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Five Sentence Ficlets from Battle the Universe (AKA: Black Man, Cracker Jack, and the rest of the D-list superheroes)

Prompts from here.

Brief overview of the characters:

Black Man, AKA Reggie: No powers, just a few gadgets.  An auto mechanic, and Jake's teammate/roommate.  The sane one.
Cracker Jack, AKA Jake: Super-strength, endurance.  A trust fund baby.  Thinks he's far more awesome and invincible than he actually is.
Zambi: Super-strength, endurance.  Afraid of the police, but little else.  Inherited an auto junkyard; T's teammate.
T-man, AKA T: No powers, just some toys made of spare auto parts.  The baby of the group, likes bands with names like the Sodomizing Buttfuckers.
Mig: Minor super-strength in his leg muscles.  Has been a homeless vigilante for decades.  A teetotaller.  Works with Incog.
Incognito/Incog: Uncontrolled shapeshifting.  Mostly gathers and distributes information over the Internet to younger vigilantes.  Doesn't like pronouns.

Table One

#01 - Melts in the mouth

Reggie knows Jake is a harebrained white boy with no common sense.  He KNOWS that.  He lives with him!  But when Jake puts on that beatific smile like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, says, "Black, my man, I have an idea," Reggie somehow can't resist wanting to know what that stupid idea is.

You'd think he'd learn after the first time.

#02 -Breaking bread/fast

The first time T sees Mig, he can't fathom why Zambi has anything to do with him.  The guy's a bum, a hobo; his clothes are stained, he doesn't seem to own any others, his mask is made out of a pillowcase, and he smells.  Not only that, the only way to get a hold of him is through Incog, who's bats.

Zambi gives him an apple, though, and Mig grins and calls her darlin'.  So he might be a bum, but at least he's respectful.

#03 - Pin drop

All they can hear is their breathing, which seems far too loud in the confines of the Dumpster.  Then, footsteps.

"Where'd they go?"

"Must've gone the other way; forget them, let's go."

The footsteps leave, and only then do T and Zambi dare sigh--they're safe.

#04 - Measure of a man

T's some newbie, no-powered kid, so it's not like he can't expect some ribbing.  And since he goes by the name 'T-man,' and is pretty open about being a tranny, Cracker Jack assumes that calling him 'dickless' is just par for the course.

Zambi nearly throws him through the side of a building, and they both storm off.  When he whines to Black Man, "What the hell, she threw me through a WALL," Reggie just snaps, "For the love of God, man, shut up."

Jake does, but he still thinks T and Zambi took it far too personally.

#05 - Death and taxes

Incognito's vision has been blurred for the past week, making the 1040 impossible to read, and the numbers impossible to write.  So Incog calls Mig, and hands him the forms, saying, "Read these for me, please, and stay the weekend."

Mig makes a joke about how he hasn't had to do taxes since the seventies, and has long since lost the knack.  So they break open a bottle of wine, pull out the apples and olives, and one way or another, they manage to get it done on time.

Incog hopes that Mig retires before the crime fighting business catches up to him; Incog would miss him terribly.

#06 - Pushing forty

For Incognito, age has long since lost any sensible meaning.  When your body is in constant flux, age isn't years and physical changes, but events, lessons, and epiphanies.  Sometimes, Incog feels strong, able to move and see and use a computer without any trouble, and sometimes, Incog can't feel or use anything from the neck down.

No, years don't mean much to Incog.  But when Incog sees Mig stretching and doing physical therapy twice a day, trying to prevent further ravages to his knees, Incog feels perversely lucky for having a body that lives outside the rule of the calendar.

#07 - Two-part harmony

Zambi and T are both queer as folk, and it turns out that both of them like musicals such as 'Rent.' After sharing a six-pack of some unknown rotgut Cracker Jack likes, they're singing 'La Vie Boheme' at the top of their none-too-controlled voices.

"God," Zambi says, "listen to me.  I sound like a man."

"No you don't," T says, and continues singing an octave higher--after all, he's a soprano.

#08 - Almost too late

"You are a crazy dumbass cracker, you know that?" Reggie rages.

Jake shrugs. "Your grapple held."

