Time of The Bat Comics Presents: Impossible Man # 2
Howard Leach made it back to Chicago after meeting Mark Metcalf. The movie star even helped him hold a building that had wrongly been designated to be demolished. Howard was extremely grateful for the assistance. Mark was strong. Howard was sure he was stronger than him. The two of them talked for hours. Howard, told him everything. How, the Impossible Man first started, how he dealt with being cast in the public eye and how it had ended. Howard told him to be careful of the woman in black.
Howard hated being a celebrity and hated the circus that surrounded that environment. Howard, had grown to resent the red tape that made being a hero more and more difficult. Even with presidential protection, Howard was still subject to the ills of celebrity life. His life didn’t belong to him anymore and his time was always demanded. Now that he had displayed his abilities in public his life wasn’t just his anymore and he had new responsibilities. It belonged to anyone with a smart phone, with a television and a public that needs constant affirmations of his humanity. Howard, questioned whether Mark could do that.
Howard took the train with his face covered by a scarf and hood. He took it all night until the last stop of the night. It was the beginning of a stop he had been dreading. But his family needed to know he wasn’t gone. They weren’t his real parents, they were out of Howard’s life and he was more than happy to let them think he died. Instead, they were Viviana’s parents. Howard had to tell them the real reason why their daughter and grandchild died.
Viviana’s parents were the first to know about Howard’s powers after Viviana had set up the YouTube channel that made, Howard famous. Howard, had his powers his whole life and could barely control them without hurting someone when he touched them or broke things when he picked them up. It was Viviana’s dad, Carlos that taught him how to fight, how to roll with a punch, how to hit someone and where without killing them. Howard did learn other skills from the government when he was pardoned by the President, but Howard learned control from Carlos, and he’d never forget it.
Carlos ran a gym in a suburb, north of the city. That was where Howard wanted to go first. To call it a suburb in the classic, cookie cutter homes in a gated community and was not very accurate. At its height of growth years ago it was a growing town. The town was by the lake and had a nuclear reactor that had shut down. Other business soon shut down at the taxes and were replaced by fast food restaurants and liquor stores. Drugs moved into the community and people who could afford to leave did. The entire town had fallen into poverty. Viviana’s father was different, tough and he was fair. He stayed.
Howard found the courage to walk into the gym. It smelled like sweat as if it soaked the concrete floor, there was a boxing ring in the middle of the gym and exercise equipment was on either side. The lights were off, nobody was there and Howard’s body relaxed as if something heavy were removed from him.
Howard dropped his hood and removed his scarf, the hero fell to his knees and began to tremble. Howard, was kind of glad he wasn’t here. Howard couldn’t stay there. No, it just reminded him he wasn’t close to being able to speak about Viviana. The idea filled him with dread.
Howard felt a hand on his shoulder, it squeezed him gently as the person who it belonged to said, “Eh, I guess all the praying pulled through.”
Howard’s heart sank as he stood and turned into the voice of Viviana’s father, “Carlos! It’s so…”
Howard embraced him before he could finish his thought. He couldn’t hold back his feelings any more. He cried. Howard screamed and wailed as if Viviana and their son’s deaths had happened in front of him again. Carlos embraced him back. Howard tried to get the words out to apologize for not saving his daughter and her son, but the words never came.
Carlos squeezed him tight, “Son, you tried.”
“Not hard enough!” Howard cried, as he leaned on Vivian’s father. “I could have pushed them both out of the way! I could have been faster!”
“It’s fine, Howard.” Carlos said, he pulled away from Howard and held on to the boy’s shoulders. “We’ll go home, have some tequila and light a candle. We have to go now, Howard.”
Howard stumbled back and in surprise smacked, Carlos’ hands away. Viviana’s dad was neither a religious man or a drinker. Howard wiped his face, this was not right and the hero knew it. Carlos’ face was still had the same rough texture from years of fighting he had always had, the gut he had developed and the same sweat cloths he always wore. Howard took a step toward him and smelled him.
“You smell like burnt plastic and metal.” Howard wiped his face and frowned at Carlos. Howard inspected him more. His skin was unnaturally bright in a dark building. “Who are you?”
Carlos crossed his arms and an excited grin spread on his face, “ It should be impossible to tell the difference between me and the real thing.”
For a moment the room was bathed in light and all the exercise equipment in the gym were gone, replaced by tiny machines that levitated and could barely could be made out by Howard. A grid pattern over Carlos’ body emerged and then disappeared in an instant and exposed the fake. He was wearing a lab coat over some strange looking cloths, Howard thought looked like the costume the government had given him.
Howard with one hand snatched the genius off of his feet like a grocery bag and raised the man above his head by the collar of his shirt, “Who are you?”
“I am, Xlibris.” The smaller man’s quivering voice said. “Viviana’s family packed up and moved to, Texas and haven’t lived in Illinois for almost a year! The taxes are too high!”
“You’re lying!” Howard screamed, as he shook the man. Howard analyzed the man that called himself Xlibris’ face, his body language was frustrated that this strange man gave nothing away. Howard was not convinced.
Howard’s armed slacked which made Xlibris relax and then as if Howard were tossing pizza dough in one of the city pizzerias. “What did you do? Where’s Carlos and what happened to this place!”
“Im seri…” Xlibris tried to scream as Howard caught him and threw him again a few more times. “Illinois is awful for businesses!”
