Limitless Zero

Short Story

Tragic backstory?

Check.

Mutilated body, courtesy of said tragic backstory?

Check.

Inhuman, ill-gotten powers that resulted in said tragic backstory?

Check.

Egotistical plot to overthrow the current regime in order to strike back at those who had instigated said tragic backstory?

Check. Oh, God, check.

Marshall really did have all the makings of a cliché super villain, as well as the means to revel in his induction into the blockbuster hall of infamy. And revel he did. Not at first, of course, because what super villain is ever born with the intention of reducing the world to a smattering of dusty ashes? No, that took time to cultivate, but Marshall took the time, the years to do it properly. He had a lot of grudges that would be settled with the end of the world, and if he could trigger the apocalypse, then why the hell wouldn't he?

That thought process had led to his infiltrating (all badass ninja-like) Starset Headquarters, veritable throne room of the ultra-powered world-wide conglomerate that basically controlled the flow of the earth. According to Wikipedia, anyway, and Marshall was of the mind that most people who wrote articles for Wikipedia didn't lie. Because why would you lie? What disturbed mind gets satisfaction from knowing your false information is going to net some poor teenage slacker a failing mark? While Marshall knew the world had more than its fair share of assholes, he didn't think most of them congregated on the all-knowing website just to piss people off. 

If they did, well, that'd just be another reason to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, in his opinion.

The office worker drones who populated the building hadn't put up much resistance. Sure they'd called for security and maybe a few of the women (and a surprising amount of men) fainted away from his entrance and subsequent bad-guy speech, but after that he'd pretty much corralled them in the breakroom, barricaded the door, and called it job well done. 

Now he was sitting pretty in the president's super-sized office, feet kicked up on the mahogany desk, interlocked hands cupping the back of his head. A wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window sat directly opposite him, overlooking Creston City's skyline in all its glittering glory. Night had fallen sometime between when he first crawled in through the trash chute and his leisurely ride up the elevator (which he'd then frozen shut for convenience's sake), and the city glowed with heavenly fire, which was impressive in its own right, he supposed. 

But Marshall missed the stars.

The whine of police sirens in the distance broke the tempered silence, and Marshall frowned; he'd forgotten to take the drones' cellphones, hadn't he? It must have slipped his mind, because that was something he'd planned to do. Or maybe it had just been a passing thought he'd had while he was inching his way through day-old banana peels and Tupperware boxes marked with Sharpie-d names (some of which had been crossed out, meaning they were probably stolen by co-workers, much to Marshall's disgust). Either way, he hadn't done it, and now the police were coming. He didn't care, really; the police could shout at him through their megaphones all they wanted, he wasn't giving himself up. Guns and teargas and all the weapons they (and the SWAT team) had at their disposal did nothing to rack his nerves. He'd been too scared for too long to care what happened now, but he was also confident nothing they could throw at him would do them any good. 

Nothing could hurt Marshall unless he let it.

Twenty minutes ago, Marshall had patched himself into Starset's broadcasting network. The company president (a figurehead, Marshall figured, because the man was in his seventies and balding and not very bright, if he could be lured out of his office with the promise of donuts in the cafeteria) often made announcements from the comfort of his office, just little promotional messages or warnings about terrorists that saw the company as a threat. Marshall had never found him all that convincing, but then again, he was conditioned to believe everything he heard was a lie. That made everyone shitty, two-faced liars to him. So it made sense that he wouldn't believe a word the president said, and that every other citizen of Creston lapped up his words as if he were some prophetic genius. 

Anyway, he was patched in, and he'd been waiting for the opportune moment to begin his own little broadcast. With the arrival of the Creston Police Department, he thought now was as good a time as any.

Marshall swung his legs off the desk, bending forward to tap the small, square button on the underside of the desk, which slid open a panel in the ceiling just before the landscape window; a movie production-grade camera was lowered into place, and to Marshall's right a television screen flickered on. He grinned at the camera, and in his peripheral vision he spotted himself echoing the gesture on the screen. 

Showtime.

