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My name is Kelvin Mauro, and I am miserable.

There are three kids driving a stolen car down the North Bradbury Freeway. Normally, this would be something Express would handle, pulling the car thieves out, getting them to the police, and then stopping the car safely. But I haven't seen Express in a few days -- he may be on vacation, he may be undercover, he may be on a mission in another dimension or somewhere in the timestream or wherever else speedsters always go to. So I'll have to handle this myself.

I can move pretty fast when I need to, but there's no way I can keep up with a speeding car, so I hitch a ride on one of the police cars, freezing one hand to the back bumper and skidding along on a thin sheet of ice projected from my feet. The police cruiser pulls up near the stolen car, close enough for me to latch an ice chain to their bumper -- it's flexible enough that it won't break every time they swerve, but it won't last long, so I'll have to finish this fast.

Of course, now they've seen me, so one of the thieves starts shooting at me. It isn't doing me any harm -- being made of solid ice means I'm tough enough to shrug off bullets, but the more he shoots at me, the more likely it becomes that he'll hit a cop or an innocent bystander by mistake. The car thieves have managed to avoid the police spike strips so far, but they're not nimble enough to avoid my spikes -- razor-sharp ice needles shot into all four tires. They start coasting to a stop -- all three end up trying to make a run for it, but I hit the gunman with an oversized snowball and ice up the other two guys' shoes so they can't run. The cops slap the cuffs on them, and I skate for home.

Another lousy night made even worse by crimefighting.

I used to be a biochemist. I had a happy, beautiful family. I had a real life. I'd developed a new treatment that would assist surgeons in many delicate surgeries -- a way to cryogenically lower body temperature and heart rate while keeping tissues healthy and the body oxygenated. Things were going wonderfully.

And then I came in one night and caught a couple of our interns stealing my formula and my notes. We'd dealt with corporate espionage before, but never so blatant. I wasn't really much use -- they grabbed me, threatened me, injected me with an overdose of my own formula, and dumped me in Lake Weisinger, just starting to freeze over for the winter.

I came out a week later with an oversized ice monster for a new body. Six inches taller, almost a foot broader, longer arms, shorter legs. There's nothing properly biological inside me -- just ice. I'm covered with some jagged shards of ice, some smooth ice plates, some swirls of frost. It looks like I don't even have a face -- no eyes, no nose, no mouth. You can see my brow line, and that's it.

I don't even know if it's my real body that's been transformed somehow, or if my consciousness has been transferred into self-regenerating ice. The police dragged the lake and didn't come up with a body, but that's hardly conclusive.

Aside from the ugly and inhuman new body, I also learned that I had a wide range of cold controlling abilities. I can shoot ice blasts and giant snowballs. I can create ice out of the air and shape it any way I wanted. I can lower the air temperature just by thinking about it. I lower the ambient temperature about 30 degrees just by walking into a room.

I'm a monster.

Karen left me, and I can't blame her. Who would ever want to live with something like me? She took Oliver, my sweet Oliver. But what kind of life would it have been with a frozen monster for a father?

I have visitation, or at least a kind of visitation. Karen and I requested joint custody, but the judge decided I was a danger to any normal people and denied it. But Karen still brings Oliver over once a week. They both come over to my new home -- a warehouse, a damned warehouse -- and they dress in their warmest clothes. We sit and talk, we play board games, we try to pretend everything's normal. Before he leaves, Oliver takes off one of his gloves, touches my hand, says "Coooold daddy," and hugs me. Then they leave me there, sitting in my damned warehouse, wishing I was still able to cry.

Everyone calls me Hypothermia, and I'm miserable.

What I'd really like to do right now is go home and work on my new article. Hell, the only thing that's given me the slightest pleasure lately is working on this article. It won't be anything earthshaking -- it's not even for a peer-reviewed journal -- it's just for Popular Science. In fact, it's probably considered pretty pedestrian material. But it's been unexpectedly enjoyable to research and write.

I do so much work in biochemistry and biomedicine and cryonics, and it's a nice change of pace to work on a project focusing on metabiology and metapsychology. I haven't researched those topics a whole lot previously, and it's been nice to delve in and learn new things.

