Wallace called in a few favors and bent a few rules and they found out Flat Stanley was living at the abandoned zoo outside of town. While there were occasional calls from John Q. Public to raze the place since it was an eyesore not to mention a public safety hazard, enough homeless superhumans lived there that the powers-that-be decided to leave the zoo standing. After all, if the supers weren’t living at the zoo, they were gonna be living someplace else, on the streets or in the sewers or in a neighborhood next door to somebody who voted, and nobody respectable wanted that. Short of tent city jails which the tender hearts decried as a violation of civil liberties, an abandoned zoo seemed like a reasonable enough containment system. Even had a fence around it. A nice tall one with razor wire curling along the top.
The freaks actually kept the place up pretty good, all things considered. The more functional ones took a proprietary interest in their living quarters, so while the zoo had been officially abandoned since the 70’s, the buildings were still standing, the brush wasn’t terribly overgrown, and there was a surprising lack of garbage piled up. It looked like all you needed to do was bring in some truckloads of zebras and a hippo or two to get the place back up and running again.
So the LUPD left the place alone, let the superhumans self-police what happened within the borders of their fiefdom, partly out of practicality and partly because the thought of going into that zoo – especially alone – was what a cop’s nightmares were made of. But sometimes nightmares came true, especially for cops.
“No offense,” Zoe said as Wallace pulled up in the zoo’s vacant parking lot. The overhead lights had been shot out a long time ago, and there were weeds growing up through cracks in the asphalt. “But I think you should stay in the car.”
The detective shut off the ignition with a laugh. While the idea of going into the abandoned zoo didn’t thrill him even a little, whatever powers Zoe Rose was packing now, it wasn’t gonna be enough. That zoo was full up of all sorts of rough and tumble superhumans, and very likely a borderline unhinged Captain Obvious to boot. Wallace was pretty freaking sure Cap wasn’t going to just accept his girlfriend had come back from the dead on her good word. He figured Obvious would be more likely to believe two familiar faces rather than just one, especially when that one was meant to be dead.
Hell, Wallace barely believed it himself, and he’d had ample opportunity on the drive over to observe her playing with her new powers, frosting up the windshields, freezing his coffee accidentally then apologizing profusely for it. She grew icicles from her fingertips and floated giant snowflakes in midair, then disappeared them again as if they’d never existed.
Impressive and all, especially for a corpse, but it was nothing compared to what some of the superhumans could do. Nothing. And unlike Zoe Rose, DeShawn Wallace didn’t have the ability to come back from the dead. He strongly considered calling for backup but he knew that if he did and the backup arrived before they could track down Cap, the chances were Obvious would be taking a trip to Hellgate Island, possibly even a one way trip. The thought of the affable Captain Obvious locked up for the rest of his life alongside hardcore irredeemables like Dread Scott and Suckerpunk, it just didn’t sit right. Plus there was more than a little voice telling him Zoe herself could end up in Hellgate right alongside of her boyfriend if a bunch of capes showed up to take him in. She wouldn’t let him go without putting up a fight, Wallace figured.
He had to play everything just so to get them out of the mess they were in, and part of that just so involved him walking into the Los Urbanos zoo on his own alongside a glorified weathergirl who could yell real loud.
Wallace said a prayer under his breath and got out his stun gun; thankfully he’d remembered to charge it. Sometimes he forgot. While stunning would never work on someone as strong as Obvious, even on max, it might help them get past some of the zoo’s weaker inhabitants. Then with any luck they’d find the Captain quick, convince him that Zoe was really who she said she was, and talk him back down off the ledge. Once they did that, they’d be safe. Captain Obvious could get them back out of the zoo again easily.
Zoe rolled her eyes at the sight of Detective Wallace checking his gun. It was cheap-looking, plastic, made in China probably. She couldn’t imagine it would work on a human, let alone a supervillain. “All right, it’s your funeral.”
After she said the word funeral she started to wonder if she even could die, if her body would just keep healing itself forever. No funeral, no gravestone, no obituary, no mourners. Would she keep aging, just get older and older but never be able to die? While Zoe certainly didn’t want to die any time soon, that sounded awful. If she stayed young forever and all her friends and loved ones aged and died around her, that sounded equally awful. Sanjay had impenetrable skin and super strength, but he definitely aged, she’d seen pictures of him when he was younger and he had wrinkles between his brows and a couple white hairs in amongst the ebony ones now. He was 35 years old already and that meant his life was half-over. That didn’t give them very much time, especially if you measured it against an eternal lifespan or even just an unusually long one.