"Greetings, people of Earth," he said pleasantly, reclining in the pricy leather swivel chair. "You may be wondering why Mr. Devereux isn't the one speaking to you. That's because, well..." Marshall scratched at his cheek, turning up the wattage of his smile. "Old man, ya know. Heart wasn't what it used to be..."

Lying was something Marshall was good at. Something he enjoyed. If no one was going to have the courtesy to tell him the truth, why should he be bothering being truthful to everyone else? Plus, singlehandedly spreading the rumor that Starset's president had kicked the bucket to the entire city was a damn good accomplishment in his book.

Ignoring the fact that anyone who might care about the well-being of that marionette of a president would be dead within the day, in any case. 

"That's not important, though," he went on, waving a hand dismissively. In his head, Marshall liked to imagine that his flippant proclamation had more than just a few naive citizens choking on their overpriced caramel-mocha-extra-whipped-something-or-others; in related news, one of those many grudges that Marshall harbored happened to be against Starbucks as a whole.

"Most of you are probably wondering who I am, and - as I'm known to be quite generous - I'll let the cat out of the bag. They call me Ticker. Not my real name, of course, but it's the one that usually gets people's attention." Marshall paused, drumming his fingers leisurely atop the desk. "They called me Ticker, suppose that's more apt. Anyway, I got the name because they considered me a ticking time bomb. I'm here today to prove them right."

If he'd had a visible audience he would have struck a dramatic pose, perhaps by jutting out his chin and lowering his eyes to look down his nose at the shell-shocked faces staring back at him. The ego boost he would have gotten would not have been good for the general populace, but what was currently taking place wasn't any more environmentally-healthy, and Marshall willingly, unabashedly admitted that - though it was only to himself.

"Starset's a big company, as you all know, I'm sure," he went on, smiling gleefully for the camera as he combed a hand through his ivory hair (a byproduct of his tragic backstory). "They've got their grubby little hands in just about every market on the planet, including but not limited to, military defense contracts."

The big reveal wasn't all that big, in his oh-so-humble opinion. If a madman was targeting the multi-million dollar company Starset, then it was safe to say he probably wasn't looking to cash in on their devilishly delicious Galaxy Donuts (though Marshall had snacked on one he found in a sealed bag while Spider-Man-ing his way up the trash chute, and Mr. Devereux certainly thought they were important enough to barrel his way through a hallway full of salarymen to get to them). 

No, despite being astronomically addicting, the donuts weren't his goal here, and he would wager that the majority of people tuning into his special broadcast weren't so mindless that they couldn't comprehend the reasons behind his actions today.

Total annihilation of the human race had a nice ring to it.

But he was willing to settle for wiping out the east coast.

He wasn't seeking true vengeance; yeah, this would definitely settle most of his scores, but he was coasting on his rage at this point. Years ago, maybe... maybe he would have sunk his teeth into the chance to grab Arthur McCormick (esteemed geneticist, renowned worldwide for his totally uncontroversial achievements in the realm of human experimentation) by his oily black hair and bash his head into the mahogany desk he lounged at now until the carpet was redder than the surface of Mars. 

But Marshall's loathing wouldn't be satiated with physical atonement alone, not anymore. He'd stewed in his pitch-black emotions for far too long for such a simple fix. 

So he went the route of the insane, and it didn't take much to nudge him down that path, either. He thought he might have had a predisposition to it, the madness, but he didn't remember enough about his family to confirm it for himself. Thinking about it, if he wanted to, he could patch into the lab reports they had on him and take a peek at his past - McCormick worked for a subdivision of Startset, after all, like half the damn world (it felt like that to Marshall, anyway).

Not that he wanted to. It wouldn't bring him any peace to slap down a few missing pieces onto the puzzle that had become his life. 

Well, that was a white lie. He cared. About who he'd been before it was Marshall, just Marshall, about the people who could have lost a little black-haired boy all those years ago. But by no means did the fluttering of sympathy he felt for those people outweigh the swell of emptiness that was lapping at his heart like an incoming tide.

