Chapter 3:

She counted the days since she had been human.

FICTION: If you held the power of god in your two hands, would you save the world? Would you doom it? Or would you watch from the sidelines, just as you had done before?

If you’ve never seen a superhero before, I can promise you that it isn’t because “super powers” aren’t real. Governments around the world, whether it was now or a hundred years ago, have always been plenty capable of procuring humans with enhanced power or intellect. And there’s no shortage of odd-ball mutants with strange abilities, or powerful aliens like you see in the comics, either.

The only difference between reality and fiction in that regard is that it’s not very often that somebody just gains powers. Especially when it comes to a regular, unconditioned human, situations such as that usually lead to a quick and ugly death. The human body is pretty fragile, all things considered.

Super soldiers, on the other hand, are groomed from a young age to handle the extra stress of inhuman capabilities, and trained to act in a certain way so that the average citizen will never even know, nor have reasoning to know that they exist. Mutants that have useful abilities are often hunted and captured, and even if they aren’t then they’re innately going to grow up as an outlier from the common man; not exactly a good base for the common hero mindset.

There are near endless miracles, anomalies, and chaotic events in the world. With so many variables constantly clashing, it’d be more strange if there weren’t. But humans don’t like what they can’t understand, and that fear has cultivated one of their most potent strengths: the ability to create the illusion of normalcy. Because it’s human nature to want safety and security.

And it’s human nature to fear what you have no control over.

Chaos is all around us, hidden in plain sight. And once in a while, when something is so bizarre; so massively abnormal that nobody can kick it under the rug, then that’s when people have no choice but to adapt to it. That’s what humans would generally classify as a “miracle”.

Say, for example, something so fantastical as a normal human girl who dreams of being a superhero, coming into possession of godlike power. And no matter how much you try to bribe her, or capture and contain her, she never budges nor gives in, and continues to serve what she believes is “justice to the people”.

Everybody, including the powers which govern the world, would have no choice but to adapt to such an anomaly.


“Atom! Four o’ clock!”

The masked vigilante, clad in a leather bodysuit, flashy buttons, and oversized gloves, swung herself around to her four while floating midair, and slammed her palms right into a missilehead about eight times her size. Who knows how fast it must have been going, to send her flying at least twenty meters back. She was high above the city skyline, just barely in view from ground level.

Of course, such an attack wouldn’t leave so much as a scratch on her, but she couldn’t stop it without taking its inertia, or else the impact would cause the whole rod to burn up into a cloud of flames and smoke. And well, smack-dab in the middle of San Francisco, the capital of Cascadia as well as the new shining symbol of technological advancement in the world, there would be plenty of casualties, naturally.

Speaking of the city, there were loads of spectators that quickly gathered in to watch the grand spectacle. Some feared her, many looked up to her, while a few even worshiped her as some sort of angel or goddess; not that they were entirely wrong.

Atom: the first real superhero.

A radio communication led into her ear from down below, where the public service commissioner fed her live intel pertaining to the crisis. He stood nested in a barricade of heavy-duty government vehicles, surrounded by military personnel. The situation was no less than dire from a human standpoint, but when Atom was on the scene, it felt like no more than child’s play.

“If you can tear out the control modules and let them high enough into the air, those missiles will be rendered mostly harmless, and just implode in on themselves. Just be sure not to let them down here.”


She forced her hand through the steel rod’s hull like butter, and tore out a jumble of wires and circuitry, before pulling her weight back into a flashy spin and tossing the whole thing up into the clouds. The girl moved in the air like a floating droplet. She was quick and swift, skipping not a single beat as she took hold of the next warhead that came flying downward.

As they burst high above where the spectators watched, the colorful flames painted the sky like fireworks. It brought in shining glares from the massive crowds of people down below, who watched the fight over their lives like it was some sort of theatrical performance. They cheered at the being above them who so stylishly defended their livelihood, oblivious to the extremity of military projectile explosives raining down right above their heads.

The city’s cleanup drones flew frantically from point to point, catching as much of the falling debris as they could. It really was like some kind of staged performance, where everything was part of some sort of hectic script. And that was no coincidence, with how much money the city itself put into aiding the hero’s efforts—or really I should say framing her efforts. It was one of San Francisco's many allures that they boasted about. “Home of Atom.” “Atom protects us.” “Crime not welcome here.” And the like.

Not to mention the Church of Atom, but they were in a league of their own.

“Alright, that should be the last of them. I just got word that the issue has been escalated, and taken care of.”

“Commissioner, those were Chinese labeled-“

I know, Atom. The matter’s been elevated. They don’t think it was the chinese government, but low level guys like me are kept in the dark once things go national like this. And they don’t want you knowing anything, let alone what I tell you.”

“It’s been elevated? But what if this leads to a war? How am I supposed to-“

“It won’t. They won’t let it. The world isn’t that fragile of a place, Atom.”

