The Bus Ride
The Meta-human condition tends to take three basic forms with regard to working with others. I’ve classified these as Lone Wolf, Dynamic Duo, and Team Player. Team Players believe that they should be united with other heroes (or villains) and each member has a crucial role to play. Dynamic Duos gravitate toward a pairing, with one half of the pair typically having more substantial powers and a greater amount of experience while the other half has low level or undeveloped powers and youth. This is the standard hero/sidekick pairing, and it is notable that most frequently the sidekick is the one that initiates the partnership, essentially aspiring to a secondary role. The Lone Wolf is, as the name suggests, much more interested in working solo. This is by far the most common mindset in the meta-human world.
Excerpt from The Psychology of the Meta-human Condition by Dr. Richard Liefeld
After the jubilation of advancing to the next round of selection had worn off, the bus ride to the boot camp became remarkably silent. Not entirely silent, as the open-topped troop carrier made for a very windy ride, but there was little in the way of conversation. Many members of the group found their eyes wandering to Nonsensica, no doubt due to he colorful ‘uniform’ she wore. The green-skinned Chloroplast caught his share of sideways glances as well. The real star of the ride, though, wore a badge marked ‘Primadonna’. She had attempted to make a similar fashion statement as Nonsensica, but in many ways had been a good deal more successful. She was wearing a snug, pink and black spandex leotard with matching tights. Around the waist was a tutu-like micro-skirt, and she had a silver headband with the markings of a swan on it perched on a head of lustrous blond hair. Unlike the rather meagerly proportioned Nonsensica, however, Primadonna had the hips, chest, and legs that comic book artists typically crafted such an outfit to showcase. She was clearly well aware of it, too, because rather than the utilitarian boots that Nonsensica wore, she had selected sleek high heeled boots that reached her knee, and the chest of the leotard had a rather immodest plunging neckline. Somewhat spoiling the look was the purse she had clutched at her side, and the wheeled pink suitcase she’d brought along. Nonsensica eyed her with sizzling anger.
“No sense us just sitting around quiet. You heard the doctor. We should get to know each other,” recommended Phosphor. “What’s say we go around and say our names, powers, and where we’re all from. I’ll start. My name’s Phosphor, I can pull endless florescent bulbs from my bag, and I’m from just outside Carmel, Indiana.”
He turned expectantly to Chloroplast. The young man was dressed in a way that likely would have drawn attention even if he didn’t have green skin. His head was shaved completely bald, and at first it seemed that he had no eyebrows, but in reality they were just the same green color as his skin. He was wearing a leather jacket, open in the front with no shirt underneath. His body didn’t have an ounce of fat on it, though there wasn’t much in the way of muscle, either. The result was an oddly stretched out greyhound-like physique. He wore tattered jeans with numerous holes, and black boots that he had neglected to tie. Glancing around to see that he was now the undivided center of attention, he rolled his eyes.
“My name is Chloroplast. I’m from Venice Beach, and I have the power of photosynthesis,” he said, as though he was doing everyone a tiresome favor by doing so. Without being asked, he went on to clarify in an educational tone, “Photosynthesis is how plants make light into energy. So I don’t have to eat as long as I get plenty of sunlight.”
With that, he leaned back, opened his jacket a bit more, and closed his eyes. Next in line was young Latino man. He’d made a halfhearted attempt to assemble a costume, which was comprised of a green t-shirt with an iron-on patch in the shape of a G on the center of the chest. He had a black duffel bag at his feet, and was wearing heavy canvas work pants of a dark tan color.
“Funny us two sitting together,” he said with a slight Spanish accent, elbowing Chloroplast. “I’ve got plant powers, too.”
Chloroplast opened one eye and looked him over. “I thought you were just a fan of the Packers.”
“Ha haaa!” he laughed, genuinely. “Nope. My name is Gracias. I’m from San Antonio, and I have the power to give people a grassy ass. I just have to thank them first. Get it? Gracias, Grassy Ass.”
“Yeah. I got that. It wasn’t exactly subtle. Your powers are a pun. You must be so proud,” Chloroplast remarked.
