2041. Roger Hesker sat eating popcorn on a blanket on the middle of the living room floor of the Infernals’ home in the water ten kilometeres East of New York. He wasn’t feeling nearly high enough to attempt the murder of his super-powered friends. Of the Infernals, the world’s only superheroes until Gladiator and PowerTrip came along, Hesker was the weakest. He knew it. The fans and his fellow Infernals all knew it. But they also knew he’d helped them a lot in every fight they had with PowerTrip. He was the only one of them to kill a member of PowerTrip.
And he’d come with a resume—unlike Zealot, his boss, the university professor. He was a seasoned warrior sought across the globe as a mercenary and assassin. He’d improved, and he had started a prodigy. Killing was everything that gave him meaning. Most of Hesker’s kills were impressive if you understood the factors involved. Most were unpaid, and five kills were superheroes with pretty flashy powers.
He was proud, not happy. Adrenalized, not joyous. About to try to kill three Infernals at once and survive to face a fourth later. A glorious day. Murdering friends, Hesker mused.
“Hesker,” Zealot, said.
Hesker turned his head back to look at her. Thirtysomethings like Ella Marrow could learn something from forthsomethings like him who fucked their lives up good and early but came out of it early. He felt the warmth in her eyes and felt her moving from the grave into the now, where action belonged. Warriors were creatures of the now. Pure people. They could not afford many attachments of any real weight or substance. Emotions trapped in such attachments weighed a warrior down over time.
“Hesker? You’re not reading me are you?” Her eyes widened and she blushed.
“No. No way. Relax, Ella,” The Watcher said. Ella relaxed.
“I’m sorry, Roger. For thinking that you were invading me. Especially after what you went through yesterday,” Ella said.
“Feeling okay, Roger?” asked Matriarch, another college professor, but without the publishing creds Ella had. She liked to hear herself talk and made sure to get her five cents in on every point anyone made.
“It’s okay, Ella; and Kim, I’m okay, thanks.”
“You’re quiet,” Matriarch said.
“Yeah,” Ella said. “What’s up? Everything is really straight with your problem?”
“It’s straightened out. I’m just not high enough,” Hesker replied. “I’ll go get my pen.” Hesker got up like an awkward tween and walked to his bedroom. He fastened onto Matriarch, Zealot, and Tiger one at a time, viewing their thoughts and then listening to them. If Hesker made no mistakes, they would die like lambs. If he did, he might die very hard. Hesker hit his pen and got freaky high.
Hesker emerged from his bedroom in his eyeless mask and costume, geared up. Jacked up.
Everyone did something. Hesker was impressed. No one froze when they saw him come out armed and bearing down on them with his bow.
You really like Ella, don’t you? Too bad you’re killing her now.
Tanelle? What are you doing? Get out…
Watcher sent a flare arrow into Ella’s left eye as she ran at him. It stuck on the surface. Didn’t penetrate, but it took her down, like he thought. He passed Ella and absorbed intentions from the three—they came before concrete actions formed in the mind and gave you lots of time. A swipe from Tiger’s paw coming soon, Ella panicking and trying to turtle, Matriarch about to panick and run.
You couldn’t plan everything. Anything really. Plans just made you ready to improvise, the Colonel had written. War God. The reason he was murdering his friends.
He twisted hard to stay away from the swipe while he fired an arrow tipped with a warhead blessed by Sister Prudence, an old nun who helped him when he fucked himself up in his twenties and whom he looked in on during the holidays.
PowerTrip had tried holy water, Cardinals blessings, and even relics the Catholic Church had donated to them in the fight against Hell’s Infernals. Nothing silly like that worked on them. But Hesker believed in something out there. If anyone had touched it, Sister Prudence had. He gambled that something truly touched by the divine would sting an Infernal. The arrow he sent went through Kim as she ran. Her face was feral but afraid and shocked. She did not expect to be pierced.
