**Note: this is not quite a story, having no real plot, it's a character I'm planning on playing in an upcoming Mutants and Masterminds game. Oh, and it's a bit long. I had so much fun writing it I decided to post it anyway.**
It could get pretty weird out there at night. When I was on the Road, pushing 75 with five tons running behind, I was a god, invulnerable, nothing can touch me. But even gods have their weaknesses; even I couldn’t drive all the time. I tried to stick with the big rest stops, the cities, places where there were a lot of people, but some nights even that failed and I found myself rolling it off the Road onto some tiny patch of concrete with two pumps and a little shed with a worn-out sign. Under the bluish glare of the security lamp it was an island in a vast emptiness, without another light to be seen anywhere, all the way to the horizon. Sights like that can make you doubt whether the sun will ever come up again.
On this particular night I missed some turn I ought to have taken and wound up coasting down a ragged two-lane highway in a forgotten corner of New Mexico. I saw a sign and decided to pull off for directions and a cup of coffee, but when I climbed out of the cab I realized there was no clerk in the shed. I waited a while in case he was on a bathroom break, but I lost patience and started to leave.
Well, that’s when the scorpion flipped over my truck. Fifteen-foot-tall arachnid and it snuck up on me. When it’s been a long night you get careless.
I ran for it. I’ve got a pretty good turn of speed on me when I put my mind to it and I didn’t seem to remember anything about scorpions winning any foot races, so I figured it was the best idea I had at the time. I suppose it was more interested in the truck because it didn’t chase me. I got a fair distance before I started to feel guilty for abandoning my rig in such a hurry.
See, I owned my truck and worked for myself; there was no dispatcher, no mega-conglomo-whatsit trucking company to stand between me and the loss of my good reputation. I read once where in the old days the post had some slogan--“Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night”, I think it went—that explains pretty well how I felt about my reputation. They didn’t have the troubles we have now in those days, but, see, I don’t like excuses. I don’t see much difference between the vast dark prairie full of Indians, with you on your pony, and a giant scorpion when you’re driving a big rig. Dakota Sue got it through . . . no matter what.
I really did just want to keep going, though, but I had a responsibility to figure some way to get rid of that scorpion. Well, that and get my truck back up on its suspension, but that could wait. One problem at a time.
I had just completed this train of thought and started to turn around when I fell in the pit. Some idiot had decided to dig a great big hole out in the middle of nowhere. Well, that and I seemed likely to win the all-state Oblivious Woman championship that night. Too much on my mind. It’s sad, because I see in the dark pretty well, too.
I hadn’t even gotten enough breath back to start cursing when this head poked over the edge of the hole. “You’re not the scorpion,” this joker informed me, like I couldn’t figure it out for myself. I was so annoyed I threw a rock at him—missed of course—and anyway he didn’t seem too perturbed by it. He jumped in to help me climb out. I didn’t really need the help but I didn’t feel like arguing. After I was back on the level he made what must have been a seventeen foot standing jump to get back out himself.
He turned out to be a little fellow, about as tall as my shoulder and skinny, with shoulder-length white hair. He was wearing a black suit with a frilly white shirt; it looked tailored, expensive, and completely inappropriate. He was also carrying a sword, although I thought the term was a little grandiose for that effeminate dueler’s foil. I’d have called it a knitting needle but that’s so cliché.
“Oh, great!” I yelled. “You’re a super, aren’t you?!”
He just dusted himself off—I don’t know why, he wasn’t dirty--and raised an eyebrow at me. “Yes? Is there some problem?”
I shrugged. “I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, what with the giant scorpion and all.”
He cheered right up at that. “So you’ve seen it? Is it chasing you?”
He came over all disappointed. “Drat. We were hoping to trap it, but thus far it remains elusive.”
I turned around and looked at the pit. “In that dinky thing? Are you out of your mind?”
“What? Granted we didn’t have a lot of time, but this trap should be more than sufficient to enclose the scorpion for the time we require to deal with it.”
I shook my head. “It’s way too big for that. And who’s this ‘we’ you keep talking about?”
He managed somehow to produce this expression that communicated, all at once, that it wasn’t important, but he was going to humor me from politeness, and that he was only using the expression figuratively in any case. “The gas station clerk has been . . . assisting me.” A pale teenager peeked out from around a rock and waved.
“Or trying to, at least,” I said dryly.
“Quite. Now then, am I to understand that the scorpion has increased in size since my last opportunity to view it?”
Just as an aside, I hate it when people talk to me like that, it brings out this horrible obstinate urge for me to be as back-country hick as I can, which I’m not, but there you go. I think it’s because some people seem to think that plain language means you’re an idiot. They’re almost as bad as the people who think inappropriate bluntness is some kind of virtue. “Well shucks, I think that there might be downright a fair analysis, sonny.” He glared. “Hey, you started it,” I informed him. “You tone down the highfalutin’s and I, well, stop saying things like ‘highfalutin’. That looking-down-the-nose business works both ways.”
