Super & Real
In a five-star hotel suite in Manhattan, a phone rang. A hand reached out and lifted the receiver. “Hello?”
“Mister Torvalds?” the receptionist said. “Here’s your six A.M. wake up call.”
“Thank you,” Jericho Torvalds replied. He hung up the phone, rotated to a seated position, then wiped the sleep from his eyes. He stood up and contemplated whether to eat at one of the many three-or-more star restaurants around the city, or at the hotel’s restaurant. Honestly, it had been nice to get a good night’s sleep, even if he’d had to pay a bit more for the suite than he liked. It just didn’t seem likely that the three-star hotels would’ve even given him the kind of sleep he wanted. He showered, washing his medium-length brown hair, putting shampoo in his goatee, brushing his teeth, things that got him awake in the morning. After showering, he toweled off, checking his stocks. He’d made his billions in the stock market, and the competition would eat him alive if he took his eye off the ball for a moment.
He put on a comfortable polo shirt and slacks, and his custom designed shoes. Exiting his hotel suite, the city opened up to him like a book. Freed from the responsibility of his old desk job, New York presented an opportunity for him to analyze the behavior of individuals. He had a meeting with a former employee of a big accounting firm. Businesses potentially breaking the law meant an investment opportunity. As he passed through the crowd, he found his way to a familiar restaurant. He smiled as he entered in, and the wait staff referred to him by his first name.
The news showed a laundry list of ups, downs, and betrayals in the stock market. He clicked over to the science tab. If the price of solar continued to drop, as it had for the past several years, he might have to place an even higher investment in it. A lone news article caught his eye. Some upper atmosphere event had scientists confused and concerned. He clicked on the video.
“Physicists all over the world are concerned,” the news anchor said. “Last evening, around seven-thirty P.M. Pacific Time, a series of strange colored lights appeared over much of the globe. Measurable effects have yet to be determined, along with the cause. Government officials have said that neither communications nor infrastructure seems to have been affected, and not to panic.”
He clicked off the video. It wasn’t particularly interesting to him. Strange lights in the sky? Probably nothing. If it affected any satellites or communications infrastructure, then he might have to worry about certain stocks of his, but other than that, he felt no concern. The soup and salad arrived, and he put his food away and began eating. The fork stirred the Italian dressing in with the lettuce and greens, and lifted the mixture to his mouth. The familiar flavor shot through him like a bullet. He had to close his eyes. As much as he loved southern California, the food in Manhattan could be so much better. These places didn’t use any store-bought dressing; they made their own. It was worth the prices normal folk couldn’t pay. Someone brushed against his shoulder as they stood up to go to the restroom.
A second feeling shot through him. A…presence…appeared in his mind. Words failed him; he felt as though a burst of energy had gathered inside of him…somewhere…and he couldn’t explain it. A thought entered his mind. As clear as the morning sky, he could see a woman, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, levitating her toothbrush, and soap dispenser. The thoughts in her head—that she activated a ‘trigger’ in her mind, and like an invisible hand detached from her body, could move and manipulate things around her. He felt her disbelief at first, and worry she had gone bonkers, and saw several hours of tests, where each thought in her head he saw as clear as day. Like a flash of light, it passed, leaving him where he sat.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” A woman said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Clumsy me, I’m just trying to find the bathroom.”
He looked up and saw the woman from the…vision, or whatever that was. “N-no,” he stammered. “That’s quite alright.” She left, and he found himself staring at her as she walked. Part of the vision was that she was standing outside her apartment, on the street corner, when the lights shot overhead. She looked up as a green beam shot by like a banner carried by a supersonic jet. One of her friends had pointed up and gaped in awe.
He turned his gaze to the salt shaker across the table. He manipulated the trigger in his mind by wanting to move the salt shaker. Her memories showed that, somehow, the trigger acted as an “are you sure” option. It guaranteed you wouldn’t accidentally kill yourself, for example, by imagining strangling yourself, if someone had told you that was a possibility, thereby causing you to think it. The salt shaker slid across the table to his hand, but only once he committed to it.