Lost in thought, Marshall belatedly realized his silence had stretched on into minutes. Blaring police sirens beat against the pristine glass of the landscape window; Marshall was more alerted to their presence by the flashing lights he could see on the monitor that displayed footage of the front entrance to the office. Rolling his eyes, he fixed another beaming smile onto his face and winked at the camera.

Always a showman, he was.

"Where was I again...?" Marshall snapped his fingers, mouthing eureka, his expression exaggeratedly ecstatic at having rediscovered his point. "Military contracts. So you know Starset's R&D department's been up to no good in the best possible way, yeah? They've got all these neat toys to play with..."

He slid a hand across the length of the desk, feeling for an indent; when he found it, he pressed down, and a panel slid open, allowing another screen to pop up into place - perfectly within easy reach of his dexterous fingers. 

Marshall was good with computers. He'd grown up with them, and McCormick used to like to test his motor skills by having him play "games" on a laptop. Plus, they were simple to understand - easier than people, at the very least. So he had no trouble navigating his way through Starset's defensive walls (the passwords were laughable, so much so that he couldn't keep a straight face if he said them aloud for the people at home) to gain access to their more hush-hush files. It was mostly boring stuff - off-shore accounts on random tropical islands, bribes for a certain pair of high-ranking government bigwigs, blah, blah, blah - until he clicked into Classified Weaponry. 

"Oh, boy," Marshall chuckled, spinning the monitor around so that it was in full view of the camera. He tapped at the screen, his finger hovering just above the image of a sleek, silver drone. That's what it said in the file, though it hardly looked the part, deconstructed as it was across the screen, its mechanical innards cracked open and spread out for the viewer's perusal. "These bad boys? Starset's got a lot of 'em, sitting around, waiting for orders. And you know what? They're all remote-controlled. Like I said - toys! Bunch of overgrown babies working here, I swear.

"Now, I bet you're all wondering what I've got planned for these nifty playthings, and all the other goodies Starset's got on tap here. Some of you figured it out by now, probably, but for everyone who's a few steps behind... well..."

He smiled, showed teeth and everything, his cheeks dimpling and his eyes closed. The epitome of a pretty boy trying to get his way in the world.

"I'm pretty much hoping to kill a whole lotta people with them."

With that, Marshall reached a hand beneath the desk and hit the same button he had before, causing the camera to retract back into the ceiling; the panelling slid back into place without even a whisper of sound, and somehow, it had Marshall grinning like the fool he was. Efficiency at its finest, and these wondrous little trinkets were reserved for a man who looked like he was an extra for a commercial about some sort of non-depression-inducing retirement home, whose target audience was the children rather than the aging parents.

Oh, also the power-mad scientists he employed. Those crazy bastards deserved all the riches of the world, really.

Scratching at the back of his neck, Marshall swiveled around in the ultra-plush spinny-chair, guiding the computer monitor around to face him again. The drone was still on display, and as Marshall scrolled down he saw they had short video clips depicting the weapon at work in remote testing chambers. It certainly looked deadly enough for his purposes, as did the cache of weapons he'd yet to fully explore. 

Ooh, they've got bombs in this building... Those R&D guys need better supervision, huh? 

Aside from the explosives housed in Starset's headquarters, the company had deposits of weaponry all over the country, all around the world - most of which could be accessed and detonated from this very room. 

Marshall had to admit, he was liking the cliche nature of his rise to villainy, especially when the world seemed to be throwing in all the necessary measures to ensure he could properly threaten the future of the human race. 

I'm thinking I should start with Maine, I never did like that place... no, New York! That'll be what they're expecting, right? An attack on New York? Or Washington D.C., that's an option, too... Does anyone care about Pennsylvania? I mean, they've got cheesesteaks and steel, or something. Also cream cheese? That's mainly Philadelphia, though...

Would it be strange if he started his path of destruction with a city rather than a state? 

Yeah. Yeah, it would.

New York it is, then.

His fingers flew across the keyboard affixed to the underside of the desk, and a short while later, he sat back in his chair, lips curled up in delight, hands linked at the back of his head. He'd set the coordinates for the drones, and it would only take another fifteen or so minutes before they were powered up and ready to storm the skies. 

