as narrated by James “Aegis” Smith
The most amazing thing about having a reputation for being invincible is how eager guys are to see if they can be the one to break you.
“Stay where you are Aegis or we’ll see if your little force field can handle a shot from my mega-laser.” the man in all black power armor said. His voice was deep and rich and very clearly being electronically manipulated.
I had to give him points for the outfit. All black is nice and utilitarian; menacing, stealthy, and harder for police artists to draw useful pictures of. The power armor angle told me that “PulseWatt” (as he’d demanded to be called) was probably a normal human inside all that technology. If you’re planning to mix it up with meta-humans, its a good idea to have some way of keeping your bones and major organs intact.
“Put the gun down and come in quietly Pulse. Seriously, you haven’t caused any property damage yet, and an attempted robbery charge is nothing. We both know your lawyer will have you out on bail by tomorrow morning. If this escalates though you’re going to fall under the Powers Act. You don’t want that kind of headache.” I told him.
The offer was one I wouldn’t have made back when I started as Aegis. I’d been a starstruck fifteen year old, so sure of my righteousness that I’d thought I could operate all on my own, the police, the laws, any the other heroes of the world be damned. To be fair, being personally chosen by Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Battle, to be her champion on Earth was a hell of an ego boost.
Even the wisdom of Athena has its limits though, which I’d have been aware of if I’d bothered to read pretty much any of the old Greek myths. That had become crashingly clear to me the night I’d been so involved in my own “heroic questing” that I’d almost let my sister die. Nothing like completely failing a family member to serve as a wakeup call though. After that I’d banded together with some of the other champions of Olympus and we’d started operating openly.
When I look back on the nights that I spent “patroling” in vain, struggling to find clues to the whereabouts of the bad guys I have to shake my head. Athena’s the one who gives me guidance on which problems to look into, but being able to work with the Brassport PD and the Feds makes the tasks she gives me a whole lot easier and more effective.
Every once in a while though, I’ll manage to stumble into trouble without any help from either my patron goddess or the local law enforcement. It happens way more often that the law of averages would suggest is possible and is probably all my sister’s fault. Instead of dying the night that I let her down she became something that Athena calls a “Shaper”. I just translate that as “wizard” and it seems to work well enough.
I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that she hit me with, but trouble seeks me out as much as the other way around these days. That’s why I just happened to be in Grossboy’s hardware store when PulseWatt decided it looked like a brilliant place to rob.
“The Powers Act? Pfff. That only applies if you can catch me. I’m in non-descript armor, wielding a weapon that leaves no traceable wounds. Now if you don’t want me to show you why a transparent force field is worthless against a light based weapon, you’re going to get down on the ground like all the rest of these smart people.” PulseWatt said.
The shoppers and cashiers in Grossboy’s had all complied with PulseWatt’s demands when he burst into the store, which meant they were all face down on the ground. Or at least all of the ones in sight of the main entrance. There were two side entrances that the rest of the patrons and personnel of the store were fleeing out of while I kept PulseWatt distracted.
Instead of getting on the ground like he wanted, I reached over to a bin I’d been standing beside and hauled out one of the sledgehammers it contained.
As Aegis, I had the gift of Athena’s mystical shield which protected me from nearly all harm. That meant I was great on defense. Offense on the other hand? That was all down to the martial arts I’d studied and the slightly superhuman strength Athena had also gifted me with. Against power armor, joint locks and punches didn’t tend to work so well though. Sledgehammers on the other hand could be another story depending on how good the power armor was.
“Are you an idiot or do you think I’m too soft to actually shoot you?” PulseWatt asked as I started walking towards him.
“I think you’re a brilliant guy…who was stupid enough to try to rob a hardware store as his first public crime. I mean seriously? Do you know how much they have in the cash registers here? Probably like fifty bucks. Everybody pays with plastic these days!” I said.
“It’s not about the money!” PulseWatt sneered. I thought about that for a second. Robbery without money as a motive meant he was in it for either fame or revenge. Robbing a cheap, chain store would, at best, inspire a few meme’s and internet parody videos, so that ruled out fame. Which left revenge.