The thought occurred to him, the insanity of the whole thing. He pulled himself to a fully upright position in his chair. What kind of lunacy was this? Had he gone insane? What sort of hallucination was this? Surely, if people had encountered such a thing in the past, if it had existed since the dawn of man, human history would be vastly different. Such impossibilities didn’t just pop into being.
The lights in the sky, he thought. He’d never heard of aurora borealis showing such colors before. Could something impossible have simply come into being now? Was he on the precipice of human history undergoing a rapid change? If powers started materializing, he figured, like in those ridiculous superhero movies, it would upend all of civilization. This would change everything. What a challenge this would be; he had no guarantee of survival.
Another thought occurred to him. Assuming this was real—which he could neither ignore or assume—he would have to rise to the occasion. It stood to reason that if there was no active selective mind behind the process of who got powers, many of the people would use their power for gain at the abuse of others. It wasn’t a question of ‘if.’ Depending on the quantity of people involved, the world could become a battleground. First, though, he realized, he’d have to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. A simple unclipping of his phone from his belt and he called up his doctor. The doctor would show either the world had changed, along with a fundamental understanding of physics, or he had gone insane. Some kind of tumor could cause such a level of delusion. Either way, the news would be world-shattering.
After eating, he paid the meal and began to walk down the street towards the hotel suite. A strange sensation, separate and in addition to his newfound mental ‘trigger,’ it materialized as a vague twinge, like the feeling of hairs standing up from static, except dissociated from him. Every so often, maybe one person in a crowd of two thousand, would give off a signal in his brain not functionally dissimilar to radar. He guessed the amount, based on the conglomeration of people he saw in front of him, and the sparseness of the twinges. New York, the most populous city in the United States, would by statistical probability alone have the highest concentration of people with powers, if such an event were truly happening. Amazingly, this new radar-like sense extended for miles. Although the actual surroundings could not be seen, he knew instinctively how far away and in what direction in three-dimensional space each powered person was from his location. His senses extended almost all the way to the edges of the city. A rough count gave him his previous guess. By doing some quick math in his head, he figured that, if roughly one out of every two thousand people would turn, then, out of the seven point four billion people on Earth, somewhere between three point six and three point seven million people would be powered. That meant it was some four ten-thousandths of a percent of the world’s population. While that might initially give the laity a sense of positivity, he figured, the power presented by those people indicated a potential problem.
As a member of the top one percent, he had purchasing power all by himself equal to millions of people combined. It neither bothered him nor pleased him—it was simply an effect of his activities in the stock market. Wealth, however, could be predictable, and, despite what those on the left believed, was not an indication of greed nor intent to inflict harm on others. No, he knew how concentrating wealth in the hands of the few could change society, and how trickle-down economics failed not because of the fault in the policy itself, but on greedy politicians who kept ruining its implementation. Wealth created the hotbeds upon which wars were fought and waged, but even the worst of the worst—World War Two in all its horror—was self-contained. It had limits. He doubted nuclear war would ever happen under normal circumstances because the wealthy in power on all sides of conflict enjoyed being able to spend their money. The biggest detractor to civilization-ending events, he understood, was rich people who wanted to continue going on vacation and enjoying their vast purchasing power. Only the insane wanted to go backwards, to have to farm again. Farming was what machines and the poor who’d been left behind did. It was why he never found movie villains believable—more often than not, they possessed incredible fortunes, and were perfectly willing to end civilization, to end their only way of going on cruises and travelling in luxury, in order to obtain some half-moronic ideal of human perfection or eugenics, or to impose some perfect society that made no sense.
