Chapter 2: Willful Ignorance

Walkers, they were called, People who’d been born with powers, or were infected with them, or who learned them. The original author of the term is unknown, but everyone claims they know the real deal. All anyone knows for sure is that three days after the government acknowledged the existence of super powers, two weeks after someone first spotted a man jumping out of a burning building with two sick women, one month since the man who would be called Springheel first realized he could get to work faster by the rooftops than through traffic, a string or graffiti was seen throughout the country.

“They Walk.”

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A cab pulled up and Will gratefully climbed inside. “You’re running late today, Tony.”

The cabbie shook his head and glanced into the mirror. “Sorry ‘bout that Will. I had to make a stop at the zoo. A bear got loose and apparently some kid managed to piss him off bad enough the trainers were afraid to get close.”

Will folded his arms and leaned back in the seat.  “Another bear?” His voice was flat. “That’s the third time a bear has been responsible for delaying you this month. Hell, you missed an hour of the party for a bear, and that was just last night.”

The cabbie coughed and flipped on the meter. “That was a prowler with a bear theme . And it’s not like it happens on purpose. I spend half my day near the Park. The zoo always attracts the crazy animal types.”

“Whatever you say, Jim.” Will refrained from pointing out that the cabbie could easily qualify for that title. After all, alters weren’t particularly rare, but few could control an animal shift to the extent Jim Hob could. A tiger alter capable of changing any part of his body on a whim and stopping the change at any level. Jim was possibly the most effective speedwalker in the area. Of course, spending all day listening to people complain about your driving probably gave him a damn good reason to vent.

“So where am I taking you today?”

“I need to catch up with an old friend. Drop me off at the business district.”

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Once upon a time, Alters were one of the most common types of heroes. Myths were built around the men who could change into beasts or walk as fire. They, along with mages and manips, were around millennia before most other powers existed. However, artifacts of magic left behind or lost by mages soon gave birth to others, the tanks, the runners.

It wasn’t until the 1900s, when nuclear testing began, that more latent powers began to emerge.

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Will Writer stood atop the Carpenter Tower and looked down at the city beneath him. Macropolis may have improved over the last twenty years, but it was still one of the most polluted and crime-ridden cities in the country. He looked up and watched the zeppelins floating over the city, advertising this team or that company. They had been converting the pollution back to breathable air for ten years now.  Will stepped back from the ledge and turned around. “Hey Slip, missed you at the party last night.”

A figure hung silently in the air behind him, Slipstream, perhaps the most famous and most beloved mecher in existence. A series of circular devices ran up and down his entire body. They were some kind of air compressing engine, at least that’s how he described it to the unsavvy like Will. The metallic helmet on his head gleamed as he touched down on the roof. He reached up to flip the gold tinted lenses into the helmet.

“I was working on the converters Rumor. And unfortunately I don’t have time to play catch-up today. I’m just here to check on how the new group is holding up.”

“It’s been one day Slip. I can’t really say anything about them. But do me a favor and hit whoever sent the Runner, he’s going to be hard to keep focused. Between him and Unimportant, I’m gonna have to be careful to make sure the others don’t miss out.”

“Ah, so he actually talked, That’s good, I just got a business card.”

Will looked at his old friend. “So you’re the one who sent him to me? What’s up with him anyway? I got almost nothing.”

Slipstream nodded. “He’s an incomplete slider. I can’t say much more than that reliably. But that shouldn’t stop you for long. You can figure anything out, right Rumor?”

“I’ll manage, and stop calling me that. “

Slipstream looked ready to respond, when Will cocked his head. “Later, you have work to do.”

Slipstream nodded and took off toward the sirens.

Will walked into the building and rode the elevator down a hundred floors. The lobby was as crowded as ever, even this late on a Thursday. Janitors, IT, international stock traders. There was always someone at the Carpenter Tower. He proceeded through the lobby. Even 2 years later, he could walk through a crowd like it was barely even there. On his way out he nodded at the doorman, Johnathan. Of course, he went by Rampart at other hours.

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Springheel was not the first hero born of the Nuclear Age, but he was the first to appear publicly, the first that wasn’t in hiding or on government payroll.

There were multiple experiments performed with nuclear energy. Many people quickly grew sick, but a few became Walkers. It was theorized by Dr. Phillip Barber that the tests were not creating the powers, but awakening abilities left dormant in their DNA.

