Truly Desperate

I’m just the archer guy, man.

You know who I am. All of the old comics had an archer man, even in the day when superheroes were but distant dreams on the minds of children. The original Defiants had an archer guy. Every superhero group since then has had an archer guy. Hell, even the single successful villain group had an archer guy (and yes, I know he died first. It still counts).

The point is I am not the leader. The leader has to be unique, powerful, calm but stern, capable of both great good and great evil and yet always choosing to be their best self despite the temptations of evil.

Implacable, she was the leader.

I’m just the archer guy.

Look, I know this sounds like a bunch of excuses, but the reality is that when Implacable bombed the west coast into submission and decapitated her right hand man, the no-longer-immortal knight in bloodied armor Sir Vive, I was not ready to be the one that the world turned to as the foremost hero. I wasn’t supposed to be the best superhero left on Earth. I’m not even supposed to be the best archer guy in the new Defiants.

“Shaft, are you listening?” Marge asked. “Shaft?”

Heh. That was me. The guy that got the shaft.

“Shaft? We don’t have time for this.”

“Shaft is a dumb name,” I said.

Marge took in a deep breath and held it. I could almost see the seconds ticking away in her head as she used her well-practiced anger management technique.

“Shaft, people are dying. By the thousands.”

The death toll was actually well into the tens of millions, but I suspect she didn’t want to overwhelm me with pressure. Marge was secretly a softie like that.”

“Every other Pacific nation has bowed the knee,” Marge continued. “We’re running out of allies, and make no mistake, this is war.”

“Russia didn’t,” I pointed out.

Marge turned her gaze to the TV, which displayed a feed of Russian state media. The image had not changed in several hours now, which was unfortunate, as the bodies of their leading politicians were not getting any fresher.

“Point taken,” I sighed, rubbing my eyes. “Marge, I’m not ready for this.”

“You have to be, Shaft, because—“



“My name is Terry. I always hated Shaft. If you’re going to send me on a suicide mission, I want to do it using my own name.”

Marge paused. “Your family…”

“Implacable knows my family, Marge. She knows everything. Everything.

“She’s not a god, Sh— Terry. Static has fought her to a standstill.”

“Yeah, it’s what he does.”

“And FastBreak has been cutting her off from her followers, which is finally giving us some breathing room.”

“So what?” I said, exasperated. “She’ll kill them. Maybe not in five minutes, maybe not even today, but eventually. Sir Vive is— was immortal. Immortal. He hadn’t bled in 862 years. He’s dead.”

“She can be stopped,” Marge said stubbornly. “You do the impossible. You’re a defier. Defy.”

“Marge, I can’t change fate. Sometimes… Sometimes people die. You know that.”

Marge fell silent. It hurt her to have her own words thrown back at her like that. She had known when she said them that I would remember, that she would pay the price for saying it. We both had.

But it didn’t make me feel good to say it.

“Not today,” she muttered. “We can’t give up.”

I leaned back. “Why not?” I said, stretching my hands behind my head. “I’ve always been a good follower. I could serve a dictator.”

“Terry, you don’t mean that,” Marge rebuked. “You don’t really feel that way.”

“What I feel has little impact on what is. The fact is only one person has come even close to defeating Implacable, and he’s…”

Our eyes met, and I could see the overwhelming wave of dread and excitement that I felt mirrored in her gaze.

“He could be dead,” she said.

“He’s not.”

“Why would he help?”

“It’s who he is. He can’t help it.”

“They could join up.”

“They might.”

“But if we don’t…”

“We have no chance,” I finished. I clenched my fists, then released, my leather gloves creaking.

“But his cell is…”

“Impenetrable?” I supplied. It seemed a better word than using the jail’s real name, named for its creator.

“Indeed. She is rather good at that.”

“She’s a fighter, not a builder,” I said. “We all helped with that cell. We can get in if we work together. Hell, I can get in if you give me long enough.”

“You might have to do it alone,” Marge replied. “And you might not get as much time as you want. But…”

I nodded. “I have to try.”

The electronic security system was a joke, which hurt in retrospect. Granted, I had grown in knowledge since I had created it, but it was both a source of pride and great shame that now I could breach it with one arrow and six lines off of GitHub.

Some of the layers of containment were formidable at a glance, but they had primarily been designed to be impenetrable from the inside rather than the outside, and certainly not by one of the prison’s creators who had, you know, a front door key, so to speak.

The irradiated vacuum, on the other hand, was magnificently terrifying. There was nothing to it except a void under constant bombardment from particles that can give you all sorts of rare and collectible cancers, though in all likelyhood you would genuinely fry before any of those developed if you were truly unprotected. If that wasn’t bad enough, I also had to fumble a second protective suit through the impossible vacuum, because if I was to come back, I was not going to come back alone.

The magmatic moat was entirely for show, though the light hurt my eyes. The dragons were terrifying but ultimately illusions. The puzzle was frustrating, but I knew Sir Vive’s secret impatience well enough to find the back door that he had put in after only a few quick diversions.

And then I was at the door, a simple, unlocked, lightly varnished oak front door.

I knocked, because it was polite.

The man that opened the door was nothing short of ordinary, aside from the comical expression of surprise on his face that recovered with impressive speed.

“Hello,” he said, apparenly also a polite fellow. I wouldn’t know, as we were in unusual circumstances when we last met.

“Hi, um… sir. How… how are you?”

“Bored,” he said frankly. “You’re that archer guy, right? Bullseye? Shooter? Arrowhead?”

I sighed. “Shaft. Can we stick to first names?”

“Whatever you say, Terry,” he said. “You can call me… John.”

“John.” I nodded and offered my hand. He took it slowly, suspiciously, but shook it with firm grace.

“We need your help.”

His grip tightened. “So, she took the leap?” he asked all too casually.

“What do you mean?”

“Went loony, gone postal, off the deep end, all that,” he answered, letting my hand go. “Took a shine to killing rather than saving.”

I took a deep breath. “Yes.”

“And you think I’ve got the best shot at stopping her.”

“It sure won’t be me,” I said, and he let out a genuine belly laugh.

“No,” he agreed. “No, it’s up to you to stop me after.”

I smiled a thin, nervous smile. “If I can.”

“You can’t,” he said. “But you’ve got stones, kid. I’ll remember that about you.”

“When we’re fighting after we beat Implacable?” I asked a little too hopefully.

His smile went cold.



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