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Superior: Third Part

 

They were past the introductions and halfway through the “what the hell happened in the last 12 months?” part of the conversation before Lewis’ eyes began to adjust to the near-darkness and he realised that he was in the belly of an underground station. Features gradually took shape about him – yellow-and-orange tickets fallen like autumn leaves on the tiled floor, posters lining the walls displaying too-cheerful actors in outlandish costumes celebrating tenth anniversaries of local musicals, gnarled whorls of chewing gum stuck onto the plastic chairs. The latter, formerly repulsive, was now strangely comforting and very human in this strange new world.

 

“And this is the Resistance?” Lewis cast a sweeping gaze over the dozen or so dirty figures slumped in clusters about the room. He had heard noises coming from other corridors, but figured that they were just underground sounds: creaks and groans from the weight of the rubble above. A sudden jolt of pain in his ankle snapped his attention back to the figure kneeling before him, wrapping a bandage tightly about his broken joint. Richard, Lewis had since found out.

 

“A cell of the Resistance, yeah.” The young man replied tersely, pulling the bandage tight, eliciting a small yelp of pain from the scientist.

 

“Mff," Lewis winced. "So...how many cells are there?”

 

Richard frowned. “You’re pretty inquisitive for someone who practically died of heatstroke and radiation sickness half an hour ago.”

 

“What can I say?” Lewis grinned, though because of the pain in his broken ankle and the throbbing in his head, his lips only managed a sort of twisted grimace. “I’m a scientist, remember? I’m naturally inquisitive. Speaking of…why is the weather out of whack? Even on the equator, the solar radiation wouldn’t have this kind of potency.”

 

The young man stood up and stretched his legs. Lewis handed him the canister he had been taking steady sips from since they had brought him down here, and Richard took a big swig. He wiped some of the spilled drops from his jaw, scratched his chest through his Insert Ironic Slogan Here t-shirt and shrugged.

 

“An entire city above our heads is overrun with Alphas who can probably bench press the moon and you’re asking about the weather? Ha, you really are a nerd. You said you were...a physicist, right?" Despite his condescending attitude, Richard had seemed oddly excited when Lewis had - somewhat hesitantly - revealed his profession. He had kept the 'experimental time travel' side of it quiet though. "Hey, who knows? Maybe you'll be able to tell us why the sun’s so goddamn hot over this city all the time. Once you're feeling better and everything."

 

Lewis doubted he would be staying in this...hell...that long.

 

I'm just going to find out what the hell happened a year ago, he thought. Then I'm going back to stop it.

 

The scientist couldn't help feeling an odd sense of heroism, an emotion only heightened in the presence of so many grim-looking fighters.

 

Of course, to do that he would actually have to get back to his craft, which would mean going outside...the thought of returning to that burning glare curdled his stomach with anxiety, a swirling feeling that gradually hardened into a twisted knot of fear as he began to think about the other obstacles he would have to face. Like two monstrously huge bodybuilders.

 

No, he thought, let's take it one step at a time. Ankle. Information. Maybe another sip of water.

 

He paused in thought.

 

Goggles.

 

Um.

 

Ribs. Didn't I break two of them? They feel numb. Probably'll need looking at.

 

Er.

 

Yeah, then I'll start to think about...possibly...

 

...considering...

 

...the idea of going back outside.

 

Some hero.

 

Richard was still talking and the scientist focused his attention back to the young man. "We're pretty short on scientists round here." He took another swig of water and let out a low belch. "No physicists, anyway. And I was rubbish at science in school so that counts me out. I'm more of a...manual...kind of person than a cerebral one. I used to be a runner, before..." He sniffed. "I was part of that show, you know it? 'Challenge The Alphas'? Asking them to do all kinds of crazy things?" Lewis didn't reply. "Oh, of course, you've forgotten everything, right? A side effect of the disorientation from the solar radiation?" The scientist gave a small noncommittal shrug, to encourage the conversation on. "Anyway, it was like the most popular show on TV, even after the Alphas started getting more...aggressive. I guess they just liked showing off or something. Flaunting their power." He shook his head at the memory. "Man they were such arrogant pricks to work with. But at the same time, so...so goddamn mind-blowing, you know? You should've seen what one of them did with this oil tanker, heh. That's not a memory I'm gonna forget in a hurry. You were pretty lucky to end up with just a few broken bones."

 

Lewis didn't feel lucky. He had always been a careful, conscientious type. But that Eastern European bodybuilder - Daniel? - had come out of nowhere, soft on his feet as a cat, though he must have weighed as much as an elephant.

 

Arrogant. And mind-blowing. The young runner had nailed it.