"My grapple is meant to hold maybe three-hundred and fifty pounds of dumbass wannabe superheroes; it is NOT meant to hold six hundred pounds of dumbass wannabe superhero and hostages!" And when Jake only grins, Reggie says, "Seriously, man, never do that to me again."

#09 - Total eclipse

"Dude, a solar eclipse?  This guy's trying to take over the world on a solar eclipse?"

"Influences his abilities, makes them stronger," Incog says, with a grim smile. "Fortunately for me, I'm blind today, so it doesn't make a difference."

Black Man tosses T a pair of night-vision goggles, and T accepts them with thanks; Incog might still be creepy as hell, but he's growing to get along with Cracker Jack's partner.

#10 - Morning dip


"Mornin', sunshine!" Reggie brays with a glittering smile, still wielding the half-frozen water bottle. "Time to get the fuck off my sofa and leave the house like a normal human being."

Jake glowers at him and turns over. "The hell with you.  Who died and made you King of the Couch?"

#11 - Police, freeze! (caveat)

It was stupid to think they'd never get caught, but there they were, facing down two terrified white cops, and oh hell, Zambi knows exactly what they're seeing: a big scary black man and some skinny-ass white kid in baggy pants beating up drug dealers.  She can already tell the cops see them not as part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Zambi does exactly what she's told: she freezes, terrified what's going to happen to her--injunction, vigilantism, cross-dressing, maybe even a men's prison, where her muscle won't mean a damn thing...

A trashcan lid goes flying and conks one of the cops upside the head. "Go, go!" T screams, and everyone's scattering, fleeing into the shadows; for once, dealers and vigilantes are on the same side.

#12 - Paperweight

Black Man, Cracker Jack, Zambi-- T envies every single one of them, because they're strong.  Oh sure, T has cardiovascular health, he can run pretty fast even with twenty pounds of auto parts strapped to his back, but he's got all the upper-body strength of a chipmunk.  He can't do a single chin-up, and he's hated push-ups since he was in elementary school.  And his growth plates have closed, so he's going to be five foot three until he's six feet under.

It's just not fair, but hey, at least he's got the element of surprise.

#13 - White room/yellow hand print

Incog likes to use the able-bodied days productively.  Seeing the amount of time Incog has to spend in the house, home improvement is a pet hobby, so this week, it'll be painting the kitchen.

When Mig arrives with the mail, he asks, "How long?"

"Three hours." Incog wipes the sweat off, and stands back to survey the work, adding, "I've always liked white."

#14 - Stay with me

When Mig comes in, Incognito is on the floor.

"Hello, Mig," Incog says, in that unflappable, variable voice, "I'm afraid I'm having a challenging day.  If you could just help me back to the bed..."

Mig is a small man, and Incog has a heavy body today, so it takes effort, but he hoists Incog up and back into bed, then goes to fix them both some breakfast.  Incog doesn't have to ask; they both know he'll stay until the paraplegia clears up.

#15 - Walking tall

Zambi can feel the stares, and hear the whispers, but she stares straight ahead and strides on.  She refuses to wear headphones, shrink down, tuck in her shoulders.  She is five feet and eleven inches of pride descended from Lozi royalty (if you believe Aunt Marsha), slave laborers, freedom fighters, and hairdressers.

She's saved children from burning buildings, torn a door off a Hummer with her bare hands.  She doesn't have to be afraid of people like them.

#16 - Crazy like a fox

There are some benefits to living on the street for a few decades.  You learn a few things, like keeping a day planner.

When people think you're a bum, nobody takes you seriously.  Nobody even looks at you.

They never suspect that bum seemingly sleeping it off in the Dumpster is listening in and going to be the one to bust their drug deal come eleven o'clock Wednesday night.

#17 - Years of erosion

Being an uncontrolled shapeshifter, and luckily independently wealthy, Incog has collected a lot of junk, all of it useful every once in a while.  Wardrobes in various sizes, glasses and hearing aids of varying strengths, barbells of varying weights, vegan and gluten-free and soy-free, depending on Incog's intestinal make-up of the day.

"Don't you ever get worn down, having to use this stuff all the time?" T asks once, looking at the wheelchair and crutches.

