20 to 42 Day One: Mutie and the Meek

[Author's note: This story was originally inspired by, and has provided inspiration for a longer story I'm writing called Benhanced. I started it as a NaNoWriMo project in 2016, but it went the way of most of my NaNo projects and ended up on the shelf. I've been writing toward that recently, and I like where it's going. I'll post the initial snippet that I wrote when I came up with the title Mutie and the Meek at the end of the story (so I don't spoil anything). Enjoy -- L]

Jordan always looked up to his brother Jeff. Jeff was the kind of kid, always good at sports, but didn’t ever let it get to his head. He wasn’t the biggest guy, Jeff, but he always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. He didn’t really try hard, he didn’t dazzle people with his physical gifts; he just seemed to really take to coaching.

There were times when it seemed like he had read the opponent’s playbook, or taped their practices or something, because when he played cornerback, he was in the receiver’s hip pocket. He made the breaks seemingly before they did. When he played goalie in soccer, it was more often than not a bad shot that would beat him because he would be where the shooter was trying to hit instead of where the ball actually went.

Jordan liked to watch Jeff’s games. He liked to do anything with his brother. There was enough of a gap that Jeff was mysterious and cool, but not so much of a gap that they didn’t have a relationship. They didn’t really fight, though they’d gone through the same crap that all siblings went through. They didn’t really have a serious argument until when Jeff told Jordan that he was giving up sports.

“What? What are you talking about? You’re the best. You could make the pros, you’re so good.”

At Jeff’s mocking -- though Jordan couldn’t tell if he was mocking Jordan or himself -- smile, Jordan’s voice rose.

“Shut up, Jeff. You could. You see the game -- doesn’t even matter what game -- you see it better than anyone. All the coaches say that. All the newspaper writers say it too.”

“Doesn’t matter. It isn’t even like that. They say that the game slows down for me, but that’s not the way it is.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t see what’s coming because I’ve been coached. I don’t know where to be because I’ve studied game film or studied playbooks. I know all that because I’m different.”

He explained to Jordan how he could anticipate things because he could read it on the people he was playing against. He could almost predict what came next, and that was exactly what sports was about.

“You see, I always know that they’re going to cut, or do a double-move, because I know it, not because of tendencies or anything like that.”

He fought off Jordan’s protests.

“Seriously. Here, I’ll show you. Raise a hand.”


“Go ahead. Raise a hand. Don’t tell me which one, and I’ll show you what I mean.”

Jordan raised his left hand. A second before he did, Jeff called out, “Left.”

“Lucky guess.”

But it wasn’t luck, and Jeff set out to prove that to Jordan by predicting which hand his brother would raise at any given moment. After a couple of tries at this, Jordan figured he had a tell, so he decided to be sneaky.

He knew Jeff wasn’t cheating before he did anything, because he saw the smile on his brother’s face that said he know Jordan was going to cheat.

“Left foot.” And Jordan raised his left foot.

“Jeff, that’s amazing.”

“I know. I always thought it was something everyone could do. I didn’t think I was that special until I started playing football. I was the slowest guy out there, but I could know things, and I could use that to my advantage.”

“So why did you quit?”

“I don’t want to be an athlete. You see those guys? Concussion city. Big paycheques, but I’m pretty sure that whatever I choose to do, there’s going to be a chance to make a whole pile of money, and I don’t need all the attention that would come with being a sports star.”

Jordan agreed. But he had another idea.

“Super hero.”

“You’re right, Jordan. That wouldn’t get me a pile of money. Good point.”

“That’s not what I was trying to say, Jeff. You should be a super hero.”

“I’m not going to fight crime, Jordan.” Jeff was adamant. But Jordan was persistent.

Jordan was also a huge comic book geek, and he couldn’t leave Jeff alone when the chance came for his brother to fight crime vigilante-style.

Jeff was going to fight crime. He knew it from the time his brother suggested it. He also knew that he couldn’t just admit his brother was right. He had a position to uphold as bigger brother, after all.

All it took, in the end, was a mask and a nose for trouble. Their mother always said Jeff had that, always putting himself where he could make bad decisions. Now he used that almost preternatural sense to find where bad things were happening so he could put an end to them.

The first few times were dicey, at best. He did his thing, showed up, thwarted a mugging and a thing where it looked like a guy was being beaten for not doing a job or something. In both cases, Jeff came out okay, because of his reflexes. The fights weren’t even that. Jeff had no compunction about fighting dirty, and he did, taking the mugger and the abuser down quickly, letting both victims get away before he disappeared into the night.

After that, there were a couple of armed robberies. He hadn’t told Jordan about those nights, knowing that his brother would worry. But he had done ok there too. No way he could outrun a bullet, but he could for sure not be where the guy pointed the gun. He was set. There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t get out of alive.

Eventually, Jordan talked Jeff into coming along to witness his excursions. He knew his mom would kill him if she knew. Hell, he’d have a hard time avoiding a beating if she even knew what he was up to. If she knew he was involving Jordan… well, she didn’t know, and that was probably for the best.