 

"So...what happened to the show?" Lewis asked, knowing full well that he was indulging Richard. The guy probably hadn't had anyone new to talk to in a while - but information was information.

 

"The same thing that happened to every company, every business - heh, every teeny little record store and second hand book shop and pub in this goddamn city. The Alphas announced that the city was theirs, and gave us Zetas a day to clear out. And we did." He smiled, an echo of Lewis' own grimace from a few moments earlier. "I mean, what were we supposed to do? I knew firsthand what the Alphas could do. There had always been rumours of...things...they had done to people, of course. But no hard evidence. And suddenly, WHAMMO. It was them against us. Mass panic, mass exodus...and mass destruction." He took another long glug from the canister. Lewis noticed that Richard’s hand was shaking, ever so slightly. "For anyone who didn't make it out on time. You know how impossible it is for fourteen million people to leave a city in a SINGLE DAY?" The scientist waited for him to continue. "Well, around eight million found out - the hard way."

 

Unsure how to respond, Lewis simply nodded his head slowly. If this was the future then screw his fear - he had to go back and stop this from ever happening. There was no question about that now.

 

"Anyway," Richard continued, his tone markedly more upbeat, though the scientist could see that his smile was more forced than genuine. He offered Lewis a hand up. "You ready to test out that ankle of yours now?"

 

*

 

With Richard's help the scientist came tentatively to his feet, ducking carefully under one of the low-hanging station lights that had come undone from the ceiling and was suspended half-way to the floor. Pressing his weight on his injured ankle caused a spear of white-hot pain to shoot up his leg, and he was grateful when, moments later, a hard-faced woman detached herself from the clutch of people and handed him a crutch. He clacked about the room for a minute, until he was confident that he could move without putting his weight on his broken ankle again. He was just about to return to his young friend packing up the medical supplies when the room shook and he was thrown to the floor.

 

Earthquake?

 

Dust and bits of ceiling tile rained down about him. One of the lights detached itself from above and dropped a full metre before its wire pulled it taut in a shower of sparks. Tables, chairs and crates were thrown about.

 

It was a full minute before Lewis realised that he had had his eyes squeezed shut. When he opened them, Richard's smiling face, covered in a light coating of dust, filled his vision.

 

"Rescuing you again, huh? I'm making a habit of this."

 

"What happened?" He shook off Richard's hand - not ungently - and came shakily to stand once more, coughing. "Was it...an earthquake?" He wiped a handful of dust and grit from his face with the back of his sleeve.

 

"Ha ha! Hardly. Looks like one of your friends won the arm wrestling match, is all. My money's on Shawn - he's got a foot and a half on the Hungarian; that's got to count for something, right?"

 

Lewis knew he was gawping, but couldn't think of anything to say. No amount of preparation could have geared him for this crazy, terrifying future he had stumbled into. Earthquakes from arm-wrestling? He felt like he would have to restudy the very laws of physics to be able to make sense of the things that Richard and his Resistance cohorts just took for granted.

 

Richard was looking at him speculatively. “Don't worry - they won't find you down here. We're too deep underground." Lewis found little reassurance in that. His young friend blustered on regardless: "Well, if you can walk, then it's time to make yourself useful, physicist." There was that word again. Physicist. Like it held some kind of importance. "You're coming with me to meet the boss.” He caught Lewis’ expression. “What, you thought I was the leader of this merry bunch of losers, ha ha? I told ya, I’m just a runner, remember? Nothing’s changed since the days I had my job. Once I was running to get sandwiches for producers. Now I run and save people like you, heh. The man in charge…is Big Adam.”

 

*

 

The man’s name was certainly justified. Big Adam or “Just call me Adam”, as he had insisted after a crushing handshake, was the third biggest, most muscular bodybuilder Lewis had ever seen, after Daniel and Shawn of course. In fact, when the little scientist had first been led into the station office that served as Resistance HQ and laid eyes on the behemoth, he had very nearly turned and bolted, mistaking this man for one of the Alphas that patrolled the city above. Only Richard’s reassuring hand on his shoulder kept him from fleeing, crutch or no crutch.

 

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” Adam chuckled once Lewis had calmed down. “But me? I’m all natural.” He flexed a bicep nearly the size of the scientist’s head, causing the sleeve of his black t-shirt to fill with muscle, the material straining to hold that much mass. “Well, I mean, I’m not exactly natural per se, but I mean, I’m not like the Alphas up in the city. I didn’t change like them...and I can't curl a double decker bus with my little finger.” He lowered his arm. “All this is the result of hard work and lots and lots of drugs.”

