It was Grandpa’s favorite way to exit the complex.
I could see why. There’s something about bursting out of a tunnel, flying briefly over dark water and then turning to see the lights of the city, the public beach, and the harbor.
I’m not sure what it is.
By the time I crossed the highway that runs next to the lake, I’d formulated a few rules for what I would and would not do that evening. I was not going to go find Cassie and Daniel. I was not going to turn on the police band and listen for crimes.
What I was going to do was get out of League HQ, get out of my parents’ house and do something that nobody had told me to do.
If it so happened that I saw a crime being committed, I would stop it, but I wasn’t going to seek out trouble.
I landed on a lawn just on the other side of the highway, next to a collection of hotels and high-rise apartment buildings. Running, I crossed the sidewalk and merged into traffic.
With a name like “The Rocket,” you might expect Grandpa to have flown everywhere, but he didn’t. He only had an hour of fuel to work with so he spent most of his patrols on the ground.
Even though the new version of the suit was lighter than the original, making that one hour of fuel last three, I liked running. For one thing it charged the suit’s battery. For another, if you really wanted to appreciate the physical power the suit made available to you, you could keep up with traffic—provided traffic was moving below forty miles per hour.
Not that I had much traffic to deal with. I’d deliberately chosen an empty street. This evening’s exercise was less about fighting crime than sorting things out in my head.
I got into the run, settling on a good thirty mile per hour pace and began to think about what had driven me out for the night.
It wasn’t really the life of a superhero that bothered me. It was the feeling of being pushed into it. Grandpa had never asked me if I wanted his suit. He’d just given it to me in a secret clause of his will.
He’d also never asked me if I wanted his lab or the League’s HQ beneath it.
Or if I needed eleven million dollars in a Swiss bank account earmarked for “fighting evil”—all of which would be donated to the Superhero Legal Defense Fund should I choose not to bother.
So yeah, no pressure.
Despite having all the time in the world to think, I got nowhere. I ran through conversations with my grandfather in my head, trying to think if he’d ever brought it up in any way. I couldn’t. In the end, I just concentrated on the running, not worrying about where I was or how quickly was moving. By the time I started paying attention to the world around me, I didn’t recognize anything.
The SUV ahead of me stopped.
Not having the space to slow down, I jumped up, shooting over the SUV and landing just short of people smoking on the sidewalk in front of “Willy’s Bar” (or so said the sign in the window). The guy nearest to me dropped his cigarette, shouting, “Holy shit! You trying to kill me?”
I gave a little wave and said, “Sorry.” Thanks to the fact that I’d been showing Daniel the suit’s ability to imitate sounds, this came out less reassuring than I thought it would—we’re talking a 100% dead-on imitation of Darth Vader.
On the bright side, the landing had killed my momentum.
Deciding to stop trying to salvage the situation, I ignored them and started walking. The SUV wasn’t the only stopped car. From what I could see, the line of cars went to the end of the block.
It wasn’t a block that I would choose to be stuck on. This part of Fourth Street seemed to be heavy on bars, liquor stores, seedy shops and boarded-up buildings.
I reached the end of the block to find two cars in the middle of the intersection. A rusty, blue pickup had hit an Audi convertible from behind, smashing the trunk in.
A crowd of people stood on the corners and watched while the owners yelled at each other. In one corner, a thirty-ish, blond guy who looked like he went to the gym several times a week. In the other (next to the truck with the broken headlight) stood a pot-bellied, forty-something with a stringy beard and a Metallica t-shirt.
I stopped at the back of the crowd, wondering if I would have to open up with the rockets and fly over. “Excuse me,” I said, “coming through…”
No one turned to look at me. No one moved.
It occurred to me that switching the voice mechanism to a lightly modified version of my own voice and away from Darth Vader's might have been a bad idea.
I tapped the guy ahead of me on the shoulder. He wore a Grand Lake University sweatshirt and was standing at the back of a group of guys.
He turned around, beginning to say, “What do you want“ when he suddenly seemed to notice the armor.
“Please move,” I said, turning up the volume on the PA a little.
“No problem,” he said. “Uh... Guys?”
They parted like the Red Sea.
The man in the Metallica t-shirt had the passenger door open and seemed to be going through the glove compartment. “Gimme a second,” he muttered.
“A second? I’ve given you twenty minutes. No. You’re going find your fucking insurance now.”
The blond man pulled a handgun out of his Audi.
The first thought that jumped into my head was that someone should call the police. The second thought? That I was an idiot.
I jumped into the intersection, moving between the two men.
I got shot.
The bullet bounced harmlessly off the armor, but it was still a surprise. I pushed his arm toward the ground with my right hand while pulling the gun away with my left.
Once I had the gun in my hand, I stuck my fingers through the guard and pushed the trigger sideways till I broke it.
Then I dropped the gun and the trigger in the street.
He looked down at the gun and then back up at me. Then he started shouting. “You broke my gun. I’ll kill you!”
He went on in that vein for a while.
I had no idea what to do. I had options. The most obvious was threatening him or punching him, but I didn’t want to. When I was in costume, I could punch through walls—and people. I knew I had to do something though. In the moment, however, it was hard to think just what that should be.
As some bullies at school had found, I was not all that great with witty repartee under pressure either.
I decided to ignore him. I turned to check on the guy with the truck. He’d shut his car door and stood next to the vehicle, having found what he was looking for or just given up.
From behind me I heard, “Hey, you’re not listening to me. Listen to me, damn you! I’m going to sue you. You and this guy too. He trashed my car. You trashed my gun. That’s private property. Did you hear me? Private property.”
I turned around, increasing the volume on the built-in PA as high as it could go. As in, up to eleven.
Now before I go on, I should mention that I’ve always had mixed feelings about the suit’s sonic systems. First of all, because they could have permanent side effects--like deafness. Second, because I had always seen them as the result of forty years worth of feature creep. Back in WW2, Grandpa decided the suit needed a PA. Then he decided it might be useful if the PA could modify a person’s voice. Then he noticed that he could break glass with the PA and wondered how far he could take that.
Since the early 70’s, in addition to the PA, each arm of the suit has had “weaponized” speakers that can focus concentrated sound on an object, sometimes shattering it (even if it’s not glass).
Not that I was using anything more than the PA, but the PA was bad enough.
“Will. You. SHUT. UP,” I said.
He heard me. That’s what I’m assuming from the way he put his hands to his ears and how his face whitened.
Not only did he hear me, but so did the crowd (which went dead silent), people several blocks away, and, for all I know, people inside the International Space Station.
Lowering the volume to something bearable, I turned back to the guy with the truck. “You may as well find your registration, because I think I hear the police.”
He didn’t say anything. He just nodded.
“Well anyway,” I said to the crowd, ”have a nice night everybody.”
I started the rockets and blasted into the air just as the police cars arrived.
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Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at http://legionofnothing.com. He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.