No, his ideal of a perfect society, he knew, would be one where as many people as possible would be able to experience the kind of joy and luxury he experienced. His grandfather, the billionaire Johann Torrell, had completely and utterly exiled his mother from the Torrell family fortune before he was even born. The man had been appointed, in his late thirties, the head of the massive wealth created by immigrant ancestors three-fourths of a century earlier, and he would expand it further. His youngest daughter had, in nineteen seventy-nine, at the age of twenty-two, partied hard enough to be disinherited. That meant that young Jericho had, almost as soon as he was born, given a burden of infamy. Changing his name to Torvalds, to escape the stigma of a partying mother, he entered and excelled at college, and fought his way up the corporate ladder, exhibiting an almost-supernatural gift for playing the stock market. Unlike most of his distant siblings, glued to their desks in upper floors of Manhattan office buildings, he would cash in his stocks at certain points, effectively turning digital money into cash, guaranteeing he could go where he needed to go. No more offices would plague him, and no more desks would he sit behind, or meetings to attend. Other than his tax people, and secretary, he never worried beyond making sure his existing stocks were ok.
His joy came from his freedom, and idiots who would be perfectly willing to bring down all of society in order to be worshipped as gods would be the end of that. He didn’t need or want to be in charge. Those who did, however, were his enemy. A sense of willingness to fight entered his mind. The wheels would have to turn and someone would have to turn them—after attending his doctor’s appointment to make sure nothing was wrong with him, he had work to do.
Lifting his phone to his hear, he called his doctor and set up an appointment for later in the day. He wanted an MRI of his brain, and due to his financial position, his doctor assured it would be done. Meanwhile, he would test this insanity to see if it was real or not. Based on the information he’d gotten, by touching the woman, he’d copied her power. If this did not happen to be a hallucination of his, then the lights in the sky had to be related to the cause, especially since the pictures he saw on his phone showed colors not before seen in the sky. He took a deep breath, and used his powers of telekinesis to move the gravel around his feet away from him. As a minor test, it seemed fitting. If this was dementia, he had gone too far to be saved, he imagined.
Slowly, he made his way through the crowded streets towards the nearest person who lit up his mental radar. A man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, wearing a dirty sports jacket and a worn baseball cap, strode slowly uptown. Jericho pushed through the crowd, approaching. He made his way up to the man and casually brushed past him. As his right arm connected briefly with the man’s left, a series of scenes played out in his mind. Images flashed before him, scenes of the man in his bathroom, activating his power. He vanished from his bathroom, appearing in the bedroom on the other side of the wall. It seemed the man could teleport, his range limited to about fifteen feet in any direction. As the man tested his power further, he discovered variations on the ability; he could teleport from a chair, seated, to a standing position, or vice versa. He could teleport from a stationary sidewalk to the interior of a moving car, or the other way around. After the long string of images stopped, the man turned and looked at Jericho. “Hey! Watch where you’re going,” he said.
“Sorry,” Jericho replied, walking on.
He made his way back to the hotel suite. Forget the day’s trading, he thought. This would be the story of a lifetime. Assuming this didn’t turn out to be the result of a brain tumor, the entire order of the world would change, possibly not for the better. Comic books had not been a part of his childhood. He logged onto the internet, and bought several digital comics to read. He picked the most mainstream issues he could find, from the big publishers, to see what tropes from fiction people might try to bleed over into reality. It occurred to him the idiocy of trying to imitate works of fiction—aimed at children, at that—but he wanted to be as up to date as he could be. It never hurt to be too prepared, he knew. Not more than a few minutes into reading the most popular hero of all-time, he found himself scoffing at how ridiculous some of these tales were. Still, as he waited for his appointment to arrive, he read on. It bothered him how so many people might have powers, and their entire idea of what to do would be inspired by works aimed at teenagers some fifty years ago.
Frustrated at the lack of depth to comics, he turned to television and movies. There had been a few attempts to translate comic book superheroes into more serious media, and he wanted to see most of all, what people thought and expected. After a few episodes of a few different shows, he clicked off his laptop. The clock indicated it would be a little under an hour until his appointment. He paced around the room. He checked his bank account one more time. It gave him an idea. It seemed, assuming this was real, that his power was the duplication of abilities. Once more, it seemed the smart thing to do would be to simply collect as much as possible. He would have to outperform the rest, and by having the most, it would offer the best chance at surviving.
