The taste of blood in his mouth has become the new normal as he tongues at the cuts on the inside of his cheeks. His right eye is swollen, his left arm is numb and hanging at his side, and his legs are on the verge of giving out. He loops a mantra in his head over and over to keep himself from passing out as the elevator climbs.
As young man he stood out. He was faster, stronger, and more agile than most people. He could outrun olympians, lift motorcycles over his head, perform acrobatic feats that would make a gymnasts head spin. He was quick witted and intelligent, he could pick up just about anything with enough time and attention. His prowess was set to inflate his ego to embarrassing proportions until it finally happened. The day he realized he was far and away the most exceptional person the world had to offer.
There was news of a woman who could lift tanks like toys, a man who could run at sonic speeds, a boy with an intellect so advanced he could manipulate objects with his mind, a girl who could stretch her body like elastic. More and more these exceptional people began to pop up, and before he knew it he was not as amazing as he thought. A cut above most of the population to be sure, but the lowest rung on the ladder when it came to meta-humans.
The elevator came to a smooth stop and the doors opened.
“Okay, Wallace,” he said, “show time.”
With an extreme effort he righted his posture. Everything ached but that didn’t matter. He could show some weakness when he reached med-bay but not a moment before. This hall of heroes didn’t just have supers under their employ. Civilians loitered around every corner and served vital roles in operations. They also talk. A lot. All he needed was for someone to see him limping, someone to see him sweat, someone to see him break baring even once, and that was it for him. Reputation was everything on this team. It’s bad enough people question why he’s there in the first place.
As he stepped out onto the floor, he was immediately greeted by a small huddle of office workers.
“Marshal! It’s good to see you back on world.”
“Good to be back,” Wallace said. “Space travel really takes it out of you. That and going toe to toe with aliens.”
He laughed and some of them chuckled politely. His ribs gave a dull ache and his jaw creaked as he smiled through the pain.
“You on your way to med-bay? Looking a bit banged up there.”
“What? This? Please, I’ve been worse off than this. Gotta debrief first. You know how it is. After that I can check in with the doc.”
The huddle converged around him as they made their way into the elevator. He walked past them and did his best to keep his composure as they brushed against him.
“Thanks for all you do, Marshal,” one of the workers said.
“All part of the job,” he said. “You folks take care.”
He waved at them and only once the door closed did he drop his smile. He still had to keep his composure a bit longer. This was the way of things. Debrief then relief. If you weren’t laid out on a stretcher then you could talk to the big wigs in charge. He’d have to put up an even bigger front there.
Marshal was his previous profession before he became a superhero. The transition was almost seamless. Most military, first responders, and law enforcement officials with abilities were encouraged to register as a hero. Civilians had a harder go at it but the ones who made the list were top tier hero material. Everyone else was put on a watchlist. He truly was on the lower end of the hero spectrum, but he was also one of the few regularly tasked with some of the hardest missions. He was teamed up with some of the most powerful forces The Concord had to offer, but compared to most of them he may as well be a civilian.
But despite all odds he got the job done. He can’t go head-to-head with true super strength, but he can fight around it. He can’t outpace super speed but he’s never far behind. He can’t fly but that’s why the techies invented jet packs. Every obstacle put in his path is just another box to be checked on a long list of things to do to get a job done.
As he made his way to the debriefing room, he saw a throng of children being led by a smartly dressed woman. A tour group.
And the show goes on. He smiled and waved as the children broke away from the tour guide to see a real “super-hero” up close and personal.
“You’re The Marshal!”
“I saw you fighting the Beastmen on the news. You looked awesome!”
“I heard you were in space. Did you just get back? Your eyes look puffy. Is that what happens when you come back from space?”
“Something like that,” he said. “Didn’t help I had to box an alien or two.”
The kids were jumping with excitement. They pulled our phones to take blurry pictures and selfies. He stifled a grimace as one kid hugged him. The tour guide and their teacher apologized profusely as they gathered the kids. He assured them it was fine and was prepared to continue on as they left him to continue the tour. It was as he began to make his way back down the hallway he saw the tour group was incomplete. He was met with a young boy who looked up at him with a mixture of awe and concern.
“Hey buddy,” Marshal said, “your tour group just left. If you run you can catch ‘em.”
“You’re hurting a lot. How come you’re still smiling?”
He was taken aback. Then he realized through the pain that he could feel a presence. An extra sensory feeling that was similar to the first time someone read his mind. Only this wasn’t as deep.
“You an empath, kid?”
The boy nodded.
“Kind of. It’s more like I can read body language. I get feelings too but not as deep. Surface level thoughts sometimes. My dad says I’m like a human lie detector. He thinks I could become a detective.”
“Almost certainly. But I’m okay, really.”
“You’re lying. I can tell. You’re hurting a lot. Not just physically. Do you need help?”
“No, I’m fine. This isn’t my first rodeo. Won’t be my last.”
“How come you do it?“
“This,” the boy said. “You’re not like the other heroes. Their powers aren’t like yours and mine.”
Hs looked down at the ground.
“They’re better than us.”
“The hell they are,” Marshall said.
The boy looked back up at him in shock.
“I can’t jump over buildings or teleport. I can’t punch a hole in a mountain, I can’t lift things with my mind, I don’t breathe fire or control elements. But guess who they send out there? Me. They send me. Because I get results. You think they’re better than me? I don’t. I just have to work harder, that’s all.”
“Comparison is the thief of joy. You ever hear that before? It’s always in my head that my teammates are different than me, but I can’t get bogged down about who is better or worse. It’s not my job to outperform, it’s my job to perform. You want to be a detective? I bet you’ll be amazing. But if you want to be anything in this life, you can’t start by comparing yourself to others.”
The sudden outburst left him a bit excited. Damn psyche-types always got a rise out of him. He collected himself and placed his hand on the boys head.
“I do what I do because I want to be the best me I can be. If that means I take some hits along the way, so be it. When it comes to protecting people, protecting the world, I’ll give every bit of myself.”
Marshal walked away from the boy and continued down the hall.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re capable of, kid. I didn’t.”