“So how long did you work here?” I asked.
“What? What do you mean, I never worked here!” PulseWatt said, protesting entirely too much.
Man I felt bad for the guy. I’d tried working retail to maintain my “secret identity” for a while. I’d also been dunked in burning acid by one of the more imaginative villains I fought. Of the two I’d take the burning acid any day of the week.
I came to a halt about ten feet away from PulseWatt and bounced the sledgehammer in my hands.
“You can fly in that thing right? If you take off now, before anything’s stolen and before anyone’s hurt, I’ll be duty bound to help the people who are here before giving chase. You can probably make a clean getaway.” I told him.
“I’m not the one who needs to run away!” PulseWatt screamed. That was a bad sign. He still didn’t fire though, which was a good one.
“Trust me, you are better off if you do. If I have to beat you down, you’re going to have trouble walking for days and then you’re going to shipped off to Federal Powers Lockdown. Without your armor, or the nice gun there.”
“I’m not afraid of you!” PulseWatt screamed again. And again didn’t fire.
“Not saying you should be. It’s spending the next five to ten years in a federal pen that you should be scared of. That’s a lot of your life to give up just to cause some damage that insurance is going to wind up paying for anyways.” I said.
“There’s no insurance for Acts of Villainy.” PulseWatt said, no longer screaming. In place of anger, uncertainty had wormed its way into his voice.
“Powers Act, Article 37, section 12, paragraph 3. It covers the establishment of a federal fund to pay for restoration of damages due to acts of ‘powers related aggression’. Want to know how the fund is maintained? Well, among other ways, by selling licensing rights to the villains inventions. So that nice gun you created there? They’ll patent it and take the money that you could have made and pay off the nice people here.” I said. It wasn’t quite as simple as I was making it out to be but given that my goal was to get him to give up on his life of villainy before he made a solid start on it, I didn’t think I needed to go into a full description of the challenges the legal system would have in handling him.
“That’s ridiculous! The government doesn’t do that!” PulseWatt complained, but all traces of certainty had fled from him.
“I’m afraid they do. Not just in America either. Japan, New Zealand, and most of Europe have all enacted similar bills.” I said.
My costume as Aegis includes a full face mask. I was glad for that since I had to suppress a smile at the thought that my high school civics class actually was coming in useful in a life and death situation (well, it would have been life and death for someone else).
“Really?” PulseWatt asked, lowering the gun. Even though they were hidden by his power armor, I could see his shoulders slump in defeat.
“Really. Like I said, there’s just nothing here for you.”
“Could suck worse.” I said, lowering the sledgehammer to rest at my side.
PulseWatt let out a laugh that made the electronic filtering the power armor was providing to his voice squeak and squeal.
“Yeah, it can always suck worse.” he agreed.
“Leave the gun here. If you do that they won’t even put a warrant on you. All you’ll be guilty of misdemeanor trespassing.” I said.
“Really?” PulseWatt asked again.
“No, but I can talk the cops into recording it that way. They appreciate people who don’t make their jobs any harder than they need to be.” I explained.
“Ok. If I’m not going to get in trouble, then fine. This can just be over.” PulseWatt said and went to put the “MegaLaser” down. Halfway to placing the gun on the checkout counter he froze. A moment later I heard a pop of electricity and saw sparks play all over the armor. PulseWatt gave a strangled scream and then went abruptly silent. The power armor started to pitch forward but caught itself before it could fall.
“This isn’t the field test that we agreed up Brandon, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to settle for testing the automated systems.” a new voice said, speaking from the power armor’s speakers. It didn’t take the Wisdom of Athena to figure out that the new speaker was not “PulseWatt”, or Brandon as he was apparently better known.
“Remote control on the power armor? Who are you?” I asked. Obviously if he held the key to overriding the power armor, the voice that was speaking was either it’s creator or at least its actual owner.
“My name is Carla Sunderland and my address is 53 Cheshire Peak Drive.” the male voice said in answer to my question.