Anyway, Jordan was on the sidelines, recording everything with his phone. He figured he’d set up a YouTube channel, and they could upgrade Jeff’s outfit with the money they made off ads.

Jeff did attract attention, though. You don’t break up a couple dozen crimes without someone sitting up and paying attention. Super heroes weren’t so common that you could just be one under the radar. And batting 1.000, he’d be making some of the big players in town sit up and take notice.

Eventually, Jeff did hit one of the big bosses. Which was part of the plan. If you’re going to end crime, you eventually have to take on the root of the problem. He started yanking, and he got their notice. Or at least one boss’s notice. After he’d knocked out the heavies and had whoever it was in charge on the run, the man had laughed at him.

“You don’t knock over Randall Kim’s outfit, ya lousy mutie! He knows all about you, and you can bet he’ll be seeing to you soon.”

Jeff had knocked that guy out real quick, and he’d ended up in jail. All caught on camera by Little Brother.

Randall Kim and Jeff had battles, after that. Kim always seemed to know where Jeff would be staked out, and had ambushes set up for him, but Jeff always walked away. He was just too quick, so no matter what bad plans they had for him, he turned the tables. Always. And Jordan was always there to capture it on camera.

Jordan had been posting to YouTube for months, and the cash had finally started rolling in. What he didn’t realize is that Randall Kim would know that Jeff had to have someone on the sidelines, filming things. What he didn’t realize was that Randall Kim always had a plan.

So, to the ambush:

Jeff had Jordan in an empty office above the street where he would be doing the fighting. When Kim’s men got there, the predictable happened. Big fight, nobody could land a hand on Jeff. He was laying people out right and left, just always hitting them in the place that would do the most damage, and moving on to the next without slowing down.

Some of the guys were on the edges of the fight, but that didn’t matter, because they brought so many people. You really got the sense that this was a final battle. But not all the guys were committed. Instead, they were hunting around the edges of the fight.

If Jordan had been smart, he would have realized it was him they were after, but he was concentrating on the action, trying to get it on camera so the pageview counts would go up. Eventually, it dawned on him, and he got up from his hiding spot, and turned to run, but Kim had him.

“It is funny,” Randall Kim said, coming out of the building hauling Jordan with him. “I don’t know your name. We’ve fought for months and I don’t even know your name.”

“You never will,” Jeff said. He knew they were in a tight spot, but he also knew that he couldn’t show fear or uncertainty with these people.

Kim saw something in Jeff’s eye, though. Jordan knew it by the tone of his voice.

“Give up now. Give up, give yourself over to me, and I’ll let this boy go. I think you know what will happen if you don’t.”

Jordan could see Jeff calculating, figuring on the angles, seeing what would provoke what reaction. He also knew that Jeff could anticipate his actions, which made them a decent team, in his estimation.

Jeff was stuck. There wasn’t anything he could see that he could do that would keep Jordan from getting killed. Anything he thought about doing, Kim had a reaction that ended his brother’s life. There had to be a way forward, but he couldn’t see it. Until he did.

Jordan struck. His foot stomping on the crime boss’s foot was just enough opening that Jeff could strike. The timing was perfect. Jeff’s knee came up and collided with Kim’s jaw and that shook him loose of Jordan. Unfortunately, Jeff couldn’t foresee the way Randal Kim would stumble, like tripping coming out of a hole. It caused him to lurch forward, screaming, which threw Jeff off-balance and left him sprawled out on the concrete.

That much opening, with that many heavies, was an invitation too rich to avoid. Jordan knew that Jeff was fast, knew that he could see things coming, but there were just too many guys for someone in his vulnerable position to avoid. He was pummelled. And kicked. And well before the blows stopped landing, Jordan ran away.

And that’s how Jeff died -- beaten to death by mobsters for trying to protect his brother. The fact that they never found the body meant nothing to Jordan. Nobody could take a beating like that and live. Nobody.

Jordan spent a lot of his free time at the murder site. The gang had cleaned things up, and there was no evidence that anything had happened, except that one crumpled piece of asphalt where Kim had stumbled.

Jordan thought a lot about the damage on the street. It was the only part of the street that was damaged, and it was destroyed. He’d originally thought about it as a small point of failure, but honestly, the pavement had been rendered to dust, was what it looked like. And Randall Kim hadn’t been standing in a big hole in the middle of the street. Could it be?

In the interest of his peace of mind, Jordan stomped on the road beside where he’d been held by Kim. Nothing.

He thought about that night - the terror he’d felt, the bold determination to help his brother out. He tried to channel that into his leg muscles, lifted his foot and stamped down. He felt the extra oomph that he’d never been able to give his foot before, and the crack that resounded as he hit the pavement was a condemnation. It was true. He was the reason his brother was dead.

