It was raining. Again. Which was not to say that she hated rain, but that it was frustrating conditions to go through when she already had an arm injury that ached from the rain and made her curse the storms.
She’d been injured the first time, on the inside of her forearm, while maneuvering through a course in the rain. She’d been injured, once again on the same arm but the backside, in capture the flag, where she’d saved the flag from drowning in the river. She’d thought herself fine at the time, a few stitches, maybe some healing ointment, and it would be fine.
It was not fine.
Impervious, hero leader of Faction two, sat watching her as he told her the grim news, news that she had not wanted to admit when she had first been able to see through her arm due to the two injuries. The news that everyone had been whispering about as fact. News she had wanted to ignore because it couldn’t happen to her. Not to her.
She was Rosalie Adair, number one candidate for the Hero Exchange Protocol and she was supposed to protect the world.
She’d lived her entire life for this year. She’d trained ever morning, day, and night. She’d learned martial arts, five languages, graduated early, went to college and gotten three degrees, one in Business Marketing, History with a focus on Heroes and Heroics Through the Ages, and Hero Sciences, with a focus in Hero Biology. She’d gotten her Masters in Hero Powers. She had learned to make weapons and to use them, had been the president of many a school organization, and had been on three different sports teams. She was the definition of the perfect candidate.
She was Rosalie Adair and somehow her entire life was crashing around her.
She had been selected when she was 23, for the first interview. At 24 she had been sent to F.U.N. to try out with the other hundreds of candidates and had made the final fifty cut. She had made the final thirty cut. She had been sorted into faction two, because Impervious’ Hero abilities best matched her. She had been fought over by the three factions by their leaders: Rain, Impervious, and Ms. Earth. She had selected Impervious because she liked his power best.
She had wanted to be a hero more than anything in the world.
And now she was being told she had to give up.
“Your arm will not heal in time for you to be considered for the final selection.” He had told her. “To heal without scar or damage will take at least two years.” And by that point the new candidates would have been chosen. By that point there was no point.
“I can still be selected with the injury.” She wanted to say, but she knew better. She could be chosen with her injury, it was true. For Hero powers gave many gifts. It was why disabilities and diseases didn’t necessarily count a person out. However, she would not be able to become Impervious, whose conditions stated that she had to be fully capable, mind and body.
And if she couldn’t be Impervious, she very well couldn’t be Ms. Earth who had the same requirements. Rain, perhaps, but the candidate for Rain she liked too much already. He deserved the role. Saxon was the next best option and his powers were incompatible with her.
“Why me?” She asked Impervious, not wanting to admit to her sorrow, but feeling it well up inside her regardless.
“Ms. Earth very well couldn’t let her successor lose the title of Best Hero.” The title that Mr. and Ms. Earths had kept for three generations, since the ranking system had begun, save a few years each generation when other heroes had taken the spot.
However, Rosalie didn’t want to believe Ms. Earth had sabotaged her. She knew that none of the candidates would have, but Heroes were another story and the Factions were corrupt regardless of what anyone said.
When the Hero Group first founded there were no factions, however by the second generation of heroes they had formed. Three groups of six, that made it easer to train. Each headed by one of the Legendary Heroes from the Black Hero conflict. Faction One was led by Ms. Earth. Faction two by Impervious. Three by Rain or Saxon depending on the capabilities of the candidates. Each faction was supported and funded by different agencies around the world, and thus they had differing objectives.
They also hated each other.
While the candidates were not intended to hate each other, it always came in time, and no one would respect her if she Faction hopped. She already declared her intentions. Even if she were the best candidate for all three.
“What is left for me?” She asked Impervious as the rain continued to pour and she was left with nothing.
“I’m sorry.” He told her.
“Don’t worry Rosalie. We’ll make it up for you.” Her fellow candidates told her. It made her feel worse.
The sound of the door opening had everyone on their feet and looking to the door where her escort stood waiting along with The CEO of The Hero Group: Maximilian Dubois.
“Sir.” Impervious spoke to him.
