Amazing Man flew over the Los Angeles sprawl at a good clip. He’d thought of it as his “patrolling pace” just a few short weeks ago. A high enough speed to cover a lot of ground, but not so fast that he couldn’t track all the small-scale human movements below. It was still too fast for a cape though. The wind would whip it so loudly he couldn’t hear himself think, and his thoughts were pretty important. It was even fast enough to rip the breath from anyone who needed to breathe, so it was a good thing he didn’t. His chest rose and fell out of habit, an affectation he’d adopted to put the people around him at ease.
In a sense this was still patrolling, but now he was looking for slabs of lead shielding rather than crimes in progress. That was the byproduct of another previous effort to put humans at ease, by affording them a sense of privacy. He could, in actuality, see through lead without a problem. He’d been so stupid back then, hopping back and forth like the oblivious nerd trying to impress the popular girl, thinking he had a chance. Even last month he’d let those orphans smear their greasy hands all over his costume, smiling the while. They had no idea how hard it was to get stains out of it! He couldn’t just take it to the dry cleaner. And no Amazing Fabric Cleaning Vision either. All the positions he’d twisted himself into, trying to make the humans happy! For years! And for what? Well, at least one good thing had come from his naiveté–now lead shielding acted like a neon sign flashing “Insurgents Here!”
Los Angeles was in better shape than most other major cities. The fighting here had been brief. The populace had already seen how futile resistance was, and the National Guard had defected to his side before he’d even arrived. He’d probably be able to lift his personal overwatch from LA in a matter of weeks. He hated when people referred to it as martial law. That was downright ungrateful. He kept tabs on the insurgent sympathizers who said it. It was his duty, as the liberator and overlord of America, to ensure that his subjects could enjoy lives free from civil strife. Amazing very much believed in the personal responsibility ethic of “you break it, you bought it.” Even if he’d fixed it rather than broken it.
As he flew over a suburb he spotted a lead slab, installed to shield a basement. He zoomed in with his Amazing Vision and saw a group of young men sitting in a circle, tapping away on their phones furiously. His Amazing Hearing was well-known, no one would speak a word against him aloud anymore, but that was no impediment to the youth. It was almost as if the past five years had been a training regimen to prepare the populace in audio-free communication. Come to think of it, that wasn’t so implausible. It was too bad Steve Jobs couldn’t be brought in for interrogation anymore. Unless… he had faked his own death?? The possibility was intriguing. Amazing would love to end this whole resistance fiasco just by punching the right guy hard enough. Counterinsurgency was frustratingly difficult.
Amazing focused on the tiny phone screens to confirm his targets. Rallying cries of “Death to tyrants!” and “We are Americans, we kill kings!” Really hurtful stuff. He was a far more benevolent ruler than those self-interested liars that had kept getting elected. He altered his course to home in on the insurgents. They didn’t look like he’d expected insurgents to look, with turbans and beards. They looked just like any other group of teens gathered for a social event. Heads bowed over phones, fingers flying, not a word being said. If it wasn’t for the lead shielding above them he wouldn’t have given them a second glance.
He dropped into the basement feet-first, punching through the house above like an unpopular rocker leaping onto an unwilling crowd. He’d intended to appear in their midst with the clarity of a bolt of lightning, or a much more popular rockstar, but shoddy construction ruined his entrance. Debris crashed around him. The billowing dust obscured all vision. Screams of panic, and at least one of grievous injury, filled the room. Amazing frowned. This was almost as bad as the time he’d crashed Dr. Vile’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, thinking it was an Evil League gathering. Those poor grandmas never knew what hit them. Amazing pursed his lips and blew, clearing the air with his Amazing Breath. Slowly the cries died into shocked silence, aside from the screeching kid in skinny jeans clutching a shattered leg. A bow-tied hipster in the corner quietly pissed himself.
Amazing scanned the room with his Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision to find the insurgent most suited to his needs. The one who would be most terrified by what was about to happen, and who would tell everyone he could of the horror of this afternoon. Amazing didn’t have the time to root out every single insurgent cell. He needed to give the impression that he was aware of all subversive action and always just a moment away from crushing it. He figured the best way to do that would be to strike at random times and places across the nation and make sure everyone knew what had happened.
After a couple seconds he focused on the dreadlocked hippie type pressed against the back wall. The hippie enjoyed attention, and didn’t believe in staying quiet. Amazing hoped he had a lot of followers on whatever Insta-share thing he used.
