards me.

This time I was prepared. In reality, I had no chance of dodging,
but I really didn’t need to. Instead, I dug my heels into the ground
and crossed my arms together against my chest, bracing for the
impact. The thin green bolt struck me hard and the pain surged
through my limbs, but I managed to stay in place. I concentrated as
hard as I could, shutting the pain out of my mind.
“Hmmm, so it seems you’re made of sturdier stuff than I
anticipated,” the villain said. His puzzled expression slowly melted
into a wide grin. “Let’s see how you handle the good stuff!”
With that, he fiddled with a switch on his right arm, causing a
small nozzle to pop out above his wrist. I couldn’t just stand there
and wait for another attack, I had to do something. But as I tried to
take a step forward, he fired another beam with his left hand, forcing
me to block it once more. In doing this, however, the madman’s
metal canister began to hiss and shriek wildly, releasing all sorts of
gas into the atmosphere.
“Come on! Not now! Not now,” he shrieked back at his device.
“We have Armageddon to unleash!” He quickly became distracted
with his device, fumbling to produce a small radio with a few buttons
on it. This was my chance to move!
Without further hesitation, I charged towards the man at full
speed. At the same time, he activated the radio, causing a few
mechanical spiders to crawl out from the interior of his boots. These
little buggers were round, with six legs each (so I guess technically
not spiders), and quickly began to crawl up his leg, making their way
to his backpack. Repair units? They must be. Damn, this man
seemed to focus more on gadgets than just raw strength. Maybe the
ChemX had improved his intellect to that degree? Regardless, I had
to get rid of those repair units.
As I dashed forward, I scooped up a piece of rubble on the
ground and threw it with all my might, aiming towards one of the
spiders. My shot missed by about a mile and I watched as the chunk
of stone whipped past the man.

“Hahaha throwing rocks? That’s your plan?” the madman
shouted at me, laughing as the robots began to patch up the
canister, their little legs working as welding units to seal the
breaches.
I said nothing and continued to run towards him. He raised his
right arm, the one with the nozzle, and released a burst of bright
green flames that came crashing towards me. The heat was unreal,
even worse than what Captain Cook had launched at me. I threw
myself to the ground, narrowly avoiding the arc of flames as they
burned above me. The green fire streamed out for a second before
the canister began to fizzle and shriek once more, breaking open a
new rupture in the can.
I climbed back up and continued charging at him, desperate to
get within melee range. The malfunction in his device bought me
enough time to finally reach him. I curled my fist into a ball and
unleashed a Hard Strike right at the man’s chest. Without even
looking at me, the madman reached up and caught the blow, still
fiddling with his radio.
“Ack!” I shouted as he began to crush my fist in his hand,
sending even more pain through me. How was this possible? How
was he so unbelievably strong? The pain was enough to force me to
my knees. My enhanced toughness wasn’t doing much here. I tried
to do something else, anything else, but he seemed to have me
under his control, twisting his hand left and right to keep me in a joint
lock.
“I swear,” he muttered. “You vigilantes never seem to get it, do
you? Yes, yes, I might be mad, but I’m not a weakling, nor a joke.
How many more of you do I have to kill before you get it?”
“Why are you doing this?” I asked, wheezing as he continued to
crush my hand. I could hear the bones cracking and popping as he
broke them with ease.
“You know, I really can’t remember, but that’s mad science for
you, I suppose,” he said with a shrug. He placed the nozzle right up

