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The Quicke and the Fed

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As I understand it, the current theory is that anyone who develops superpowers more or less decides right off the bat if they're going to be a hero or a villain. Usually, the heroes are in it for the 'good guy' thing -- rescuing people (cats, dogs, hamsters...), saving the world (the city, a block, a tree...), spreading cheer and goodwill wherever they go (and hearing the cheers, applause, propositions...).

Villains are a little more straightforward, in my experience -- they're in it for money, power, fulfillment of megalomaniacal visions... you know. The usual. Getting to roam around in spandex and cackle evilly as they pound the hero through a wall is just a side benefit for them.

Then you've got the occasional supers who straddle the line, not really managing to be good all the time, but not able to work themselves up to being bad, either. (Johnny Angel comes immediately to mind -- and what kind of a superhero name is that? 'I will strike fear into the hearts of my enemies by naming myself after a sappy 50's girl song!' It boggles the mind how he not only pulls it off, but managed to land Fiera. One of these days, I need to find out what was up with that -- but, you know, carefully. Discretion keeps a superhero from getting burned.)

Oh yeah, I'm a superhero (I go by Swifte); there wasn't really much of a choice to make. The whole ubervillain thing would take way too much effort (and would result in me spending most of my time being chased around by my relatives). I have better things to do than sit around dreaming up world-conquering schemes, or incredibly new and creative ways to take down whoever I've designated as my archrival this week.

Honestly, those people have no lives.

We superheroes have it a lot easier; mostly, we just need to be ready to react to whatever ubervillains throw at us. Oh, sure, some of the really dedicated supers do all of the detective work, trying to predict evil plots, tracking down secret identities... but that's really not my style. When you're the fastest guy in the world (don't listen to that poseur Le Vite -- I could run rings around him on my worst day), your reaction time is pretty good. I'll take care of the emergencies, and leave the long-term work to the Fearless Five.

To be honest, I don't even really consider being incredibly and mind-boggling fast to be my superpower. Sure, it's cool, and it's useful for the saving people gig, and it's flashy enough to get me the TV time I need.

But it's not what I'm best at. It's not what I love. If you ask me, my superpower? Is the ability to feed people. Anyone, from superheroes to ubervillains to ordinary joes who just want a hamburger before their building gets knocked down around them the next time Malefica hits 'that time of the month'. They all come to me, and I send them home so happy, nobody's tried to destroy my place -- even by accident -- in years.

You don't think that's a superpower? You've never tried to run a Bigtime restaurant during the dinner rush, have you?

Take tonight, for example. Half of the Fearless Five are hanging out in the far corner: Fiera, Mr Sage and Karma Girl. They're not in costume, because they almost never are except when they're actually in the middle of saving/destroying Bigtime, but Carmen Cole's not the only person in Bigtime who can cleverly deduce the blindingly obvious. Fiona Fine's lunch orders alone could keep me in business, and she doesn't think I'm going to figure out she's a super? Once I had her pegged as Fiera, all I had to do was see who she eats with the most. I had the entire FF pegged inside of a month (with a brief derailment when I thought her assistant, my ex-girlfriend Piper, was Karma Girl. Oops).

(Mr. Sage took the longest to figure out because I try not to think about him too much. I'm pretty sure he knows who I am, too, and I'd rather not get any attention from a telepath who's also the chief of police. Call it survival.)

Anyway, the Fearless Five (or three of them) are tucked away in a back corner destroying some appetizers, and Black Samba is in another back corner -- far back. (I don't mind when she feeds the snakes, but some customers get freaked out.) The Hunter is chowing down on a rare steak and four plates of fries like he never heard of cholesterol, or has a big fight planned later. He and the Prankster, seated a few tables away, are ignoring each other. I seated the Invisible Ingenues between them to keep it that way; instead of doing macho uber posturing, they're spending their time covertly watching forks and glasses appear to lift themselves, and listening to girly giggles. Prankster has a crush on one of the Ingenues, but since no one's ever seen them, even he doesn't know which one. Until he figures it out, having them around keeps him out of trouble.

It's brilliant planning like that that keeps every ubervillain in my place ignoring every superhero, and vice versa. Quicke's is neutral territory, and I'm damn well going to keep it that way.

