Fallout

Posted: 16th January 2011 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
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Blood and pain.

Blood in his eyes. Sanguine trails across the hardwood floor he had just refurbished three weeks ago and gory splatters against the dining table and on the glass doors of the cabinet that held his good dishes—and which had somehow escaped harm in all this violence. Blood that was his own, and blood that had been liberated from the body of Reprisal and the pair of killers he had brought with him.

And pain.

Oh, the pain.

Everywhere in his body, it seemed—making it hard to think. Making it hard to have hope.

He wasn’t even sure how he was still moving after all this. He’d never been hurt so badly before in his life, before he took up hero work or after. He’d never imagined a body could endure this much agony and still function.

Of course, he’d also never thought he’d have to fight this hard to live—and to kill in the process of doing so. He’d always tried to avoid killing—ironically, so did his arch-nemesis Mister Mimic—but he’d been caught unprepared and ill-equipped to defend himself. He’d needed to use everything at his disposal to stay alive, hoping that he’d either win or that he’d survive long enough for a neighbor to call 911 and for the authorities to arrive and give him a hand.

After all, they probably knew where he lived now too, just like Reprisal did.

He was pretty sure both of Reprisal’s lackeys were down for the count or dead, but Reprisal himself had been a tough nut—even beyond the fact that he’d come here fully armed and armored. The assassin seemed buoyed by a sense of mission—of destiny. That seemed to make him stronger and willing to endure whatever it took to finish his mission.

As if everything had come together for him perfectly to make him the ideal killing machine today.

And hadn’t it, after all? Hadn’t Becca seen to that in her anger? Not to mention the fact that Reprisal had wanted to kill him for almost a year now but hadn’t been able to pin him down for the deathblow.

He was pretty sure the villain would succeed today. Reprisal wasn’t hurt near enough to be slowed down sufficiently, while he on the other hand was hanging by a thread.

He pulled himself upright, and gathered his power.

Heard a sound.

Caught a flash of movement.

Then Reprisal pounced.

There was more blood. So much more blood. So much more pain.

And memories of all that had led up to this to make it worse.

* * *

By the time he had realized what had happened, it had already gone viral.

He went onto Twitter, and within minutes, saw the message posted by @RebeccaMecca: Guess what? @Beastman and @greg_robbins are the same person. I should know. I’m his girlfriend. Or WAS at least.

With a little over a hundred keystrokes, Becca had linked his superhero account together with his personal one and, with a single tweet online, had completely outed him. As Greg Robbins, he had less than a hundred followers on Twitter. As Beastman, he had nearly 50,000 followers, and now they were furiously retweeting the revelation of his secret identity.

Greg’s chest constricted; it felt like a giant was squeezing his heart and lungs at once.

Shit. Oh my god oh fuck oh damn, he groaned inwardly. She’s given up my secret identity.

It was his own fault, he knew, for trusting her with it several months ago. But they’d been together for nearly three years at that point and, despite some rough spots, they’d had a strong two years, give or take, and they’d even talked about moving in together. About whether they wanted kids. It seemed like all but a foregone conclusion that he would give her a ring and ask her to marry him.

Three days before, though, he’d called it quits. He didn’t give her a ring. He asked her out to lunch, and then told her after the food was on the table that things weren’t working out. Becca had been both hurt and confused. They hadn’t had an argument in months, they were both employed, they had fun—was it the sex? She’d tried between tears to ferret out what was wrong in the relationship. She’d thought the blame must lie in her somehow, but Greg was evasive. He knew he had been. He didn’t want to talk about the things that were nagging at him.

Naturally, that made her assume it was another woman. Ever since he’d started a Twitter account as Beastman, he’d been getting more public attention and a lot more ego-stroking and flirting from women online. But it wasn’t another woman, he’d assured her. He just wasn’t satisfied; he just wasn’t sure they were a good fit anymore.

That had hurt her more. Greg suspected that if he had been cheating, she would have felt better somehow. It would have meant she had an opponent. Someone to force out of the picture or a clear reason why he was dumping her if she couldn’t—or if she didn’t want to bother fighting over him.