to my face. Heat was beginning to emit from the device. Once the
spiderbots finished their work, I’d be quite literally cooked alive. I had
to focus. Had to get out of this.
Taking a deep breath, I shut everything out, the pain, the fear
and the confusion. I only had one goal, take control of the situation.
Something within me seemed to respond to this intense
concentration, a power unlike anything I had felt before. At first, it
seemed to just well up within my chest, but as I pushed my feet up
with all my might, blocking out the severe pain in my hand, I could
feel this power spread to my arms.
“Don’t even bother to—” The villain’s words were cut short as I
abruptly shot upwards with my legs, throwing him off-balance.
Though he tried to hold onto my fist, I took full advantage of this and
spun in a circle, enduring the searing pain running through my entire
hand as he more or less obliterated every bone in my fingers. I spun
in a circle, once, twice and finally, the third time heaved with all my
strength, forcing him to release me. He went flying through the air,
crashing back first into an old neon motel sign. Sparks flew
everywhere and a small fire started in the rubble.
Gasping for air, I bent down and picked up a discarded wooden
beam on the ground. I had to use it in my left hand, but it would
make for a decent enough weapon. A few hard hits to the head
ought to stop him from resisting any further arrest.
“That was…a good hit,” he wheezed as he clambered out of
the wreckage. A small fire had erupted on his backpack, but an
emergency system was spraying white goop on the flames to
disperse them. The villain stood all the way up and puffed out his
chest proudly. “But it’s going to take a lot more to kill Doctor Ignition!”
“I’m not trying to kill you,” I said, standing my ground. Rushing
him might not be the best of ideas, for the flames were growing
worse, despite the emergency firefighting measures the Doctor
employed. “Here’s my offer. Stand down and surrender now. Come

quietly and I promise I’ll testify that you willingly disarmed. It might
give you a real break on your sentencing.”
“Now where’s the fun in that?” he shouted as he raised both
hands at once, nozzles popping back up on both wrists.
“I wouldn’t—” I tried to warn, but he ignored me. The canister
began to hiss and pop once more, more flames bursting out of the
many breaches that were appearing.
The Doctor growled once he realized no flames were coming
out and smacked the nozzle as if that would help. The hissing grew
worse and worse and then, the canister began to shake extremely
hard. Little sirens went off on the container, red lights now flashing.
“That’s not good,” Doctor Ignition said. He dropped all focus
and started to pull his gloves off, breaking free of the tubes. He tried
to unclick his harness that attached the canister to his back, but the
fight had damaged the restraints, making it impossible for him to get
out. “No, no, no!” he shouted, frantic, panic taking over as the
warning alarms went louder. The can was going to blow.
Gritting my teeth, I ran for the man, fast as I could. He paid no
mind to me, desperate to get free of the time-bomb now glued to his
back.
“Stop moving,” I said, grabbing him and the canister at the
same time. The hissing on the container was getting worse and
worse; it was only a matter of seconds. With a heft, I ripped the man
free of his restraints, opting to just tear him and his harness off
instead of unlocking the mechanism.
A great heat began to well up and I knew I had only a few
seconds to make a choice. I wasn’t fast enough to get us both out of
this situation. But…I was the tough guy here. Even if this put me in
the hospital, I’d bounce back fast enough. At least, I hoped.
My last action before the can exploded was to pick the mad
Doctor Ignition up with one hand and throw him away from the blast

point with all my might. The alarms shrieked while a massive
explosion overtook me.

Chapter 9
The heat was so intense that I couldn’t feel any of it. Wait, that
didn’t make sense. How come I didn’t even feel pain? I opened my
eyes to discover that I was now standing on the roof of a building,
overlooking the point of impact. The explosion was gone too. Had…
had I gained the power to teleport?
“That was a close one!” a squeaky little voice said, catching my
attention. Standing to the right of me was a rather tiny woman, only
four feet tall. She had a metal helmet upon her head, painted in the
style of a tortoise shell. She wore white tights, with a classical Greeklooking toga wrapped around her person, though it was tied around
her waist to allow her to run without trouble. The sandals upon her
feet were most curious. Wait, I remember her! She was the
Messenger, a speedster hero.
“You saved me?” I asked, still jostled from the sudden transition
from the middle of an impact zone to the top of a roof.
“Yup, yup!” she said, slapping me on the rump. “You really gave
me a run for my money too! I had to get you out of the blast radius
and away from the Captain, and then get the canister to the ocean
before it popped. Whew!”
“What do you mean, away from the Captain?” I asked.
The Messenger smiled at me sheepishly, rubbing the back of
her helmet. “The boss man. Cap’n Cook doesn’t really like vigilante
types. He’d probably arrest you if he caught you lingering around. So
I figured this would be best.”
I glanced back down to see that a few heroes had shown up to
apprehend the madman. Captain Cook was lecturing the captured