"Never," Incog responds, frying bacon. "After all, at most, I only have to deal with it for three weeks."

#18 - Interruption

It's a condemned building, and now it's falling and possibly on fire because some idiot kids decided to have a smoke and a dance party in it.  Zambi is still in civilian clothes, but for once, she doesn't have to worry about being seen; she just puts her back to what look like an important part of the frame, and takes the weight while the Fire Department gets the kids out.

The sweat runs down her face, the smoke is choking her, her back aches, but none of that matters, because she knows, this is what she was meant to do, this is what her body was made for.  Her blood is pounding, and her muscles are holding--she's holding up a goddamned HOUSE, and she can do it, the kids are going to be okay, going to be safe, and feeling that is good, perfect...

...and a flashbulb goes off.

She makes the news, under the headline "Cross-Dresser Saves Children," and stops wearing skirts for a while.

#19 - Just the beginning

When T was Esther, he'd been dysphoric, confused, and didn't know what the hell he was going to do with himself--or even what or who he was, only that he liked heavy metal and Rubik's Cubes.

Then he'd seen Zambi, walking down the street with regal poise Queen Victoria herself couldn't have pulled off, trailing hecklers.  He'd seen her lead them into an alley, and then beat the crap out of them with her high heels.  He'd ended up using that taser camera he'd made on a lark on the last one.

After they'd both stopped crying from frustration (Zambi's) and fear (T's) she'd asked him what his name was, and when he'd said, "I'm not sure," he knew it was only temporary.

#20 - Box of crackerjacks (caveat)

"You mean that was..."


"So now you have twenty clones of Cracker Jack."


T smacks Black Man on the back and says, "Congratulations, man," while Black Man falls to his knees and bellows something about his grocery bill.

#21 - Proud as a peacock

"'Zambi,' that's a pretty name," T says.

"Thanks, I'd liked it for a long time, but I didn't start using it till I'd come out and started crime-fighting," Zambi says.

"How come?"

"Because it's a name for the bull shark," Zambi laughs. "Not very feminine, but it's strong, it's tough, and the only predator it's got is people, so I figured it wasn't a bad thing to model myself after."

#22 - Sandpaper eyes

T knew that crime fighting was for insomniacs, but he'd never considered the applications of the sleep deprivation to a full load of Women's and Gender Studies undergraduate courses.

"As you can see, vulvar forms are an intrinsic part of the feminist art movement of the nineteen-seventies.  However, Judy Chicago chose an equilateral triangle for the framework of her 'Dinner Party,' claiming its symbology for women and equality.  With the vulvar imagery, plus the use of an inverted triangle as a symbol for Nazi oppression, what does this say about the commodification of female sexuality, lesbianism, and feminism?"

T lets his head fall to his desk and wishes he'd joined Uncle Lawrence's auto shop while he had the chance.

#23 - Cup of coffee

Between work and Black Man duty, Reggie hasn't gotten more than eight hours sleep in the past three days.  Even Jake's barrel full of energy is starting to scrape bottom, though God knows he still pulls out the stupid jokes.

They've been on stake-out for seven hours outside a condemned building, and if something doesn't happen soon, Reggie's positive he's going to fall asleep at his post.

Jake hands him a Starbucks container, still steaming with the terrible espresso they'd bought that evening.

"Thanks," Reggie says, and takes it.

#24 - Drop in the ocean

"Man, sometimes I wonder why you do this," Black Man says.

"I've told you: it's breaking what people..."

"...Think of superheroes, it's hilarious, I know, I know, bullcrap.  Jack, this shit is HARD, it's exhausting, you ain't just doing this on account of a joke nobody gets but you!"

Cracker Jack is silent for a moment; then he says, "Hey, I said it was funny, I never said ANYTHING about it being easy."

#25 - You’ve got a friend

T comes home late, looking a little bedraggled and bemused.

Zambi takes one look at him and grins. "Boy, where have you been, and was he/she/ze/they good?"

"He's new in town, fine with the trans thing, and…" T blushes, fidgets, and mutters, "he's... uh, made of rock."

"Wow, you really ARE queer, aren't you?"
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