Odd Summer. A somewhat innocuous name for what is one of the worst disasters to ever befall our beleaguered planet. Named after the phenomenon’s tendency to only occur during the summer months, the phenomenon again reinforces its moniker by occurring on a schedule based on odd numbers. Specifically, events occur between one, three, five, seven, and in one recorded instance, nine years apart. Which number of years is next in the cycle is apparently random. The cause of this event is unknown. Whether it is a natural occurrence or artificial in nature is unknown. Whether the event is preventable or will ever stop is, unfortunately, unknown.
What is known is the effect the phenomenon has on the fauna of Earth. During an Odd Summer specific individuals of all species, from the smallest insect to the largest whale, have displayed the ability to suddenly manifest extra-normal abilities. When this occurs in a human we refer to these abilities as super powers. Flying, breathing water, lifting a simple pencil with your mind or holding a bolt of lightning as if it were a walking stick, these super powers run the gamut of human imagination. But despite the ability to hold perhaps the literal power of gods in their hands, I posit that no power held by any organism, animal or human, has ever had a more lasting impact on this planet than that given to the smallest of all, the microorganisms of earth.
Specifically, the symbiotic bacteria Pseudomonia benedicci, commonly known as Benedicci, and the more aggressive, yet still symbiotic, virus named Coactus mutavus, commonly known as Mutavus.
-Opening to A Thesis on Post-Odd Summer Microbiology, by Dr. Markus Mason
The garage was bustling with activity, minions going to and fro. Several trucks were being offloaded, and the veteran minions were showing the newbies where all the stolen merchandise went, and how to repack the gear they used. Everyone that went on the mission had returned minus Tofu, a fact which had surprised Imp. Normally they lost a few of the black masks on the training run, mostly to arrests, but sometimes there was an unfortunate death if a security guard got overeager, or if the job involved rival gangs and villains. Truthfully this job had gone off a bit too cleanly, which was good, but it made Imp feel somewhat paranoid. It was rare to have such a clean victory when heroes showed up.
Imps musings were interrupted when his cell phone went off with a distinctive ring-tone. He raised his hand to his head, cell-phone already in it thanks to his power, and answered the call.
“Hey boss,” said Imp.
“How is she? How’d she do?” asked Hellion.
“Plan went fine, the team did great, thanks for asking.”
“She’s fine Hellion, it was a pretty standard run, things went better than expected considering a hero turned up.”
“Good. Glad to hear it. I should be back in about thirty to forty minutes depending on how long this takes to wrap up.”
“Wait, you mean you’re still over there? Having trouble?”
“Oh please. A few new faces showed up so I’ve been scoping them out. We’ll go over the report when I get back,” and with an abrupt click the line went dead.
Imp sighed. Sometimes he felt like his job was actually cat herding. Except the cats were tigers, and sometimes they breathed fire.
Imp walked around the garage making sure things went smoothly, giving advice to newbies, informing the other lieutenants about Hellion’s status, and getting the report from the driver of truck one. Apparently Magenta had showed up and Tofu baited her away? Imp winced internally, if Magenta caught him they’d be scraping him off the pavement, and Magenta was tenacious. The newbies always made mistakes like that, stupid kid should’ve just surrendered and let the lawyers handle it.
Imp sent a message to Tofu’s mask, but when a minute went by without a reply it was as good a confirmation as any that things had not gone well. He’d have to remember to send a get well card to the hospital room, regen or no it’d be a long stay considering Magenta’s track record, and the kid had bought enough time for the truck to get away. Results mattered.
Minutes went by and eventually Imp began making his way to Hellion’s office. Sandra and Viper were already there when he arrived, Viper nose deep in her phone as per usual.
“Hello Imp, glad to see you back in one piece. Lily tells me you had some excitement,” said Sandra.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” replied Imp.
Viper snorted, “Did you even manage to hit him with those pea-shooters?”
“Hey, don’t dis the revolvers. I’m pretty sure I hit him around ten times at least.”
This time Sandra snorted.
“Er, maybe more like five… okay twice,” amended Imp. Both ladies chuckled this time.
They continued to chat about the night’s events, eventually being joined by Rattleback, who had a few choice words for the amount of ammo Imp wasted trying to shoot a speedster.
“They don’t grow on trees Imp.”
Jabs were tossed about in a friendly manner, jokes were made, chit chat continued, right up until a secret door clicked at the back of the office.
With a hiss the wall panel slid open. Out stepped the shadow of a man, or a man shaped shadow, it was difficult to tell which. It was somewhat possible to tell that he wore his own skull mask, similar to Imp’s, this one etched to intensify the impression of a human skull. He quickly scanned the room, noting each person in it with the intensity of a trained combatant.