man, taking a few moments to pose in front of the rather large
camera crew that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Of course,
when all the work was done the real heroes showed up to take the
credit.
“Why didn’t you guys show up sooner?” I asked.
“Don’t ask me, I’m not in charge of deployment,” she replied.
“But you better get out of here. Seriously, I did you a solid. Without a
license, you could seriously get in trouble.”
I looked at the little woman. “Thank you, for your kindness.”
She smiled back at me. “No problem! Always happy to help a
fellow super, with or without registration. Oh! We have a Combine
coming up soon, you should join us!”
“Wait, you’re with Heroes United?” I asked, looking back at
Captain Cook who was now signing autographs. Among his fans
was the lone cop I had met, eagerly pressing his ticket book forward
to get a signature as well.
“Duh, we’re the founding members!” the Messenger replied.
“Me, Captain, Sunburst, Radical Chuck and The Masked One.”
“You have a founding member named Radical Chuck?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s got this weird woodchuck thing going on,” she
replied. “At least, he did before he retired due to all the ridicule he
endured from his costume choices.”
I didn’t want to ask about that. Instead, I merely looked out at
the crowd. So it would seem that the Captain was a founding
member. Would he remember me, when I made it through the
Combine? Would my criticism of his actions put him at odds with
me? I hoped that this didn’t throw a whole wrench in my budding
hero career.
I thanked the Messenger once more before climbing down the
roof and returning to my apartment. The day was getting late now
and I had a shift starting at nine tonight, down at the Pancake

Palazzo. This heroing business wasn’t paying my wages yet, so I
had to keep working these jobs. Though at least now I wasn’t too
worried about being stabbed while working the graveyard shift.
As I staggered home, I could feel the injuries in my right hand
beginning to recover. While I didn’t feel like I was regenerating, it
was like my broken hand was going through an accelerated phase,
healing as if weeks were just flying by.
As this healing process kicked in, so too did the transformation
process of the ChemX within my system. The green haze came back
and I felt the world wobble around me as I tried to make it home
without collapsing. ChemX Tolerance has improved! You are
ready to increase dosage level! appeared in my vision. Dosage
level…that’s right, as my body adapted to this powerful chemical, so
I’d be able to take additional doses of the stuff. That would
significantly augment my power with each use.
Some folks, be they hero, villain or just plain reckless,
attempted to speed up their growth process by taking as many doses
as they had with them, ignoring the ChemX Tolerance. In doing this,
they damaged their minds, bodies and abilities. Sure, they grew
more powerful, but those powers would become unstable and
exceptionally dangerous. I didn’t really have to worry about
overdosing on the stuff, however, because I didn’t have any. How
would I get some? Could I find some before the Combine?
As I turned the corner to get home, my old friend, the
mysterious trench coated observer appeared in front of me, leaning
against a wall.
“How goes the war?” he asked as I passed him.
“I’m sure you saw that whole debacle.”
“Debacle indeed,” he replied. He paused for a moment and
grinned at me. “Tell me, why spare the lunatic? Doctor Ignition is a
very unstable man and was quite literally moments away from
annihilating an entire neighborhood, all over some imagined slight.