Out the door of the hotel, he walked. To get to the doctor’s office would be a long walk, but it would take him right past a person, with powers, just sitting on a sidewalk. Placing the power on in his periphery, he could sense the person. It was a child, reading a pirated page of Japanese manga on a smartphone. In order to get there faster, ducking and weaving through the crowd became necessary. After switching sidewalks more than once, he crossed the street and saw the child swiping to a new page on the phone. Carefully, he shifted his stride to the left, and his swinging left hand collided “accidentally” with the child’s left temple.
At once the scene flashed into his mind. The child sat on his chair, staring at an unplugged television. The child leaned forward, staring intently. Moments later, the LEDs flashed to life, the cartoon playing and echoing sound through the speakers, despite not having an apparent power source. The scene shifted to about an hour later. The young boy stood at his doorway, watching his mother struggling to open a pickle jar. His fingers twitched and his right eye opened a hair wider. The woman suddenly jerked the lid, an audible pop of the seal coming loose. Her muscles, he had momentarily enhanced.
“Hey! Watch it, asshole!” the young boy beckoned, lifting his baseball cap back onto his head, covering his swirly hair.
“Terribly sorry,” Jericho replied, returning to his stride. The child could enhance. He wondered what that meant. Could the boy enhance…anything? He had to test this one out. This could potentially be a jailbreaker for other powers he got. He turned away from the crowd on the street and into an alley. Leaning against a dumpster, he triggered his teleportation ability. In his mind, a three-dimensional duplicate of the world around him appeared, his mind remote viewing as though he were astral projecting. He could see up to fifteen feet in every direction. The world froze around him, not moving, as he journeyed the tiny bubble of available places to teleport, in his mind. He activated the child’s ability, which was a separate trigger—which impressed him, as each trigger was represented all by itself. He would have to remember that. Focusing the child’s…enhancement ability…on the teleportation ability, saw the sphere of available space expand. Soon, the whole of New York city sat within his vision. It seemed he was a ghost, able to travel through any solid surface to choose a destination; meanwhile, no time passed in the real world. He zoomed his vision from where he was, to an unoccupied stall in his doctor’s waiting room—instantly, no less. He popped out of being from where he was, and came back into existence in the doctor’s office. The smallest possible unit of time had passed. Eagerly, he left the bathroom and made his way to the waiting room.
“I’ve got an appointment with Doctor Fields,” Jericho said, approaching the receptionist.
“Mister Torvalds!” the receptionist said, pulling up his record on her computer. “Well, it says here you’ve got forty minutes until your appointment. Is your insurance information still the same?”
He nodded. “Sure. I’ll just wait here.”
“Okay! I’ll let the doctor know you’re in as soon as he’s done.”
He took a seat in a chair in the corner. Curious to test his powers, even as he sat, waiting for proof it was or wasn’t really happening, he triggered his enhancement ability on his normal power duplication. Suddenly, he could do more than see where the nearest people with powers were. Their actual powers became known to him. About ten miles from him, a man with enhanced strength ripped a door off a car to get to a man inside. Using his remote viewing associated with teleportation, he saw the man’s gang insignia on his neck. The guy in a business suit, the target, was parked in a garage and sat mid-scream in the drivers’ seat. Jericho took a short stroll back into the bathroom, and hid out of sight. He teleported to ten feet behind the man, behind a concrete barrier.
“You should’ve known that Benny was going to get pissed about the money,” the overweight, hulking man said, hauling the suited gentleman out of his car.
“I’m sorry! I’ll have it tomorrow!” the man pleaded.
“Perhaps debts shouldn’t always be settled out of court,” Jericho said, approaching. He did his best to sound confident. Honestly, his heart pounded. Triggering his enhancement ability onto his telekinesis, he strode forward, ready to strike any moment.
“Who the fuck?” The brute said, reaching for his gun, only to find his hand unable to move. “What?”