“Come on Smoke, move it.”
Suddenly the shadowy man was shoved to the side. From behind him appeared a woman in what had once been an armored crimson bodysuit, but which was now almost completely black from multiple blasts and burns. In some places the suit still smoked, evidence of the firefight it had just been through. On her head she wore a red mask similar to Imp’s, but with a much grander pair of horns that rose from the temples and swept back over her head, and instead of being opaque the face plate was completely transparent, with only a golden tinge to tell it apart from normal glass or plastics. After all, she had no reason to hide her face.
She was Hellion. The infamous Queen of E13.
“Hey Hellion, how’d it go with the Espada?” said Imp.
“Those bozos? Who cares? How’d my baby do? Tell me everything,” said Hellion as she plopped down in her office chair and released the locks on her mask, tossing it over her shoulder only for Smoke to catch it before it could impact the wall. Contrary to what one might expect from the pyrokinetic she did not have red hair, instead a curly-brown mop of shoulder-length hair flopped out from under the helm.
“Ms. Hellion, need I remind you that your promise to not interfere also extends to those times when she is not around?” chastised Sandra.
“Fine fine, you party pooper. Rattleback would you start us off?”
“Sure, overall the operation was a complete success. Teams one through four managed to accomplish all mission goals, with only team three having trouble when a vigilante showed up. There were a couple minor injuries, but powered minions on site managed to apprehend him, and his identity and information were recorded before they left him tied up at the scene. The encounter appears to have been a random patrol by the vigilante, and there is no evidence to suggest the vigilante was tipped off to the operation.”
“Huh, haven’t seen one of those in a while. Was he any good?”
“Apparently he was a decent fighter, but he didn’t have a power, and no tech backing from the looks of it,” answered Rattleback.
“Pity, haven’t had a good vigilante in this sector since, um, what was his name? The guy with the wolf mask?”
“Lycanthorp?” supplied Sandra.
“That’s the one! Now that guy was fun.”
“Ehhhh…” said several people around the table. Lycanthorp had had a tendency to use tripwire traps, the kind that exploded into a myriad of “interesting” effects. Many a minion had breathed a sigh of relief when he disappeared.
“Soooo anyways, how’d the training run go?” asked Hellion as she leaned forward eagerly.
“We had some trouble, but none from the minions surprisingly,” answered Imp. “It helped that Olson already knew the drill. Ifrit did well, followed orders to the letter and remembered her training.”
“Ha, that’s my girl,” interjected Hellion.
“Anyways, Gregor seems like the level-headed sort. He followed orders, asked relevant questions, and wasn’t bothered when asked to play the part of big bad mutant, otherwise not much to say about the guy. I’m for keeping him on, what do you guys think?” Imp asked, directing his question to the other lieutenants.
“No problems with his interview. I’ve already explained the legal risks to him since he can’t really hide his identity,” said Sandra.
“His background checks out,” said Viper. “Mutated a year ago after a mugging gone wrong. Subsequently laid off, reason given as ‘company downsizing’, and moved to east sector looking for work. One of our recruiters approached him at the unemployment office.”
“Well then, seems he’s a keeper. You can go ahead and finalize his papers Sandra,” said Hellion. Sandra nodded and shuffled some of the files she had with her into a pile.
Imp continued, “And lastly we have Tofu, kid put up a good showing. Turbo roughed up the truck he was in and he not only kept his focus on getting the truck out, but also managed to injure the guy.”
“Wait, the shrimp hit Turbo?” asked Viper incredulously.
“Yep, wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself, that little stunt is what let me drive the hero off. Unfortunately it was also Tofu’s truck that ran into Magenta and he tried to bait her away, dude has no luck. I sent a message to see if he got out, but I didn’t get a reply back, so if we want to keep him on we’ll probably have to extract him legally. Over-all I’d say he’s fine for a rookie, no problems on my end.”
“Unfortunately there is a problem on mine,” said Viper. “Dude’s a complete ghost. No school records, no social media presence, plenty of missing person reports that match his description, but then there always are. Literally the only evidence we have that he existed before he walked into the interview is Jasper’s testimony, and the fact that Tofu brought in a friend of his for an interview as well, a Michael Chavez. Even then, both Jasper and Michael claim to have never seen the kid before this week. It wouldn’t really be a problem except Adder says he’s definitely had plenty of combat experience, mostly the back alley kind. I’d say the shrimp is a mole if it weren’t for the fact no one would make it this obvious.”
“Hmm, how was his interview?” asked Hellion.