But there was something else here, too. He’d stomped through a street. Was it possible that he had some of what his brother had, too? Obviously something different, but maybe he was super strong. But he didn’t want to fight crime. He didn’t want to do anything other than go to bed and forget about this. His brother was dead, his mom was in the dark, and it was all his fault.

His mom had not been doing well. She was convinced that Jeff had run away -- sort of hard to do, since he was a grown-up -- and she was blaming herself. She’d been too harsh, she’d expected too much from him. She should have done more to make him feel welcome. And Jordan couldn’t do anything about that.

A package in the mail. Jordan didn’t get many packages, but this was for him. It was soft -- clothes. He tore into it, never able to resist a surprise, and threw the clothes on the bed in horror. His brother’s disguise -- his super-hero costume. Or the jacket, anyway. They’d worked on it together, coming up with the colour scheme, and Jeff ironing on some patch he’d gotten from China. It was tattered, and in not-so-great shape after all those run-ins with the criminals, but it was here. Jordan couldn’t think of what it meant.

He thought for awhile, then found the bit of the package with the shipping information. Sure enough, there was a return address, and it was in the city. He thought hard. If the gang knew who Jeff was, which, after they killed him and carted his body away, they had every reason to, then why didn’t they just come and get Jordan? Nip in, drag him away, easy-peasy. Not that they had anything to worry about there -- Jordan wasn’t going to talk to anyone about this; not even though he had the camera footage of Jeff fighting off Kim and his goons.

Reluctantly, he grabbed his brother’s jacket, tucked it in a plastic shopping bag, and got on the bus.

The address written on the package for a return address turned out to be a vacant lot, which, Jordan supposed, wasn’t all that surprising. Was he expecting Randall Kim to send the jacket with his home address? Honestly, Jordan didn’t know what to think, except that it was getting late, and he was out in an unfamiliar neighbourhood with the possibility of getting kidnapped by the mob.

“I knew you’d come.” The voice made Jordan’s hair stand on end. He stood, frozen, as his brother circled around from behind him. There was a limp to his gait, and more of his face was bruise than uncoloured skin. His jaw looked funny, too, like it had changed shape.

Jordan wanted to scream at his brother, he wanted to hug him, to drag him to the ground and finish off what the goons had started. He wanted all that, and did none of it. He didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe, he was so scared that by doing anything, he’d spoil the illusion and he’d go back to knowing his brother was dead.

They stood there, looking at one another, until Jordan figured it was safe. His wildest dream, his fondest delusion would not feel so awkward.

“I thought you were dead,” Jordan said.

“Yeah,” Jeff said. “I worried about that. I worried about a lot, but mostly I worried about that. I’m glad you got home safe.”

“How are you alive?” Jordan asked. His voice didn’t rise; it hadn’t gone above a dry croak, but he wanted to shout.

“Whatever you did, or I did, whatever happened to Randall Kim, he was screaming like a crazy person, so his guys carried him away. I managed to avoid the worst of the damage from the kicks and punches. Turns out the reflexes even help when you’re curled into a ball.”

“Why did you send me your jacket? Why didn’t you just come home?”

“Look at me. I’m a wreck. What do you think Mom would do if I came home looking like this?”

Jordan could see it, all right. And it wasn’t pretty.

“I needed to lie low, but I also needed to let you know I was okay. I figured you’d understand the address part and come find me. I wanted you to know I was okay, but I didn’t want mom to see me like this. Now that you know, I need you to get me some food. I ran out of money yesterday, and I’m getting hungry.”

Jordan was only too happy to comply. And eventually, Jeff did come home. Jordan made up a story about how Jeff called him and was away doing a job, but he’d be back in a couple of weeks. He was sorry about worrying everyone, but he was fine. And when he did come back, his mother didn’t scold him too much, just went back to living the way they had been. She did remark on his jaw, and Jeff promised that he’d go get it seen to by a doctor.

“I don’t want to go out with you anymore, Jeff,” Jordan said when his brother was ready to take to the streets again. “It’s a little too real for me, and I don’t think I’m ready for it.”

“Oh, okay,” Jeff said. He wanted to protest, but the guilt he felt at placing his brother in harm’s way was getting to him. He cleared his throat. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll get back out there. Too bad, though. No more youtube money.”

“Yeah. We were really raking it in.” But Jeff saw that Jordan wasn’t going to change his mind and went out by himself.

They didn’t really talk too much about Jeff’s crime-fighting career after that. He did what he did, and Jordan graduated school and went to work in a factory. The work was easy once he figured out how to control his strength, and he discovered when a pallet fell on him that he was invulnerable, so he never had to go on leave for injuries. He got a place with his brother, though, and supported Jeff’s super hero lifestyle. He never told Jeff about his strength or his invulnerability. Being in the line of fire had made it too real for him, and he couldn’t do it.

[Postscript: The original premise: "Ultra-geek finds out his brother has super powers and pushes him to fight crime until the brother is killed. WHat happens when his own powers manifest?]