New Rourke Unmasked
What Invoked the Wrath of the Writer
Tempora Mutantur Robots | Tempus Fugit Sideways | Time Enough For Bullets
Most people thought Akiva Shen had a bad attitude. It wasn’t that she was mean or ambivalent to the plight of others; far from it in fact. It was simply the case that very few people actually understood her, so most tended to shy away from her company. This had the effect of turning what would normally be a well-rounded, intelligent, caring woman into a person with a tendency for pursed lips and incredulous expressions. She lived in, what one acquaintance termed, “the great circle of cynicism”.
Her rather unorthodox background stunted that natural ability people had to relate to each other. When first impressions were made, appearance was where early value judgments occured. She was 5’4” and healthy. She looked to be eighteen but was much older. Her father was Chinese; the additional genetic makeup from her Palestinian-Jewish mother gave Akiva an exotic prettiness but blurred easily distinguishable lines of ethnic heritage. Most residents of New Rourke assumed she was Japanese and became very confused when they spotted the silver wire-frame Star of David pendant on her necklace. She didn’t practice; not openly, not often, but though her parents had long since passed, like a good girl, she respected the wishes of her mother’s guilt trip.
Akiva Shen was also a superhero…at least she used to be.
Many a year had passed since the heroine known as Tempora boxed away her super-cute vigilante outfit. She traded in her days and nights of adventure, skirting the edge of the law, the celebrity, for full-time work as a copy editor and ghost writer. It wasn’t a matter of no longer wanting to fight the good fight, rather she had grown tired of the masquerade. The costume, which really did look amazing on her, was a bit silly. She decided, what was the point of putting an effort into concealing one’s identify at the same time as wearing a banner that screamed “look at me”, when she could just as easily come to the rescue if needed in her normal clothes. Her employer and clients were fine with the whole thing as long as she didn’t flaunt her associations. She didn’t have anyone in her life that needed protecting. But mostly it was because she had gotten tired of trying to correct people about her powers.
Akiva had two super powers; the absorption and redistribution of time. To the outside observer Tempora, the-hero-that-was, possessed a startling array of abilities; invulnerability, super speed, memory blanking, matter destruction, force fields, even flight, among others. She would try to explain that she could do these things simply because she had the imagination necessary to apply her limited power in creative ways, but most often she was asked why she had named herself after food. She would be the first to admit that the premise of her powers was absurd, but they obviously worked, so empirical evidence had won out. Additionally she had stopped aging when she was nineteen...which was sixty-two years ago. No matter how it happened, the gift of immortality carried with it the subtle barb of alienation.
* * *
She was spending a lazy Tuesday morning reading the newspaper after having spent three days last night finishing the reedit of a trashy romance novel. For the last few minutes, she had been engulfed in an article when she felt a slight shudder. That was followed by another, then another. Each rumbling grew with intensity until her living room was shaking at short intervals. So, when she looked out her front window and saw a three-story mech coming down the street, heading straight for her house, Akiva was more than a little upset.
”Farkakte tsuris!” she muttered to herself.
Charging out of her house, blue terrycloth robe waving in the breeze, she marched straight up to the thing and shouted, “HEY! What’s the big idea?”
Ignoring her protest, the mech continued on its path like a robot colossus from a 1950’s sci-fi flick. It was far too big for her to put in a bubble of stopped time, and without knowing how it worked, stopping one part might cause it to fall over onto a neighbor’s house, or worse, explode. So, she ran alongside it, banging on its leg, and shouting for help.
As it neared her house, Akiva made platforms of halted air and used them to run up to the mech’s shoulder. There she banged on its head in the hopes that an operator would hear her. It stopped on the curb in front of her lawn and raised a cannon arm to her home.
There was a very loud BLAP! sound, and her house, along with a good portion of the ground beneath, was gone leaving behind a slightly pink haze.
She stared wide-eyed at the spot where all her worldly possessions had been, unable to fathom the complete and sudden loss.
As the mech’s foot rocket’s ignited, sending it hurtling skyward, Akiva Shen fell to the ground. Lying in the middle of the street, she looked up at the sky struggling to pull two thoughts together.
