Hi everyone. This is a SampleScrap that I originally posted on Reddit in response to an r/WritingPrompts thread back in 2018. I don’t normally write in response to prompts (no ideological reason — I just don’t find it as enjoyable), but this prompt really got me excited:
“All superpowers have a ‘hangover’ effect. For example, after using super strength for the day, the morning after you can’t even lift your spoon to eat your breakfast. You wake up one morning after using your own specific superpower and you feel pretty hungover…”
I figured that I couldn’t very well publish a story that I’d already posted online, in response to a public prompt. But I am proud of this one, and it’s more recent than most of my SampleScraps, so please enjoy.
“Tony says that Velocity is bad because he never helps people.”
Jalek sighed. When he’d volunteered to be one of the chaperones for the school field trip to Velocity Hall, he’d anticipated getting pelted with accusations like this — though he hadn’t been expecting it from his own daughter. He’d told her a thousand times at home, and the tour guide had just told her a thousand times for the past hour, but her attention disorder made her a horse led to water.
Maybe now that she’s asking the question, she’ll listen, he reassured himself as he prepared to tell the whole story again.
“Christie, has anyone ever told you what a superhangover is?”
The seven-year-old shook her head innocently, and Jalek resisted the urge to beg to differ.
“When a superhero uses his—or her—” he had to keep up the equal opportunity for his daughter’s sake, “power on one day, they get a superhangover the next time they wake up. A superhangover means they get really tired and become weaker than a normal human. So if Aquaman talks to fish on Monday, he can’t even talk to people on Tuesday. The speech center of his brain just conks out.”
“Wow,” Christie breathed, wide-eyed.
“Come on, let’s keep up with the rest of the tour,” Jalek said, ushering his daughter by the shoulder. They had just come from Velocity Hall’s great marble dome, which functioned as an educational museum and was filled with memrobilia to Velocity’s rise to stardom. Jalek had always found that part of the tour interesting, as he rarely ever left his station as a Velocity Hall guard in the real facility underground, where Velocity spent his time when he wasn’t out saving the day. But the tour and quality father-daughter time was almost up as the pack of kids was herded into a sidehall that led into the giftshop. Tony, Christie’s friend, dropped the juice-box he’d been carrying on the pristine white marble floors, and some of it splashed onto the white alabaster drywall, narrowly missing one of the framed newspaper clippings lining the hallway.
Why does she listen to him and not me? Jalek sighed internally. He decided to continue his explanation while he might still have Christie’s attention:
“Velocity used to be independent, saving whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted. But his hangovers worsened as he aged. At first, he would just be a particularly slow person once he woke from his next sleep. But now? His body slows down so much that he can’t eat, can’t breathe, can’t pee.” Christie giggled at the mention of bodily fluids. “He’s made a lot of enemies — like The Sleeper, you know him, right? And he needs life-support. He’s one of our best superheroes, so we keep him safe here. We don’t send him out unless there’s a real emergency, because it’s expensive to keep him on life-support for a full day with the staff waiting on him and a platoon of guards keeping him safe.”
“But aren’t people more important than money?”
Jalek bit his lip. How was he supposed to explain to his daughter that the government had set the price of a human life at only ten thousand dollars? Federal agencies were reluctant to keep up a facility like this to house one person and needed to make it worth the cost. Velocity was only sent out when enough people were in mortal danger, to justify the millions it took to keep Velocity on life-support for a day. And, of course, the facility had to be guarded on his off-days, which added another million to the threshold… All-in-all, the authorities and the taxpayers wanted Velocity to pay for himself, and that meant that he’d only been released to help the public on three occasions in the last five years.
The idealist in Jalek wanted to say that that was unacceptable, but his inner pragmatist knew that they also had to keep Velocity here just in case. What if they sent him out to save a man from falling to his death, and the next there was a terror threat? What if they gave him a menial task and the next day they needed him for a real crisis? He was their trump card, and they weren’t going to play him unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Yes,” Jalek told his daughter slowly. “And that’s why we need to keep Velocity in here, whether he likes it or not. You see, the cost of a human life is set at…” He trailed off when the group of kids squealed at the sight of the giftshop, and Christie ran off to join them. Sighing, he went through the sliding glass doors into the room lined with Velocity shirts, coffee mugs, and pencils. Everything was coated either with Velocity’s golden lightning bolt, or else with the purple haze of his arch-enemy, The Sleeper. Jalek wondered if Tony hated Velocity enough to buy a t-shirt of the at-large villain instead.
He took up station at the counter to help kids pay for what they picked out and to make sure that no one exceeded the assigned price allowance. He warily eyed the group of kids who were admiring the life-sized Velocity plush dolls and cardboard cutouts. They were likely expensive, and why would anyone want them in their home? They were a little too realistic for his taste.
Jalek let his eyes wander out through the glass-doored exist and into the parking lot, and he froze with horror. Christie was there, jumping from parking curve to parking curve, distracted and absorbed in her game. Behind her in the distance, he could see the small guard station that allowed cars in and out of the parking lot. The moving gate that barred cars was opening and closing like a garage door gone haywire, and Jalek could just barely make out the slumped-over form of a guard on the control panel.
And, walking right towards Christie, were ten men in pure-black outfits, armed with machine guns.
Jalek sprang into action — this was what he was paid for, and even on vacation days like this he carried his gun at his hip. But the added terror of his daughter in danger made his heart race. Normal protocol was to spring the alarms placed on every wall, which would seal off every entrance and call every guard to their stations. But if he sealed off the entrances, he would be leaving Christie out there with them.