You could have easily watched him die and none would think you
cruel for it. So why? Why spare him?”
I shrugged. “It’s not really my job to stand in judgment, I guess.
I dunno.”
“Come on, you know,” he pressed. He pulled out a toothpick
and began to chew on the end. “I know you know.”
“Well, I mean we’re not cops. We’re heroes. Not superbeings,
superheroes,” I said. “Doesn’t seem right to just let someone die
because they’re on the wrong side of the law. Now, if the judge
sends him to the gas chamber, I’m not really going to cry over it. But
part of heroics means being the bigger man, doesn’t it? Having a
higher standard? You know, something the people will want to
emulate. If everyone was a bit more merciful then I think things
wouldn’t be so rough in this world.”
“Sounds good in theory, but in practice?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to find out.”
This seemed to satisfy my observer. He nodded at that and
flicked the toothpick onto the ground, taking a new one out of his
pocket. “There’s a low-level villain by the name of Razerwhip who
works down by the docks. Spends his days smuggling ChemX into
the city in exchange for a hefty cut of the profits. Doesn’t deal
himself, but knows folks. The man’s dumb as hell though and terrible
at covering his tracks. Makes it easy for us to find the actual dealers,
so we leave him alone. He thinks he’s this master criminal, but hasn’t
seemed to realize most of his clients get caught. If you’re ready to
dose up, consider paying him a visit.”
“If he’s smuggling the drug into the city, why not bust him?” I
asked.
He sighed long and hard, chewing on the toothpick thoughtfully.
“You can’t stop the flood. It’s impossible to keep ChemX out of Eon
City. So it’s better to keep an incompetent smuggler around, rather
than let a savvy one take over.”

“Seems a little defeatist,” I said.
“That it is,” he said. “That it is.” He said no more and merely
leaned against the wall again, watching me with a wry grin. Why he
was helping me, I didn’t know, but I was grateful for it. Another dose
of ChemX would be just what I needed to improve my skills even
more. I’d have to pay this Razerwhip a visit. After serving pancakes
for the next eight hours, that is.

Chapter 10
If there was one thing I could be grateful about my pancake job
was the fact that the staff, including the manager, honestly didn’t
care if you were late. As long as you did your work, kept the
troublesome drunks out and didn’t get into fistfights with customers,
they’d leave you alone. Hell, usually no one said anything to each
other unless it was to complain about work.
I didn’t mind the peace and quiet of working in the Pancake
Palazzo. Located on the edge of the Climb, I spent most of my
midnights here, working on my off-days, trying to just get enough
scratch together to get a car. Or to at least keep the debt-collecting
wolves at bay.
This particular shift was almost Zen-like. The staff worked in
their respective stations, keeping conversation down to a dull roar.
Patrons came in and out, usually alone, to enjoy a cup of joe or
some stacks before heading out. No one paid me any special mind.
And for the first time in a few days, I could relax.
That is, until the bell at the door jingled, heralding the arrival of
a new customer. I glanced up from my sweeping to see none other
than Captain Cook standing at the entrance, in full costume.
Immediately, my heart stopped. Was he here to arrest me? How
could he have possibly found me? Crap! I gotta get to the back.
“Captain Cook himself!” my manager, Louie, shouted, opening
his arms wide. “There’s the man of the hour! Arthur, take care of this
man, will you? And don’t bother him with the check, the Captain here
saved us not hours ago from a madman threatening to blow up
everything, this place included!”

“I’d poison him if it would work!” Jackson shouted from the
kitchen, eliciting a chuckle from the Captain and an equal amount of
nervous laughter from Louie. Jackson hated this job more than
anyone and would undoubtedly enjoy watching this place burn to the
ground. He often detailed how he would do it too.
Cook strolled over to a booth in the corner and plunked down,
grinning at me all the while. He knew. There was no way he didn’t.
But I had to keep cool. Just act naturally.
“What can I get you?” I asked, trying not to let my words get
stuck in my throat. Though he was beaming at me, I could not help
but feel there was something malicious in his eyes. Or maybe that
was just my paranoia.
“Coffee, black,” he said. “Then let’s have a chat, shall we?”
Damn. I was busted. He knew that it was me at the Climb
earlier today. He knew and was here to…what? Lecture me? Scare
me off? Hmmm, I really didn’t know the man all too well. Though his
attempt to kill a surrendering prisoner had left a very sour taste in my
mouth. I just better keep my mouth shut, no reason to give him
anything to work with, right?
I placed a lukewarm pot of coffee on the table, then sat
opposite of him, trying to stay neutral. The Captain merely grinned
and placed a hand on the pot, causing the contents to boil
immediately. “I found since my change that nothing is ever hot
enough for me,” he said. “Not coffee, not even peppers. I can literally
eat the hottest pepper in the world and all I get is a mild flavor from
it.”
“Sounds like you could make a living going to those pepper
eating contests,” I said.
The Captain did not reply. He merely stared at me as he raised
his cup to his lips. After a few awkward minutes of him drinking in
silence, he placed it back down on the table and sighed.