Tonight, I do my usual thing of roaming around the restaurant: checking in with regulars, greeting newcomers, making sure Halitosis Hal has a full bowl of breath mints (I always stick him in an alcove in the back as his 'regular table'; he still thinks his secret identity is safe), and slipping into the kitchen to find out why the air suddenly smells suspiciously like smoke. (Answer: new prep guy left some paper towels way too close to the grill.) Luckily, we don't need an extinguisher or a super to deal with the small fire, although about six people in the main room are all revved up for an emergency rescue from gushing flames. I do my 'everything's fine, folks' routine to get everyone's spandex settled, then send around coffee on the house. Everyone goes back to chowing down, which is as it should be.

I even get some time to talk to the cute blonde eating alone in her booth and playing with the many action figures displayed on the ledges around her. I use the usual managerial "Are you enjoying your meal, miss?" approach, which leads into her telling me how much she loves my place, and me being modest and glad she's enjoying herself. She's cute and funny and obviously has good taste in food, and bonus! It turns out she's a big fan of Swifte, which is why she requested the booth with the autographed picture of him over it.

(Hey, it's my place, and all the other supers and ubers have pictures up. You wouldn't want me to be conspicuously absent, would you?)

Things are actually going really well tonight, so I'm kind of annoyed when, not 30 minutes after the fire is averted, the floor starts shaking. The supers suddenly look alert, like they're once again trying to figure out where they can go to strip out of the street clothes. I just served the Fearless Five their entrees, which will get cold if they have to go fight someone, so I figure it's better if I step in.

A zip into my office, then another zip through the window, and I'm out back in my full iridescent white spandex glory. (Yeah, I know I look like a twig; I can't help having a supermetabolism. And spandex is compressing, but aerodynamic, and doesn't shred at 190 mph.) It's not hard to figure out where the problem is; I can see the thumping from where I'm standing. I race down the street in a blur of motion, and end up at the corner of Broadway and Main, two blocks from Quicke's.

And then I sigh. Because yes, it's Rebound again.

The thing with Rebound is that he thinks he's an ubervillain, but he just doesn't really have the focus for it. What he really wants is for people to leave him alone while he does his pinball imitations, seeing how many creative ways he can bounce himself off buildings, trees, cars, people... The problem is that this tends to lead to mass destruction, so superheroes show up pretty quickly after he gets started on one of his 'games'.

The other problem is that most superheroes are pretty damn ineffective against someone all their attacks just bounce off of. That's (ahem) where I come in.

"Hey, Rebound!" I yell as I zip up to where he's just finished pinballing between two buildings, moving all the way down the alley in one try. Which is impressive, but doing nothing for the masonry; some decorative brick crumbles and falls to the street as he finishes. I take a fast detour to rescue a poodle and her owner, then dart back in front of Rebound.

"What?" the big guy demands irritably, bouncing slightly in place as he adjusts his green mask over his broad face and red hair. "I'm busy! Did you see that bank shot off the Dumpster?"

"Yeah, I saw it, and so did every security camera on the block." I stay in front of him as he starts to head out to the street to do god knows what. "How about you wrap it up for the night, go out on top?"

He brushes me off with one huge arm, or tries to, since I'm long gone before he connects. "Nah, I got stuff to do."

I shake my head and sigh, keeping pace with him as he bounds down the street like a really bouncy elephant, shaking buildings as he goes. The windows of one of the boutiques shatter as we pass, and I wince; the display of the new Fiona Fine clothing line is now covered with glass shards, and she's going to be pissed. "Come on, Rebound, do we really have to do this every time?"

"Whatever." He shrugs his massive shoulders irritably. "Just stay out of my way for once."

I sigh again. Talking to him never does any good, but I feel like you have to try with some guys. Still, this is taking way too long, and the Fearless Five are going to be in spandex by now. A fire hydrant explodes next to Rebound when the curb buckles under his weight; it soaks me to the skin, along with the five cars next to it, and I decide we've had enough for tonight.

In a useful display of good timing, the Bigtime Fire Department comes screaming around the corner, right behind two police cars. I race to meet them, and grab a hose off the side of the engine. Getting back is a little tricky, because one eager beaver cop actually pulls out his weapon and tries to shoot Rebound; the ricochets from the uber's impervious skin send screaming bystanders to the ground, and would have taken a chunk out of me if I hadn't dodged.

