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Mightier Than The Sword

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Arlene F. Marks found her muse at the age of six and has been writing and sharing stories ever since. Equally passionate about writing and teaching, she has been published in a variety of lengths and genres over the years, both fiction and nonfiction. Most recently, she is the author of From First Word to Last: The Craft of Writing Popular Fiction (Legacy Books Press, 2013), Literacy Made for All (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), No Pain, No Gaine (Samhain RetroRomance, 2015) and the award-nominated science fantasy novel The Accidental God (Sun Dragon Press, 2014). Her current projects include a cycle of sf novels set at the turn of the 25th century. Arlene lives with her husband on the shore of Nottawasaga Bay. She blogs and showcases her work on her web site, thewritersnest.ca.

Ultraman enters the room slowly, pausing in the doorway for effect. He has purposely kept us waiting for ten minutes. A smile tugs briefly at the corners of his mouth as he steps ponderously over to the dark green chair at the center of all the lights and cameras. This is the final interview. All the safe and simple questions have been asked and answered. It's time for the tough ones. That's why the network hired me. Our viewers want to know.
The chair is especially designed to accommodate his bulk and support his weight. Hyperdeveloped muscles are evident even beneath the fabric of his suit coat. They bunch and shift beneath his skin with every movement he makes. Together with his granitic features and the brow ridge that canopies his eyes, they turn him into a caricature of physical strength.
The other ten are living caricatures as well, of keen sensory perception, flexibility, sensitivity and intellect. But there were twelve to start with, a dozen embryos in the first generation of the experiment; and eyes were averted each time I brought the subject up in the earlier sessions. Talk to Ultraman, I was told.
"I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about your brother--"
"The Infamous One?" he cuts in. The stony face is scowling.
I school my own features and keep my voice steady. "I was going to use his given name."
"I'm amazed anyone even remembers it. Let me save you some time," he says, and there's a hard edge of impatience in his voice. "Everyone who interviews us is curious about the twelfth embryo. We answer their questions, then they edit out all mention of The Infamous One before publishing the article or releasing the video to the media. You didn't really think you were the first, did you?"
In fact, I already know I'm not. What I don't know is how someone whose evil misdeeds are a matter of public record could come to be so taboo that not even other investigative reporters will discuss his origins with me in private.
When I tell Ultraman this, he utters a laugh that rumbles inside him like an earthquake. "So you've come to the source. All right, I'll tell you the story. But don't say you weren't warned, any of you."
I am suddenly aware of the technicians holding their breaths all around us in the darkness, and I wonder whether I should ask them to leave the room. Then it's too late. Ultraman has begun to speak.
"When those scientists figured out how to activate the dark genetic matter in human chromosomes, they weren't sure what their tweaking would produce. They had an idea, of course--a human fetus goes through all the stages of evolution in the womb--so they were prepared for just about every eventuality. What they never counted on was a null result."
"The twelfth embryo."
He nods. "The Infamous One emerged from the crèche looking perfectly normal, but then so did most of us. As we grew older, our special abilities began to manifest themselves. By our fifth birthday, it was obvious that eleven of us were enhanced humans and one was a failed experiment... or so we all thought. Unfortunately, despite our superhuman powers we were still human children, reacting to the presence of someone who clearly didn't belong in the group."
He stares at me as he says this. Memories surface, and it takes all my self-control to remain still in my chair.
"You bullied him."
"We super-bullied him," he corrects me in a voice tinged with regret. "We tormented him at every opportunity, abused him in every way we could think of. And we felt we were entitled to, because in our little world we were the normal ones and he was different. If they'd realized what was happening, the adults would have put a stop to it; but we were all convincing liars, and our victim never snitched. By the time the scientists were ready to concede defeat and let him be adopted into a regular human family, the emotional and psychological harm we'd caused...."
He sighs, and I am certain he can see the scars of my past etched on my face. I remind myself that this interview is not about me.
"But you said... so he did have a special ability."
"His nervous system was attuned to the rhythm and harmony of the spoken word. There was no way anyone could have detected such a gift when he was young, and he naturally assumed that everyone was as sensitive to the music of language as he was, so he had no reason to tell anyone about it. Unfortunately, it amplified the effect of any verbal abuse he suffered. I'm sure you can imagine what it felt like to be reminded on a daily basis by everyone he knew that he was a failure and a disappointment, that he didn't belong--and to believe it. And then to realize that he did have an enhancement after all, that he was superior to all the normal humans around him!"
"I'm sorry, you've lost me. If he thought everyone was just like him, then how--?"
"When he was adopted, The Infamous One was already damaged, and damaged kids are magnets for bullies. Naturally they came after him at school. At first he tried to fight, and that didn't work. So he talked. And he found that if they let him talk to them before they started throwing punches, the bullies always ended up walking away. It didn't take him long to figure out what was happening, and what he might have been spared earlier on if he'd used his words on us. A hard kernel of anger was planted inside him then. It took root immediately and began to grow. He'd been made to feel like an outsider by his crèche-mates, then dumped into the normal world where he really was different from everyone else."
Things are coming clear for me now.
"Different but superior this time," I murmur, and Ultraman nods.
"Words began as his shield. As he grew older they became his tools, and he quickly learned how to wield them expertly to get ahead. He became a trial lawyer. Never lost a case. Then he moved into politics, making speeches that gripped the masses, swaying their moods and opinions. Bending individuals to his will. They said he had charisma. They thought he could do no wrong. Nobody saw the anger gnawing at his core. Not until he'd risen to the leadership of a party, and then of a government. Not until he'd started a war that cost three million people their lives." Ultraman sighs heavily. "It took all of us to bring him down--a combined effort by eleven superhumans. Superheroes, they call us. We stepped up and saved the world. Everyone thought we did it because we're the good guys, and fighting evil is what good guys do. In fact, all that happened was that we drove our brother insane, stood by while he killed three million people to prove he was our equal, and then ganged up and murdered him. That's a lot of blood to have on your hands."
Words have always been my trusty tools, at times my only friends, but at this moment they fail me. I want to reassure him that he can't blame himself for the bad deeds of another, but the memories are too strident, and I know I would be lying.
He gazes thoughtfully into my face, and I am strangely relieved to see his eyes bright with unshed tears. "So there is your answer. Now you must decide what to do with it. Air it or bury it. Either way, none of us will blame you." And without another word he rises to his feet and walks out of the room.
The interview is over.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 28th, 2015

Author Comments

Because I'm a novelist, writing short fiction does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it, undertaking its challenges as a way to keep honing my craft. Every once in a while, however, a short story springs to life in my mind, complete and virtually in final draft form. This was one of those. The issue of bullying collided in my imagination with the question of where supervillains come from, and two of them emerged.

- Arlene F. Marks
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