“No need for formalities.” The old man wove him off. “This is a deep internal investigation and I’m only here to ensure that Ms. Adair is escorted properly without another threat to her or her life.” For her to be excluded meant that she’d have to lose her memories of the training. That in truth they were afraid of her making a run for it, rather than someone attacking her.
They were afraid of her becoming a villain.
There had been a candidate in the third generation who had maneuvered his way into becoming a villain when he was rejected. Rosalie would never be like him. Never.
She had wanted to save the world.
“Do I need to pack my things?” She asked the old man.
“No need. Your things are being moved now.” Which was to say there would be no good byes. No chances. Nothing. “Follow me.”
Rosalie Adair looked back once more to her fellow candidates, knowing exactly who would become the next heroes and who would not be. She looked to the Heroes who were more angry with Ms. Earth than they were sad she was going. Another faction war would break out, in politics and words for there was never any physical fighting.
And Rosalie Adair’s time becoming a super hero was over.
Rosalie followed Maximilian counting the footsteps and the failures that had amounted to her life. The car ride was silent, as was the plane ride, and by the time she got to the Hero Group Headquarters, she was nothing. Complete nothing, with nothing to exist for. For if she would not be a hero, then what would she be.
“Do you like sugar or honey?” Maximilian’s voice snapped her out of her stupor, forcing her to note the cup of tea being handed to her in the study of the CEO of The Hero Group, the most important man in the world. He who protected the world, by creating super heroes.
“No thank you.” She mixed the honey in her tea trying to understand why she wasn’t decommissioned already.
The ticking of the clock was the only noise for a long while as they drank their tea in silence. An odd pair they were: former candidate for the most elite and specialized program for humans in the world and the smartest man in the world.
“Do you know what it takes to hold this job?” He began. “Patience, and lots of control. Control over yourself and control over others who wish to use their powers for great evils.”
It must be an interview, to get to the bottom of the matter for who injured her, she believed. “I don’t believe it was Ms. Earth.”
“I would suppose not.” He breathed out after a long silence. “For it was Rain who injured you.” Rosalie’s attention snapped up, eyes trained to the man who drank his tea without a care for what he had just said. “Surprised? It’s only obvious, for your faction to believe it was Ms. Earth, but Rain has far more reasons to do so.”
Reasons? What reasons? What reasons in the world could there be to injure her in such a way that she’d lose everything? How could she? How did she? Why her?
Rosalie had always wanted to be a hero. Through school, training, and her hobbies she had studied heroes until she could no longer. Rain was like her, but born in the wrong time. She had studied, trained, and been the best, the perfect candidate. She had been everything that Rosalie had wanted to be. Rosalie had based her entire life mimicking Rain, in order to be better, in order to be selected as the best. At some point she’d done more, had to do more to stand out, but Rain had always been her idol.
When kids thought of their super heroes, most said Impervious or Ms. Earth, from their publicity and toys. Their powers, perhaps. But Rain had been the reason that Rosalie had wanted to be a hero. She couldn’t have destroyed Rosalie. And if she had… all Rosalie could ask was, “Why?”
Maximilian looked from his tea to her, placing his cup down and crossing his hands across his lap as he faced her in the chair across from her. Books loomed high on bookshelves behind him, enclosing the space in all the world’s knowledge of heroes.
“A genius.” He spoke next as if she had asked no question at all. “That was what they called me. A technological genius. Or perhaps a genius of the people. I was able to build this company with my mother, to create all the technology to make it work efficiently and to help advance our world. Healing serums, super computers, transportation, all these things created here in these halls, for the betterment of society.”
For the Betterment of Society, the Hero Groups’ motto.
“In ten days I’ll be going on a vacation with my wife and kids, and their kids. We are going to the islands in the Gulf. The Bahamas I believe. It will be a great vacation. My wife often thinks I work too much at the office in my old age. I agree.” He spoke with little concern for Rosalie. Rosalie was stunned for a moment in complete irritation. What did him having to go on vacation have to do with her injury, on his genius, on anything? “It has everything to do with it Rosalie. Everything.” He stated reading her mind so plainly that there was nothing else it could be.