Zoe felt a wave of resentment that she had had to change, that someone had forced her to change forever because they were horny, because they were angry, because they wanted to prove some point to another man. So many men went through the world like they owned everything in it. Other people, female people especially, were a resource for them to consume and toss over their shoulder like an empty crushed pop can. She thought of Chuck at KAQT, he was just the same as Flat Stanley was, just a matter of degree. She thought of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and all the guys who had gotten away with it for years and would continue to get away with it in the future. What difference did it make if they got caught eventually, if along the way they hurt people and changed them forever?
It was galling, the sense of entitlement some men had. Whenever they had a momentary urge of some sort they got to act on it, whenever they had an itch they had the God-given right to scratch. They took what they wanted and kept it, that was the worst part, they KEPT what they took. Staked a claim in you like planting a flag on Mars or something. They got to walk around forever with the memories of what they had stolen, they got to think back on it fondly and relive the experience as many times as they wanted to and what did you get? You either died or got changed into something else and had to just carry on that way and never let anyone see the cracks in you which was a challenge even if you were like Zoe and didn’t have any scars that were visible.
Zoe thought ok, whatever, she may be stronger now, wiser and more powerful, but she preferred being what she had been before. She missed being an innocent human woman who was just…happy. Fragile and innocent and living in the bliss of ignorance, it had been a good thing to be. And she hadn’t even appreciated it at the time. Now that she had them, she knew without a doubt that strength and wisdom were overrated. She could never have imagined what a luxury it was to be stupid and weak and happy. She wanted to be that person she had been before still.
No matter what happened, she decided, no matter what the consequences were, she was going to kill Flat Stanley. He may have changed her forever but he couldn’t keep those memories of her. They didn’t belong to him. She didn’t want for anyone to know those things that happened except for her. Not that she wanted to know them either.
She would never be the same but then again, he would never BE again. It seemed fair.
The detective shut the car door with a slam, which snapped Zoe out of her reverie. She got out of the car and followed Detective Wallace towards the big sign that read “City Zoo”.
Captain Obvious stalked through the zoo, with all the confidence having upper echelon superpowers afforded him. The few people he encountered saw that crimson suit coming at them and headed in the other direction. There was hardly anyone around, which was odd; usually the zoo was crawling with freaks, and he realized they must’ve heard he was coming and made themselves scarce.
Which was fine by him. Let them scurry off to hide. Anyone stupid enough to challenge him was going to get a firsthand taste of Cap’s new rules of engagement. Kill em all, let God sort em out, a sentiment he’d heretofore found alarmingly militant, but now just seemed to be stating an obvious fact.
Adjudicating morality was someone else’s job. His job was executioner.
He didn’t think he’d need to find Flat Stanley, he figured Flat Stanley was gonna find him, since he had that inhuman sense of smell and everything. Probably how he’d found Zoe was by smelling his way to Sanjay’s apartment and then there she was like a lamb for the slaughter.
Why hadn’t Sanjay read his messages? Captain Obvious thought for the hundredth time. He had certainly updated his social media accounts repeatedly but hadn’t ever bothered to open the several messages he’d received on said social media accounts warning him that Flat Stanley was back on the streets. When he’d finally screwed up enough courage to check he’d found 17 messages from various government organizations telling him Stan was out of prison and he’d melted his phone in frustration. But people send me so many messages, Sanjay whined from somewhere inside his head, and Captain Obvious longed to cut out his own tongue even though he hadn’t said anything out loud. Sanjay was such a selfish self-absorbed idiot. He deserved every bit of the pain he was in right now and Captain Obvious wished it was possible for him to reach inside himself and beat the hell out of the guy and then roast him alive for his sheer mindboggling stupidity.
Captain Obvious realized he was imagining Sanjay Biswas in the third person, like he was someone else, another person with another life, some utterly useless guy curled up inside of him sobbing in a fetal position, and he knew it was because he couldn’t afford the luxury of being in mourning right now. Right now, the person who was in pain was someone else, and he was a wrecking ball. He wasn’t a person, not any more, the person he had been died with Zoe. He was vengeance wearing spandex.
In the back of his mind, an alarm bell sounded. Obvious was very well aware that this was how superheroes cracked up – they started thinking of themselves as two separate people, the hero and the secret identity, till they actually BECAME two separate people and the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing any more. Sometimes the secret identity even forgot they were heroes entirely – they’d just wake up somewhere wearing a costume with no idea how they got there or what was happening to them. It was how Pop Fly had got killed, people said. Reverted to her secret identity in the middle of a fight and swatted by a villain she could have easily handled under normal circumstances.