Instead, he gave her ambiguities, and that had undermined her self-esteem even more.

The lunch didn’t end well. In fact, it didn’t really have a proper meal-oriented conclusion. Just her rushing out with eyes red from crying and face flushed with a combination of anger and humiliation.

Greg didn’t run after her to try to console her; to try to explain.

He’d wanted it to end, after all, and now it was over.

Then he’d tried to soften the blow later that same day, thinking she deserved something more by way of explanation. So he’d e-mailed her a long letter apologizing and trying to be more clear about what was wrong.

That had infuriated her more—not just because he wouldn’t say it to her face but because he’d mentioned obliquely too many times in the e-mail about her occupation and her desires for the future. She wasn’t stupid, and she’d put the pieces together. He didn’t think she had enough ambition and thought she would hold him back.

They’d had no contact with each other after that.

Not until she posted the tweet, at least, and that told Greg all he needed to know. In the silence and the days that had intervened between them after the breakup, she’d been building in her anger, instead of working it out. And finally, that fury had erupted.

A volcano of anguish, shame, betrayal and rejection that was certain to cover his life in a burning flood of magma and a toxic atmosphere of ash.

* * *

Becca’s outing of him had taken place late Saturday night. Greg had a call on his voicemail from his boss on Sunday afternoon, telling him to meet with her as soon as he came in Monday.

“But, you can’t just fire me,” Greg had said in his boss’ office at 9:17 Monday, after she’d laid it all out for him. “I have no warnings. I do my job better than most of the folks around here. I work well within my teams. Firing someone because they’re transhuman, and that’s what this is about, is illegal.”

“No, it isn’t,” his boss had said firmly but quietly. She clearly didn’t relish doing this to him, but there was also something in her eyes that looked like she felt she had been unjustly deceived by him—by this secret of his other life now intruding on her own. “It is illegal according to federal law to fire someone for being transhuman, but those laws have a very important clause, Greg. A transhuman who poses a clear danger to the workplace can be fired summarily, and without any kind of notice or severance pay, though I am going to give you the latter—two weeks worth. You operated as a hero, and you have enemies. It has been reported that Reprisal is after you, and that means at least one of your enemies wants you dead. That puts everyone here at risk.”

“But…” Greg began, thinking about his bills—realizing that he had no way now to fund his dual life. No way, in fact, to meet basic expenses. He had maybe two months of money to live on in his savings. “I…”

“No, Greg,” she interrupted him. “You’re gone. Today. In fact, you have 20 minutes to clear out your desk, and then security will escort you out of the building through the service entrance. We’ll send you the severance check and your pay for the past week. We’ll next-day mail it within the next few hours. Just get out now. Please. Go.”

* * *

Eight hours after being fired, Greg called Rebecca.

“Becca! How could you? That tweet of yours got me fired!”

“Good,” she said softly but savagely. “Now you know a little what it feels to be dumped and have your life turned upside down.”

“This is serious, Becca! How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to…”

“…go heroing and fight bad guys? I don’t care. Maybe you should have thought about my feelings before dumping me like steaming garbage in a public place and then rubbing salt in the wounds with an e-mail.”

“Yeah, about the hero thing, Becca. Everyone knows who I am now. Or will soon. Have you forgotten that at least one of those enemies of mine has hired Reprisal? I have a contract out on me. I have to figure out how to move—immediately. And go underground. And somehow make a living without getting killed.”

“I…I’m sorry about that, Greg. I was angry. I’d been drinking. I didn’t think…”

Although he heard regret in her voice, and a tremor of fear for him, he decided to exploit the crack in her armor instead of making any kind of overture. “You didn’t think! That’s exactly the problem. That’s a big reason I broke up with you! And now I’m a marked man as Greg Robbins. What were you thinking?”

There was a pause, and Greg could almost hear the sound of anger brewing on the other end of the phone. He regretted his words almost immediately, knowing they were about to deliver him a serious payback. But there was no way to take it back, and Becca didn’t wait for him to make the attempt.