“In 1981, dreadful year, the world saw the end of two great Heros.”
“Genesis and Omni.” She filled in when he gave pause.
“Yes, yes. Genesis and Omni, the two lost powers. Stones destroyed and lives lost. One of the greatest tragedies of our time, but not a complete tragedy, for their powers weren’t completely lost.”
Rosalie didn’t need to ask how or why. She understood. She knew the history. She knew him. Maximilian the only genius tech inventor the world could label a genius in the modern era. Maximilian, the man who seemed like he could read minds and manipulate people at the drop of a hat. Maximilian, one of the few survivors of the F.U.N. tragedy. Maximilian Dubios had both the powers of Genesis and Omni. He could read minds and control them with Omni’s powers. He was a genius of invention with Genesis’ powers. He was the only person in the world with more than one power stone powers without blackening. Maximilian Dubois was the most powerful person in the world and the worlds greatest super hero.
“Not much to blacken, when the powers are shattered beyond repair. What I have is a fraction of what Genesis and Omni held. Negligible when compared to the powers of the other heroes, but enough to control the world.” He explained.
“And no one knows.” Rosalie’s breath was caught in her throat. The secret laid before her was one too much to take in. It broke all Hero Group Protocol. It was unheard of.
“Until now? You are the only one who knows.” He starred into her soul telling her everything she needed to ask.
“Why me?” Why had Rain hurt her? For him?
“Do you know what it takes to be a hero?” He asked instead this time, and she did not answer for he knew what she thought. “Yes, it is not glory, patience, kindness, and greatness. While those things are good, what it takes is sacrifice.” Sacrifice to give up everything. She had known that. “As a hero you must sacrifice. You get a solid ten to fifteen year, sometimes less if the generation is proving to be inadequate. We’ve had only four full fledged generation classes, with a few sprinkled between that have been less than stellar and forgotten. That’s ten to fifteen years of absolute power unless you get unlucky and die, of course, before you are forced to give up your power thanks to me.”
And the protection stone, a device made to ensure that all heroes gave up their powers. They had to swear to the stone before taking the power, and swear to it after to be relieved of their duty, or they would die as was the case in generation two, when one girl tried to keep her power.
“Your power.” She understood how the protection stone worked at once. She’d read enough on the F.U.N. Tragedy to know that Omni had left a similar principal of control in Bradford Saxon’s mind, to snap him back to his former self. To control him.
“Of course it is.” Maximilian went on. “Now. We aim for ten years, but sometimes it is more, and you have to be twenty-five in order to be selected. Twenty-five with previous glory in one way or another and accolades. You must have limited relationships and attachments for those can hinder your decisions. You see the issue yet?” When she did not answer he sighed and picked up his tea. “You work day and night for ten to fifteen years for what?”
“To protect the world.” She answered with the only thing she’d ever believed. The only thing she’d ever wanted.
“But is the world any safer?” He asked her forcing her to bite her tongue. For he was not wrong. “People take you for granted. No one wants you to disappear in fear of what would happen without you. We can’t risk it in fear of letting others become villains. With you we are trapped because you are more powerful than anyone, and can control or do what you want and people fear you as well. With or without you, you are hated and loved all at once, but taken for granted the most.
“Do you know how many lawsuits are up against Ms. Earth this month alone? Government payout is imminent, and still no one wants you to leave. Other groups try to persuade you and control you, and still no one bats an eye, but us. And thus the Hero Group gets the bunt of complaints on corruption when we are dealing with humans. Heroes are still human.” He seemed thoroughly frustrated by the idea of it, but moved on tossing the thought aside as if it would disappear if he did so.
“You make it to exchange year. You are now a thirty five year old, at least, who might be even closer to forty, depending on when we do the switch. You have been used, abused, and put into life and death situations for a decade. You have had no real connections outside of Hero Group or your minimal contact with your birth family. You can’t have kids because you might not look a day over thirty, but you are and the hero powers have changed you. Disease free, perhaps, but infertile as well. So you adopt, but how do you form human connections when every waking moment of your life from childhood to then, has been to be a hero? You could go to school, but what’s the point? Maybe travel the world on the little money you have saved, which statistically is not a lot due to the charities you donated to out of the ‘goodness’ in your heart, and the parties you threw for your funders.