“It went well actually,” replied Sandra. “He didn’t tell any lies, so at the very least he’s not associated with Central. The only odd point was that I needed to explain quite a few terms to him, I think his education is somewhat incomplete.”
“Maybe he is a villain’s kid? Homeschooled as it were?” chimed in Rattleback.
“Hah, would be kinda funny if we had two villain’s kids in the same batch,” said Imp.
“Hmmm…” Hellion tapped her gauntleted fingers on the desk in a rhythmic staccato. “It’s a bit odd that Turbo made a straight dash from the Espada fight right to the training team. Sandra are you sure there’s no chance Tofu is a plant for the heroes?”
“Absolutely. I was able to ask him several important questions so I got a good read on him. If he’s associated with anyone it’s not the heroes.”
“Alright then. We’ll keep him on for now, but keep an eye on him. I don’t need an angry villain showing up and causing a ruckus because we’ve let their kid get hurt.”
“Like you would do?” said Imp with a chuckle.
“Um, it might be too late for that,” said Viper suddenly. She was looking at her phone with wide eyes. “Found some footage from tonight that’s already making the rounds.”
She tapped her phone a few times and then turned it to show the whole group. It was some shaky video, obviously filmed from someone’s phone, but you could still easily make out the purplish form of Magenta fighting what appeared to be a mutated human in a mask. The fight was quick, only a few blows being traded before Magenta had her opponent subdued. You could almost hear them talking, but the recording wasn’t high enough quality to make out what they were saying.
And then the mutant split in half in a spray of gore.
“-Christ on a cracker Magenta.”
“Brick, I swear I didn’t do that! I don’t know what happened, he just fell apart!”
This had not been a good night. Brick’s team hadn’t been able to stop Hellion or her associates from tearing into the Espada gang members after the initial explosion. Turbo had run off alone at some point in the fight and somehow managed to get himself injured, forcing Brick to send Magenta after him, a decision that had now backfired massively. The only good part was that one of the heroes to show up from the nearby sectors had been Hydrox, a relatively new hero with hydrokinesis who had managed to put out most of the fires pretty quickly. Brick and Magenta were now in an emergency meeting with Jerry, their liaison to Central, and he had just finished showing them the video that was already trending on local media.
Brick sighed, “Alright Jerry, how bad is this?”
“It looks worse than it actually is, but as you know appearance matters,” answered Jerry. “Magenta’s headcam confirms her version of events, the culprit threatened to harm civilians, Magenta caught him, and then he bursts like a ripe melon for no apparent reason.”
Magenta shuddered at the imagery. None of the viscera had dripped past her forcefield, but she still felt like she needed a dozen hot showers before she’d feel clean again.
Jerry continued, “Forensics at the scene confirmed that something fishy happened. The bottom half of the perpetrator apparently “dissolved into dust and sludge” once separated from the rest of him, and upon an examination of the sewer a similar residue was found, but not enough to account for the rest of him. It looks like he pulled a disappearing act. Considering he also didn’t look very human while fighting we’re currently thinking it’s some kind of sandman-like or other shapeshifting power. The good news Magenta is this clears you of any fault, and your probation isn’t currently at risk.”
Magenta breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that.
“What’s the bad news?” asked Brick.
“Well the public isn’t taking the footage too well. Despite all the facts the video still looks like Magenta ripped some mutant in half. Public opinion seems split between those claiming hero brutality and those claiming the culprit deserved worse. We’ll be releasing information to try and quell the worst of it, but it'll be a rocky road before it calms down. I’ve got the reports on what's being said right here.”
“I’m sorry Brick,” said Magenta.
“Not your fault Magenta, you played by the book on this one. Why don’t you hit the hay? I’ll finish up here.”
“Yeah, you look like hell and we don’t both need to sift through a bunch of hate mail.”
Magenta trudged to the door and left, her shoulders noticeably lower than they had been that morning. Brick waited for her footsteps to fade away before he turned back to Jerry.
“How bad is it really?”
Jerry frowned and leaned back in his chair, running his hand through his wispy hair in a tired gesture before he responded.
“Truthfully Central isn’t very worried about the video, the public will whine and moan for a while before they move on to the next outrage. The bigger concern is that Hellion’s Henchmen hit more than ten other places tonight. All large burglaries.”
Brick put his elbows on the table and rested his face in his hands.
“We’re outnumbered here Jerry.”
“And Central agrees, which is why you’ll be getting some fresh faces soon.”
“I’m not sure on the particulars...”
Jerry sighed before answering.
“Some new triggers who need training.”
Brick’s fist hit the table, denting the tough metal.