* * *
The police and fire department finally came by to cordon off the area. After taking a statement, and making their best effort to appear to have a handle on the situation, they left; leaving Akiva alone with one of her neighbors whom she recognized as the-nosey-lady-with-the-pug.
”Oh, you poor dear. How awful.” said the house-coated, hair curler wearing, middle-aged woman that Akiva suspected had been snatching the coupons out of her mailbox.
”Yes, Mrs. Malrooney.” Akiva replied in as politely noncommittal a tone as she could muster.
”You had such a beautiful house.”
”Yes, Mrs. Malrooney.” Akiva did not add, “My house may be gone, but your dog is still shitting on my lawn. Right. Now.”
”You must feel terrible.”
”Yes, Mrs. Malrooney.”
”How long have you lived there?”
”Forty-seven years.” she said through gritted teeth.
”What was that?”
”Seven years, Mrs. Malrooney.”
”Oh, you poor dear.”
Akiva took a sharp intake of breathe. “Mrs. Malrooney, do you have a phone in your house?”
”Why yes, I do.”
Akiva paused for the offer that did not come. ”May I use it?”
Mrs. Malrooney’s face crinkled unflatteringly. “Oh, I don’t know, dear.”
Akiva turned to her neighbor with a prize winning manufactured smile. “Please?”
”Alright, just don’t take too long. I’ve got a bridge game at seven.”
It was 9am.
”I should be out of your hair before then.”
* * *
After a call to her insurance provider Akiva found she did not in fact have “Giant Robot Destructo Beam” coverage. A call to her lawyer informed her that she would still be liable if she went on a “killer rampage”. A call to her boss did garner some good news though; she would get a quarter advance and a month extension. Of course time would not be an issue.
She took a cab to the bank and spent the next two hours learning how tedious it was to withdraw money without any form of identification when you looked like you were under twenty, but the account history went back to the 60’s, all the while the meter was running. After that she decided to walk, so she bought herself some actual underwear, pants, and shoes to go with her bathrobe and night shirt ensemble and made her way to Candlebrook Tavern.
Akiva walked right up to the bartender, and without a hint of irony, asked, “What do you know about giant robots?”
To his credit, the bartender put down his crossword puzzle in order to give this question the consideration it deserved. After a bit of thought he responded, "How giant are we talking?"
"Around forty feet tall. One just destroyed my house."
"What do you mean? Smashed it to bits?"
"Disintegration ray from some sort of gun on its left arm. Then it flew away."
He let out an impressed whistle.
The Candlebrook Tavern was one of the very few places in the city that heroes felt comfortable enough to let their hair down and talk about the life without worrying about getting unwanted attention. Some would even drop by out of costume, which was fine because everyone pretty much knew everyone else. This was accomplished by way of the bar existing in a pocket dimension accessible from one of nine doors in the downtown area which would only unlock for someone who had been there before. It was rumored that the space had been in use by the city's heroes in various applications for over a hundred years; roughly fifty years ago it was turned into a pub. Akiva knew it as a good place to get very drunk.
The bartender's name was Rick Parkway, aka Facade. Right now he looked like an aged African American man not terribly unlike a balding Keith David. No one knew what he really looked like, since he had the ability to assume the guise of other people. His power was limited to mimicking people he had met, so he changed his appearance often in order to not cause anyone trouble. When it was someone's birthday, he would take on their appearance and make them join him for karaoke. He always wore a "Hello! My name is RICK" name tag, because he was well aware of how unnerving talking to a stranger could be.
"Geeezzz...Who'd you piss off?" said the bar's only other patron; a pasty looking, blonde, man in his mid-twenties wearing a hockey jersey. Darrel Humphreys went by the name Grey Vigil
Akiva peered at the man making her disapproval perfectly clear. "Isn't it a little early to be drunk, Darrel?"
"Pfft! I'm not on duty."
”Do you have any information for me, Rick?”
Facade was strictly small time in the heroing business. He mostly operated as an information broker and sometime infiltrator. Everyone had too much respect for the man to call him a sidekick, yet he was perfectly happy to let the spotlight fall on others.
”Tough to say.” Rick said, scratching his chin. “There are not many people with the resources to make something like that, let alone the technical skills.”
”Like I said…” Darrel slurred, “wwwwho’d you piss off?”
