Eric Hardwood stepped out on the platform overlooking the deserted main level of the reactor facility and sank onto the stairs. He’d been stopping criminals and saving people as the superhero Waveform since his sophomore year of college. And now, decked out in Waveform’s midnight blue hero-suit, he leaned elbows on knees, disregarded the flashing warning lights, and awaited the imminent boom.
There’s no time left to cook up a backup plan.
He smiled ruefully to himself with a calmness that should’ve been unnerving but wasn’t, probably because no one else was going to get hurt. Not this time. “This is one heck of a birthday.”
“Thoughtful of you not to bring a cake.” A man dressed for cold weather in a black parka with blue fleece lining, boots, and gloves appeared, and sat beside him on the step. “Though I don’t know how you knew I was on a sugar-free kick.”
Startled, Eric stared stiffly.
The man — Dr. Abram Volkow, supervillain aka “Blueshift” — considered the mess of alerts on the level’s large, overhead message board in that uniquely weird manner of his. He studied it the way a daydreaming toddler peacefully gazes upon the warm glow of a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
“What are you doing?!” said Eric.
“Five years back,” said Volkow, “I was finishing a job with Goldstein’s old crew robbing the Gortmaker Auto Showroom when I first heard about you – the boy who could bend metal. More accurately, I heard the news from the radio of the McLaren I’d just liberated from a wasted life of showmanship. Some costumed kid had ripped open the hull of a capsized freight vessel and rescued all hands before she sank.”
There’s no time for this. Eric enunciated, “Why are you here?!”
Icy green eyes gleamed. “Why are you here?”
“Neutrino, your supervillain buddy, rigged this reactor to explode in, well, seventeen minutes.”
“He’s not my buddy, mostly because he’s stupid. What’s the ransom?”
Eric frowned. “He didn’t ask for one.”
“Case in point.”
“The deal is that if everyone leaves this facility, he’ll explode the reactor and destroy the entire seaside which we can’t evacuate in time. But, if at least one person stays, it implodes safely and everybody lives.”
“You mean everybody else lives.” Volkow glanced aside at him pointedly.
Eric ignored his look. “I’m impervious to a lot of things so I figure if anybody’s got a chance of surviving this thing, it’s me.”
“This isn’t a bullet, Eric. This will be megatons.”
Doesn’t matter. Everybody has to live. Eric scratched his head anxiously with both hands. Even Volkow. Jumping up, he pointed to the exit. “Look, you have to leave, please, just — .”
“I love how you worry about the bad guys. It’s a disgustingly lovable quality which is a part of why I like you.” Volkow rose as well and faced him. “Don’t worry, I didn’t come here to die.” He glanced around as he spoke. “But I didn’t come to say goodbye, either.”
“Came to say good riddance?”
“Clearly my admission of fondness didn’t quite sink in so I’ll spell it out. I’m saving you and your precious seaside of random strangers — don’t make that face — yours truly will survive, too. By the way, I earned the title ‘doctor’ the old-fashioned way and actually have several PhD’s in sciences most people could never wrap their heads around.”
Eric’s blue eyes widened with realization. No way… “You have a plan.”
Spotting the signage for a particular section of the facility, Volkow started down the stairs. “One where everybody lives.”