Chapter 4 - Not so normal after all

"You weren't supposed to find out," said Zeus, blocking the doorway. "Not yet, anyway. I was hoping to bring you and the others around gradually, to make you see the value and expediency of my work."

"What work? Murder?" Amazon demanded, tears in her eyes. "Because that's what your work is, Zeus. You've been murdering our villain's families. For what? Vengeance?"

"No. None of this is about vengeance. This was about neutralising threats. Despite villains' penchant for destruction and killing, each of them had people they cared about, who they wanted to protect. Taking out their loved ones took the fight out of them, and made them much easier to deal with. It's a sound tactic. After all, they target the families of their enemies, our families, in order to subvert us."

"But that's what separates us from them!" Amazon yelled. "We don't kill, we don't murder. We protect the innocent, that's our job!"

"Yes," said Zeus quietly, moving further into the room. Behind him, Kevin caught a glimpse of Knight in the doorway, moving silently and stealthily. He'd been listening, and was trying to take Zeus by surprise. So far, it seemed to be working.

"And while we do our job," Zeus went on, "while we play fair, and follow the rules, our enemies do not. How many heroes do you know were captured or killed because one of their villains found out their true identity, and targeted their families? It happens more often than the public realises. More than you realise. We cannot win this war for justice and peace while the villains are allowed to run free while we sit on our hands and LET THEM, just because to do otherwise would break our code of ethics."

"This is insane," said Amazon. "By doing what they do, you're nothing more than a villain yourself. You've turned your back on EVERYTHING that the Union stands for. How many people have you killed for the sake of your 'tactics'?"

"One hundred and sixty-three," said Zeus calmly, still walking slowly. "And for each one I have killed, I have saved the lives of hundreds more, who would have been killed in the collateral damage caused by villains who would have remained active."

"You don't KNOW THAT!" Amazon shrieked. "You can't just say you're saving hypothetical lives just because you think you're right!"

"Dementorios was planning on blowing up the city by detonating a nuke in the city centre. We caught him right before his plan could be carried out, because he was sitting alone in his lair, ready to push the button, but instead he came quietly and did nothing because his mother in Canada had died the night before. If she hadn't died, an entire city would have."

"We could have stopped him," said Amazon, tears running down her face."

"Are you sure? Are you certain? Because the lives of a million people hung on the balance of how certain we are of catching the bad guys before they activate their plans of ultimate destruction. Dementorios was just one example. Dozens of villains had similar plans. Plans that would have killed millions, or more. They were all stopped, because the ones they wanted to keep safe were gone."

Zeus gestured to the glowing canisters along the walls. "A lot of research has been done into genetic engineering, mostly so that anyone with the right equipment can gain superhuman power to be a new hero, or villain. Nothics were an accidental creation by someone who had been more eager than cautious, but they have their uses. They're capable of telepathy between other Nothics, you see. So that was why I needed samples of their spinal fluid and grey matter, so that I could develop a serum that would give someone temporary telepathic abilities. Armed with that, I was able to learn the identities of our villains' families every time we fought. And then, when I felt they were too close to an unacceptable level of destruction, I came for them. After that, they'd lost their will to fight."

Knight, who had been slowly creeping up on Zeus, made his move. He leapt up and tackled Zeus by wrapping one arm around his neck. His other hand held a taser, which he brought down on Zeus' shoulder where it crackled with sparking electricity.

Zeus hardly seemed to notice. Instead, he reached up and over, pulling Knight over his head with one hand, and slammed him onto the floor. Even Kevin could tell that would have broken some bones. Knight was lifted up by a hand around his neck, and held with his feet dangling a foot above the ground. Blindly, Knight tried to reach for something on his utility belt, and inadvertently activated a flare of some kind, which sputtered and shrieked as it pinwheeled away from them and out through the door. The sound of breaking glass followed.

"I suppose that now it's too late for any of you to see reason," said Zeus sadly. "That means that I have no choice."

Zeus was still holding Knight up with one hand, and looked at Amazon with a stern, but sad expression. Knight's struggles became frantic as Zeus increased his grip, and with a dull crunch, Knight struggled no more.

He fell to the floor, never to get back up again.

Amazon let out her infamous war cry, ululating with piercing shrillness at a frequency that no human should have been able to produce. Kevin blocked his ears, and even Zeus was caught off guard and stumbled under the full force of her call. She leapt over Kevin, and kicked Zeus square in the gut. Even though Zeus was invincible and wouldn't have suffered from such a blow, he still couldn't stop himself from being sent flying backwards back into the main lab. Amazon followed him, drawing her sword and ready to fight while Kevin cowered under the desk.

This whole thing was insane. All he'd wanted was to go home, and now the Righteousness Union was killing one another.