Akiva shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t been active in the last few years, and the most I’ve done in recent months is aid in a car crash. Who is on your list, Rick?”
”There’s Machiavella. She’s usually into big and showy.”
”But doesn’t she only harass The Regulars? I’ve never been affiliated with them.”
Darrel waved his empty glass at Rick and asked, “Watchlight?”
Rick shook his head. ”They disbanded; got all their revenue streams exposed after one of the head engineers had an affair with the DA’s wife.”
Rick refilled the glass and put out a bowl of pretzels. “What was the name of that clown with the steampunk fetish?”
Akiva frowned. “I’m sure I would have remembered a run in with The Anachronist.”
Darrel took a sip of his drink then started rattling off names. “Toy-Boy? Fix King? The Button Legion? Prototyrant and the Diskettes‽”
”You aren’t helping.” Rick said, taking Darrel’s drink away. “None of those are real people.”
”Is that all?” Akiva asked.
Rick shrugged. ”There was Anton Techno, but he died about fifteen years ago. Of course you should never discount Professor Peligro.”
Darrel scoffed. ”Man, what is with you always spreading rumors about Professor Peligro?”
Rick raised a finger in warning. “You never know. He could be lurking in the shadows as we speak.”
Akiva crossed her arms. “Rick, that is ridiculous. Professor Peligro disappeared decades before I was born.”
”But he only disappeared.” Rick grinned cheekily.
Akiva rolled her eyes. “Be that as it may, can you think of anyone else?”
”I’m sorry, Akiva. At the very least, whoever did this wasn’t trying to kill you. Or if they were, they are very bad at it.”
”That really isn’t a comfort.”
”I don’t know what else to tell you.” Rick shrugged. “Do you have a place to stay?”
Darrel cleared his throat and leered. “You can stay at my place.”
Akiva slowly turned to Darrel and glared daggers at him until he picked up the bowl of pretzels and moved a seat over.
”You know, you can stay here.” Rick offered. He took a key ring with a single key from behind the bar and handed it to her. “Take one of the rooms, but remember there’s no shower and only one toilet.”
”Thank you.” she said, accepting the key.
”And if you want it, I’ve got an old pickup I’ve been trying to unload. It burns through gas fast, but it runs. I’ll let you use it until you can find something better.”
”That will be more than I have now. Thank you.”
”Hey, Akiva.” Darrel almost shouted before remembering how near she was to him. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you.”
Rick gave him a pleading look. “Don’t do it.”
”With all your powers, why did you name yourself after food?”
Akiva grimaced, ignoring Darrel. “May I get that truck now, Rick?”
”Sure. It’s at my place. I’ll clean up and drive you over.”
”That will be fine. I’m not—What did you just say‽” she said as she snapped her head at Darrel.
With a pretzel halfway to his mouth, Darrel starred back at Akiva like a deer in headlights. “Uh…Too bad you couldn’t track the robot?”
”Why would I be able to track the robot?”
”No, I don’t. I—“ Akiva let out an exasperated sigh. “Nevermind.”
Rick pursed his lips. “Well, something that big had to have left footprints even on cement.”
”Rick, I just lost everything I had. Forgive me if my detective skills aren’t up to par.”
”Those feet had to be huge!” Darrel said.
”Shut up, Darrel.” Akiva answered.
Stuffing his face with several pretzels Darrel mumbled. “Fings godda wand somewheh.”
Akiva paused, looked at Darrel, looked at Rick, and then back at Darrel. “Wait a minute! You fly, you putz!"
Darrel swallowed. “I do.”
Darrel shrugged. ”I also see ghosts. What of it?”
It was well regarded in the superhero community that Grey Vigil was a jerk.
”Come with me.” Akiva said.
”You’re going to help me find where that thing landed.”
He grasped for an excuse. “I haven’t paid my bill yet!”
”I’ll put it on your tab.” Rick said.
”Not cool, dude.”
”Up, off your tuchis.” Akiva said, taking the very reluctant Grey Vigil by the arm. “We’re burning daylight.”
”Hey, I don’t even have my costume. What about my secret identity?”
Rick, very casually, took a brown paper bag from under the counter and slid it in front of Darrel.”
Darrel looked at it forlornly. “Lame!”