Gracias laughed again. “This guy is such a kidder! We should team up!”
“Not gonna happen,” Chloroplast said.
“Wait now. I’m confused. What exactly do you mean by giving someone a grassy ass?” asked Nonsensica.
“They do something for me, I thank them, and then POOF, grass all over their butt. Very distracting.”
“I can imagine,” she said.
“Well, you’re next. What’s your deal?”
“Nonsensica, I’m from Parts Unknown, and I have the power to short circuit brains with laser guided gibberish.”
“Parts Unknown. That’s a good one. I should have said that. Hey, maybe I should be teaming up with you. We think the same way.”
“Yeah, I’m not really into the whole hero/sidekick thing. I like the idea of a team, then eventually a solo gig once I’ve got some experience under my belt. Fully sanctioned experience,” she added quickly. “I’m extremely experienced when it comes to the ways of crime-fighting. Just need a legit organization to sign off on it.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m after, too,” Chloroplast said. “I figure a few years with the Army and I’ll have a few missions behind me, learn a few tricks, learn a few skills, then when my tour of duty is up, break out on my own.”
There was a sequence of nods from the vast majority of the other passengers. Next in line was a chubby girl who couldn’t have been more than 19. She was dressed in dark colors, wore sunglasses, and had a total of seven adhesive bandages on her rather beat-up hands. She was holding a silver Zippo lighter, and had been flipping it open, flicking it on, then clapping it shut periodically in an absentminded manner since she’d boarded the bus.
“My name’s Bomb Sniffer. I can smell explosives from wa-a-a-a-ay far away, and I’m from Topeka, Kansas, where there is absolutely squat to do,” she said. She delivered her introduction in a manner that attempted to match Chloroplast’s laid back, indifferent attitude, but it was clear that she was beyond excited.
“How old are you, miss?” asked Phosphor, a bit of fatherly concern in his voice.
“Twenty-three,” she said, eyes darting a bit.
“In what, dog years?” Scoffed Chloroplast.
“Whatever. Age is just a number,” she said. “And who are you to question it? You’re like a hundred.”
“May as well be, I suppose,” Phosphor said with a light chuckle.
“You’re up,” Sniffer said to the man beside her.
“I’m FM, I’m from Idaho, and I can transmit my thoughts–”
“Over the radio! I know that voice! You’re the guy who let the cat out of the bag about this team to begin with!” Nonsensica said. “I could seriously kiss you, FM. We all owe you a drink for creating this opportunity.”
“Yeah, the, uh, the folks in charge don’t really see it that way. At first they told me I was rejected as a security risk, but then I got a call from a Major. He said people ‘associated’ me with the project, and that it would be good to let the people see that I was still a part of it.”
“Hopefully you learn to keep a lid on that power of yours, or covert missions are pretty much out for us,” said the next man in line. He had a gap toothed smile and an easy drawl to his voice. He was also chewing on a wad of tobacco, spitting over the side of the troop carrier wall from time to time. “I’m Retcon, I’m from Alabama, and I’ve got about three years of experience in just about anything I feel like having it in.”
“I don’t follow,” FM remarked.
“About once a day I can sorta change my mind about what happened to me between the ages of seventeen and twenty, so long as I end up in the same place at the end of it. Whatever I decide is what really happened, or may as well have.”
“Ooh, that’s a good one. What is it right now?” Nonsensica asked.
“I was getting good at shootin’ a rifle. We’ll see what it’ll be come boot camp. I figure I may as well do the talkin’ for this here fella next to me, since I know he’s not much of a talker hisself. Him and me both almost got recruited last time they did one of these. He’s, uh, what is it? Undo? And he’s got the ability to Undo whatever he last did. Oh, and he’s from Sturgis. That about right, Zed?”
Undo nodded once. He was dressed in a denim on denim outfit, had a reasonably fit build, wore mirrored sunglasses, and had five o’clock shadow. There was also the sense that he was recovering from a potent hangover, judging from the strong smell of old alcohol and his general aversion to the louder comments being made.
“You’re up, sir,” Phosphor said, when the man in question didn’t speak up on his own.