When superheroes developed split personalities they got hauled off to Hellgate Island for a mandatory reintegration and even if they got released, they couldn’t be heroes any more. They had to wear suppression collars for the rest of their lives. It was for their own protection, but they’d have to catch him first. And he wasn’t going to go down easy. He wasn’t gonna go down easy because he had a job to do.
Seriously, though, why would you not kill bad guys? Why wouldn’t you? They never got rehabilitated, never learned a thing, just offended and reoffended and re-reoffended as many chances as you gave them. How could such a stupid, effed-up criminal justice system have even evolved in a world full of people who could obliterate bad guys with a thought, with the flick of a finger or the wink of an eye? It was fricking ridiculous was what it was. Accepting the deaths of innocent people to protect the civil rights of monsters, literal monsters like Flat Stanley? Ridiculous.
And to think he’d been ok with it since up till now it had never been anyone he personally cared about. It was disgusting. He was thoroughly disgusted with Sanjay.
It occurred to Captain Obvious that Sanjay Biswas had not exactly been living up to his end of the superhero bargain. He’d been granted incredible Godlike powers and then what did he do with them? Wallowed in the fame and the glory, the fun stuff, and skated by doing just the barest minimum of crimefighting to justify his celebrity. He thought about all the people who had lost loved ones because Sanjay had been too late to save them or too busy accepting some bullshit award or because someone he’d put in jail had walked and he’d just shrugged over it. Yet they had hurt just like poor faraway Sanjay off in the distance somewhere hurt now.
Meanwhile he had been out taking selfies and posting comical memes on Twitter when those people he had failed were shattered by loss.
Captain Obvious had thought he cared about them, but it was all academic to him. Hypothetical. He suddenly understood why some of the heroes like Batverine and Bully Pulpit were so antisocial and jerkish, why they could never put the heroics aside and chill. It was because unlike most heroes, they actually cared about the people they were meant to be saving rather than accruing likes on Instagram which was how Sanjay had spent a good deal of his time and energy.
But all that was about to change. And who knew, if Batverine showed up maybe Obvious could talk him around and they could team up. If you wanted to talk about practically insane heroes, Batverine was at least ⅞ of the way there. He hung around Crazy Cat Lady for God’s sake, and she was just this side of a bad guy.
You could kill evil people and still be good, surely. It was killing in self-defense, which was allowed. You were just defending yourself a little sooner in the game, was all. Did it really matter if you waited till someone’s hands were clenched around your throat before you killed them? What if they were just a couple feet away, a couple yards away, a couple blocks or miles? Wasn’t their intent what mattered and not whether or not they’d managed to act upon their intent yet?
That noble talk about power corrupting was foolishness. Power only corrupted you if you let it. If you were good, a truly good person, you couldn’t BE corrupted, because your power would be used only in the service of good. A good person couldn’t be corrupted, they could only go too far. But what if you were careful, so very careful to never go too far? Captain Obvious would never start playing moral policeman. He would stay away from the shades of gray. He would kill the Actual Bad Guys, only the Actual Bad Guys.
It all made so much sense he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before. He wondered if this train of thought had always been inside of him lurking in the back of his mind. Percolating. Maybe it was just the eventual and undeniable realization of a person who had lived long enough in this effed up world. Maybe it was just the logical conclusion that any rational person would eventually be forced to draw whether they wanted to or not. You either trusted the good guys to do good no questions asked, or you empowered the bad guys.
There would be time to figure it all out later, when things calmed down, when his primary mission was complete. Maybe when Flat Stanley was gone he’d turn back into one person again and that person would know right from wrong without question like he had before. Or not. With any luck, he’d be killed, and the entire puzzle would never need to be solved.
Captain Obvious walked down the food court where the concession stands used to be. It still smelled vaguely of hot oil, like corn dogs and elephant ears and funnel cakes even after all this time. Then he saw Flat Stanley at the far end of the boulevard, in front of the reptile house. He stretched his hands out as if issuing a challenge. Obvious wondered if the guy was possibly suicidal or something, because he wasn’t that strong, and he’d been easily beaten in the past. Had Stanley come after Captain Obvious trying to get himself killed and found Zoe instead?