“Thinking? Well, that’s the problem isn’t it? Just like you just said. You broke up with me because you don’t like my decisions. You don’t like my job. You don’t think I shoot high enough. You don’t like the idea that I want to have kids in the next few years and I want to be home for the first few years of their lives, do you? You want a goddamn sugar mama to help bolster your income so you can work less in an office and wear tights more to fight bad guys. Oh, I get it, Greg! Fuck you! Run away. Thanks for reminding me why my tweet might not have been a bad idea after all. Run like the goddamn tiny-man, limp-dick shithead you turned out to be!”

* * *

Later, on Twitter, Greg had a comment in his personal timeline from one of his hero persona’s enemies: Mister Mimic, or at least someone who claimed to be him, and had the moniker MrMimic2010.

Hiya, Beastman! It’s your nemesis Mister Mimic. So nice to know that I can talk to you as a real person now.

Then another, one minute later: I’ve never been on Twitter before. So fun! Maybe I’ll keep my account going after today. Will you?

And another: I’ve followed reports of yr Twitter taunting & posturing in the online media before today, but now we can have our fights Greg-to-Mimic eh?

It made Greg feel exposed, and he knew that was the idea. Maybe this was really Mister Mimic and maybe it wasn’t, but he had to take it seriously regardless.

The one consolation was that even though Mister Mimic probably ranked as the villain he most often foiled and who most hated him, the villain was known for not having ever killed anyone. It was a distinction that made Greg feel a little better.

Very little, though.

Time to move.

* * *

Even though his phone number and address weren’t listed, Greg suspected it was all too easy to figure such things out in this Internet-connected age. He started packing boxes and started loading his Trailblazer’s cargo space immediately. He’d have to live out of the SUV for a while; there was no helping that. Goodbye, suburban Lark County.

Greg figured he had a couple days before he was in any serious danger, so he’d plan on giving himself less than a day to be sure. He’d be gone before nightfall. He’d slip by tomorrow to get his final check out of the mailbox under cover of darkness, and then deposit it. Then empty his accounts as soon as everything cleared.

Cleared.

The volcano metaphor from before came to mind again, and he tried to imagine when the cloud of incendiary ash might drift away. Then he realized he’d picked the wrong metaphor. This was fallout from a nuclear blast. Whether it was his fault or Becca’s—and damn it, what was that stupid bitch thinking?!­—his life had been nuked. It might never resemble anything normal again.

He tried to consider his options. Maybe the Guardian Corps could give him a small stipend; he might be a good trainer and mentor. Perhaps he could hire himself out as muscle for business people or celebrities. When he was out of costume, he’d have to live in the shadows, but maybe he could…

Greg’s smart phone chimed, and he looked to see that he had new e-mail. He opened it, not recognizing the address from which it was sent: MM_rantings@gmail.com.

Greetings, Greg. Sorry for those twitterings earlier. Or tweets or twits or whatever they’re called. This is Mister Mimic, and yes, I wanted to rattle your cage. But only because I wanted to prepare you for the real news. Want to know who hired Reprisal? It was me. I don’t have blood on my hands and hope never to have blood on my hands. But I have nothing against enemies dying, and I don’t mind paying to help the process along.

—Cordially, Mister Mimic

Greg stepped up the pace of his packing, planning to be out of the house within the next 10 minutes now. Chances were that Mister Mimic and Reprisal didn’t have his location yet.

Then another e-mail, with a link to GoogleMapQuester. A link that pinpointed his address, complete with a recent surveyor shot of the property.

Greg dropped the box he was packing, and grabbed his keys.

And then the front door and front window both shattered, and three men entered, firing weapons. Two people he didn’t recognize, and one he did.

Reprisal.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeffrey Bouley, Jeffrey Bouley. Jeffrey Bouley said: Breaking up can be hard on you, esp. if you're a superhero. New story at Tales of the Whethermen, "Fallout" … http://wp.me/s19htn-fallout […]