You see, one of the great mysteries of human behavior is what induces people to become superheroes and supervillains.

This is not a question of how people acquire superpowers or how superpowers work. Those are questions occupying the time -- and frequently testing the sanity -- of the world's top metabiologists. This is, instead, a question of why people who find themselves in possession of superpowers choose to become either superheroes or supervillains.

Believe it or not, this isn't necessarily a question of morality. There have been plenty of normal people, content to live their lives, do their jobs, raise their families, and keep themselves out of trouble, who after getting powers one way or another, quickly put on a costume, picked out a codename, and started either fighting crimes or committing them. If you'd given those same people a gun instead, they probably would've put that gun in the dresser drawer and never fired a shot to either rob a bank or stop a mugger. But give them superpowers, and they end up prowling the streets at night, wearing a spandex costume and a domino mask.

Of course, not all metahumans end up as crimefighters or world conquerors. Many people who have only minor powers -- the ability to light a match from three feet away, the ability to make a flipped coin always come up heads, the ability to float two inches off the ground -- simply go about their lives normally. Some have significant powers that simply do not lend themselves to crimefighting -- for example, star chef Leonard Zukowski from the short-lived Food Network series "Wizard in the Kitchen," who can conjure up any sort of food a customer wishes; Penelope Esquivel, a Puerto Rican housewife in the '70s whose superspeed abilities were limited to being able to type 3,500 words per minute and reading full novels in less than 10 minutes; or the metahuman healers employed by many large hospitals.

Nevertheless, most people who acquire powers -- and even some who don't -- end up using those powers to either commit crimes or stop criminals. Many powers, after all, seem to be designed for combat purposes, but that doesn't answer the question of why they choose to fight or commit crimes.

Even heroes and villains themselves don't seem to have the answers. "What else would you have me do? Work for the other side?" Even those whose abilities would have obvious and profitable commercial applications seem to prefer hero/villain lifestyles. Dr. Jezebel Nine could easily turn her scientific and engineering genius to curing diseases, solving the problem of global hunger, patenting new forms of energy, consumer electronics, or even personal weaponry. The patents for her already-existing robotics work, weather-control devices, satellite weaponry, and seismic-beam projection technology would allow her to retire as an incredibly wealthy woman. Why continue to squander her genius robbing banks, battling superheroes, attempting to take over cities and countries? No one knows. Dr. Nine herself may not know.

And then there are the costumes. The early heroes and villains of the 1930s tended to stick to street clothes and simple masks. It made a certain degree of sense -- it's easier to blend into a crowd when you're wearing the same thing the rest of the crowd is wearing. In the late '30s and early '40s, they started switching over to the garish, bright-colored costumes, with flowing capes, ornate masks, bold insignias. Every once in a while, you run into someone sticking with the old-school costumes -- suit, trenchcoat, fedora, domino mask. But they're few and far between. The norm these days is colorful costumes, capes, masks, gloves, boots -- it's fetish gear, and that's really all you can call it.

So why the compulsion for otherwise-sane people with extranormal powers to dress up in outlandishly colorful costumes and go into the crimefighting/crime-committing business? Is it sublimated aggression that makes you want to go out and beat up people? An over-developed sense of right-vs.-wrong? A kinky lust for skin-tight costumes and masks? A desire to show off special powers that no one else has? Boredom? Maybe superpowers make you crazy?

Maybe superpowers make you... not human?

While it has long been speculated that mutants were a new species of humanity, mutants and baseline humans remain reproductively compatible, as do nearly all super-powered humans -- barring, of course, actual extraterrestrials, androids, uplifted animals, ultraterrestrials, and -- more than likely -- biochemists turned into living ice statues. For all the talk you may hear from metacentrists about "homo superior," even the most powerful and most varied superhumans remain members of homo sapiens sapiens.

Nevertheless, in addition to the manifestation of superhuman powers and abilities, metahumans generally exhibit certain common traits, particularly resistance to injury, rapid healing, unusually long lifespans, physical appearance that's either insanely attractive or hideously ugly, a tendency to resurrect when killed, and the so-called "trouble radar" in which superheroes just happen to encounter crimes in progress.

