Terminal Velocity

He stared at the costume hanging from the closet’s door handle.

Before he would have looked at this costume and have been thrilled of the possibilities it could bring. Now he looked at it and saw only death. Here he was, a 35 year old man who thought he could be a hero, but all he had ended up doing is spilling innocent blood. Looking down at his hands he could still see the blood there, though it had long been washed off. However, it was always there, etched deep into his psyche.

The man known the world over as Velocity was a murderer.

It had been a normal day like any other as Lucas headed to his office job, kissing his two children and wife goodbye before heading to his car and puttering away. He drank coffee, listened to podcasts, rolled his eyes at customer’s phone calls, and just generally tried to make it through the day with some sanity left; like any other normal day before it.

Lucas didn’t watch the news anymore, it was pointless in a lot of ways now that mainstream media were politically leaning one way or the other and tended to skew facts in that direction. Instead he preferred to listen to a weekly podcast breaking down the trends of news that was as unbiased as you could get, while still being ran by human beings of course. It was because of this delay in news intake that he didn’t really know about the outbreak of a virus that had seemingly come from Africa, eventually being traced back to an American relief worker who wasn’t quite as honest as he should have been on his return trip.

The virus was just a blip on the radar of regular news, too caught up with the ravings of their new dictator to notice, the viral outbreak limited to a blip towards the end of the news; no more noteworthy than a new influenza strain. It would take days before the news would realize how scared we all really should be, before they noticed it taking the lives of more affluent people.

It had been only 3 weeks since that relief worker had returned and began to spread the virus. Only 2 weeks since that same person had been committed to a hospital, restrained because they were rambling incoherently. It had been only 1 week since the virus had begun to sweep up the West Coast leaving horror in its wake.

So Lucas didn’t really think of the light fever and cough he started to have as anything worth getting worked up about. He left slightly early that day citing his illness, but vowed he would return to work the next day since his paid days off were fast dwindling.

Instead he wouldn’t return for over a month, and then he would never be the same again.

The virus hit like standard influenza, a lot of researchers stating that it was in fact an advanced strain, but it seemed to affect people differently. It would start the same: fever, cold like symptoms, and usually vomiting. Then it would take a more serious turn as symptoms ratcheted up, fevers reaching insanely high levels frying brains and killing patients. Some people turned out to be even more affected by the virus, horrid swelling in the legs and arms that permanently disfigured them, splotches of skin that would turn into open sores that would then lead to necrotic forms of damage, blindness, partial paralysis, the list went on.

Doctors the world over were baffled, this new super flu didn’t seem to behave like anything they’d seen before and they could not treat it. Individuals either died or recovered entirely, often scarred by the ordeal they had went through. Of course they didn’t know what was coming at the time, couldn’t possibly have predicted it, as it seemed to be right out of a comic book or science fiction movie.

Most people who survived the super flu went about their normal lives, unchanged and unscathed by the flu. Some weren’t so lucky, their lives permanently changed by this two week period of time, scarred or deformed, often insane. The cruel term bandied by social media for these people were the Dregs, so called because people felt they were the leftovers of society; lepers of our time that we should forget. Some religious groups popped up condemning these people and claiming that they were the judged, that God had punished them for some sin.

The people that had survived without such issues were considered blessed in those same circles and their blood was endlessly tested, their genomes mapped trying to find out a common link between them, though none was found. It seemed a simple stroke of luck, or more likely a simple immunity built up in some way, though no connecting factors could be found.

It only took 2 months for society to change, the ugly part of them coming out in full, beginning to push for legislation that would have the Dregs separated from society. There was constant fear that a new outbreak would occur as horrible as the last, and many thought that it would come from the Dregs. Humanity was scared, and with good reason: half of the planet’s population had been affected in some way, over half of that split dying from the super flu. The rest were either the Blessed, the Dregs, or the Uninfected: those who never got sick.

Lucas assumed he was the blessed, he made it through the super flu, though at times it felt it would be a release to die. He had resumed work a month later after tests confirmed he was fit and not contagious as far as they knew. People instantly treated him differently, some of them calling him Blessed and treating him with reverence, while others just simply stopped going near him or talking to him; fearing he could somehow pass this onto them. It got bad enough he quit his job, deciding to work from home taking phone calls for a local insurance group. Lucas simply stopped talking about the super flu, usually lying and telling people he was Uninfected, it was just easier than dealing with the alternative.

The first Changed showed up not long after that, bringing death with him.