Watcher was a little surprised he didn’t need to go to plan B. He watched the pain hit her as she let out a scream and fell writhing and pulling at the arrow in her. Watcher sent a second through her heart. She died like a civilian: unexpecting, unready, and scared. No way to die. Hesker left her before she went black. Only warriors were at peace with death. Ready for it. The Colonel said.
Stop quoting her like the fucking Bible.
Tiger struck without thinking. Hesker was used to a warning. His powers were eroding some of his skills, making him lazy—reliant. Tiger clawed his mask across his eyes, almost breaking his neck. No penetration. Good. Another claw across his chest broke everything in it, or so it felt. He’d never been hurt so much all at once. War God had taken him a wound at a time.
The room was spinning and flipping. She was going to unmask and maul his face, he caught in a quick glimpse and fasten. She thought he was out of the game. Maybe he was. His body sure took its time following orders.
He felt claws under his mask, peeling it off. Hesker moved. Grabbed his knife, flashed out at Virginia, clipped her carotid artery. He watched her frightened thoughts: the struggle to accept death, the tumult of indecision—hold her throat or claw Watcher. She was a real fighter. Yet she sat against the curving wall of the oval living space, undecided. Hesker watched her fade out like an ember. When she went black, he pulled his invisible telepathic cable free of her, dispersed his focal point. He fastened on Ella.
“Hesker!” Ella screamed. “Stop! What are you doing?” She was terrified but believed Hesker would spare her. Because of friendship, not love. That was clear. She was suppressing her outrage and anger for sheer fear of him.
Hesker nocked another poison arrow and put it into her shoulder. She let out a scream that began terrified and turned into a roar. She ran at him, still struggling with the flare in her eyeball. Hesker put an arrow into something meatier—her thigh. That broke her charge and dropped her into his lap. Super strong hands grasped his naked face. “Ella!” He screamed. She was willing herself to crush his skull. Not quite getting there, not yet.
Watcher dashed her throat. Held her as she faded. You were my big brother. Her last thought. Hesker’s face flushed, his throat went raw.
Ha, ha. Gonna cry?
Tanelle. I’ve just killed my friends for you. You’re laughing at me. What are you doing?
Hesker, you don’t understand. You’re my vibrator now. I take you out to play when I feel like, not when you do. And I want to play now.
“Is that so?” Hesker asked aloud, feeling empty. War God would never torture someone. Neither would Hesker. Torture was a departure from the now, from necessary acts that were the life of war. An impurity. How could the Colonel’s daughter be this way?
“Getting all that?” Watcher asked aloud. Nothing. Hesker took a long pull from his pen, coughed, and vomited a lot of blood. He wasn’t getting high any time soon. Agony. He’d killed Ella. He tried so hard not to. Planned for it. You couldn’t plan anything. Watcher put his face into his hands for a long time, doing nothing.
“Watcher, where and when?” A text from Wrath, Darkfire’s Angelic opposite on PowerTrip. Darkfire was a Devil, but he didn’t like when you implied that meant he wasn’t still an Angel.
“He’ll be at Dufferin Cemetery at 34th Street and 10th avenue at 8pm tonight,” Watcher texted back. He put a second quiver in Betty’s trunk, walked back to the driver’s seat, and took a pull from a bottle of bourbon. Safer than risking a cough smoking weed, which he always did. He felt a strong gust of wind in his face. Looked around. Got back into his car and the dark in front of the cemetery. 7.30 pm. If Wrath didn’t show, he didn’t like his chances of living out the night. Darkfire knew him. Could track him on scent alone. Hesker smiled and then felt guilt. Not about Ella. Not about his friends. He felt like he hadn’t abandoned them until the moment ago when his spirits lifted. The moment when the fight with Darkfire was close. Transported by the fight as always. It was his nature.
A feather tickled his cheek. He started. A relaxed exhalation came from the back seat on the other side of Betty.
“You love this car,” Roth told him. Darkfire was pretty high, his expression said. Watcher reached at the Angel’s reflection in the mirror for a fasten, knowing he’d find nothing. Hesker must be scared or he wouldn’t have tried.
