The ground let me know that they were coming.
It was a very pretty day. The sort of day that happens from time to time in New England, kind of a consolation prize for the rest of the weather. There was sunshine, pretty trees, hills and 2 roads. One was old, and one was mine.
I was laying down, using my gift to try and drag up good stone to be part of my road. It was hard. I knew a lot of Ultras who could use their gifts however they wanted, but it wasn’t like that for me. The ground was like a friendly buddy to me. He gave me health and strength, and he’d do what I asked, but his own way.
Like, I was trying to make this road. There was another road nearby, but it was clogged with busted cars and sometimes it was cut by chasms or just blown up. I just wanted the ground to bring up rocks and make another road just like that one. But I kept stealing rocks from that other road, which I then had to put back, or bringing up rocks that were like stuff I was thinking about, mainly wrestling and girls.
When these statues would rise, all messed up and half finished, up out of the road I was making I’d have to think real hard to smush them back down. I scrunched up my forehead and closed my eyes and though about roads. Roads and roads and roads and roads.
The footfalls were a surprise, and a welcome distraction. They were coming down from Ston, along the road that the old worlders built, a long long way away. I sat up and smiled. No more building today. Something fun was going to happen. The ground under me wobbled a bit, thinking the same.
“Easy brah.” I murmured, petting the road like a dog.
The ground could tell me that people were coming from a long way away. They were around a hill, and so they wouldn’t see me for a while yet, but they were coming along pretty quick. They’d be here in an hour or so.
I needed to figure out my intro. I looked at my pull wagon, trying to come up with something cool. I hadn’t thought about what I’d show to anyone who found me out here making the road, because I didn’t really think I’d see anyone out here.
The pull wagon was small and red. I’d taken it from an old house that hadn’t got wrecked up much. It worked ok. I had to make a new wheel once, but mostly it was still fine. It had my weights in it, my mask, my watcher with the old wrestling programs and my tent.
The coolest thing that I could be doing when they walked up was definitely lifting. Plus, I liked lifting. I liked it way better than making roads. I’d already done a bunch of it this morning, but why not do some more?
This was a bit of an excuse to stop doing the boring work of road making and instead lift weights, but it wasn’t like I had a deadline or anything. No one was my boss, no one could stop me from slacking off.
I walked over to the wagon, pulled the tarp off, took out some of the heavier weights and then put the tarp back over the rest. I got the big bar and just loaded it up with the heavy disk weights that go on there, making sure to screw the ends back on tight. I lay down on the ground when I was ready.
“Spot me” I whispered to the ground, and then began to press.
Some dudes lift weights to get strong. Others lift weights to get huge. I was the second kind of dude. My gift made me Ultra strong anyway, so long as I kept touching the ground. I was all about getting massive, and I was really good at it.
I look a lot like my favorite pro wrestlers from my videos. That’s not a thing that happened on accident. I lift a lot of weights to stay looking like that. Mostly with my arms and body. My legs are kind of puny, but who cares about legs? Nobody, that’s who.
I lay on the ground and hefted the bar, settling into a smooth rhythm. I was cheating, using my Ultra strength. I hadn’t cheated in the morning, so I wouldn’t have been able to lift now except that I was using my gift. This was just for show. While I lifted I listened to their footfalls through the ground, finding out what I could about the travelers who were getting closer.
There were 8 of them. There was a person out in front, then a line of 4 walking shoulder to shoulder. The 4 were stepping at the same time, which was strange. Then there was 1 who was taking short steps really quick, like his or her feet couldn’t go far apart, and lastly there were 2 in the back. One of the back people was an Ultra with super strength. She probably didn’t mean to pound the ground when she walked, but it was sulky and it was sort of whining about it to me.
I tried to guess who they might be. It wasn’t Pursuer’s fist coming to get me, because they were walking. Also there were too many, unless they had Knights with them. It probably wasn’t about me at all, because almost nobody knew that I was out here. This wasn’t because I made it a secret, it was because mostly nobody cared what I did.