Correction, the world is that fragile of a place. But no single human could properly understand that with such a narrow worldview, so I didn’t blame him for having such a mibdset.

“It’s out of our hands. You saved the city again either way, so let’s just be glad about that.”

“I didn’t do enough. I never do.”

Such a hollow line, crackling through radio static. Her vague feelings, which she was too fixed to properly sort out or take action on, balled themselves up into a mass of guilt and regret for not forcing her own hands.

Because deep down, she knew that she could. She knew that she was fully capable.

A voice boomed from everywhere, all at once.

“I saw it all. Mere child’s play for the Atom, wasn’t it?”

A singular man with cybernetic arms and a fancy suit took over every display and speaker in the city. Along every skyscraper; on every television; his lifeless, gunmetal head radiated with a bright purple in his eyes. It was difficult to tell from the front-view camera angle if his geometric face was simply a helmet, or his real head. Cybernetic enhancements were hardly a new fad, but they often didn’t look so intentionally inhuman.

He was going for a certain character, for sure.

“Let me ask you, Atom. Is my ambition; my dream; just a game to you? Is this how you enjoy passing the time, by putting wall after wall infront of my righteous course?”

She didn’t respond. If she did, would he even hear her? Well, considering how many eyes the man had all over the city, she probably would. This wasn’t his first city-wide broadcast, after all.

“I jest, of course. You’re the hero, right? The good guy. ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ That whole speal.”

He put his hands together in front of his lap, and leaned forward in his chair.

“Well, I’m glad I could play a part in your act. It’s always a pleasure. But do you know why I’m not worried? Do you know why this is so fun for me, as well?”

Atom waited in anticipation. Sweat stained the inside of her suit on her face and her palms, as she waited for the villain to reach his point.

Well, she didn’t have to ask them, even if it was a real question. If she dug deep enough, she would find that she already knew the answer.

“Because you’re stuck in the middle of two roads, twiddling your thumbs and attempting to act human. Even with all of that power in your hands, you can’t just accept that you’ve long since lost your humanity.”

Even though their face was of static metal, you could feel their satisfied smile.

“Living by all these rules and limitations; come on, do you really care about human lives? After all this time? The answer is that you’re just convincing yourself that you still do, because you’re afraid of what you might become otherwise. These people see you as a god among men. So what happens if they find out that your sole purpose isn’t to protect them? That you’re a lot more selfish than that?”

“The answer is that you’ll become a threat to them. Trust among humans is a concept based around equality. But you aren’t human at all, are you?”

“I am.”

A mutter.

“I am human!”

A yell.


A scream.

“No matter what you really are, this line you walk will inevitably cause you to half ass things. Half ass your heroism, and half ass your feelings. That’s what you are. Just a half-assed hero.”

While this had originally been planned as a spectacle by the villain himself, both he and Atom had completely forgotten about the people below. In their eyes, they were alone, face to face, having a conversation amongst two beings who far surpassed their status of human.

And the fact that she had gotten lost in his philosophy and loaded arguments meant that the villain had already won.

“Well, I suppose I’ll hand this round to you. Those missiles were straight from the chinese military, sent by myself through a breach in their system. No wars today, unfortunately. Though tomorrow or the next day might be a different story. Adieu.”

And with that, things were back to your regularly scheduled program. Atom flew down towards the crowds, and reassured the people that everything would be okay. She signed all manners of papers and clothes, shook hands, did some tricks, and then flew off into the sunset. It was standard for her, after a big show.

Oops, did I say show?


A couple of thirty-somethings were walking their young one home in the evening sunset under a bright red sky. Normally I would say that I missed the clear skies from before pollutants covered up the clouds, but the way that the sun seemed to backlight the smoggy atmosphere could occasionally create its own breed of beauty that you didn’t get before, either.

The trio was made up of a satisfied family; a father, a step-mother, and their daughter; it was a traditional sort of family structure that was more rare to see these days, especially in the city. The father seemed to dote on his little one, and the mother had gotten used to doing the same, as they held their little girl between the two of them hand-in-hand-in-hand.

They were so focused on this picture of their own satisfaction in life, oblivious to the woman who had been stalking them. She was the ex-wife of the husband, coming to visit the remnants of her family in secret, as the odd-one out; the one who wasn’t happy. She took a look at the two; her ex-husband and her daughter, who were now too far in their own little world; their own stories to look back and have any regrets.

The one left with half-hearted feelings was the superhero who had been left behind. She wondered what would have happened if she never pursued her dream; if she was able to go back and be there for her family, day by day, living a small little life. If she had rejected the powers that were given to her in pursuit of a more normal sort of satisfaction.

She wondered if she could have been happy, had she made the decision to live as a human instead of the half-hearted double identity that she had struggled so hard to maintain at the start.

It had been years since she had taken off her suit and walked around in human form. It had been years since she saw any sort of point to it.

It had been years since she had seen other people at ground level, with human eyes.

She counted the days since she had been human.

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