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The Drive Home

By Max Bowen All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Scifi

Chapter 1

Damn it, another traffic jam.

I'm not sure why I'm complaining about this so much. I hit jams coming home from work every day. I guess it's not the jams themselves that bother me, it's what causes it.

It's the superheroes. Those damn superheroes.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no Hero-Hater (that's some slang the kids are using). Fact is, I deal with them pretty often. See, I'm an agent over at All-Points Promoters, and my job is to make people famous. Actors, artists, writers, even superheroes. Especially superheroes. It's kinda my talent, my own super power, if you will. I got this knack for making even the lamest member of the spandex crowd look like the newest superstar. Hey, everybody wants to be famous, am I right?

And I'm glad the heroes are around, and I know what they do matters. It's the collateral damage that gets me going.

Take today for example.

I talked to a cop as I passed by the site of the damage. It was pretty bad. The lobby of a bank had been destroyed by what looked like a giant ball of fire. They said it was Firefiend, a psychopath who could shoot flames from his hands. He tried to rob the bank and ran into Commander Combat and the Protectors. Firefiend had fought them a lot, and every time he got his pyrotechnic tail handed to him. Didn't matter what new strategy he cooked up, didn't matter what lowlifes he teamed up with. He always lost. That was just the way it worked. That was the way it always worked.

Anyway, the cop told me Firefiend was running out the door with about $50,000 when the Protectors came. They told him if he gave up, they'd go easy on him, but he was never one to just quit. He attacked the Protectors, and after a short fight they trounced him. Of course, that wasn't before he launched a huge ball of fire into the bank. I heard the body count was at least a dozen people. And not all of them were in the bank. Some had heard about the fight and wanted to watch. A few even brought cameras so they could make their own home movies. Hero battles are the hottest-selling DVD's since Girls Gone Wild.

I can understand why people love to see heroes fight the villains. It's like watching the home team go against the hated out-of-town opposition. You can't turn away. Even so, knowing how tough these guys are, the kind of powers they have, the kind of damage that always gets caused, you'd think a few people would have the common sense to watch from a safe distance. But that's the draw of the heroes. Common sense tends to take a back seat.

There looked to be around 50 people injured, plus damage in the millions to the bank and a couple nearby buildings. Some motorists had been hurt too, from the explosion after Firefiend did his grand finale. My wife Raquel is always telling me to stay away from the heroes, stick to writers and actors, she tells me. But I tell her to look at our $500,000 penthouse, her brand new Jaguar, her trips to all the hottest fashion boutiques in town, and I ask her if she's willing to lose all that. Because it ain't the writers or the artists or even the actors that make all this possible. It's the superheroes. People just can't get enough of them.

As I drove by the bank, I could see them putting white sheets over the people who died watching that fight. Family and friends were trying to force their way through the crowd to see if the victims were someone they knew. Man, seeing their reactions when they saw their friend, sisters or fathers beign carted off to the coronor's just made me want to drive my car off a cliff. It's not the first time I felt like that, either. The fact is, these battles and the aftermath are something I see two, three times a week. I keep telling myself I'll get used to it, but the more I see it, the more I realize I'm lying to myself.

I could see a few reporters trying to muscle quotes out of the grieving relatives or the police. I can remember a time when the front-page articles were on the latest bill to get passed by the Senate or news from our friends overseas. Not anymore. These days it's the latest super-fight or what new heroes or villains have made their debut. And boy, do they love to write profile pieces about the heroes or their families, what it's like to grow up with Thunderstrike or The Whiz Kid. Remember when I said that movies about superheroes were the highest selling thing? Well right behind that would have to be their autobiographies.

Even the villains get top-dollar for their stories. Ever hear of a two-time loser named Buzzard? He was this bird-lover who decided to use his skills training eagles, hawks and other birds of prey to start a life of crime after he caught his girlfriend sleeping with his brother. The closest he got to a super-fight was going up against Frogman (this guy defines the word pathetic. What kind of superhero lives with his parents at the age of 32?). But hey, he had a great story, and he told it well. I was lucky enough to be the guy's agent after his book topped the New York Times Best-Seller List for a solid month. He even get to keep most of the profits after he got out of jail. Who said crime never pays?

After I drove past the bank, I could see the Protectors helping to clear the wreckage. Now remember, these were the same guys that let Firefiend torch a bank and kill twelve people. I know, I know, it wasn't all their fault, the villain was the one who robbed the bank in the first place, they couldn't have anticipated he'd do something so crazy, and hey, how much worse would it have been if they hadn't been there?

I know the ways people like to rationalize it. I've done it myself on a couple of occasions. I remember doing the same thing at my friend Lonnie's funeral, but that's a story I can't tell until after a few vodkas.

I could see people, even the victim's families, cheer them on as they piled up all the debris and helped those who had been hurt into the ambulances. Even saw a little girl ( I heard later her dad had been incinerated in the fire) walk over and hug Commander Combat. He fails to save her dad from becoming a charcoal briquette and she hugs him? I wonder if they can look themselves in the mirror after things like that happen. As I watched the Commander give a speech to the reporters and the dozens of fans, all I wanted to do was get out of my car and slug him.

Then again, there's been times when I was in the same position as that girl, idolizing these heroes after the bodies are cleared. I remember a time, about three months back, I was at this club when a looney by the name of Wail decided to turn the place into an insurance nightmare. His trick is sonic screams. They say he's a banshee, others a victim of a freak accident. Everyone's got a back story.

Anyway, he sees me and moves in for the kill. I figure I'm a goner, then suddenly the Commander shows up, gives Wail the ol' one-two, and it's all over. He turns to me (and this is something I've told a million times over a million drinks), he tells me how brave I was for not running away. Truth was, I would have run, except for the fact my legs weren't listening to my brain. But I acted like I was this brave hotshot, even shook the big guy's hand. Raquel had been hurt in the fight, and I should have been at her side. Instead, I'm jawing with the Commander about how big a pushover Wail was. That's just the effect the super types have on us. Seen it a million times.

Now all told, The Protectors could probably take over the world in time for lunch. There's Lady Light, a real knockout who got her powers from the sun. I heard she once blasted an asteroid to dust all by herself. Another one is Brigadier, a powerhouse like I never seen. It wasn't a question of how you stopped him, it was if he could be stopped.

My favorite is ShadowLancer. He was kind of a weird one. The guy was like a living shadow, and he could stretch himself into all kinds of shapes. Not much of a socializer, but no one could sell T-shirts like him. There's a few others, but those three are the main attraction, no questions asked.

I doubt I'm the only one who's sat awake at night wondering what would happen if these heroes decided to jump ship. I mean, the villains can't stop them, and the Army can't stop the villains, so where does that leave us? Raquel says I worry too much, that heroes don't turn evil.

I recall a certain founding member of the Protectors named Crimson Knight who turned into the Crimson Specter after his wife died of cancer and went on a killing spree. By the time his former comrades had brought him down, over 3,852 people had been killed. People love those kinds of stories too. Maybe it's because it proves heroes are more like us than we may realize. They don't always walk with the angels, and the kinds of things that can send us over the edge can do the same to them.

As I walked into our penthouse, Raquel greeted me at the door with a smile and a kiss. "How was your day, lover?" she asked.

"Ah, you know. Same old same old."

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