Jericho strode forward. “So, either this is the most in-depth hallucination ever,” he said, “or there are many people with powers.” He had the man completely frozen in place. The suited gentleman took the opportunity to scramble into his car and take off, door be damned. Jericho gave a smile and placed a hand on the brute’s chest. A scene popped into mind. The brute, with two of his comrades, beat a man to death as a brilliant flare of many colors showered overhead. They looked up and stared at the huge variety of colorful beams of light, as their prey tried to scramble away. The scene then changed to the man awing his friends by lifting cars of varying sizes as mob types cheered, drinking. Then, there were scenes of men breaking various boards, crowbars, and pipes against his skin. Apparently, a shotgun blast finally left a wound on his chest resembling a popped zit. He wiped the slight ooze of blood off and they laughed, continuing to drink.
“Oh, Christ,” Jericho sputtered, almost heaving at the images of brutality. He shook his head. “Wow, holy fuck.”
“What the fuck, man, how in the hell?”
Jericho focused on the farthest away place he could see with his teleportation. Miles out into the ocean, he could see almost to the bottom by enhancement. With a bit of focus, the man disappeared from where he stood frozen, and appeared near the sea bed. He intentionally went back to focusing on his own self and away from the man’s predicament. Durability and strength or not, at that depth, no one would be bothered by that brute ever again. He teleported back into the bathroom stall and sat, clutching his head in his hands. This power business had serious drawbacks he hadn’t even considered. The guilt start to hit him, as he realized the truth, that he had killed a man. As he walked back to his seat, he pondered the implications.
He’d just taken the life of a murderer. The reason that could even be possible, was because he’d acquired a power that enabled him to rise to the top. He let out a quiet sigh and leaned against the wall in his seat. Just as he predicted, the battle had begun. Now that a new set of circumstances had been introduced to the world, people began to explore their newfound opportunities. People, both good and bad, were separating themselves from the rest of the population. As in business, those able to go further than the competition would rise to the top.
“Not going to be a victim,” he whispered to himself. He looked up at the television in the waiting room. A breaking news story showed a person in London, in the middle of the street, catching fire and walking around. The news anchors told of how everyone was seeing it and speculating on whether it was a prank. He raised and lowered his eyebrows. Well, he figured, assuming he wasn’t in a vivid hallucination, the ball had already begun rolling. The first soul dumb enough to show himself to the public, and break the temporary masquerade, had arrived.
“Mister Torvalds?” the receptionist said, breaking him out of his stupor. “The doctor will see you now.”
“Hmm? Yes, got it.” He stood up, and strolled slowly into the exam room.
He gazed around the room and saw all the various instruments. This would require a show. If he merely told the doctor he thought he was having a hallucination, it would be three weeks or more and multiple visits to specialists before the answer would arrive. No, an immediate response would be needed. The doctor knocked, interrupting his train of thought, and smiled as he stepped in.
“Well, Mister Torvalds,” he greeted, shaking the man’s hand. “What brings you in for this visit?”
He let out a sigh, squaring his eyes at the doctor. “I might be suffering from a hallucination, and I need to know for sure,” he explained. As he saw the doctor’s facial expression betray the gears turning in his head, he took the initiative by making the doctor’s phone fall off the counter. The doctor made a noise and reached quickly, only for it to freeze in midair.
The outstretched, middle-aged doctor’s hand, halted. He stared at the phone, wide-eyed, for a moment, unable to speak. His gaze remained fixed on the cell as it levitated towards Jericho’s hand. Jericho reached out and handed it to the doctor, the man taking it, then realizing his mouth hung open. “How the hell…?”
Jericho leaned in. “This morning,” he explained, “I touched a random person by accident in a restaurant, and suddenly, I can see her moving objects with her mind. Visions of her in my head. Then, I can suddenly do what I just did.” He looked deep into the doctor’s eyes. “If I’m imagining all of this, I need to know. Normally, this would take over a month. Do you think we can have some tests done today?”
The doctor leaned back in his chair, coughed, and breathed in and out. After an uncomfortable minute, he cleared his throat again. “Honestly, I think you might have to do that again a few times,” he explained. He laughed and Jericho returned the feeling.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve been worried about it all day.”