I detour to grab the rookie's gun and hand it off to his older partner, then start running circles around Rebound. He flails against the hose I'm wrapping him in, but his power is all in his weight and his rubberized flesh and he can't really do much without leverage. In less than 3 seconds, he's a mummy in the middle of the street, with a nozzle sticking out of his forehead. Crisis averted.

The firemen and cops (except for the dumb-ass rookie, who's getting chewed out by his partner) give me a round of applause. I bow with a flourish, checking for TV cameras. Which there aren't any. Crap. Sometimes, being superspeedy has a real downside; the fight's over before the news vans arrive. Total time elapsed for this bout -- less than 2 minutes. Go me.

Oh well, you can't have everything. I wave to the uniformed good guys who can take it from here, and speed away. In the opposite direction from the restaurant, because banging a U-turn won't take long, and I'd really rather not leave too many clues to my mostly secret identity.

I make it back to the restaurant in no time, and find Granny Cane waiting under the window I left open. "You messed up the timing," she informs me, with a wave of her diamond-headed cane. Her purple mask and cloak are a little askew, like she had to dress fast -- well, fast by her standards. We both ignore the unconscious would-be mugger lying at her feet. "You needed to wait for SNN to get there before you saved the day."

I roll my eyes. "First, I did not mess up, I made a conscious choice not to wait. There are people eating in there. Second, every single one of my daring rescues doesn't have to wind up on SNN." I think about that for a second, then admit, "Just most of them."

Granny Cane snorts a laugh that would astonish anyone who knows her refined, lady-like alter-ego. "Well, Kelly was supposed to meet me for dinner, so you can tell her all about it for an exclusive interview."

"That works." Kelly Caleb is the star reporter for the Superhero News Network, and an invaluable source of publicity. I take full advantage of my connection to her whenever possible.

Oh, don't look at me like that. I know what the other supers say about me: "That Swifte, only in it for the glory. Watch out or he'll steal all the camera time running his mouth and posing." Well, they're not wrong, but there is method to my camera-happy madness.

Remember what I was saying earlier, about it being easy to see the blindingly obvious? Well, if you just hand people the blindingly obvious, they don't tend to look for more. When Carmen Cole came to town on her crusade to unmask supers and ubers, do you think she cared for a second about the secret identity of Swifte or Debonair? Hell, no. She headed straight for the mysterious Terrible Triad and Fearless Five, because Swifte and Debonair give interviews whenever possible, write newspaper columns, keep our web pages and blogs updated, and generally tell people everything they think they want to know about us. So they never go looking for more.

No mystery, no investigation, no unmaskings. Pretty cool plan, huh? And truthfully, I'm not exactly adverse to all of the cheering, swooning and screams of happiness. It's fun. But can you imagine getting it in and out of costume? All the time? And what it would do to my restaurant to have all the ubers know a super runs it? I'd have to burn the place down and then kill myself, and the generations of Quickes before me would all haunt my grave.

"I'll meet up with Kelly tonight," I tell Granny Cane. "Need any help getting that to the station?"

She looks down at her prisoner in disgust. "I didn't need any help catching Mr. Incompetent here; I can finish the job myself."

"Cool," I kiss her on the cheek and start back inside. "See you later, Grams. Best to Grampa Pain."

She shooes me off with a smile, and I dash back inside. A few seconds later, and I'm back in my slacks and shirt, and wandering out into the main room. The Fearless Five are back at their table, but I see the telltale signs of clothing hastily stripped off, then put back on. It looks like their food is still hot, though, and I pat myself on the back mentally.

Oops. Chief Newman catches my eye, and gives me a little nod. I gulp and try to look clueless. Telepathy is totally unfair.

And so is the fact that in the five minutes I was gone, Molly the cute blonde hastily paid her bill and left. Guess I didn't make a real good impression after all. Ouch.

Kelly finally shows up about 45 minutes after her reservation, but since I'm not sure why she bothers to make reservations at all, it's not an issue.

"Hey, Kyle," she says as she dumps her huge shoulder bag on the bar.

"Hey back." I make a point of looking around her. "Where's your entourage?"