In fact, these traits are often shared by nonpowered adventurers, including heroes like Penitente and villains like Defiant -- which leads to the question of whether or not some seemingly unpowered heroes and villains actually have metagenes of their own.

But getting back to the question at hand -- with so many qualities and abilities seemingly shared by so many metaheroes and metavillains, is it possible these common traits could also include heightened aggression and moral sensitivities, and a fondness for stylized costumes?

For now, this remains base speculation. The extreme variation in metahuman abilities and genetics would make it almost impossible to isolate and identify such traits. However, though it is simple speculation, it is, at the very least, deeply interesting speculation.

But as much fun as it would be to spend the rest of the evening working on that article, it's just not to be. I get a call from Daphne Diller about an airplane hijacking at the airport. Not a plane in the air -- it seems some members of the Architects of Ruin are trying to carry off a plane on the ground.

I meet up with Iota, Hybrid, and Gearbox on the way there, and Daphne flags us down from near one of the hangars. The airport had hired her a few weeks ago about what they thought was a smuggling operation on their grounds -- turned out she discovered the Architects had come up with this bizarre scheme to steal airliners and sell 'em on the black market. I've got no idea if a plot like that would work, but Daphne figured they had a decent chance of actually stealing the plane.

We go in through the back door and windows, hoping to catch them off-guard, but it looks like bad luck is with us again tonight -- they brought Black Hat in for the job, and he's been listening to us through our cell phones with his cyber-telepathy.  He was on Gearbox the second we came in -- jammed a bunch of paralyzing feedback through his operating systems. That wouldn't keep Big G down for long, but Black Hat was already whaling on him with a sledgehammer.

The rest of us couldn't even help him out. Shrieker was waiting for Iota and started hitting him with sonic blasts. He wouldn't normally have any significant trouble with that -- his helmet blocked out a lot of stuff like that -- but Black Hat had told her what frequencies to pitch her blasts at to bypass his security systems and hit his inner ear, so he was getting walloped good and hard.

Warzone made a beeline for Daphne. His powered armor and rockets couldn't hurt her, but he was strong enough to keep her off-balance and off her feet.

Hybrid got attacked by some new player on the villain scene called Dr. Chitter -- ugly customer, didn't look at all human, claws and eyes and insect parts everywhere. I'd been assuming he was a really messed-up mutant or maybe an alien, but I heard Hybrid yell, "Crap, it's Dr. Chittenburg!" Yeah, the geneticist who created her and then got turned into a monster by his own genetic formulas. Hybrid tries to talk sense to him for a few seconds, but then he bites her on the arm, she loses all control, and it's just two enraged animals screaming and clawing at each other on the ground.

And I'm stuck with Beelzebambi.

I don't like Beelzebambi at all.

Yes, I understand she's severely mentally ill -- a condition made even worse by the fact that she's been turned into a demon. But I'm made completely out of ice -- there's no way I'll ever bring myself to feel much sympathy for a psychotic succubus in a cheerleader outfit who can make herself burn with super-hot hellfire.

She grabs my forearms before I even know she's there and starts radiating heat all around. I start melting slowly -- it's not a fun feeling, but it doesn't hurt like you might expect. Getting chipped hurts, but melting just makes me feel tired. I start cranking my own temperature down to counter her, but it's going to be a losing battle unless I can get away from her.

"Hi hi hi, Hypothermia!" she giggles at me. "We gonna make this game hot, hot, hot!"

"Shut up, Bambi," I growl at her. "I'm not in the mood for cheerleader jokes."

"Oh, you're a spoilsport!" she pouts. "You're just mad because I'm going to melt you into a puddle and kill you."

I'm actually not that worried about that. I've been melted before. I've even been evaporated before. It's a job hazard when you're made out of ice. But I've never been too badly harmed by getting melted. Once I get out of the heat, I start refreezing again. It can take a few hours or even a few days, though, and I don't usually enjoy the experience. So I'd really rather avoid having it happen tonight.