“Sidekicks? Are you serious right now Jerry? Hellion had most of her heavy hitters at that raid and apparently her goons still had enough manpower to turn away Turbo and Magenta. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but they aren’t exactly lightweights themselves! We need veterans! Not snot-nosed recruits!”
“I know! I agree with you! But the fact of the matter is I don’t get to have the final word on this. With Odd Summer starting Central is being conservative. Things are tight right now.”
“They’re always tight.”
“That’s true, which is why you shouldn’t snub your nose up at the help you do get. All of the recruits have powers Brick, they won’t be useless.”
“Hellion’s Henchmen will eat them alive, hell E13 by itself might chew them up, you know how it gets here during Odd Summer.”
“Don’t be so sure, some of them are actually from E13.”
Brick frowned at that.
“Isn’t it policy to send sidekicks to a sector they don’t have families in?”
“Normally yes, but like I said, things are tight.”
“Besides, that policy was implemented for safety reasons, and while I hate to give credit to a villain, Hellion is actually far less brutal than most. She doesn’t go after families and she doesn’t try to kill every hero she sees. This is actually a better area than most for a new hero to start in.”
“She’s not above blackmail if she finds your identity though.”
“I’m trying to be positive Brick. Look, I know it’s not ideal. But Central has promised we’ll get all the resources we need to help train them, that includes tinker support. I’m also going to see if Hydrox would be willing to transfer from E12 to E13, give us someone who can put out fires, maybe we can trade him for one of the new recruits or something. Does that untwist your panties?
“Pffft, alright, alright. I’ll give it a chance Jerry, you’ve convinced me,” said Brick, his frown finally breaking.
“Glad you see it my way. Now, how serious were you about helping me sort through some of this hate mail?”
“Maybe next time Jerry. Rain check.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” Jerry replied with a chuckle.
Brick’s lightened mood lasted only until the door was closed behind him. Jerry was a good sort for a government guy. Dealt with the dreck, pulled what resources he could from stingy paper pushers, and tried to keep it all light-hearted besides. But Brick still had one more person to yell at before he could head off himself, and just thinking about it made his blood boil.
As he walked down the corridors Brick gave the impression that he was stomping without actually doing it. It couldn’t be helped, he was an even seven feet tall and built like his namesake. The fact that his power had given him super strength, and hardened his skin into a rock-like substance on command had been more a formality than anything. He hadn’t even realized he had a power until a week after it happened.
Brick arrived at a door marked with a red cross and knocked briefly before pushing it open. Inside he found Turbo out of costume, propped up in a hospital bed with his leg in a cast.
“Hey bossman,” said Turbo.
“Hey Turbo, how’s the leg?” asked Brick, taking a seat on a (reinforced) stool next to the bed.
“Could be better. Small fracture. Wouldn’t have been too bad but running on it didn’t help none. How’d it go with Hellion?”
“Could have been better. Other heroes finally showed up, but it definitely could have gone better if you had stuck around.”
“Aw geez, I’m sorry bossman. I just got a call about the robbery and I figured helping the people there would be better than watching a bunch of villains whale on each other. I thought I could solve the problem and be back before I was missed, but one of them boneheads kicks like a mule. Bad luck, you know how it is.”
“Heh, yeah I know how it is,” said Brick, right before he grabbed Turbo’s injured leg and squeezed.
“AHGH! GOD! WHAT THE HELL?!”
“I ignore a lot of the stunts you pull Turbo,” said Brick, then he gave another small squeeze.
“AHGGHHH! Bossman! Jesus, why?!”
“I also ignore all the little side deals you run. Like taking bribes to prioritize certain crimes against certain businesses.”
“Hey, hey man I don’t- AGH!- alright alright!”
“Normally I’d kick you to the curb, but if you hadn’t noticed we’re kinda understaffed at the moment, and between all your side gigs you sometimes find the time to actually stop a real crime. But if you EVER leave me or a teammate high and dry like that again, I will break all your limbs and stuff you down the nearest sewer myself. Do I make myself clear?”
“YES! Jesus man, crystal.”
“Good,” said Brick, and he finally released Turbo’s leg.
Brick got up to leave, but before he reached the door he paused and turned back to Turbo.
“Oh! Almost forgot, we’re going to be getting some sidekicks soon. You spend the most time on the streets, so you can guide them around E13. Show em the ropes and all that.”
“Um, I’m not really much for babysittin’.”
“No worries! You’ll do fine. Rest up Turbo, it’s going to be a busy summer.”
The door closed with a satisfying thump, and as he headed off to hit the hay himself, Brick found his mood had improved quite a bit more than he thought it would.