“Arthur Garcia,” he said. “Low class man, works four jobs, one
full-time, well you’d call it full-time if your boss ever gave you the
hours you needed. Lives in a crappy single bedroom apartment in
the second worst part of town. A nobody. An absolute nobody.”
I shrugged at this unflattering description, but still said nothing.
He continued. “Til one day, he gained superpowers. No one knows
how. It couldn’t have possibly been on purpose, because where
would a good boy like Arthur get ChemX? But somehow, you got
some. Now you’re on the track to become a somebody.”
He had me dead to rights here. I merely nodded. “I…have
undergone a process, yes.”
“And I think I’m glad for it,” he said with a grin, taking another
sip. “A guy like you, low class, selfless, willing to spare even the
worst of the worst wretches? The people will eat it up. Everyone likes
a knight in shining armor.”
“Do you?” I asked coldly.
He merely grinned and finished his second cup of coffee. “You
saw a little something from the other day, in that kitchen, that might
have been confusing.”
“Oh, did I?”
“Indeed,” the Captain said. “See, you thought I was firing at a
man who had surrendered. But you didn’t see that the man had
raised his hands to vaporize you on the spot. Without my
intervention, why, you wouldn’t have made it. But I can see how
you’d feel, having been focused on me at the time.”
I opened my lips to challenge that, but he put a finger up to
silence me. The finger turned bright red for a split second, then
faded away back to his normal skin color. “Not so quick. So anyway,
we met here to square things away. Turns out that I rather like you. A
lot. You’ve got a good heart. We agree, over a delicious pancake
breakfast, to work together. You skip the Combine and don’t think
about that terrible day ever again. You move out, pay off your debts,

get a car and some new clothes. You’ll even have enough to give
that old man living on your street a decent place to live.”
So that was his game. He wasn’t here to bother me about my
heroics. The famed Captain Cook was here to bribe me. To make
that whole incident with Lenny go away, once and for all. I felt a bit
queasy from even thinking of such a thing as accepting a bribe.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I hissed. “You can’t possibly
think that I’d…that I’d take a bribe.”
“A bribe? No, sir, I just want to correct a simple
misunderstanding. That’s all. Everything that comes after that is just
the natural results of you having an open mind.”
“You tried to murder a man, a prisoner!” I replied, trying to keep
my voice down. “You think I’ll just forget about that?”
“Look, I was having a very bad day,” he said. “A few heroes
ended up getting completely wiped out in the North side of town and
my team had to pick up the slack while covering our own area. Then
Lightning Lenny decides to spring up and hit a bank that’s a principle
investor in our company, so I had to drop everything to intervene. I’ll
admit it, I lost my temper. Tried to take some shortcuts. I shouldn’t
have done that. But it’s not like the guy didn’t have it coming.”
“Justify it all you want,” I said. “I will never forget what I saw
that day.”
The Captain frowned. “Are we going to have a problem?” he
asked, a flicker of red light flashing across his eyes.
“Are you asking if I’ll go public with this? No, I have no plans on
dragging you through the mud. Because it comes down to a he-said,
she-said situation. And I doubt the world will side with a fry cook who
is, as you called, a ‘nobody.’”
This didn’t seem to register for the Captain. He leaned back
and put his coffee back down, having almost consumed the entire
pot at this point. “So what do you want then?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “I’m just going to move on with my life. Try
out this new hero thing and if that doesn’t work, just go right back to
what I know best, work