Over a period of three hours, Doctor Fields begged, stole, and borrowed every free moment he could. He lied his way into an MRI of his patient, then a series of blood tests and even a CT scan. Money be damned, he thought, and after all, Jericho had promised to reimburse him well. The repeated scans and tests made the doctor certain, either they would discover an incredible series of coincidences followed by a rather nasty brain tumor, or else it would be revealed that superpowers—straight from fiction—were real.
At the end of the day, Jericho felt a lot better about himself. None of the MRIs, CT scans or X-rays had turned up anything positive. There were no suspicious growths, no new additions or sudden disappearances, so the power, assuming it existed, was magical. What intrigued him, though, was the fact that it seemed to have specific rules. The fact that a mental trigger existed to turn the ability on and off struck him as odd. Still, assuming the blood tests were accurate and no drugs were in his system, he couldn’t deny reality. His skepticism hadn’t been abated completely, but he had evidence and that was the language he spoke.
Jericho, at the end of the ordeal, shook his doctor’s hand. “It seems we live in a strange new world,” he said.
The doctor let out a deep breath. “I tell you, this is a hell of a revelation,” he replied. He held up his phone. “Would you believe there are three separate cases on the news already?”
“We’ll know it’s gotten serious when the government says something about it,” Jericho stated. Anyway, I’ll be sending you a sizeable check in the mail soon.”
“Good luck, and try to keep in good health!”
Jericho waved at the doctor on his way out. He stopped by the front desk and got his paperwork straightened, before heading outside and walking in the direction of the alley. He hid behind a dumpster for a moment, and when sure no eyes were watching, teleported into his private bathroom outside his business office. Stepping out, he walked down a short hall and opened the door, startling his secretary. She scrambled to get the papers on the right of her desk in a neat stack. “Mister Torvalds!” she said, frantically organizing. “I had no idea you’d be in! I was about to leave. What can I do for you?”
“Have you heard on the news about the developments around the world?” he asked.
Her eyes shot from left to right, as she calculated which of the topics she’d read that day would be what he referred to. Then, she saw on her laptop, the latest news feed and an obvious choice sprang into mind. “You mean,” she said, pausing for a moment, “these unexplained abilities being demonstrated around the world?”
He gave a smile and a point. “Yes! Exactly.” He approached. “So, what do you know?”
“So far,” she said, recalling the articles she read, “a guy in the U.K. demonstrated his ability to catch fire and return to normal at will, no harm done to him. A woman in Chicago took a bullet to the chest in a grocery store robbery and was healed by the time the EMT’s arrived to check on her, and a man in Los Angeles turned into someone else in a crowded shopping mall.” She skimmed the latest report on her computer. “Some people are saying it’s the end of the world, others, are saying comic books are real.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” he said. “get my jet ready in two hours, pull whatever strings you need to get it done, I’m going to Chicago.”
She nodded, reaching for the phone. “Yes, sir!” She glanced up at him. “How many passengers?”
“Just one,” he replied. “See you later.”
He waved and she waved back as she spoke into the phone. He stepped back into his private bathroom and teleported back into his apartment suite. Sitting on his couch he pulled his laptop front of him. Since he hadn’t grown up a geek, he had a lack of knowledge of subjects that he had previously considered irrelevant. Now, though, if powers vaguely similar to those of superhero comics were in fact truly real, it stood to reason that they would influence how people perceived the real version. What that meant was that he stood at a disadvantage from the perspective of information. One of the major comic book publishers in the country had an unlimited digital package, he signed up and began reading. Time progressed, and he digested the histories of major superheroes at an alarming rate. Even as a child, he would have dismissed these stories as drivel. Now, though, they stood to have a real impact on world events. He had to know, and he had to know yesterday. Looking up at his watch, he noticed the time.
Gathering his immediate belongings, he located a vacant stall of a bathroom near the front entrance of the airport. It would be another hour before takeoff, but he had no time to dillydally. One of the main powers he wanted presumably was in Chicago. He would not miss it.