“You go to therapy for the PTSD and the loss. We, at Hero Group, try our best to accommodate you. And one day, with our help, you may find happiness again. After all, you still have more than half your life ahead of you. But there will always be the loss. That gaping loss in your chest, and heart, and soul, that comes from the time you were a hero. And no one remembers because that identity was taken from you. Many memories of the details of training or your powers were taken from you. And no one remembers what was, just the now.” He paused again. “You do all this, for what? A second in the spot light?”
To save the world. She wanted to tell him. It was all worth it, to save the world. Yet, the words would not form on her lips as much as she wanted them to. For was the world any safer? “Why did you bring me here?” Rosalie asked looking to her chilled tea, and the man who had finished his long ago.
“Rosalie Adair,” He pulled a file out from the table drawer. “Your file says that you are not a candidate worth scoffing over, and that is why you are here. While our technology cannot fix you perfectly yet, I can have you healed up to good enough within five months time, just in time for the final selection. Or, in a years time up to perfection, and to be put on the waitlist if a spot should open between now and the next exchange. The procedure is experimental, and like all experimental procedures, it could fail and you’ll lose your arm entirely.”
“Or?” She heard the third option in his words. The reason she had been brought there. The reason she was the first one he had ever told, so he said.
“You drop out now. Of your own free will and walk away. What you do from there will be determined by you, but should you choose to get your PHD, in something like Hero Physics, perhaps, and a law degree, this Group will surely offer you a position of note. This process would take at least ten years, even with your intellect. You’d have a guaranteed salary, protection, the ability to form connections.”
And become what? A Hero support member? Or… Then she registered what the requirements were: PHD in Hero Physics, a Law degree, and at least ten years away from other candidates. The creation of a life, of a stable job, of a cover… “You want me to become you.” She whispered just loud enough for it to register to her own ears.
“In the stories. Heroes always have to hide. To have a life beyond their life. They have secrets and they secrets save the world.” He spoke nonchalantly as if the greatest secret this world had, had not been vocalized before him.
“And if I chose that path, I would lose my memories of this conversation.” She would have to, so that she could not slip, so that his cover would not become blown.
“You’d remember I offered you a job should you complete those conditions, and the memories would be returned when you return to take this position. Or rather, when you take the powers from me and take over.” He then sighed. “Regardless you’ll forget, for I can’t let this secret be known.”
And two would become one again. For she’d take the knowledge from him in turn.
“Take your time to decide. There are always other candidates who may show promise should you chose not to. I can keep waiting.” He wasn’t likely to die any time soon due to his powers, she understood.
“How long do I have?” She asked him when the door opened and she knew it was her time to leave. She was to be escorted by guards once more. Her question was not answered when she left the room and she quickly thought back through their conversation.
Ten days until he went on vacation, he had told her. Ten days she had to decide. She didn’t need that long.
“Is there a way I can get in contact with Rain?” Rosalie asked as she was moved towards her room. She only needed to contact Rain. She had to hear why Rain had done what she had done.
“What for?” The guard leading her asked.
“I’d like to give her candidate some advice.” She answered with the only lie she had. If Rain had been a former candidate for Genesis and Omni’s powers, then she would know at least a bit. However, she would not remember the details. For she had picked to become Rain.
“No need. I’m here.” Rain’s voice echoed down the hall of the headquarters, making many of the hero support staff look at her in wonder. Rosalie stopped walking as Rain approached her. “You wanted to talk.”
“Not here.” Rosalie needed to ask her but one question.
“Outside then.” Rain suggested.
“Is it raining?” It was always raining when she had gotten hurt. How had she not noticed?
“It is the rainy season.” Rain smiled as if she weren’t the one who had created the storm.
Rosalie and Rain left the hall towards the cafeteria and then to the outside terrace that was covered just enough to keep them from being rained on. Once secluded Rosalie knew she needed to keep her questions specific, for who knew who was listening.