But the world would never learn what Flat Stanley’s motivation had been. Despite an intense craving for some explanation as to why, why, WHY? Captain Obvious felt his eyes heating up almost of their own accord, and he wished for self-control, wished for the patience to make the pain last all night, for days, for weeks, but even as he wished it he knew didn’t have it in him. He didn’t have the time to indulge himself anyway. Stanley needed to be barbecued immediately and then Obvious could move on to the next villain on his list. The quicker he killed them, the more he could get through before the Flying Brick showed up to slap a collar around his neck and take him to Hellgate.
But then a man stepped out of the shadows from behind a booth that said “Cotton Candy” on it in faded pink letters. The man was totally unremarkable in every way, and Captain Obvious suddenly realized he couldn’t exactly see the guy even though he was standing right in front of him. Average height, average weight, indeterminate race. He had absolutely no unique characteristics whatsoever. His clothes were gray or brown or maybe navy blue. When Obvious squinted to get a closer look, the guy’s face went blurry making it even harder to get a grasp on what he looked like.
“I need,” the stranger said, as he came closer. “I NEED,” he said again. Captain Obvious felt really weird, like someone was sucking the life right out of him. He tried to shoot fire from his eyes but the flames came out only a couple inches and then died out.
“What? What??” Sanjay said and he fell to his knees and then flopped forward onto his hands.
Flat Stanley walked up and all Sanjay could do was raise his head a little. He couldn’t look Stanley in the face, he couldn’t raise his head up enough to do it. His skull felt like a bowling ball attached to a neck made of linguini or something. All he could see was Flat Stanley’s hands which were hairy like an animal and had dirty fingernails. Sanjay thought of those disgusting hands on Zoe and wanted to kill him so bad, so bad it was like he was boiling over from it, but he didn’t have any strength in his body. “That’s just what his girlfriend kept saying. What, what, what like some kind of a fucking retard.”
“What?” Sanjay said again and both the men laughed. They thought he was beat so they laughed at him. But he dug deep, to depths he didn’t even know he had, and struggled to stand. He pushed up somehow back onto his knees again and managed to thrust a foot out in front of him and trying, desperately trying to shift his weight onto that leg so he could get to his feet.
“Look at him go. Heh. Lost cause, buddy, lost cause!” Flat Stanley jeered at him.
“I need,” the strange man hissed again, and Sanjay deflated like a balloon. His lead leg started sliding forwards till he was practically doing the splits and then he fell over to the side, writhing on the asphalt like a worm after a rain.
Sanjay couldn’t understand what was happening, he just couldn’t understand it. “What?” he said again, and then everything faded to black.
“How was it,” Flat Stanley joked, looking down at the limp body of Captain Obvious.
“Tasted like curry,” Desire joked back, and laughed. Stanley laughed too although he didn’t get it. “Thanks, my man.”
“No worries,” Stanley replied, although he thought Desire had cut it a little close.
Desire picked up Captain Obvious in a fireman’s carry and headed off into the night with him. He kept his meals alive as long as possible since they were so few and far between. Licorice Whip had made it nearly 2 months before he finally got too greedy one night and ate him all up. Obvious, being extra strong, who even knew how long he could stretch him out??
He was still hungry though. Despite having just drained one of the stronger capes, Desire still ached with hunger. It was damn disappointing.
Would he never not be hungry?
Flat Stanley had set up housekeeping in the reptile house, in a Plexiglass-walled habitat that had, at one point, housed Burmese pythons. The thing about the reptile house was, since reptiles were cold blooded, it was closed to the weather. Primo real estate. He’d had to forcibly evict the previous residents when he’d arrived, but that hadn’t been much of a challenge. Since Stanley had the ability to pass through walls transdimensionally, as the girlfriend of Captain Obvious had found out firsthand, he had barricaded the door shut so the same thing didn’t happen to him if a stronger super happened to come along.
So he was pretty fricking pissed to get back to his place and see a big round circle cut out of the clear window of the habitat. He went inside and there was a black guy with a stungun inside. Human by the smell of him, which meant he was soon to be a dead human. Flat Stanley made plans to steal the guy’s cool leather jacket, even though it would never fit over his shoulders. Maybe if he made some relief cuts in the leather he could get his arms into it.
“You’re under arrest, Stanley,” the guy said, and flashed a badge, which complicated matters but wasn’t insurmountable. Any human stupid enough to come to the zoo alone deserved what they got, and that was true even if it was a cop. Everyone knew it, even the authorities. Flat Stanley made plans to invoke the stand-your-ground law and figured he’d get off scot-free.