Fifteen minutes.

It wasn't a lot of time by any stretch of the imagination, but Marshall had the feeling he wouldn't like the wait.

Kicking away from the desk, Marshall slid from his seat and approached the wall of glass. He pressed his hands and nose to the cool window, flicking his eyes downward to take in the stunning drop-off he was faced with. He was... twenty or so stories up, if he remembered the layout of the building correctly (he hadn't really been paying much attention to the passing floors as he made his way up to the penthouse office). Starset's headquarters was far from the tallest building in Creston City, but that didn't stop it from dominating the skyline. Marshall suspected that had something to do with the garish blue neon sign hanging from the broadside of the building, since it faced the Deersing River and lit up the water brighter than an oil fire.

Creston City. Technically his birthplace, but never his home as far as he could recall. What a tragedy that was.

Marshall breathed out slowly, fogging up the window and dampening the glare of the city lights. He frowned as his breath disappeared, though, because goddammit, he hadn't realized how irritable he was, or how much he really hated that skyline. Catching his bottom lip between his teeth, Marshall flexed his fingers and a surge of breathless cold seeped out from his fingertips, crackling and creeping over the glass until the whole thing was covered in a thick layer of frost.

Satisfied, Marshall's lips quirked into a smirk as he stepped away from the window. His powers were badass, yeah, but the little things he could do with them were far more interesting.

To him, anyway. McCormick had never agreed with him on that particular subject. Or any subject. But that was beside the point.

(Okay, no, Marshall was still pissed about it, but he didn't think dwelling on it now was worth his time)

The faint sound of a hiss coming from behind him distracted Marshall, and he turned just in time to see a widening hole being seared through the wall of ice he'd constructed earlier to keep out any pesky office workers who thought themselves unlikely heroes. But, well, he'd known that wouldn't keep out everyone; supers tended to cancel out the powers of other supers.

Steam cascaded into the room as more of the wall dissolved. Marshall batted it away from his face, scowling, an expression that was more directed at the fact that his hair was definitely going to frizz up than the person who made their way into the room via the newly-made entrance.

"I was wondering how long it'd take for them to send you after me."

The man looked up from brushing flecks of ice from his jacket. His face was neutral, his lips flat, guarded gray eyes instantly latching onto Marshall's. He'd grown out his ebony hair since the last time Marshall had seen him, though he really had to look to notice the change; he still had it combed out of his face and raked over the crown of his head. 

"Zero--"

"Ah, ah, ah," Marshall grinned, holding up a hand, "it's Marshall, my dear frenemy, not Zero. Or, ya know, Ticker. You gave me that nickname, didn't you?"

"...No," the man said. He hadn't yet moved from the increasingly large puddle spilling out from the remains of Marshall's wall, and Marshall had to wonder if he was going to be bothered when he eventually walked out and his feet squished inside his shoes. It would have probably driven Marshall to murder. "Red called you that."

"Right, right, Red. Funny guy. How's he doing lately?"

"He's dead."

"Ah... true. He went off the deep end before I did, yeah?"

The man said nothing, not that Marshall had been expecting him to. He'd always been a man of few words, but that had only worsened as he'd gotten older. He could only imagine that if Marshall wasn't prompting him for a conversation that he would have already silently carried out what he'd come here to do.

"Zero."

"Marshall," he corrected, waggling a finger as another grin flickered to life on his alabaster face.

"Marshall," the man sighed, gesturing with an air of exasperation to the frozen window at Marshall's back. Flames licked at his knuckles and curled around his long fingers, sparks leaping from his hand and sizzling as they fizzled out on the sodden floor. "Was that really necessary? No one can see you from up here."

"You know me," Marshall shrugged, casting the window an indifferent glance, "I'm all about my privacy, Vulcan. By the way, did I ever tell you I find your super name to be hilarious? Like, you could've just gone with your real name and no one would have known the difference! Ain't that right, Apollo?"

Apollo dragged a still-flaming hand through his inky locks, watching Marshall as he walked around the desk and, forgoing his cozy chair, leaned back against it, arms loosely crossed over his chest, head cocked. He hadn't stopped smiling since Apollo made his rather expected appearance.