The only one of us who is in pretty good shape right now is Daphne -- she can't be harmed by anything, and eventually, Warzone will run out of rockets. But Shrieker isn't letting up on Iota, Gearbox is taking a distressing number of blows to his head from Black Hat's sledgehammer, and if someone doesn't stop Hybrid and Dr. Chitter soon, one of them's probably going to kill the other.

And I can't do a damn thing about any of it. I can't even get my hands free so I can buzz someone to come out and help. I hate fire projectors so damn much.

And then all of a sudden, everyone just stops moving.

No, wait, not everyone. I don't, Beelzebambi doesn't. But Shrieker's sonic blasts fade to nothing, and I think it surprises both of us so much, we stop fighting and look around.

Hybrid and Chitter are still going at it. Gearbox is slinking away from Black Hat and starting to piece himself together. Everyone else is standing stock-still with their heads bowed and their eyes closed.

"Whoa, dude, even for me, this is pretty creepy," says Beelzebambi.

"Don't try to tell me you did this," I say.

"Hell, no," she giggles. "I'da done something with a lot more fire. I just mean, wow, creeeeepy, ya know?"

"Separate them," Gearbox buzzes at us. He has one hyper-extended arm pointing at Hybrid and Dr. Chitter while the rest of his body repairs itself.

"No way, man," says Beelzebambi. "I gotta keep melting Hypodorkia. Maybe when I'm done with that..."

She turns back toward me, both hands blazing, but by then, I've decided to go with something more direct. One ice fist in the face, and Bambi's in demonic dreamland.

By the time I manage to give Chitter the same treatment, Gearbox has put himself back together enough to wrap himself around Hybrid and hold her still 'til she finally calms down. She's covered with rapidly-healing cuts and gashes, but seems generally okay.

"My god, I can't believe it!" she gasps. "Bad enough he created me and tried to kill me more than once -- but he's still trying to get rid of me? Even turned into a monster? That's just -- that's just -- okay, why is everyone else standing around like statues?"

"Wish I knew," I say. "Most of them just suddenly stopped moving in the middle of the fight. Should we assume mind control here, Gearbox?"

"It seems likely," says Gearbox.

"Why wasn't everyone affected then?" asks Hybrid. "Were we all just too amped up from the fighting for any mind control to get through?"

"I wasn't particularly amped up," I say.

"Depends on how you define 'amp,' " says Gearbox. "However, judging by those unaffected -- namely, a robot, an ice entity, a genetically engineered humanoid, a demon, and whatever Dr. Chittenburg has become -- the mind control method being employed is ineffective against non-humans."

"I'd heard Black Hat had a computer brain?" I say.

"Cyber-telepathy isn't a common superpower," says Gearbox. "But it's well established. Besides, how insulting to those of us with computer brains. Just because he's a humorless prick is no reason to assume he's not a human. Probably makes it more likely, to be honest."

"Non-human mind control?" says Hybrid unhappily. "Way to rub it in, guys."

"How far does this go?" I ask. "Is this some sort of attack focused on our group specifically?"

Gearbox tilts his head like he's trying to listen for something. "Can't tell," he says. "Sensors aren't picking up much electronic traffic, but there could be some kind of communications scrambler running. Let me try a few other channels and -- whoops, hi there."

All the mind-controlled people in the room have finally started moving, walking slowly toward the door of the hangar.

"Should we follow them?" asks Hybrid.

"Let's at least see what's outside," says Gearbox.

So we watch the whole bunch of them, heroes and villains, march out of the hangar, eyes blank and heads held high. They're followed by an airplane mechanic who was hiding behind the building. We can see other people walking past the hangar -- other mechanics, pilots, security guards. We can see people marching out of the airport in the distance, leaving their cars on the highway by the airport, all of them marching off in the same direction, deeper into the city.

We look up, and the sky is filled with spaceships. Galactic Scimitar Battlecruisers from the Immortal Thrug Empire, from the looks of 'em.

I really hope the three of us aren't going to have to fight off an alien invasion all by ourselves.

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