“The mayor? That’s a good one. I’m surprised you know her address, half the city didn’t even vote in the last election.” I said.
“Politics! What can you do? Oh, wait, I know…take over the city!” the owner of the power armor said.
“Starting in a hardware store?” I asked.
“From the humblest of beginnings sprout the mightiest of oaks.”
“Very wise, I’m surprised you’re not a Doctor or a Professor.” I said, goading him.
“Well of course I’m a Doctor. Who told you otherwise?” the crazy man controlling the armor said.
“I don’t know Doctor…?”
“Hmm, yes, Doctor what? I was always called a weirdo in school, so let’s go with Doctor Wyrd. That’s w, y, r, d.” he said.
“So now that your test is done you’re going to power down the armor and shut off the Mega-Laser right?” I asked, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that things were not going to play out that way.
“Done with the test? Why of course not. You can’t be done with the test until you’ve tested the device to destruction! Oh, and by the way, Concussion Blast!” Doctor Wyrd said.
Less than a second later I found myself crashing through a stack of plywood, followed by a stack of 2×4’s in the next aisle, then a rack of fence posts and finally the exterior wall of the hardware store. I managed to flip around and land on the ground in a long slide with both feet and my left hand supporting me. In my right hand I still had the handle of the sledgehammer; the rest had shattered as I crashed through the store.
I launched myself back towards the store. PulseWatt had been a small fry. He’d been angry but the prospect of real violence had been something he was smart enough to walk away from. Doctor Wyrd on the other hand had left sanity and restraint well behind as he sprinted straight into cuckoo land.
“That was WONDERFUL!” Wyrd shouted over the armor’s speakers as it rocketed out of the hole in the hardware store. “Let’s try another setting. Neural disruption!”
Pink fire washed over me. It tingled around my ears, but otherwise had no effect. There wasn’t any reason to let Doctor Wyrd know that though.
“Arrrgh.” I hammed it up. I staggered towards him as though I was fighting through agonizing pain.
The nice thing about even the mild amount of super strength that I had was that it meant I could jump a lot higher than people expected. The automated system that was running the power armor set it hovering a mere twelve feet over the parking lot. I was able to close the horizontal distance by faking my fight against the Neural Disrupter beam. Once I was close enough I sprang up and wrapped myself around the power armor, forcing the gun to point skyward.
The downside to having only a mild amount of super strength though was that I couldn’t out muscle most of things I ran into, which included Doctor Wyrd’s power armor as it turned out.
The automated system was clumsy and slow but since we were hanging in mid-air and I had to keep the gun pointed away from the civilians, it wasn’t like I had a lot of room to dodge the suit’s grip. Which didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try of course. We grappled for a minute and half before the power armor’s hand managed to snare me around the neck and pull me off. In exchange I managed to crush both the Mega-Laser and rip off one of the suits boot jets so that its flight was uneven and slowed.
“This is unfortunate. It seems the armor is not strong enough to pierce your force field. And you are not strong enough to disable any more of the armor. I suppose all I have left to test is how longer the armor’s wearer can last as I beat the suit to pieces against your forcefield.” Doctor Wyrd said.
“You find the collection of valuable scientific data a matter of derision?” Doctor Wyrd asked.
“Not at all.” I laughed again.
“What’s so funny then young man?”
“You’re laughing at something. Tell me what it is!”
“Well you see, I was meeting my girlfriend here.” I explained.
“And you are afraid she will intuit your secret identity!” Wyrd guessed.
“Nope, no worries there.”
“You think you will be able to appear at your heroic best when I fail to kill you?”
“Not worried about that at all.”
“You…you think she will save you?” Wyrd said, guessing at what sounded to be the least probably thing he could think of.
“Sort of, I’m thinking of the hell she’s going to give me when she does.” I said.
“Who are you dating?” Wyrd asked.
In response a bolt of lightning cracked down from the sky bathing us both in white hot, circuitry destroying plasma.
“Didn’t I mention? She’s the champion of Zeus.” I said as the armor’s systems started to fail and we drifted back down to the parking lot.