The cruelty to Dregs had increased as time went on, humanity striking out against them when they could. Many shops segregated their populations, or simply denied service to any that showed signs of being ravaged by the super flu. Some bands of neo-Nazis or other such factions would hunt them at night, killing them while claiming service to humanity.

This cruelty caused a man named Robert Short to snap, and gathering a fully automatic weapon he opened fire on a gathering of these neo-Nazis. Nobody truly mourned their loss and the police never looked hard for a suspect. Perhaps they should have, because it was then that Robert realized that the horrible shingles and scabs that had covered his body were impenetrable by standard weapon fire. Though the monsters fired back on him that night he was unharmed, and this realization brought greater fury when he realized how he could leverage his new found invulnerability.

He descended on a public protest, people showing up to both fight for and against Dreg freedoms outside a courthouse in New York. It was a swarm of media and innocents, as well as the bigoted and hateful. There was no discrimination in his rage though, Short opened fire on all of them with enough ammo strapped to him to arm a small military force.

Police officers returned fire, but it was of no use, hundreds died. It wasn’t until the closest military responded that the nightmare ended; Robert Short felled by nothing short of a shoulder mounted rocket launcher.

It was the moment that changed everything.

A powder keg that had been waiting to go off exploded, courts finalized their rulings overnight it seemed: Dregs would be quarantined, registered and watched closely. Some Dregs were taken to jail for the smallest of infractions where they were never heard from again; hushed whispers indicating that the government was experimenting on them to try to find an answer to how such a thing could have happened.

Short was not the only one that was irreparably changed by the super flu, and it wasn’t long before Dregs the world over started rebelling against this treatment. They had bizarre abilities and powers, sometimes related to obvious disfigurements as Short’s had been, but other powers baffled scientists. Some could summon flame from thin air, others used horrible disfigured arms laced with sinew to perform super human feats; there was even a man in Argentina that flew.

Crime erupted, Dregs imbued with these unexplained powers began wreaking havoc on a world that hated them, even as others of their ilk begged for peace. Not all Dregs had powers, but many of the ones who did were angry. It was an angry Dreg that showed up to a school full of his peers that had turned his back on them, intent to kill as many of them as he could with his newfound ability to cause explosions with a snap of his finger

In swept a woman in a costume, much like the super heroes that graced the comics and movie screen, and she defeated the individual. She could fly, had super strength, was seemingly invulnerable to the Dreg’s explosions. It was heroic and amazing, the type of thing they’d only dreamed of before. Once the Dreg was subdued the media swarmed this mysterious woman to pepper her with questions.

When asked she called herself Bastion: a beacon of hope for the wearied people. It was horribly corny, her name and costume both, but the press lapped it up and it became the news story in every media outlet in the world.

Those who paid attention would note there were no disfigurations for this person, meaning that perhaps Dregs weren’t the only ones with power. Nobody seemed bothered by this fact, too swept up in the idea of a super hero to question who exactly was coming to their rescue. Of course conspiracy theorists noted right away that it was probably a Blessed and one church started loudly crying out that this person was surely one of the Blessed, a savior sent from God.

It didn’t take long before society was filled with masked Blessed, people who didn’t want their lives turned upside down because they had powers. Dregs fought back against Blessed, the press boiled it down as good guys versus bad guys, and it allowed an entire culture to be hand waved away from anything real. If a Dreg did something great with their powers it was downplayed or outright ignored, because it didn’t fit the bigger picture and message.

So it didn’t take Lucas long to understand what was happening to him with this information in hand, when one day he had thrown his elbow out by using far too much pressure when lifting at the gym. He thought of course that he had super strength, but the next time he tried it didn’t work. It wasn’t until he began rocketing into the sky uncontrollably one day that he realized his true potential: Lucas could control gravity.

Touching objects, he could will their gravity to increase or decrease, and he could extend that power to himself. After a time he found if he focused he could extend this outward in a blast, to affect anything within a certain radius of him. This power was more extreme and harder to control, the further his blast traveled the less control he would have over it.

With 35 years of pop culture informing him the idea started to formulate: he could be a hero. All he would need is a mask, so his family and life wouldn’t be ruined by people discovering another Blessed with powers, and he could fight against the Dregs that he blamed for the world’s problems.

If he had only known then what he knew now, perhaps things could be different. Perhaps he wouldn’t have blood on his hands.

The man the world knew as one of their greatest heroes,  leaned forward, buried his face in his hands, and wept.

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