The man was dressed in a much classier outfit than any of the other hopefuls. He wore slacks, polished black shoes, and a white dress shirt topped with a satin vest and black tie. He had a cold, distant look to his face, though the fact that it became colder and more distant whenever he noticed someone was looking at him suggested there was something not quite legitimate about it. “My name is Omnivox.”
The words instantly seized the attentions of even those who had begun to lose interest. It wasn’t one voice but a chorus of them, deep and tightly harmonized. The way they combined gave him an almost robotic sound. “I am from Salem, Oregon. You are hearing my power right now.”
Nonsensica tipped her head to the side. “That effect sounds so familiar. Did you ever go by a different name?”
“That’s not relevant. Who is next?” he replied hastily.
“That’ll be me,” said a greasy looking fellow wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt and a bandana. “Third Person, I’m from New Hampshire, and I’m looking over my own shoulder right now.”
“Like in a game?” Bomb Sniffer asked.
“I’m Johnny On the Spot, I’m from wherever the wind blows me, and I’ve got the ability to be in the right place at the right time,” blurted the next man in line. His appearance was a near perfect representation of the classic image of a super hero; strong chin, lush hair with a spit curl hanging down over his forehead. His physique was bulging with chiseled and bulky muscles that were more about size than strength, and his clothes were two sizes too small, the better to show off said muscles.
“That’s it?” Chloroplast said.
“I’ve gotten twenty-five walk on roles on television just by stumbling onto a set while they were shooting, I’m living rent free after a real estate tycoon’s prize chihuahua fell out of the penthouse window and landed in my arms, and I was the 1,000,000th customer at three different grocery stores in the last four months, earning me free groceries for life. I do okay,” he said with a shrug.
“Wow. Your code name should have been ‘Lucky Bastard’,” said Gracias.
“Or just Bastard,” said Chloroplast.
“Ha haa! This guy, am I right? Seriously. You and me, partners,” Gracias said.
“Give it a rest,” Chloroplast groaned.
“I guess I’m next,” said Preston Logan, “My name is Non Sequitur–”
“So you’re the one!” Nonsensica yelled, jabbing an accusing finger in his direction.
“I’m the one what?” said Non Sequitur, suddenly on the defensive.
“I was supposed to be Non Sequitur. It was the perfect name! But they told me it was already taken.”
“Well I’m sorry. I didn’t know. In all fairness, it is a pretty good name for me, too.”
“Is it? What’s your power?”
“I can do things out of order. Open a door, then unlock it. Stuff like that.”
“Nope, fits me better. I say two words that make no sense in rapid succession. When you say an unexpected thing it is called a Non Sequitur.”
“Well, yeah, but Non Sequitur means ‘it does not follow’, and the whole deal with my power is that I do things that should follow, but don’t.”
The two continued to bicker for a while. Gracias leaned over to Chloroplast. “Man. I didn’t realize there would be so much vocabulary involved in superhero-ing. There isn’t going to be a test, is there?”
“It’s boot camp, not high school,” Chloroplast replied.
“Okay. Good. Math was always my subject. Vocabulary, not so much. Heh. I think I just saw a road sign for Manassas,” Gracias quipped. “You think there are a lot of proctologists there?”
“It’s pronounced Manassas, not Manassas,” Chloroplast corrected.
“Oh,” Gracias snickered. “So the emphasis is on ass.”
Chloroplast shook his head and looked away. The argument between the others was winding down.
“You know what? It’s fine. It’s fine,” Nonsensica concluded, “I like Nonsensica better now. It’s more dynamic and feminine. And that’s me all over. Dynamic and feminine.”
There was a scoffing noise from Primadonna, who was the next person in line to speak.
“Now what’s that about?” Nonsensica snapped.
“Nothing, nothing. You are right. You are very dynamic,” Primadonna said.
“So you say. Who am I to disagree?” She said. There was a slight accent to her words, possibly Eastern European. “My name is Primadonna, I come from LA, and when I dance, the world dances with me.”
“Look, can we please explain exactly what our powers are, instead of getting cute with the descriptions?” Chloroplast groaned.