With that Amazing burst into action. A single step and he was across the room, up to the elbow in someone’s chest, his fist protruding from their back. A huge sidestep and he was against an exterior wall, one hand pressed against the concrete foundations, a mess of brain pulp and shattered skull under his palm. A spin and a dash–he literally ran through one of the insurgents, the body exploding in a red mist, before grabbing the bow-tied kid’s jaw in one hand and twisting his head off his body. A final step and he was next to the injured kid. He stomped his chest flat in a single motion. From start to finish, less than one second. He knew the hippie couldn’t have followed it. One second everything was fine, the next Amazing Man was dripping gore and the hippie’s friends were so much falling meat.
“I’m tired of your terrorist shit,” Amazing intoned. “It ends now. Consider this your warning.” The kid stared at him, frozen, not even daring to breathe. Amazing held the pose, unsure of how to exit the scene. Back in his self-effacing heroing days people would thank him at this point, which was his cue to be gracious, salute someone, and fly off. This extended pause was awkward, and there was blood trickling under his collar. Could the kid at least acknowledge he’d heard him?
A strained croak escaped from the hippie’s mouth, which would do. Amazing rocketed out of the basement. He accelerated sharply, hoped the wind of his flight would strip him clean, like a super-powerful air hose. Instead it just dried the viscera onto him, leaving his skin sticky and his creases crusty. In annoyance he flared his Amazing Aura, incinerating everything within an inch of his body, aside from his asbestos underwear. Come to think of it, his costume was also a holdover from his days of cringing appeasement and self-abasement. He had the body of a Greek god. From now on that underwear would be the entirety of his costume.
As soon as he dyed it purple, anyway. He couldn’t have an asbestos-grey costume, even a really small one. He wasn’t gauche.
Amazing Man sat in the throne room of his Amazing-Lair-cum-Presidential-Palace, contemplating how to ferret out his secret arch-nemesis Steve Jobs, when he was interrupted by an approaching clamor. One of his newly-minted Lieutenants of Liberty, resplendent in black-and-purple ballistic armor, marched through the opposite doorway. He came before Amazing’s throne and kneeled, head bowed, helmet under his arm. Amazing was uncomfortable with such displays of deference, but he’d once read it was an important ritual among military organizations. His Amazing Psychoanalytic Vision confirmed that his Liberty Legion found it deeply comforting, so he’d mandated the act. He wondered if this was a universal human trait, or if his organization simply tended to attract people who needed this sort of structure.
Then he realized that he was again making himself uncomfortable to pander to the vagaries of the current in-crowd. That the in-crowd were his loyal followers didn’t change a damn thing. He was done being a simpering puppy.
“Stand up,” he snapped. “Report.”
The man rose reverently, but refused to make eye-contact with Amazing. Probably bad news then. Either that or he was intimidated by Amazing’s manly physique. Amazing found he really enjoyed the liberty of his much smaller costume. He should have done this years ago.
It was probably the bad news though. His Legion was flat-out incompetent.
“My lord, we’ve captured the reporter. She is waiting just outside.”
Success on their first try? Amazing blinked in surprise. That was a new record! He’d been this close to adopting Dr. Vile’s style of punitive motivational tactics (he imagined his thumb and forefinger very, very close together). He didn’t have to worry about a henchman uprising like Dr. Vile had suffered, and he’d been getting tired of failure. He eyed the lieutenant skeptically, not quite sure how to react to good news from underlings.
“Bring her in,” Amazing ordered. With his luck they’d gotten the wrong reporter anyway.
The lieutenant returned promptly with three Legionnaires, escorting a feisty, tough-as-nails reporter. Miss Paula Perry, from the State Journal Weekly. Amazing expected her to see the wall behind him at some point, but she was struggling the entire way across the room, and when she’d finally been deposited at the foot of his dais she simply glared directly up at him. All things considered, this was preferable. It would make the reveal so much more dramatic!
“Ah, Miss Perry,” Amazing greeted her with a smile. “You’ve been in hiding since my ascension, and I feared you’d fled the country! I should have known you’d still be here, riling up the masses. Reasonable responses never were your strong suit.”
He’d practiced that line in a mirror, so he knew it delivered the perfect mix of power and contempt.
“I knew this would happen!” Paula spit at him. “I tried to warn everyone! I’d been trying to warn them all from the first day!”
“Oh, I know all about your warnings. I followed your column, devoutly. I read and tracked every word of yours. Every. Single. Lie.”
Paula pulled back in surprise, momentarily speechless.
“You did?” she asked. Amazing grinned down at her. Slowly comprehension dawned over her stupid face. “You were V.Populi77? You? You didn’t have anything better to do than troll the comments of some weekly columnist?”
“You weren’t just some columnist for me. For you see…” Amazing reached back, picked up a pair of black thick-framed glasses from his throne, and slipped them over his face.
Paula eyes bugged out and she gasped in recognition.
“Yes. Your polite, cringing, and unfailingly nice coworker. I was Amazing Man the whole time!”
“That’s why your stories always praised Amazing Man so much.”