He used examples from myth, and a few from history, suggesting people with above normal strength or speed. He claimed that such gifts could be lesser forms of powers. He declared that if they found the gene causing this, if they could duplicate it, they could give powers to everyone.

The scientific community laughed him out of his tenure.

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Will had read a paper once. Some analyst had figured out that 1 in 1000 people in Macropolis had powers, hero, villain or otherwise, which gave it a denser walker rate than most small countries, and he guessed that the sleepwalker rate was at least equally dense.

Will realized this meant that he, who supposedly had more connections than any five heroes combined, still knew of less than half the walkers in Macropolis, even if most of those he didn’t were Strollers. It was an odd thought. If half of them had actually met him, then the others had only seen articles or heard stories. It made him wonder what most of the others thought about him. He had seen the boards, read the articles, for a few years Rumor had been listed among the most commonly known heroes in the city, and he had been proud of that. Then, when he quit the business, his disappearance barely even made a stir in the papers. His name just vanished. No fuss, no questions, no “Where is he now?”.

Part of him loved it that way. After all, he didn’t quit to become famous, and he didn’t want people looking for the missing hero. But still, part of him felt disappointed. He had been a hero since he was a teenager. He had saved lives. And he had been one of the more famous names, but all it took was a few weeks and suddenly he was nobody again.

It was almost frightening, how easy it had been.

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But Phillip Barber was not finished. He continued his research into latent DNA with a passion. It had required him to steal blood sample from as many Walkers as he could, and then he had to disappear. He wasted years testing the blood, looking for common ancestry throughout the endless helix strands. Hundreds of possibilities were dismissed. It was three years before he had a breakthrough. He didn’t have to search through its entirety, he just had to figure which strands changed.

He sunk all of his money into building a new generator. As crazed and obsessive as he was, he still refused to test it on another. He was no engineer, but he had worked on and with one of these machines for most of his career, and he was confident he could make it on his own.

He grinned as he pointed the device at himself and pushed the button.

The device exploded.

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Will walked along the street. It was calm. Part of him still found that strange. Three blocks away, there was a bank robbery in progress. The alarm had already been triggered and a speedwalker was already en route to take care of it. In the other direction, less than a mile out, a strolling tank was using his power to take out a mugger after his wife’s jewelry. Straight down, an earth manip was digging a tunnel, avoiding the sewers and subways. The people walking around him didn’t know any of this was going on, but for him this was almost a record low. He had grown used to knowing everything happening around him.

When he had been a hero, it was useful. He’d learned to prioritize who needed help now and who could wait. He still did that, he just had different priorities now.

When he was younger he couldn’t understand people’s indifference. They ignored the calls for help, the injustice happening so close to them all the time. It drove him mad, trying to understand why the noise that bombarded him every second of every day seemed to matter so little to everyone else. When he’d brought it up to The Court, he had looked at him like he had two heads.

“Of course they act like that. They have less power than any of us, and even we can’t save everybody.”

At the time he’d disagreed with the mage. People shouldn’t be able to ignore pain like that so easily. He knew better now. They weren’t the odd ones for not caring, he was the odd one for caring so much. He agreed with The Court now, in principle if not in scale. It wasn’t that you couldn’t save everybody.

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It was 1953 when Phillip Barber’s device exploded. He awoke in the remains of his lab and watched in amazement as a ball of black matter swirled in front of him. The doctor felt it calling to him, felt the energy wafting off of it.

The man who would become Eclipse, the first slider, the first super-villain, reached out to the mass and felt it drawn within him.

“With this, I can do it. I can make them understand what these powers really mean. I can save everyone.”

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“In the long run,” Will spoke under his breath. “You can’t save anybody.”

 

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3 comments

  1. Alright, it is a decent enough chapter. There is a few inconsistencies though.

    A cab pulled up and Will gratefully climbed inside. “You’re running late today, Tony.”
    Here the cabbie is called Tony, and then barely four paragraphs down he is called Jim, why?

    “-..brought it up to The Court..” “-..disagreed with the Mage.” “- He agreed with Mage now..”
    First he is referred to as The Court, then The Mage, and then Mage. Why?

    1. Those were both on purpose actually. Tony’s a nickname(sorry i didn’t make that clearer), and Mage is The Court’s classification as a hero. I’ve been trying to work the classifications into the earlier chapters. Check out the background section to see the full list.

  2. Interesting contrast.

    Villain dude: With this power, I can save everybody…

    Former Super Hero: In the long run, you can’t save anybody.

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