“He gave you the option of working here, didn’t he?” Rain spoke first.
“Was that why you destroyed my arm?” Rosalie cut to the chase, holding up her injured arm that hurt more in the rain.
“I hurt you. Didn’t destroy you.” Rain rolled her eyes. “Did he give your the proposition or not?”
“To work here or be a hero? Yes.” To become him.
“Good. It’s not given to everyone. I had the choice to work for him, but I chose becoming a hero instead, the day my predecessor died.” Rain had become a hero outside of the standard exchange years, but five years ago. “I only hope I will be accepted back to the company after my term is over.”
“What exactly did he offer you?”
“Salary, the chance at life. The chance to help the world from behind a desk and at the time I thought it silly, but now I know that that’s where the real heroics are. In this.” Rain held her hand out. He had offered her to become him and she didn’t remember it but regretted it. “In the people and staff who work to support us, and support those who are affected by what we do or can not do. The ones who tell us where to go and who to save, who save us when we are done. Them. Not in being some hero whose shelf-life is up within a decade and the next fad comes to town.”
“Why me exactly?”
“Because you are one of the few people who really wants to save the world and you will do anything to do it. This world isn’t for you. The politics would destroy you, and I can’t see another light be killed by the this job.” Rain sighed. “We can’t all be the greats. We can’t all be Genesis and Omni. We can’t save the world, not like that. Not with these powers but you… you can, powers or not.” Rain had hurt her because she had seen Rosalie as herself. She had known how Rosalie would take it, and if she could have stopped her younger self she would have. Rain had taken Rosalie’s choice from her, but had ensured that Rosalie saw the chance that was to come.
The way Rain said Genesis and Omni, told Rosalie that she did not know about Maximilian’s powers, for certain. Perhaps she had at one point, but no longer. This woman had hurt her, yes, but she had done so to save her from all the horrors that had been told to her today. Horrors she would have laid her life down for, considering it was what she always wanted. Rain was her hero, and her hero had destroyed her from becoming a hero. “Thank you.” Rosalie turned to leave.
“Please don’t chose this path Rosalie.” Rain begged her, begged the former Rain. Rosalie had made her decision long ago, perhaps the moment that the truth had been revealed to her.
“I want to protect the world.” Rosalie told her before she left the rain headed towards the study from hence she came before, walking past the workers and directly into the room to see Maximilian holding a book, startled that she had come back.
“Is there something I can do for you Rosalie?”
“No one remembers.” She began trying to form the words faster than she could think them. “The heroes who expire dead or by program standards. We remember the names tied to the legacy of the powers that they attained after the horror from years past. No one remembers the people who work behind them, to save them and help them. And yet we all still do it.”
“Yes. Yes we do.”
“Is that because we want a second of spot light or is it because we want to protect the world?” She asked him and he shut his book with a snap. “Patience. Control. Power. You said those were the three things that it took to do your job, right?”
“That is correct. Which is to say you have made your choice?” He asked her approaching her.
“I’m going to become a super hero and protect everyone.” It was what she had always trained to do, trained to be. Trained to become. She was always supposed to be the best. She was always the brightest. She was, undoubtedly, the one that the candidates feared and envied.
“That’s your decision then?” He stood before her, hand in his pocket, looking at her with age old wisdom that already knew what she would say before she would say it.
“If I’m going to save the world, I’m going to need three recommendation letters and housing, as well as a part time position in this facility. I’m going to apply to the top universities and I’ll do it in eight years.” She declared to him. A smile crept to the old man’s lips for he did not doubt her.
For she was Rosalie Adair, number one candidate for the Hero Exchange Protocol and she was going to protect the world.
So, not gonna lie. I know exactly which three stories my mind was spinning from when I dreamt this: My Hero Academia, The Boys, and Umbrella Academy. Maybe a little X-Men thrown in there. It was a fun thing to dream about so I figured, I’d share it with you.
If you see any glaring errors tell me. I’ve looked over this too many times to be able to tell anymore.
Until Next Time,