The Last Victory
by Charles C. Cole
Santa Ana, world-famous Latin superhero, was reviewing electronic data from the command center in Heroes’ Tower as Calendula the Prairie Goddess returned from an unsuccessful reconnaissance mission. She entered wordlessly, sullen, looking out the nearest window at the quiet streets of New Acropolis below. Santa Ana, the Wind Man, limped over to join her.
“There’s nothing sadder than a superhero with no one to save,” said Calendula softly, without a hint of irony.
“They’re out there,” said Santa Ana. “They have to be. I keep listening. I keep checking the satellite imagery.”
“And what have you learned?” asked Calendula.
“Nothing,” answered Santa Ana. “It’s as if the whole mortal world went on a picnic and forgot to come home.”
“They’re hiding,” said Calendula. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. But from what? Why don’t they signal us?”
“There’s no sign of a battle,” Santa Ana noted. “Everything’s standing unscathed, like a forgotten city. Quiet like New Year’s morning.”
“Not a bad time to fly recon over the city,” Calendula suggested.
“Except for the damn smog,” grumbled Santa Ana. “You’d think the mills and processing plants would have just shut down, but the engines of industry seem to keep chugging. Welcome to the age of automation.” Santa Ana hobbled back to his station.
“You’re limping,” Calendula said.
“I never got injured before in my life,” Santa Ana replied. “It’s kind of heroic-looking, I think.”
“You tried flying again.”
“Once a flying avenger, always a flying avenger.”
“Only now without the flying part,” corrected Calendula.
“I jumped off the bookcase and came down wrong,” Santa Ana explained.
“Good thing you didn’t launch yourself off the balcony,” teased Calendula. Then she felt bad taking her frustrations out on him. “Any word from the Tri-state Titans?”
“If Radio Girl could reach out to my mind telepathically,” said Santa Ana, “she would have.”
Calendula yawned. “I feel like napping. Is that bad?”
“I think it’s a side-effect of whatever’s happened,” said Santa Ana. “No people. No superpowers. That’s an award-winning combination for the nap of the century.”
There was a quick BING as their private elevator stopped. The doors opened. Radio Girl entered. She had company, a thin sixtyish man with a long white beard and hair to match.
“I found one,” Radio Girl explained, sweeping forward, “a mortal. Turns out, we’re not alone after all.”
Relief seemed to burst out of Calendula. “A human? Now we’ve got a mission, someone to protect.”
“He looks familiar,” said Radio Girl, “but I can’t place him.”
“Who are you, friend?” Santa Ana asked.
“I don’t know,” uttered the stranger. “I can’t remember.”
The Amber Clasp of Truth at the neck of Calendula’s silvery cape glowed. “Another side-effect perhaps,” said Calendula, nodding at her clasp for Santa Ana’s attention.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Santa Ana. “Did you see or hear anything? We were off-world on a mission. We were just coming out of hypersleep.”
“I was asleep myself,” said the stranger. “I woke up, and everyone was gone.”
The clasp glowed, pulsed.
“So we’re dealing with a planet-sized vacuum cleaner,” Santa Ana joked darkly. “How’d you get missed? Not important enough?”
“He’s a homeless person, I think,” Radio Girl offered. “I found him walking out of a subway tunnel.”
“Pretty scrubbed up for homeless,” mused Calendula.
“Which hero are you?” asked the stranger.
“I’m Calendula. This is Santa Ana, the Wind Man. I think you’ve met Radio Girl.”
The stranger stepped toward Santa Ana. “I’ve heard of you. I thought you’d be taller.”
“Have you seen anybody else?” asked Calendula.
“Just you three,” the stranger answered.
Calendula glanced at her amber clasp. It was dark: he was telling the truth this time.
“Are there more?”
“Probably,” said Radio Girl, “but we can’t seem to reach them.”
“That’s what happens,” said the stranger, “when you lose your powers.”
“You’re pretty informed for a homeless guy,” said Radio Girl.
“So this is Heroes’ Tower,” said the stranger. “I’ll bet it’s lined with a pretty special metal.”
“Actually, yes,” said Calendula. “Levidium.”
“From Halcyon 5,” the stranger concluded. “Of course.”
“You’re in the know,” said Santa Ana. “Are you a fan?”
“Not even close,” said the stranger. “Not ever.”
“Where’s your home, friend?” asked Santa Ana. “What part of town? Maybe there are other survivors.”
“I doubt it,” said the stranger. “The bomb was pretty thorough, on a global scale.”
“What bomb?” asked Radio Girl. “We would have recorded something on our sensors.”
“More of a pulse, really,” the stranger explained. “I designed it to rid the world of Immortals, originally. Or at least temporarily sap their super-abilities. But then, I thought, that’s not enough. I should erase your reason for being.”
“Where is everyone?” demanded Radio Girl.
“Gone! Gone! Gone!” the stranger cheered.
“There are no bodies anywhere,” said Radio Girl. “Did you shrink them? Send them to another dimension?”
“Vaporized,” explained the stranger. “Poof!”
“That many people, worldwide, there’d be debris,” scoffed Calendula. “Something.”
“You mean the smog,” said the stranger. “Ironic, isn’t it? It used to be made by them, now it’s made of them.”
“Why would you do this?” asked Radio Girl, incredulous.
“Revenge,” said the stranger. “There’s no better motive. I am Tarkin the Terrible, but you can call me Omega.”
“I remember you,” said Radio Girl. “You were buried under the city three years ago, beneath the rubble of the New World Expo, when your last weapon backfired. You’ve been busy.”
“I’ve won this time, that’s all that matters, to be the last victor,” said Omega. “I’ve vanquished the undefeatable. No one can take that away from me.”
“With the mortals gone,” said Santa Ana, “there’s no one to rule. No reason to scheme.”
“Without those fragile lives,” said Calendula, “your purpose is over, as much as ours. But we’re still immortal. You haven’t hurt us, not in the long run. We’ll figure a way to get our powers back and rebuild the human race. You better hope we succeed. Because, otherwise, you’re a criminal mastermind without anyone to master. You just put yourself right out of a job.”
Omega sat down heavily. “You have a point,” he said.
“Congratulations,” said Radio Girl. “You won. And nobody will ever know.”
Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole