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Blunt Instruments

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2016. Blunt instruments.p. 49-52 in: C. Lalumière and M. Shainblum, eds. Superhero Universe. Tesseracts Nineteen. Edge Publishing, Calgary.

The voices whisper incessantly in my ears: news of the world, patriotic slogans, occasionally old comedy routines. Sometimes there are the sex dreams. Those hurt; I wish I knew who I was cavorting with, or even whether they were dreams or memories. Whatever drugs they’re giving me make it impossible to distinguish the two. I don't know who I am, don't even know my name. I have a strong sense of a life before this, but it’s there by inference, like the empty socket left behind after a tooth has been pulled. I have a sense of gratitude to those who feed me through tubes and who keep me here, safe and knowing that someday I’ll be useful again. I remember newsreel images of starving Biafrans, napalm strikes on jungle, other horrors. Here, they promise me, I’m useful and a guardian of everything we hold dear against The Forces of Evil. (Yeah, I hear the capital letters.)

#

Then there are the awakenings: my eyes open, my body still damp, and I slowly focus on the circle of flickering fluorescent light, and the voice of my handler, no longer filtered through water.

There follow what could be called “battles.” Not pitched fights with dozens of men on each side firing guns at each other, but epic knockdowns between various titans. I hear bits and snatches from the Special Forces troops who sit opposite me in the chopper, casting scared glances my way when they think I’m not looking. Because of my impenetrable hide, they wake me to fight the energy villains: those who’ve mastered electricity, electromagnetism, sunlight, plasma, dark energy, nuclear power—even photosynthesis. Some are geniuses, some not so much (even by my standards), but it always goes down the same way. They drop me from the chopper, we size each other up, and then we set to waling on each other until one of us can’t take anymore. Usually the perp; it takes a lot less energy for me to stand there and grin and take a beating than it takes them to exert every last scrap of energy, hoping they’ll blow me away or blast me into tiny bits.

Nobody’s blasted me into tiny bits, but I hurt for days afterwards. Maybe it could happen, though. I don’t take anything for granted, least of all survival.

Sometimes they give me the killer robots, giant critters, and other things best handled by a good pummelling. I hear hints they have others who specialize in other types of perps. I’ve seen the wombs they keep us in, but never the residents. Guess they figure it wouldn’t be a great idea to let us compare notes. Sometimes I have to fight two or more perps simultaneously. Three or four is worst, particularly when one of them’s like me and can take a pounding, while their buds nip at my heels, trying to bring me down so the big guy can step on my throat.

When the smiting’s done, I either hand them the cuffs and convince them to do the smart thing, or beat on them again until they stop moving, then snap on the cuffs myself. I don’t think I’ve ever killed anyone, but I undoubtedly came close a couple or three times, and my handlers are always quick to reassure me that a loss here and there would be acceptable. We’re the good guys, they remind me, and if the bad guys want to share in our rights, they shouldn’t be bad guys.

#

My handlers aren’t stupid—or at least they’ve learned from past stupidities. Since the CN Tower fell, they know enough to drive the perps outside urban areas to minimize the collateral damage. Today, they drop me out of the chopper onto a stretch of three-lane highway, just uphill of a soaring cloverleaf, and I see her, standing there, fists clenched, lycra straining against an unlikely bosom. She’s as scared as I am. She probably knows as much about me as I know about her—basically, nothing; they didn’t even give me a sitrep this time, or hint about why I’m supposed to be fighting her.

She gathers balls of energy around her fists and casts them at me, screaming. When they hit, they hurt, like the worst sunburn ever. But me and pain are old friends, and my hide keeps the heat from penetrating. My ugly goes skin deep, but it does have its benefits. I ball my own fists and whack the ground, the concussion knocking her off her feet and flinging her back under the overpass, which shakes like a jello sculpture. I pursue, not giving her time to get her feet back under her, and she scuttles backwards like a crab, leaving bloodstains after the first few feet.

“Surrender,” I hiss, knowing I’m wasting my breath.

Die!” she screams in return, and fires another energy blast past my head. As I look up to see the source of the rumbling, she lashes out with a kick that takes one leg out from under me, and uses the recoil to push herself into a shoulder roll and back onto her feet. She fights smart. I lose track of her then because I’m on my back watching tons of pre-stressed concrete fall toward my face in slow-motion. I have enough time to cover my eyes with my arms before the weight of the world lands on me, crushing the breath from my lungs.

Lucky for me, I’ve been here before; it’s an old supervillain gimmick, and something of a cliché—for the good reason that it works so well.

All those sessions pumping iron pay off; I squirm onto my stomach, gather my knees beneath me, arch my back, and shed all that weight with one mighty heave. Then I wipe the grit from my eyes and look around for my foe.

I said she’s smart; she hasn’t waited around to see if she finished me off. She’s not flying, but she’s skipping so high with each jump, energy glowing around her feet, that she makes an easy target. I pick up a chunk of rubble the size of my fist, judge the apex of her leap, and fling it. It catches her in mid-skip, and she goes down in a tangle of arms and legs that doesn’t bode well for her future spinal health. I lope up to her, and it’s only then I notice the cameramen in black body armour, assault rifles slung over their shoulders. I ignore them, and when I get to her, she’s lying with one leg beneath her at an angle that makes me wince. Bone sits at an unnatural angle in one forearm, but it’s not protruding. “Just” a nasty compound fracture. Sometimes I don’t know my own strength.

I kneel beside her. “Surrender. Please! I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

Fascist!” she spits at me, and the spittle runs down my face. But there are tears in her eyes, leaving tracks through the blood smears on her face, and there’s pain and humiliation in her eyes, and she gathers what remains of her strength, and energy begins forming around the fist of her remaining usable hand...

One of the camera men shouts something.

“What did you say?” I ask, disbelieving.

“Pound her to hamburger, you fucking monster!”

I look back at her and something changes in her eyes. Presumably she sees what’s writ large across my face. When I’m done strewing the two men across the landscape and the stench of cordite is drifting away on a light breeze, I turn back to her. “This is going to hurt,” I warn her. She grits her teeth and closes her eyes, and I carefully grip her arm, not wanting to do any more damage with these fingers, thick as her wrist. I pull gently until the bone pops back in place, and splint it there with the still-hot barrel from one of the dismembered rifles and strips of cloth torn from a uniform. Though blood runs from her bitten lip, she makes no sound. She’ll need a doctor, but she won’t lose the arm.

“The leg is going to hurt worse, I’m afraid.” She nods, eyes still closed, and when I pull it out into the correct alignment, feel it click back into place, she sobs. I bind her legs together with a belt from one of the cameramen.

Then her eyes open as we both hear the sound of the chopper. I pick her up in my arms. “We’ve got to get out of here,” I say.

“In a moment,” she replies, and with her good arm gathers one of those energy balls around her fist, and flings it weakly at the chopper.

Then I turn and walk away with her in my arms, greasy smoke rising into the sky behind us.

Author's notes

For some thoughts on what went into this story, see my Q&A from one of the other authors in the anthology.

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