An Ultra walking was weird though. Mostly Ultras could make someone find them a car, or use their powers to go places. Also most Ultras wouldn’t walk with a bunch of people. I couldn’t think of a good reason for them to be here.
I shrugged, which is hard to do when you are laying down and lifting heavy weights, and kept pumping. Soon enough I would know, and guessing in the meantime would just make me feel dumb when I was wrong. Patience is a good thing. I once knew an Ultra named Waiter, but that name just confused everyone.
It got a lot more confusing when they came around the corner, past the trees. I was looking out of the corner of my eye because it would be more awesome if I was lifting heavy weights when they showed up and didn’t even notice them. I couldn’t help peeking though, and it was super strange to only see the dude in front. I couldn’t see the ones behind him at all. The ground could still feel their footsteps, but I couldn’t see them.
“What the fuck, brah?” I whispered, and the ground sort of rumbled back at me. Not loud enough that the shaking would reach them though. I don’t know what that was supposed to mean.
“Hello good sir” the guy in front yelled at me. “Fine day, isn’t it?”
I heaved my arms as though I wasn’t using ultra strength and set the weight down on the ground above my head. Well, sort of in front of it. What’s the word for when you are laying down and you put something more head ways than your body? Like my body is a lower case I, and I put it down where the dot would be.
I sat up, looking at him, or them, or whatever. The guy I could see was older than me, like a Dad kind of guy but not a Grandad kind of guy. He was wearing a beat up old suit and had his hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was smiling broadly, and gave a friendly wave. Seeing his smile, I decided to play this one face. Working heel was mostly fun with jerks, and I was hoping that this guy was cool.
Behind him people I couldn’t see were stopping. The front 4 stopped exactly in a line, like if you drew a line through one’s feet it would go through the feet of the other 3. The 1 behind them dropped to his knees. The last two stood more casually. This was so weird.
The one I could see came jogging over to me.
“Sup, brah?” I called out to him. I flexed as I stood up, accidentally on purpose. I felt a bit underdressed. I wear a sweat suit, but with the lower leg parts torn off to let me bare feet touch the ground and the sleeves torn off to show off how big my arms are and a big tear in the chest because I got hit with a motorcycle there.
“Beg pardon?” he said, turning his head kind of sideways, like he didn’t know what I meant.
“What’s up?” I asked again.
“Ah” he said. “Sorry. I’m going that way”
He pointed down the roads behind me.
“Where did this extra road come from, if I might ask. Also, why are you lifting weights in the middle of the wilderness?”
He talked kind of fast. Or maybe I talk kind of slow. It might be either way.
I gave him a big smile of my own.
“I just always lift weights brah. I love pumping iron. I’m ALL ABOUT that.”
I said ALL ABOUT really loudly, just to make it sink in how much I meant it. It seemed to work, because he nodded at me again. His smile was just the mouth part now, not the eyes or face. Mostly when people smile like that they aren’t really happy, but as a babyface I shouldn’t mention it.
“Ah, you avoid my question.” He said. “Perhaps I might venture a guess. Is it possible, perhaps, that this new road was created by an Ultra?”
I smiled broadly. He was about to guess how awesome I was. I loved this.
“I’ll take your grin as a sign that you concur. My next question, then. Do you, perchance, work for this Ultra?”
My smile instantly faded. Why wouldn’t he think that I was the Ultra? Then I realized. I wasn’t wearing my sigil. I’d left it in the cart because I was in such a hurry to get out the weights. I’d made a huge blunder! We were never supposed to be seen without our sigils, or at least only when it was obvious that we were Ultras. She didn’t like it when Ultras acted like humans.
I stood and thought about it for a second, wrinkling my forehead and scratching it. I couldn’t think of a response that would be safe and truthful.
He sighed with exasperation.
“Is there an Ultra, a lady with powers, who bosses you around?” He talked more loudly now, like I might not be quite understanding him. He thought I was dumb.
