Love, Murder & Mayhem: Read it Now: The Responders

Michael Jan Friedman’s “The Responders” posits a superhero mystery, based on the Beatles: If the Fab Four had stayed together, who knows what kind of music they could have made. But of course, they didn’t stay together—according to some sources because of John Lennon’s soulmate, Yoko Ono, who pulled him away from the other Beatles and ultimately broke up the group. Well … what if someone like Yoko had been brought into the inner circle of a superhero team? What would have become of them?

For Michael’s answer, here’s an early look:

The Responders

By Michael Jan Friedman

They’re not like us.

I’d heard that said about them before I got assigned to Special Investigations, six years ago now. But back then, I didn’t know what it meant.

After all, I’d only seen them on the news to that point, flashing across the screen in their black jumpsuits with the red ‘R’ stitched over their hearts. I hadn’t observed them up close, hadn’t felt their presence.

Their power.

But they weren’t just stronger than we were, endowed by a trick of fate with abilities the rest of us could only dream about.

They were different, as different as my Uncle Burt and a blind salamander.

Some, like Maser, reminded you of that difference from time to time. No brag, as some guy on TV used to say, just fact. As it turned out later, he was a scientist—to a fault, even considering all the breakthroughs he’d made as DeVonte Larson, professor of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania—and he didn’t see any point in soft-peddling his superiority.

Smoke was more elusive, as you’d expect. She, it came out last year, was a Senator’s daughter, and she’d seen her old man Kenny Parmenter make a decades-long career for himself in Washington without saying a single coherent thing. So by the time Jessica saved her dad and his staff from those white terrorists, she was an expert at hiding in plain view.

Others, like Antaeus, didn’t avoid questions. But he didn’t give you much information either. Mainly he let you come to your own conclusions—about him, about the team, about why they did what they did.

The poor bastard had to be carrying a lot of hurt around.

Anybody who looked the way he did, hideously scarred from the day he got his powers, had to be carrying something.

He was a teenager when it happened, name of Eddie Fields.

It’s all public now. He woke up one morning and had the ability to tap into Earth’s magnetic fields, bend steel as if it were licorice, crack diamonds in his bare fists.

But at the same time, he’d developed these lesions. Long, livid scars, or at least that’s what they looked like. All over his body, including his face. Made it hard to look at him.

Together, those three were The Responders. In the beginning, people called them The First Responders, but that took too long to say. So it became just The Responders.

They were good, right off the bat. And they tackled everything, from earthquakes to hostage situations to that missile North Korea swore was an accident. Once they even cracked a stolen car ring in the Bronx, though they must have been bored that day.

People loved them. And from what I could tell, The Responders loved each other. At least, as far as anybody could love a guy like Larson.

Then came Koyomi Seiku.

She started out as a fan of Antaeus. Wrote him letters, sent him e-mails, worshipped the hell out of him. Somebody else may have taken it all in stride. But Antaeus? The way he looked, he wasn’t used to female attention.

She begged to meet him, just to get his autograph, she said.

For one of the most powerful human beings on the planet, he could be pretty shy. But eventually, he said yes.

They met at a mall on Long Island. Antaeus was dressed in a trenchcoat with a hat pulled down low. Koyomi was the only one he told he’d be there.

She was nineteen, a first-year civil engineering student at NYU. Cute, long black hair, Goth but not really. And smart, no one ever argued that.

She got Antaeus’s autograph, but that wasn’t all she got. They sat at the mall and talked for a while. Then they went to the beach, which was cold but pretty much deserted that time of year, and talked some more.

To read the rest of “The Responders” click here.

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