The sounds of fighting went on for some time. Amazon would have been hard pressed to get the better of someone like Zeus, but she was a formidable fighter, and was more than a match for even his skill. At some point, Kevin heard shouting, and recognised the familiar voice of the Flying Hammer. He demanded to know what was going on, and Amazon quickly filled him in while she and Zeus furiously traded blows.

More time passed, and the fight didn't seem to be letting up. Kevin thought that now might be a good time to try and make an escape, and slip out unnoticed. He had no idea how he was going to get out of the tower, but that was a problem for later. The problem right now was getting away from the superhumans fighting, in case they somehow got him involved and things ended up worse than they already were.

Cautiously Kevin approached the door to the lab. At first there was no sign of anybody, although he could hear them. The main lab, though, was a mess, and barely anything was left intact. Suddenly, a someone's yells turned very urgent and rose in pitch and volume into a horrifying scream that chilled Kevin's blood. An unsettling slurping, tearing, snapping sound was heard, followed by Amazon screaming in horror. Kevin had no idea what had just happened, but it must have been very bad. As Kevin tried to leave the lab, Flying Hammer was thrown into his line of sight from around the corner. At least, half of him was. He was missing his legs, and most of his waist, and all that remained was a shattered pelvis and a dangling bit of his spine amongst the oozing gore. Flying Hammer, horrifyingly, was still alive, looking down at his missing legs with stunned bemusement. Kevin watched with stomach-turning revulsion as the superhero tried to gather up the oozing parts of himself and stuff them back in.

Amazon's screams came to a sickening halt as another similar tearing sound took its place, followed by silence. Stunned, Kevin could only watch as Hammer fell still as he bled out. There was no way out; the only way off the tower was on the jet, and Zeus was between Kevin and the landing pad. Cautiously, Kevin peered around the corner. The gruesome spectacle of Amazon slumped on her knees made him gasp, impaled by her own sword through the back of her neck, all the way through her body, and into the floor. Zeus stood before her, blood everywhere, slightly out of breath.

"Fools," he muttered.

As though he knew where to look, Zeus turned and spotted Kevin poking his head around the corner.

"Ah yes," said Zeus, "I forgot you were here."

"I was hoping it would stay that way," Kevin heard himself say. He was so in shock by the events of the past few minutes that his filter wasn't working. "I don't suppose that there's a chance that you'd let me go?"

Zeus shook his head, but he also didn't look like he was enjoying himself. He had revealed himself through his plans as someone who believed that the unpleasant things he was doing were necessary for the greater good, and his attitude reflected that. He looked grim and sad, but resolute.

"I'm afraid not," he said. "For the fight against the rising surge of villains to truly be over, I need to continue my work. And if the world knew what I was doing, I would not be able to continue. That's why it's my unfortunate duty to kill you, to ensure that no one ever finds out."

"But…the others," Kevin stammered, glancing at first Amazon and then the Flying Hammer. "They're dead. People will notice. The Righteousness Unions is one of the most famous and popular alliances of Heroes. When news gets out that they've all been killed, people will wonder why."

"Ah, but you see, they're not dead. They've all just retired," said Zeus with a dry smile. "Even the young protégé Mr. Flying Hammer. Heroes retire almost every day, and in the case of Knight and Amazon, it was bound to happen sooner or later."

It was futile to try and hide now. Kevin stepped out from behind the corner.

"I just…I don't understand why you would do all this," he said. "You're a hero. The FIRST hero. Your sense of justice and honour has been an inspiration to people for years. You're the guy that helps old ladies cross the street and protects the innocent. Why would you turn against innocent people?"

"Not so innocent," said Zeus, as he walked over to the weapons locker. "They were harbouring villains, regardless if they knew it or not."

That didn't really seem like a very good reason, but Kevin knew that he wasn't really equipped to argue with someone so powerful. Zeus took out what looked like a gun, but not like any kind that Kevin had ever seen before. No doubt it was one of Knight's creations.

"'The first hero'. I didn't think people still knew that about me," Zeus muttered as he inspected the gun. "On that day, when I woke up from the wreckage of the explosion, and realised the gifts that had been bestowed upon me, I thought it was a gift from God. I was invincible. I was free from all pain, and I had the strength to help people who couldn't help themselves. They didn't call me the 'first' hero, back then. At first, I was just 'the hero' because no one knew, no one could have known, that there would be more."

Zeus turned away from the locker and faced Kevin, the gun held loosely in one hand.

"That was almost a hundred years ago," he said. "One of the more…disturbing realisations of the accident was that I wasn't aging. I became immune to all injury, even the passage of time. The accident didn't just make me indestructible, it made me immortal."

Zeus raised the gun to his own head, and pulled the trigger. Kevin flinched, even though the gun wasn't pointed at him, he screamed in shock. Zeus still stood, holding the gun to his temple, as a single squashed bullet fell to the floor.