"So..." Marshall drawled, crossing his legs at the ankle and leaning back slightly. "I suppose I know why you're here."

"What are you doing, Marshall?"

Marshall widened his eyes in mock surprise.

"You mean you don't know?" he gasped. "I would have thought it was all over the news by now... Don't tell me they dropped my story to show some cutesy video of puppies in people clothes. Or, no, wait, it's not cats, is it? Because I am getting real tired of those dumbass cats taking over the world. Mostly because I wish I could do it so easily."

"Marshall."

"Yes, Sun God?"

"I meant why."

"Oh, I thought that was just as obvious. I hate literally everyone. Plus, I was bored. And also criminally insane. That's a surprisingly deadly combination in my case."

Apollo only stared at him as the seconds ticked by, gray eyes hard.

"...I don't have a choice anymore, Marshall."

"Nah, didn't think you did. But let me just ask you a question before we get on with it."

Apollo hesitated, his hand hovering just above the holster strapped to his hip. But eventually, he nodded, though his hand remained still.

Grinning, Marshall spread his arms to either side of him, palms facing skyward.

"You get why I'm here, what I'm doing. You know my thought process, I'm sure. It's me against the world, Apollo, literally. My compass points north, theirs points south. One of us is right, one's wrong. And I want you to tell me, who has the moral high ground here?"

The answer, as Marshall saw it, should have been obvious. All of humanity against one scarred, deranged mutant? The scales didn't tip in his favor no matter how one looked at it. But - and this too was unsurprising - he could see that Apollo didn't have that immediate answer for him.

"I'm a product of this world, don't you think?" Marshall asked when it was clear (from the pinched brow and the lowered gaze) that Apollo wasn't going to say anything in response to his question. "And look, I'm not excusing myself. I'm a nasty little villain, through and through. I'm just saying... we had shitty childhoods."

He laughed, slapping a hand down on the desk, the sound sharp and damning in the quiet of the office. The police sirens had long since faded from Marshall's surroundings. It wouldn't be the police that sorted things out up here; that was what Apollo had come for. So why should he give a damn about them?

"I can agree with you on that," Apollo said, looking up again to meet Marshall's eyes - gray eyes, just like his. "But it doesn't change what I'm going to do."

"No one's trying to stop you, idiot," Marshall grinned. "Ah, but just so you know, you can't stop the drones I sent out. I didn't have time to do much else before you made your big hero entrance, but the drones? They'll kill thousands in New York before anyone can do anything about 'em. But I'd say you already calculated for that loss, huh?"

The silence was confirmation enough for Marshall, and his smile widened a fraction.

"Now that that's done..." Marshall lifted a hand, fingers curled into a fist, ice forming around his bare skin until the appendage resembled a weapon straight out of Norse mythology. "Wanna get down to business?"

Apollo responded by pulling the sleek black gun from its holster and leveling it so that the barrel pointed at the space right between Marshall's eyes.

"Aw, no pretty wittle flames from you? How boring."

Apollo switched off the safety, resting a finger over the trigger. 

"You do know that I can throw up an ice wall, right? Like, literally any time I want?"

Silence. 

"Alright, cool, good talk. Oh, one more thing, though."

Apollo narrowed his eyes while Marshall finally lost his smile, his lips drawn down into a somber frown. There was no fear etched into his young face, nor malice, nor hatred. When it came to Apollo, he could never bring himself to care one way or the other how he was treated. So it only made sense to him that he now faced the black-haired man as serenely as he possibly could.

It was fair, wasn't it? To repay him for all the times he'd comforted him when they were small, trapped together in a hell far worse than the one Marshall had planned to inflict upon the world?

"You and me... we were brothers, weren't we?"

An echoing bang resounded throughout the office. 

Marshall's head snapped back. 

Blood sprayed the air. 

Smoke coiled away from the barrel of Apollo's gun.

Then there was the prominent thump of Marshall's body smacking into the floor.

Then, nothing but the muffled sound of whining sirens from police too far down to witness the carnage above.

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