“The murder of Zoe Rose.”
“I don’t have a clue who that even is.”
Flat Stanley heard a sound behind him and smelled…someone. A superhuman, he could tell that much immediately. In addition to the peculiar nasal tanginess of the hormones created by mutant DNA there was a familiar scent, like baby powder and cherry blossoms and coconut shampoo, a scent that he felt he’d smelled very recently. He tried to wrap his nose around it good enough to place it, but it was all overlaid with hospital smells – iodine and formaldehyde and disinfectant and old blood. He couldn’t figure out where he’d smelled whoever-it-was before.
He turned around and saw a ghost. “Surprise,” the ghost said.
“What?” Flat Stanley asked. “What?”
The black cop stepped forward with his stungun til it was pressed against Stanley’s temple. “You know what they say, Stan, when you come for the queen, you’d best not miss.”
“How is this…how,” Flat Stanley stammered before realizing that by asking how it was possible the girl was alive, he was basically giving a confession right in front of a cop. “Um, what?”
“Where’s Captain Obvious?” the dead girl asked and Stanley laughed because maybe he had the upper hand after all.
“Now why in the world would I tell you that?”
She smiled and before Stanley knew what had hit him, he was totally encased in ice from his feet to his neck. The ice smelled old and stale with a faint hint of ketchup and rancid meat juice in it, like a fridge that needed to be defrosted. He could have phased through it but he didn’t want to escalate an already escalated situation. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” Flat Stanley replied, planning to offer as little information has he could get away with. Crossing Desire was not something you did if you didn’t want to get ate. “I can’t tell you.”
Zoe tipped her head forward just the slightest amount and sent a fist of ice directly into Flat Stanley’s balls. “Have it your way. Believe me when I say I’m more than happy to beat it out of you. And please, take your time, why don’t you?”
“Seriously, I don’t know,” he replied when he finished coughing and gasping from the shot to the nads. It was dawning on him that whether he got ate by Desire or frozen by some vindictive bitch who took things way too personal, it was all the same for him. Dead was dead. “I wish I could help you guys, really, but Desire got ahold of him. I got no clue where he took him.”
“Desire?” the girl asked and looked at the black guy for clarification.
“Never heard of him, Zoe.” Wallace didn’t like it that there was an unknown villain out there strong enough to take out Obvious. Didn’t like that at all. He thought back; the zoo had been deserted, deserted like Wallace had never seen it before. Him and Zoe had walked in like they owned the joint; no one challenged them, not even once. And while he would very much like to chalk it up to Captain Obvious being there too, there was a little voice nagging at him that maybe the freaks were hiding from more than one threat.
“Tell me everything you DO know.”
“I don’t know nothing, the guy keeps his cards close to his vest. Secretive, you know?? Alls I know is, he’s a real bad guy, real bad, not like, not like me.”
Zoe looked at Flat Stanley in disbelief. She tilted her head and her sleek blunt-cut brunette hair swung out on one side and laid against her cheek on the other. Her brown eyes widened and then narrowed into slits. Stanley was sure he was about to get crushed so he prepared to phase through the ice and take his chances with whatever else this chick was packing. But before he could, the ice holding him in place turned liquid and dropped to earth, dousing his clothes with frigid, rank-smelling water.
“What are we going to do with him?” asked Wallace.
“Take him with us,” Zoe replied. “Even if he doesn’t know where this Desire is, he can find him.”
“Same way he found me.” Zoe created a ring of small sharp icicles encircling Flat Stanley’s neck, but hovered them in midair a foot away from him. “See those?” she asked, and Stanley nodded quick small nods and gulped. Then she made a much larger and much pointier icicle and hovered that about 6 inches from his crotch. “See that?” she asked, and Flat Stanley, who had got very red in the face, nodded again. “Turn around.” The largest and pointiest icicle of all she hovered right behind his ass and while he watched she grew it longer and pointier still.
“Oh, boy,” Flat Stanley whimpered. Then Zoe turned the neck icicles into a collar and the other icicles into a diaper-ish thing as she smacked them onto the guy as hard as she could. He started coughing again, partly from getting hit in the nuts again, but it was the blow to the Adam’s apple at the same time that really got him choking and sputtering. It was nice, Zoe thought, a nice feeling to see him suffer. She technically didn’t need to do it since she could just remake the icicles again at any time, but she thought he might need a constant and hopefully very painful reminder of the truth.
“You work for me now,” she said.