“Can I call you Watch, Roger?” Darkfire said to him. His wings began to catch fire, lighting up the inside of the car, burning nothing. It was only Hell’s fire. Only.
Watcher’s favourite chapter of Warrior Ethos, “Chapter 11: Fates Worse Than Death,” was full of highlighting and his pencil notes. The jacketless hardcover was always on the passenger seat next to him. The Colonel said every warrior should be ready to bring a fate worse than death to an enemy. That’s what Darkfire brought. Roth had always scared him, which is a little why he loved the Angel, he realized. He was sorry he was here.
“Call me Watcher,” Hesker said.
“Watch, if you’re here of all places at this time of night you’re here for me. Want to pass that bottle back?” The angels eyes were on fire. Hesker felt his heartbeat quicken. He passed the bottle. The Angel took it. Hesker didn’t dare indulge a smile.
“I totally get it. I am a Devil. We’re cats. We don’t play nice together either. And we pretend to have relationships with other Devils and mortals. That’s sort of our thing. Did you let Ella live?”
Watcher felt a lump in his throat. He tried to speak but was suddenly hoarse. “No,” he got out. His whole face seemed to cramp up, twist, and he cried. Now the Angel knew he was a fucking pussy.
The Angel returned the bottle.
“Thanks,” Hesker said.
“Fuck. I guess it was hard, eh? Roger?”
“Yeah. It was hard.”
Hesker felt super strong hands on his shoulders. “I totally forgive you. I want to just let you go. The old me would. You’re one in a million. The best Infernal I’ve made. I’m proud of you,” the Angel said, grinning too long, the way he always did. Fingers squeezed his shoulders. Hesker moved for his knife.
“What are you going for that could possibly make a difference, bad boy?” Darkfire said.
Hesker decided. He took his index finger off the pommel of the blade.
“I forgive you,” Darkfire said, “but I’ll tell you something, Watch. Ella surprises me from you. You would only kill her if someone had confused you. Who have you been talking to?”
Hesker said nothing. He checked the time.
“Have you got a plan to take me out? That’s kind of your thing, Watch. Got some help coming. Wrath maybe? All of PowerTrip?” The Angel’s flames always told. Betty was flooded with light from them, smoking but burning nothing. Should he suicide? Decisiveness was the warrior’s primary quality. He went for his knife. Darkfire tightened and held him still.
“No, you fucking don’t, Roger. You know, you were my first friend? Ever. You know how long I’ve been around. You really spun me around. Turned me on Hell herself. I was really going to make all your dreams come true. And I never was before you came along. The Infernals were supposed to be weapons. You turned us into a family.” The Angel drew hard on his pen.
“Sorry, Watch. Time to move on. For both of us.” Darkfire smiled.
Hesker waited. Fingers seized his head. So this was how he died. Would people talk about him? The rebel on the rebel superhero team?
Betty ground and tore open. Wrath grasped Darkfire, pulled him into the sky. What a hero.
Hesker hit the gas and sped away. Gladiator sprinted past him like a low-flying jet. He had to get gone. He’d made no bargain with PowerTrip for his life, just set up Darkfire for them. But Gladiator had seen him; let him go. He tried to fasten on her, but she was moving too fast.
Betty was torn but intact. Watcher relaxed a little. Took a sip of bourbon. Wished to Christ he could take a puff.
He’d be on the run for the rest of his life. PowerTrip was going to be around a lot longer than he was. The Colonel was long gone. Tanelle would never be a War God. Far too impure. Hate was an adulterant, the Colonel said of fighting.
Stop quoting my mother.
“I’ll do the talking,” Watcher said aloud. He took a long drink of bourbon. Was starting to feel some departure from the misery that can get into your spine.
Kill me and there’ll never be another War God.
She’d read his intention.
“I’m counting on it,” the Watcher said. “See you in five, Tanelle. Soon as I get in range.”