by James Davies

One hundred and eighteen men died when the Kursk submarine exploded on August 12th, 2000. There were no reported survivors. Then again, I have a pretty forgettable face.

In London, every winter is cold. And expensive. It’s hard to get a job here, especially if you don’t officially exist. Back in the Motherland, I could’ve gotten a job easily, but I wasn’t going back.

So I had to resort to robbery again.

I dodged a double-decker bus as I crossed through the roaring traffic. A cyclist swore at me as he shot past, barely missing me. I considered violence, but dismissed it. Bigger things were at hand.

The bank loomed over the bustling street. Its sliding doors welcomed me. My dress shoes rang nicely on the marble floor. My confidence waxed; there’s little better for that than a tailored suit.

I walked through the second set of doors, the heavy, traditional kind, mullioned with mullions. I flashed a smile at the cute teller. She smiled back. Half a dozen people stood in line, shepherded into place by brass stanchions and red velvet rope, carefully shaped to be strong yet ornate.

I unhooked one of the ropes and marched back to the double doors. It slid neatly through the metal door handles. I linked the end-hooks of the rope together, forming a loop. Then I did my trick—the alpha one, as I like to call it.

Since the submarine incident, I’ve felt magical. A brief stay in a government facility, back in Moscow, revealed that my magic is radiation. I generate it—alpha, beta, and gamma—as easily as breathing.

Alpha is heavy, slow, and filled with energy. I forced it from my hands into the hooks of the velvet rope, fusing them together. I’d begun to attract some very strange looks.

“Alright, everyone. Let’s be calm about this,” I announced, hoping they’d listen to me. I wasn’t a bad guy. I wasn’t there to hurt anyone. I just needed some money. “Yes, this is a robbery, and no, no one’s going to get hurt.”

A middle-aged man, balding on top, charged me. Heroes are rare nowadays. I raised a hand at his face, flushed out a wave of gamma and stepped aside. Gamma is tiny, quick, and harmless, but it makes electrical signals, even organic ones, go haywire. The man crashed blindly into the double doors with a nasty crack. He’d knocked his head into one of the mullions.

An elderly woman screamed and cowered behind an obnoxiously placid, blue linen chair. I ignored her and walked over to the row of counters. A younger woman hid underneath, furiously pressing the alarm button.

“What are you doing? Do you want me to kill you?” I slammed my fist on the counter, harmlessly scattering sparks.

“No!” she half-screamed, half-whimpered, scuttling away from me to the back wall. I felt a twinge of guilt but smothered it down.

“Good. Now open the safe. Please.”

“I can’t. Only the boss has the key and he’s not here.”

“Fine.” Time was running short, and I needed to be inside the safe before the police arrived or things would end badly. “You can let me behind the counter, though, can’t you?”

She nodded hysterically, still whimpering. She ran to the end of the counter and unlocked the solid door. I stepped through and was instantly slammed into the wall by two of her colleagues. The back of my head hit with a clunk and my vision filled with sparks.

I grabbed at their uniforms until my fingers found one of their nametags. I slammed it with alpha particles, heating it up rapidly. My fingers glowed red from the white light beneath. He screamed in agony as the heat passed through his clothes, and released me. With both hands free, I wrestled the other clerk off me, and dug my knee solidly into his temple.

He went limp but managed to stay conscious. The screamer had collapsed against a wall, clawing frantically at his own chest, struggling in vain to dislodge the white-hot metal. I stepped past him, marching towards the vault door.

The locking mechanism was electronic, like most things nowadays. With some time and patience, I could use gamma waves to free up some electrons and open it without destroying it, but my head was killing me.

I lined up my fingertips to the rim of the door and blasted the lock-bolts away. The door groaned and swung open. It was no heavier than an airlock on a submarine, and I heaved it open. I walked in and closed the door behind me. Safe in the safe, I thought to myself.

There is another side to my powers, the bad side. The side that forced me to give up on playing the good guy in the first place. Anytime I use radiation, even just the tiniest bit, I can’t stop myself from releasing a wave of gamma. It barely affects most things, but it stops all kinds of memory. Cameras, tape recorders, brains, none of them remember me. All I have to do is leave their senses for a couple of seconds, and they forget all about me.

I waved a hand over the carefully organized bank notes, washing them with beta radiation. It penetrated the paper without damaging it and activated any dye packs hidden within. Half a dozen of the stacks exploded in a mist of red ink. I smiled and carefully helped myself to a few unmarked stacks of larger notes, taking only what I could hide on my person.

The sound of screeching sirens reached me from outside. Time to leave. I counted to ten to make sure I’d been inside long enough, straightened my tie, and walked out.

“What were you doing in there?” The female clerk asked, looking confused.

“I’ve gotten everything I need to progress with the case, Miss … ?”

“Miss Starling. What case?” Her head bobbed as she spoke.

“You were robbed this morning,” I “reminded” her. “I’ve been allocated to the case by the Security Service.”

“Oh, of course. Thank you, sir.” It’s curious how readily the mind will accept almost anything when it has a void to fill.

I nodded. “You’re welcome. Rest assured, we’ll be investigating this matter thoroughly.”

I walked past the clerk on the floor, giving him a curt nod. He didn’t recognize me. The other clerk was gone, probably running cold water over his burns. The men and women who had been cowering about the bank floor began to find their feet, confusion etched across their faces.

I passed them and approached the sealed double doors. I ran a stream of alpha down the edge of my hand and quickly sliced through the velvet rope. It fell from the door handles with a loud clang. I hoped it hadn’t chipped the pristine marble floor.

I ruffled my shirt, turned my tie askew, and put my hands behind my head before walking out. As expected, I was met by a cordon of police cars.

“They’re letting out hostages!” I yelled, static before the dozen guns. No one moved. No one said anything. My collar, even loosened as it was, felt suffocating. My face burned, but hopefully I wasn’t blushing.

An officer rushed forward. My stomach turned, but I didn’t recoil or flinch. I refused to show any fear. He strafed up to the bank, pistol in hand. He looked me over briefly and holstered his weapon.

With a reassuring hand on my back, he led me away from the bank and past the barricade. A paramedic offered to check me over, but I declined and walked away.

“Stop!” The yell came from behind me. I turned, prepared to talk my way out of another arrest. But it wasn’t the police, just some dumb teenager aiming a pellet gun at me.

“What are you doing, kid?”

“What are you doing? You’re the superhero robbing banks and breaking the law.”

“You remember that, huh? Normally, nobody does.”

“Yeah, I remember. I don’t remember good ‘cause some boys hit me upside the head one day, but I remember you, being bad.”

“I wasn’t being bad; I can’t live without this money. You know how much a superhero gets paid? Squat.”

“If you were a good superhero, you would have saved me from those boys.”

“I wasn’t there. And even if I had been, you wouldn’t remember it.”

The kid scrunched up his face, deep in thought. I started to walk away.

“So I wouldn’t be hurt? I would remember good? I wouldn’t even be scared anymore?”

“Huh? No, I guess.” He was annoying me now, and I felt that all-too-familiar tingle of radiation ripple across my palm.

“Sounds like you’re pretty amazing, saving people and stopping them from being scared. Protecting their memories.”

“Except I don’t do that. I do what’s best for me.”

“Yeah. But you could.”

Copyright 2014 © James Davies