“Yeah” I said. I didn’t like to lie, but it was probably the best thing to do. Besides, it is usually better to agree with people. Maybe he’d do the rest of the conversation for me and then go away. Also, She does boss me, and everyone else, around, so this wasn’t really lying.
“Where is she?” he asked, with exaggerated care.
“Uh, not here.” Still not actually a lie.
“I can see that.” He said, which seemed rich when he had 7 invisible friends, but whatever. He didn’t know that I knew that, I thought.
“I don’t know where she is.” I was making it a game now, to keep tricking him without lying. I probably couldn’t keep it up for long, but it helped to distract me from feeling sad about not putting on my sigil.
He seemed frustrated. He chewed on his lip and looked around, like an Ultra was just going to pop out from behind somewhere and talk to him. I started to feel a little bad.
“Look,” he said “she’s mean to you, right?”
I didn’t say anything, just looked at him.
“She makes you carry around her weight set. She left you sitting at the end of her road while she runs off who knows where. She’s a real jerk.”
He was talking more quietly now, like we were sharing a secret. I nodded along with him. I didn’t know exactly where he was going, but it didn’t seem like I needed to talk much.
“What if I told you that you don’t have to work for her?” he asked.
An involuntary snort escaped my lips. He didn’t mean Her, so he didn’t know how ridiculous that was, but I chuckled anyway.
“I know, she seems super powerful, but I’ve got a secret to tell you, my large friend.”
I wasn’t sure when we became friends, but why not? He seemed friendly. At least he mostly smiled. It helped ease my conscience a bit. White lies were ok between friends, and anyway I hadn’t said any lies.
“I didn’t just meet you randomly, big guy. I come from far away. My bosses heard from some of their agents, err… secret friends that the Regime was building a new road. They don’t normally do that, so my bosses got curious. We are here to find the Regime Ultra who is building the road, and take her away to my bosses to get questioned.”
I nodded along again, mind racing. He must be from the Union, since we were in the north. He was here to fight me, and I’d left my mask in the box like a total dummy. Plus, he was telling stuff to his enemy without knowing it. I was acting like a heel after all. I had to set him straight. But before I could talk he kept on going.
“Questioned.” He said again. “No one comes back from that. She’ll never bother you again. You’ll be free! You can even come back to the north along with us, if you want. The Ultras aren’t mean there.”
“We?” I asked, seizing on the one thing that he’d said that I wanted to ask about first. I mostly knew the answer, but he didn’t know I knew it, and it delayed me having to tell him that I was a liar.
He smiled and gestured. The four people in a line came into view all of a sudden, appearing like from thin air, front to back. It was like an invisible curtain was pulled off them. They looked totally awesome.
They were like if a soldier and a ninja combined or had a baby or something. They had oily black uniforms with plates along the flat parts and spikes coming out from the edges. They had full face coverings with goggles or something built in, with electric lights blinking scarily around the edges. They were carrying big guns, pointed right at me. Even the guns looked future-ey, with bigger barrels and attachments on the outside that probably did awesome stuff.
All four of them were standing straight up in the same exact way, guns held at the same exact angle. They weren’t the same height, but they stood like they were. Disciplined troops, definitely.
The veil or whatever it was didn’t keep going back and reveal the kneeler or the Ultra and the person behind him. Those three stayed hidden and out of sight, but the guy in the front turned back to me and his smile went away.
“Ah, man.” I said. Nothing to do but own up. “Ah man. What’s your name?”
“Mario” he said, which was probably a lie because I hadn’t heard that name before except for a video game guy. “And yours?”
“I’m Dale, Dale Pitts.” I told him. No reason to lie about this.
“Don’t worry, Dale.” He said. “We can definitely protect you from your Ultra, even if she seems terrifying. Our team has taken down 4 Regime Ultras, with very few casualties. We are strong, and we can help you.”
This was just making things much worse.
“Mario, I’m the Ultra.” I said. “I’m s-“
I didn’t get any more words out before they started shooting me with their giant futuristic guns.