“No!” Amazing snarled the word, then calmed himself as its echoes died away. “No. I was simply trying to counteract your constant hate-pieces. In return you and your coterie of Mean Girls attacked me, tore me down in public, and baited the rest of the journalistic world into hating Amazing Man!”
“But everyone else loved you! Your columns were way more popular than mine! They’re why people read the paper.”
“So you admit my work was better?” Amazing demanded.
“Well… I mean, it was definitely better liked…”
“Then how do you explain THIS!?” Amazing stepped to the side and with a sweep of his arm gestured grandly at the wall behind the throne. “Last year when I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, for an incredible in-depth piece on Amazing Man, I was passed over and the Prize was given to this vile hate-piece instead!”
The wall was solid marble, forty feet wide and rising to a gothic arch seventy feet up. Starting five feet from the top was the full text of a State Journal Weekly article, carved into the marble in giant letters. Amazing had carved those letters himself, with his Amazing Cutting Vision, seething all the while. He’d had to focus carefully, exercising control not to cut deeper on the most infuriating lines.
Amazing Man Amazingly Narcissistic. -Paula Perry; SJW, Nov 14 2018
As the city throws another parade in Amazing Man’s honor, perhaps we should take a moment to ask if our thanks aren’t misplaced.
In a world of crashing climates, is the best use of a massive super-natural force really the stopping of muggings and personal crime? Millions starve, hundreds of millions are displaced, civil conflict and disease run rampant in half the world. How many could be saved if Amazing Man used his strength to keep a series of massive dynamos spinning? Free, limitless energy would end half our conflicts, and break humanity’s carbon addiction.
Or what if Amazing Man were to allow himself to be studied by scientists, so we could determine the source of his powers?
Consider even the event that has prompted our latest parade, the poisoning of the city’s water supply. While we are all grateful to have been saved by Amazing Man, revelation of his Amazing Water-Purification Vision raises alarming questions. How many lives could he save by providing clean water in developing countries? How many other powers does he have that he isn’t telling us about?
And yet where do we see him? In showy fights with evil geniuses. Or punching common thugs. Flashy actions that are always caught on camera and praised. He is conspicuously absent from the sort of high-impact work that doesn’t come with limelight.
More than anything else, Amazing Man seems to crave affirmation, and anyone who doesn’t provide it for him can go hang. One can only shudder to think what he might do if the news cycle ever changes focus and the affirmation he needs begins to drain away.”
It had been carved in the same font the State Journal Weekly used.
It even included the small stock photo of Amazing Man that had run with the column, carved into the wall in bas-relief.
Slowly Paula turned her gaze back to Amazing.
“Are you saying this is my fault?” she asked.
“All of you ivory-tower snobs, trying to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. I was just trying to make the world a better place! But I didn’t fit into your little clique, didn’t toe your party line, so you attacked me at every opportunity. You tried to destroy my career, while you slandered my good deeds, and your incestuous little group rewarded you for it.”
Paula shook her head, looking dazed. Her eyes kept moving from Amazing’s face to the wall behind him and back again.
“It was worse than I thought,” she said, “You’d never be happy as anything less than a messiah figure. Why not just cut to the chase and call yourself Messiah Man instead? Or The Amazing Christ?”
“And you’re still doing it! You have this need to cast me in the worst possible light. The whole system was corrupt, ruled by out-of-touch elites. The masses loved me, and you sought only to tear me down! I had to take back America for the common man, for the overwhelming majority of us underdogs!”
“And that article of mine,” Paula gestured to the wall, “is what convinced you of this?”
“I’d been so naive before that. I read your columns, but I had faith in the process. I believed that I would be judged by the content of my character. Afterwards I realized I never even had a chance. That’s when I decided things had to change.”
“So all of this…” Paula gestured around herself to indicate the Presidential Palace, the Liberty Legions, and presumably the entire Liberated States of America. “All of this was because you felt snubbed by a group of people you don’t even like?”
Amazing ripped the glasses from his face and crushed them in his fist. His responding roar was super-human, shattering all the glass in the Palace and leaving Paula with mild, but permanent, hearing loss.
“It’s about ethics in superhero journalism!”
Emilio won a Pulitzer that year, as well as a Peabody, an Oscar, a Grammy, a Dobby, and a Tony Award; all purely on merit and not for any other reason at all. Amazing Man won the Nobel Peace Prize. That last one raised a few eyebrows, but it was pointed out that the Peace Prize had previously been awarded to people with a much higher body count than Amazing Man had managed, and wouldn’t it be better to keep it that way? It was hard to argue with that logic.
Miss Perry was released, because Amazing Man was above petty things like personal revenge. She is now happily employed as a Field Hand in the Angola Liberty Farm.
This story originally appeared in Red Legacy And Other Stories.