Howard frowned, Xlibris didn’t crack and still seemed remarkably calm, while being flung around like a leaf in the wind. Howard still had questions, “How did you make me see what I did?”
“I’m sorry, I used a hologram!” Xlibris yelled as he tried to break, Howard’s grip. “I just needed to actually test this tech. I sold the patent and all they do is make virtual reality games with it!”
Howard looked on confused, “What are you talking about?”
Howard let him go and Xlibris landed on his knee and the palm of his hand, very much how he had seen super heroes land in the movies, “I’m saying I needed to meet you so I escaped my benefactors earlier than scheduled. “
Xlibris reached to put a hand on Howard, before he hesitated and tried to act like he wasn’t slightly upset, “Short version. I make things that shouldn’t be possible with current technology.”
Xlibris continued and for the first time during this conversation the urgency in his voice became apparent, “We have to go now!”
“Why?” Howard yelled back.
Xlibris sighed and palmed his forehead. The genius super human pointed past him. Soldiers in black uniforms had surrounded them. Howard looked on with confusion. He didn’t even hear these soldiers. They too, were wearing body armor that was like what, Xlibris had worn. Was this all connected?
“Xlibris! Stop monkeying around!” Howard heard a voice with an exaggerated lisp say in front of him. A man faded into view as if he came from out of the air.
Howard’s muscles tensed as he grew more anxious. Who were these people? Who was Xlibris? Howard had powers and even knew two more people who did as well, but this felt different. He started to sweat, his hands shook as he watched these soldiers, “I’m not ready to go yet!” Xlibris shouted.
Howard stepped in front of the soldier trying to take this strange man and tried to keep his composure, “Listen the guy in the costume doesn’t want to go anywhere with you. I think we…”
A loud crack, like a gun going off cut Howard off. Howard put a hand on his head, he felt a hard bead like metal object and when he pulled his hand back he saw blood. Howard looked up at the men and noticed one of the masked soldiers had their weapon raised on him. Howard frowned and faced the soldier in front of him.
“Fine.” Howard, said as he shoved his palm hard enough into the man to send him flying. It felt like slow motion. Howard watched the rest of the soldiers raise their weapons a few even fired got a few shots off before Howard sprang forward to the center of their formation. Whatever they fired at him came at him faster than any bullet, it hurt when he got hit and a few managed to even break the skin.
Howard ignored the pain and crashed a fist into one of the soldiers as he landed amongst them. Howard whipped around and snatched the rifle from one soldier and cracked another in the face with it! Howard couldn’t help but feel some relief that while their guns could hurt him, and the bullets came at him too fast to see, the soldiers were all still much too slow to stop him. Howard clotheslined two more soldiers in front of him and backflipped over the remaining solder and held him in a bear hug.
“Impossible!” The soldier howled as his struggled under the hero’s grip. “You! You apes, can’t do that!”
Howard’s grip tightened, “and that was kinda racist.”
“You have no idea!” Xlibris snorted as he tried to stifle a laugh and tap Howard on the shoulder. “We need to go.”
Howard ignored him and began to question the soldier in his grasp, “How can you guys just turn invisible?”
There was another thing that was wrong, this soldier was strong, strong enough for Howard to have to increase his hold as his grip started to slip on him and before Howard could ask another question the room began to hum and flashing light that turned his stomach. Howard dropped the soldier as Xlibris grabbed Howard by the wrist and began to run to the nearest exit.
“I’m so sorry!” Xlibris announced as a delirious Howard looked back. The soldier stood up and clutched his ribs in pain. Howard had thought at first that he may have over did it, but when the man ripped his mask off in anger to reveal a scale covered face and two red reptiles like eyes glared at him.
“You wanted out, right?” Howard asked as he grabbed Xlibris and jumped! Howard turned his back as both men crashed through the wall. In the half second before plowing through the wall, Howard watched as the other soldiers got up and clutched the injuries Howard gave them.
Howard and Xlibris crashed into the street! Howard bounced off his back and landed on his feet. The hum had grown louder and the flashing lights made his head spin and soon after landing the hero dropped to his knees. The memory of the soldiers began to seem unclear, as if someone dropped ink into a glass of water. Soon he didn’t remember a fight at all.
Xlibris turned off the riot suppression system in his watch that also worked to remove any recent memories. He hated that a fight had happened, Xlibris was so excited to meet the first real super hero that he jumped at the chance to escape the lab and test his hologram technology. It didn't even occur to him that so soon after the tragedy at the hospital that using Howard's family would elicit such an emotional response. “Damnit!” Xlibris yelled, for the first time showing any emotion. "I'm such an idiot!"
“What did you do to me?” Howard groaned as he picked himself off the street and faced Xlibris.
“Hard to explain, Impossible Man,” Xlibris began to answer as he used Howard's super hero name more seriously than the teenagers that had made it up. Xlibris grabbed a cell phone and a wallet from his lab coat and placed it into Howard’s hand. “There’s an abridged version of everything I wanted to tell you. Sorry, it’s incomplete.”
“There are more super humans out there.” Xlibris turned to walk away. A grid of light had started to spread around him and he began to fade from Howard’s sight. “You should be the one to find them, Howard.”
“Wait!” Howard yelled as heard the wail of sirens and flashes of blue and red light. Howard jumped across the street and up to the closest building. He sat on the roof top and pondered this visit by, Xlibris. Who or what was he? He tried to remember everything else that happened but was frustrated when he couldn’t recall and laid flat on his back.
“Why am I meeting… all the super people?”