"I don't know if anyone realises how terrible it is to know that no matter what happens, you cannot die. Not even old age is going to give me any respite from this…this terrible responsibility. Everyone I knew before the accident is gone. Friends I made afterwards have all passed away. Eventually I just stopped trying to make friends, because I knew that one day, I'd have to say goodbye. It's easier to just be alone. This 'gift' that I've been given, is also a curse. I'm destined to watch the world die around me as I remain unchanged and immutable."

Amazon's slumped form kept drawing Kevin's gaze. Zeus gripped the sword and yanked it free from the floor, and from her body. She collapsed, and he carefully wiped the sword clean of her blood before putting it reverently on the table nearby.

"That's why I intend to use this gift that I've been given for a higher responsibility, and help guide humanity out of this perpetual cycle of ignorance. I will be humanity's guardian and teacher, to watch over them and guide with a firm but fair hand to a better future. A perfect future."

Kevin's eyes were still locked on Amazon's crumpled corpse. At the far end of the room he spotted a pair of legs that had once belonged to Flying Hammer, the remainder of whom was behind him, along with Knight. As Zeus spoke about guidance and leadership, they were surrounded by the bodies of those he had killed. Kevin remembered the slim little notebook back in the lab, filled with so many crossed out names. Zeus spoke with conviction about such noble and lofty ideals. He was already a hero famous for his wit and his charm, there was no doubt that someone of his renown and capability would meet very little resistance trying to convince everyone of his intentions. If Kevin hadn't been accidentally swept up in this whole mess, he probably wouldn't have thought it was such a bad idea.

But Kevin was surrounded by the bodies of those that the hero had killed. And even someone as charitable and forgiving as Kevin couldn't bring himself to believe that Zeus would stop at that. History was filled with examples of those who tried to fix the world's problems by killing. If Zeus wasn't stopped, then the killing wouldn't end, and rather than a benign and nurturing leader, the world would have a relentless tyrant. But Zeus was, by definition, unstoppable. No one could possibly stand against him. No one.

No one…?

"I should thank you, really," said Zeus. "I haven't had anyone to talk to about any of this. It feels good to finally get all this out, and say everything out loud."

"You're welcome," said Kevin grimly. Ice cold calm dripped through his body, gradually washing away the fear and panic. He'd been afraid all his life, been so careful for so long. But right now, that fear was of no use to him, and the time for caution had passed.

"Unfortunately, I still have to kill you. I cannot take the risk of you telling anyone. If it's any comfort, I take no pleasure in this."

"Neither do I," Kevin said, and locked eyes with Zeus. The hero raised the gun, aiming directly at Kevin's chest.

He pulled the trigger. Time moved in slow motion.

Kevin had been alone for a lot of his life. He'd grown up without a mother, because she'd died during childbirth. She'd suffered massive internal bleeding and broken bones during the contractions, frightening the doctor and the nurses in the delivery room. Dr Genome had been there, monitoring his first human subject for the beta wave therapy and eager to see the results, but was dismayed that things had gone so horribly wrong. He'd left the room shortly after she had passed away, and never noticed that Kevin himself had been perfectly healthy, and wasn't even crying.

He didn't find out the truth about his mother until much later. When he was a child, he'd cut his finger at school, and jumped expecting to see blood on his finger, but he didn't. Instead, three children nearby started to bleed from identical cuts from their finger, whereas Kevin's finger was unmarked. He'd been traumatised by the sight of so much blood. Blood that wasn't his. Blood that he'd spilled just by being careless.

He was terrified of getting hit by a car, because once he forgot to check for traffic as he crossed the road, and was struck down by a driver who hadn't seen him in time. Kevin had gotten up unscathed, but the driver had suffered a broken leg.

Kevin kept to himself, taking care of himself as best he could, so that he didn't inadvertently affect anyone else around him. He lived alone, and worked whatever jobs he could find that offered little to no risk, because he didn't want people around him to suffer because of him.

This was why he was so afraid when Frank Hastel had him at gunpoint. Not for his own life, but for Franks. It was also why he knew there was no shooter from the rooftops. Frank had been killed the moment he'd pulled the trigger himself.

The bullet struck, and fell to the floor.

Zeus lowered the gun, deadpan and grim.

After a moment, he frowned, and looked down to see his own blood blossoming across his costume from the bullet wound in his own chest. He reached up to touch it, and examined his blood-stained fingers with disbelief. He looked up at Kevin with surprise, and confirmed that Kevin was indeed unharmed. For the first time in almost a hundred years, Zeus felt pain. He fell to his knees as he started to get dizzy, still holding up his bloody fingers. The gun clattered to the floor from his limp hand.

Kevin approached, looking down at Zeus with an expression of defiance mixed with sadness.

"You should have just let me go home," he whispered.

Pale, and getting weaker by the second, Zeus let out a chuckle as hoarse and dry as old paper, and collapsed.

The pool of his blood slowly spread, mingling with that of Amazon's.

Kevin sighed, and made his way to the landing pad. He hoped that he could work out how to fly the jet. He had to get up early for work in the morning.