“Fine. The scorpion is still growing?”
“How big was it when you saw it?”
He frowned, thinking. “Taller than I am, but just barely.”
“Whoo. It’s at least fifteen feet tall now, it flipped over my semi!”
“Hmm. Well, tell me how it got here and I’ll see if I can think of anything.”
He opened his mouth to protest and then shrugged and began explaining. “There’s a nuclear power plant not far from here . . .”
“Yes. Anyway, there was a number 37 disturbance there earlier today . . . err . . . that’s a ‘research scientist going mad and trying to take over the world with a radiation-based device’, in case you didn’t know . . .”
“Happens that often?”
“You’d be surprised. In any case, he managed to use his device on some of the local wildlife before they got him stopped, and during the . . . ah . . . confusion some of them escaped. They sent me to deal with this particular giant insect as part of my training.”
“Arachnid,” I corrected him idly.
“Well, it does make a difference,” I countered.
“Fine, fine.” He made a limp little flapping gesture with his hand. “Hmm. Well, if it is at the filling station the best solution is probably some kind of incendiary.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, firstly, you’re not torching my semi. Secondly, if this is your standard giant radioactive arachnid, blowing it up won’t work.”
“How do you know that?”
“Everyone knows that.” Well, this was a bit of an equivocation on my part, but it wasn’t his business. “Anyway, what you need to do is to get at the thing’s underbelly. That’s where the armor’s the weakest. A few good hits will usually roll it up nicely.” In a perfect world, anyway, I doubt it would be that easy in reality. The night was looking more and more interesting.
“You’re a super yourself, aren’t you?”
Took him long enough. “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“What’s your name?”
“Susan.” He winced. Supers hate it when you insist on using your actual name. It’s like they’re hardwired to think of supers and regular people in completely different categories and they can’t handle any overlap. For a super, it’s considered perfectly normal to be called “Cyberthug” and wear a spandex bodysuit, instead of what it actually represents, which is dangerous mental instability.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t exactly have a high opinion of supers. Never mind that technically I am one. I never let the fact that I can bench three tons and pick bullets out of the air make me imagine that I’m entitled to tell other people their business. Or, worse, that I’m entitled to respect, money, fame, or power regardless of what I’ve actually done. If it comes down to it, I think the heroes are worse than the villains. At least the villains don’t pretend they’re doing you a favor.
“What about you?” I demanded.
With an utterly straight face he replied, “Fairy Tea Rose.”
Oh, did I ever have to fight not to laugh, but if that was the score I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. “Oh, an Elf, huh? No wonder you’re so gay.”
Not even a twitch. After a second, though, he let his eyes focus on my short hair and slowly travel down over my flannel shirt, blue jeans, and sensible boots. Then one sculptured white eyebrow rose a fraction of an inch.
I just gave him my blankest stare. “What?”
“So I need to take my sword to its underbelly?”
I snorted. “You’re not going to get anywhere with that cocktail skewer.” Score one for Susan who successfully navigated around the cliché!
The kid finally decides to say something. “I brought a fire axe.”
“You did?” I said, turning to give him my full attention. Always take young people seriously; they deserve it considering the amount of crap they have to put up with from adults. “Can I see it?”
“Sure.” He hands it over. It turns out to be a serious tool, with a high quality synthetic handle instead of a cheap wooden one.
“Nice. Mind if I borrow it?”
“You can keep it if you want.”
“All right, chucklehead,” I said to the Elf, “let’s go.”
So, the long and the short of it is, we killed the . . . oh, I see you over there with your little pouty expression. You were expecting some kind of play-by-play? Whatever. Like I said, I’m no hero to sit here detailing out every punch and dodge like it’s some kind of command performance at the ballet, instead of what it really is, which is scary and gross. Although, I should give him the credit, if Rose hadn’t poked the thing right in the eye with his sword at an opportune moment it could have been troublesome. He’s stronger than he looks, too, with his help I was able to get the truck right-side-up again.
I was relaxing in the glow of a job well done and trying not to think too much about the long drive ahead when Rose starts talking again. “You should come to Freedom City and put some of your skills to use.”
I was amused. “I should? Why’s that?”
“I mean, why are you delivering . . . um, what is this stuff . . .”
“Yes, gaskets, when you could be delivering Justice.” He said it just like that, with the capital letter.
“I don’t think Justice would fit in my truck.”
“You could help people!”
“Let them help themselves.”
“Well, the pay is better.”
“I’ve got all the money I need.”
He stared at me for a while, then, very slowly, “You’d enjoy upsetting everyone and turning the whole place upside-down?”
I laughed. “Please. Too easy.”
Realization dawned. “You’d enjoy the challenge.”
“Now you’re talking my language. If you’ve got one, well, I’ll think about it.”
He gave me his card.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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