"Still filming up the street. Not much of a story since someone--" She nails me with a glare. "--finished the fight before we could get there. But Rebound wrapped up in that hose was a pretty good visual."

I hold my hands up innocently. "Hey, if you're not fast enough to make it to the scene, that's not the fault of the heroes, now is it?"

She snorts in a way that sounds eerily like our grandmother, and lowers her voice. "Keep telling yourself that. You're the one who didn't get his interview."

I shrug. "I'll survive. This once. Just say that Swifte is glad to once again be of use to the good citizens of this fine city, and everyone should be sure to check my blog, where I'll be happy to give all the excellent details on this and other amazing adventures."

"Got it." We grin at each other in perfect understanding, and I know she'll be right on top of things next time I save a citizen from a burning car, or a cat from a tree.

(I bet you didn't know that Kelly Caleb has a superpower. She does; it's the ability to to interview her leather- and spandex-clad cousins on live TV and pretend that she's actually taking us seriously. Which is way harder than it sounds -- have you seen my costume? And Debonair writes an 'advice to the lovelorn' column, for pete's sake. You would not believe the amount of crap Kelly gives us at family dinners to make up for her restraint on air.)

I get Kelly served, and the dinner rush starts to wind down with no more incidents of any kind. I finally have time to have a little discussion with the new kid on prep about flammables and open flames, and he promises not to try to burn my restaurant down again. The Fearless Five leave satisfied, Black Samba slithers out with happy snakes, and the Hunter actually pays his bill and leaves a decent tip, which makes it one for the record books.

Kelly bails halfway through her meal to check out a fight between Doubletake and some new kid in town over at Paradise Park, and I bend my rules on 'no powers in the restaurant' to get a cup of take-out coffee in her hands before she leaves. The Invisible Ingenues are apparently having a Girls' Night Out, since they're on hour two of their dessert and still going strong. Prankster is starting to get twitchy listening to them, trying to figure out a way to make his move on the correct girl; I debate whether to offer him free decaff to settle him down, call Debonair in to give him some wise advice, or try moving him along.

Before I can decide, the bartender flips SNN to full volume, and I look up to catch Kelly covering the Paradise Park donnybrook, which is practically outside the front door of Quicke's. Doubletake has three or four of his bodies roaming around trashing the place, and the new kid -- blue cape, white costume covering very nice curves, blonde hair, haven't caught a name yet -- is flying around at a pretty good pace intercepting them. She's not doing so bad, but she's going to need some help....

Kelly's cameraman Arthur catches a nice closeup, and I almost swallow my teeth, since I was gazing into those gorgeous green eyes not 30 minutes ago. So, Miss Molly really does appreciate superheroes! But she still needs some help, and I'm halfway to my office to change when a table smashes to the ground behind me.

Crap! I change directions fast, and tear back into the dining room (at only a little over normal speed), to find Prankster on the floor with the Ingenues standing over him. I think. I snag the closest waiter, who turns out to be Ray, and demand, "What the hell?"

Ray just shrugs, and continues heading for cover. It's been a long time since we had a fight scene, but everyone remembers what Scorpion did to the place, which is why he isn't welcome here any more. "I guess Prankster finally made his move," Ray says over his shoulder. "No joke."

I roll my eyes and let him go, wandering over to interpose myself between the clueless uber and the offended supers. An exploding whoopee cushion (dumped outside when everyone was distracted, thankfully before it could go off) and two really impressive slaps later, I settle the Ingenues down with more dessert and free coffee, and kick Prankster out with a takeout dessert of his own.

(No, I wasn't rewarding him, just doing a little pre-emptive assault on his plans for the evening. After they finish one of my Supremo Chocolate Volcano Cakes, no ubervillain has any energy left for violent retribution and/or world domination.)

By the time that's all cleaned up, Fiera and Striker have intervened at Paradise Park, the fight is over and the interviews have started (Molly's superhero name is Blue Falcon, by the way), and I've lost my chance to talk to the latest girl of my dreams again. But hey, I figure I'll get another shot at catching up with her eventually (I wonder if she can fly faster than I can run?), and it's not like I could just abandon Bigtime to a rampage by a totally rejected and non-sugar-coma'd Prankster.

With great power, after all, comes great responsibility.