Instead of pulling the alarm, he raced towards the door, calling over his shoulder as he went, “Pull the alarm! Someone pull the alarm! Intruders!”
His heart pounded as he waited for the sliding doors to slowly opened, and then he pelted out into the parking lot. Bright sunshine glinted off of the gun that one of the men was now holding to Christie’s head as another held her at bay, covering her mouth. Christie was struggling to break free of his grip, but Jalek knew it would be no good. Even if she could run, they could shoot.
Jalek stood there in front of the men, his hand on the gun at his hip. It was a standoff, where eight other men pointed guns at him, and he didn’t even have his weapon drawn. He didn’t dare move.
One of the eight men put down his gun and stepped forward. Through a black face-plate, the man demanded, “Are you one of the guards at this facility?”
“Yes,” Jalek answered. Please let this be some sort of a test…
“And is this your daughter?”
“N — no.”
“So you won’t mind if I just…” the man cocked his gun and pointed it straight at Christie.
“No! No, please! I’ll do anything.”
“Good. Then lead us to Velocity.”
“W — what do you want with him?” Jalek asked, stalling for time.
“He has let this country rot for long enough. He has the power to save thousands of lives over the course of a year, but does he? No. The superhero hides in this little museum and doesn’t come out.”
“The superhangover effect makes it probable that —”
“SHUT UP!” the man growled. “You’re lucky that I don’t kill the offspring of a pig like you, defending that lazy old bastard who calls himself a superhero. We’re the ones giving out justice today. Now, I’m going to ask you one more time: where. Is. Velocit —”
The man didn’t even get the word out before he was knocked to the ground, along with the two men who had been holding Christie. Jalek felt a rush of wind go past him on the hot, breezeless day, and saw a flash of yellow streak away. Christie was gone, and the seven men still standing were swinging them around wildly, not sure what to aim for.
Jalek suppressed a grin. At the far-away guardstation, the door to the guard booth was now open, and Velocity himself was putting a hand on Christie’s shoulder. The little girl looked up at him with wide eyes and nodded. Velocity, in his yellow spandex, held up a thumb and then disappeared in a flash. A moment later, all of the guns belonging to the pack of intruders went missing. Jalek could now hear alarms beginning to blare in the facility behind him, and relief made his knees weak.
The intruders were unarmed one second and then knocked out on the ground the next. Christie was safe behind bulletproof glass, and Jalek was now shaking hands with Velocity, who was standing right in front of him.
“A good thing I was in that giftshop,” Velocity commented with a charismatic smile.
“You — you were?” Jalek remembered the life-sized Velocity dolls and cutouts. “In the life-sizes? But why?”
Velocity shrugged. “I like hearing the kids talk. They’re really cute. But normally guards like you don’t let me anywhere near visitors.” He gave Jalek a sharp look.
Jalek stared at his feet. “Public opinion is turning against you, Velocity…”
Velocity waved the explanation away. “I’m just glad I was here to help —”
The air around them was suddenly sprayed with a cloud of purple. The suits of the disarmed intruders must have had canisters of the purple gas, because it was now billowing out of the high-pressured suits at an alarming rate.
Jalek coughed, the edges of his vision blackening and the world around him spinning. Suddenly, he was on the ground, and then he couldn’t help but keep his eyes closed.
The Sleeper must have known that more guards were coming, because he directed the cloud of purple haze away from the pile of unconscious bodies with a wave of his hand. It spanned around them in a dome, obscuring them from view and promising to put to sleep anyone who dared try to interfere with him.
He took slow, casual steps across the burning asphalt towards his fallen yellow foe. He surveyed Velocity for a moment, cocking his head to the side slightly. Then, with a flutter of The Sleeper’s fingers, a puff of purple smoke escaped from Velocity’s mouth. Velocity began to stir and cough, but his huffing and wheezing was at a snail’s pace. The superhero began lifting his head slowly, ever-so slowly, to look up at The Sleeper.
“Lovely day for a stroll outside, isn’t it, Velocity?”
Velocity began opening his jaw, as if to answer, but The Sleeper held up a hand to stop him.
“Funny thing, old friend,” The Sleeper went on. “Those goons of mine weren’t even paid. They were volunteers.” He paused, as if for a response, and then continued, “They didn’t even think I would he helping them. I just gave them the equipment to come for your blood. Because they wanted to. Because everyone wants them to. You’ve let too many people die, old sport. You’ve been on the sidelines in your little palace for too long. People don’t take too kindly to superheroes resting on their laurels.”
Velocity’s eyes were beginning to bulge, and his slowed wheezing wasn’t stopping. He was beginning to gasp for breath, and The Sleeper smiled.
“What’s the matter? Your diaphragm slowing down? Your muscles? Your heart?” He chuckled in triumph. “Oh, Velocity, I’ve dreamed of watching you slowly die from your own superhangover for years,” he cooed.
The Sleeper tapped Velocity’s head with his foot, shoving it to the ground. Velocity offered no resistance, his muscles unable to tense quickly enough.
“But I’m not going to do that. I don’t want the history books to say that Velocity died from complications with his superhangover.” The Sleeper pulled out a knife from the folds of his purple robes, and then, with one arching thrust, rammed it into Velocity’s head, where it lay helpless and unmoving on the pavement.
“I want them to know that I did it. And that they did it.” The Sleeper waved his hand towards the unconscious goons, pointing them out to the dead superhero. “Because you were unwilling to save their families. Because you said, ‘just in case.’”