Primadonna frowned at him. “When I hear music and I dance, everyone else who can hear the music dances also.”
“So you can make spontaneous dance routines happen? Like in that Moonwalker game for the Genesis?” Gracias said.
“I suppose,” she said.
“Wait, what’s ‘the Genesis’?” Bomb Sniffer asked.
“Okay, now I know you are not twenty-three,” he shot back.
“Hello? I believe I was the one who was talking,” Primadonna asserted, once attention had begun to wander away from her. “Yes, the dancing is like in the Michael Jackson videos. Only not so showy. More graceful, and more classy.”
“Neat!” Gracias said, “You know, I’ve got pretty good rhythm. Maybe you and I should be part–”
“No,” Primadonna said.
“Okay, okay. No pressure. We’ll talk about it again later, once you’ve had a chance to see me in action,” he said, waggling his eyebrows. “What about you, man? What’s your thing?”
The man in question now was clearly Polynesian, a bit heavier than the average recruit, and had thus far not said a word. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t even opened his eyes. He simply sat, head tilted back, and popped his knuckles one at a time until enough time passed that he could do it again.
“Sir? Sir?” Gracias remarked, finally leaning forward to tap him. Instantly his eyes shot open and he spat, the action filling the air with a brief whine and punching a neat hole in a wooden slat of the troop carrier’s safety rail. The hole was barely an inch from Gracias’ left ear.
When the startled moment passed, the man looked around and realized it was his turn. “I’m Hocker. I’m from Hawaii. I spit seeds fast enough to kill a man.”
“I believe it,” Gracias said, looking nervously at the hole beside his head. “Maybe you should be a little careful with that.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t sneak up on a dangerous man while he’s concentrating.”
“I tapped you on the knee, that wasn’t really–”
“Enough with the third degree! Move on to the next guy,” Hocker growled, popping a fresh sunflower seed in his mouth from a packet in his pocket and crossing his arms.
The other members of the group made a mental note to give Hocker the same sort of respect one might give a canister of nitroglycerin, then turned their attention to the final member of the group. Ever since Primadonna had spoken he had been glaring in her direction, arms crossed and teeth clenched. He was wearing a pear of loose shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. His build was athletic, and his hair was an immaculately kept coif of dark brown.
“My name is The Number. I come from Los Angelos, and when I dance, the world dances with me!” he explained angrily.
“No way. You have the same powers as her?” Nonsensica asked. “Why would they pick two people with the same powers?”
“Maybe the Army is trying to start a glee club,” Chloroplast guessed.
“I don’t just have the same powers as her, I have the same origin as her! I thought she looked familiar. We were in the same dance troupe when the building was struck by lightning. I moved to New York and started doing choreography for Broadway. I guess she stayed behind and got all tarted up.”
“You are just jealous that I am a better dancer than you were, and that I will be a better hero as well.”
“Now listen here, I was always a better dancer. You just got more attention because of your ‘personality’,” he said, cupping his hands to his chest as he said the operative word.
“That is a vicious lie!” she snapped, standing to defend her honor. “You take that–”
The troop carrier suddenly slowed, causing Primadonna to tumble forward and give Hocker a face full of personality. Curiously, he didn’t seem to object to this particular violation of his concentration. She righted herself and adjusted her costume.
“I guess that’s everyone?” she asked, glancing around the troop carrier to silently assure the rest of the heroes that, contrary to what they many have thought, the last forty-five seconds didn’t actually occur.
“I think so,” Phosphor said.
“No, sir. There’s still me,” sighed a rather downtrodden voice.
All eyes turned to an overweight, balding, middle-aged man in a gray sweatsuit.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t notice you there, who are you?”
“I’m Afterthought. I’m from Branson, Missouri, and I have the ability to be a last minute selection and then swiftly forgotten.”
“Wait, so your power is to end up on a team?” Nonsensica said.
“Specifically, to be picked last and then never given anything worth doing.”
“Isn’t that cheating? Doesn’t that guarantee you a spot?”
“Probably. Don’t worry about it though, no one will notice.”
Phosphor craned his neck. “It looks like we’re here. Time to see what they’ve got in store for us.”