 

He gazed down at Lewis for a moment over the vast expanse of his chest as if expecting the scientist to say something. Lewis was still trying to take in the sheer mass of the man. His little scientist's brain was busy calculating the big bodybuilder's weight. Surely he had to be over 400lbs of muscle. With - he glanced at the eight blocks of abdominal muscle straining beneath the t-shirt - very low bodyfat.

 

Lots and lots of drugs indeed.

 

'Resistance HQ' was something of an enigma. Hulking bodybuilders - some of who Lewis thought he recognised - peered down at him over scribbled post-it notes from glossy print-outs blue-tacked to the walls. A long desk against the back wall - the only furniture in the room other than a couple of battered chairs - was wreathed in wires and visibly bowed under the weight of several large, black monitors. The ubiquitous carpet of grimy tickets bedecked the floor. There was a faint coating of dust over everything, but if Adam had felt the quake this deep into the station, he didn't mention it.

 

Lewis realised he had been peering around for a while, but was at a loss for something to say. His mouth was dry. He felt...unmanned in Adam's presence.

 

It was Richard who broke the silence. “This is Lewis. He’s a scientist, a physicist." He put a strange sort of emphasis on the last word and Lewis swore he saw Adam's ears prick up, like a dog who has just heard the clank of his dinner bowl. "Claims he can’t remember anything."

 

The sceptical tone Richard had adopted when Lewis had first conjured forth the story had not lessened since, but Lewis couldn’t blame him for it. He wasn’t about to admit he had come here from the past in a time machine, however. Amnesia seemed to work as a plot device in most soap operas. Why not in a post-apocalyptic dystopia?

 

"Anything?"

 

Richard continued. “For the last year or so. I have of course filled him in on all the fun parts. What we know about, anyway.”

 

“Which isn’t a lot, is it, scientist?” Adam grunted with a grin, his grey eyes sparkling. He gestured for Lewis to take a seat, which the little man was grateful for. He tottered into the plastic chair. The big man sat heavily opposite him, his own chair bent and buckled from the weight of so much man. Richard, seemingly dismissed, made a comment about needing to check on supplies and left the two men alone in the office. Adam scratched the stubble on his square jaw. “Must piss you off, huh? All those questions, and we have so few answers. I know what that's like...well, ask away."

 

Lewis couldn’t read into the man’s tone. The gruffness of his voice and the overpowering nature of his presence were distracting. Did he believe the scientist’s tale? Did it matter, in the end, when the world had turned to hell? Did anything matter?

 

“Um. I tried asking Richard several times where the musclemen came from..." Lewis refused to use the term 'Alpha', like they had all been reduced to animals. "But he never really gave me a straight answer." It might have been the slight giddiness he was feeling from the exertion, or perhaps the need to stand up slightly to this hulking man was asserting itself, because he added: "And I'm hoping to get one from you, Adam."

 

"Truth is," said the big man, his deep voice filling the little room, "we don't really know." He gave a grunt to clear his throat. "We know who they are - famous bodybuilders, every last one - and what they can do..." He glanced down at Lewis' bandage, then his big grey eyes returned to fix upon the scientist's own. "As, clearly, do you. But as to why they can do what they do...well, your guess is as good as anyone's."

 

"But Richard told me that it started eight months ago," Lewis snapped, surprised at the vehemence in his voice. "That the first reported sightings of these people emerged three quarters of a year ago. You’re telling me that in all that time, no-one’s come up with any theories?”

 

The big man cupped his hands behind his head, a move that accentuated the monstrousness of his biceps. They peaked hugely, their striated mass looking almost painfully vast as they pulled the skin taut. “Ha! Theories, yes. You think a couple of hundred men suddenly find themselves with more power than Superman and the world isn’t going to come up with a few hypotheses as to what might be the cause? Ha! Sure, theologians, journalists, philosophers, psychologists, talk show hosts, even little scientists like yourself, everyone jumped on the ‘I’ve got a theory’ bandwagon. It was an Act of God. Ha! It’s the next step in the Evolution of Man. Ha! It’s something to do with increased solar radiation. Ha!” He swung one of his huge arms down from behind his head and pointed a sausage-sized finger at Lewis’ chest. “See, what theories need is evidence. That’s what everyone seemed to forget. Even me, sometimes,” he muttered sotto voce.

 

Lewis frowned. “Wasn’t the evidence right there in front of you? I mean, didn’t anyone think to ask the bodybuilders themselves?"

 

"They were as clueless as us...and to be honest, the why of it mattered less and less to them as time went on."

 

"What about blood-tests? Weren’t the bodybuilders very…co-operative?” His ankle gave a dolorous throb as though reminding him just how accommodating the hulks were.

 

Adam ran a hand over his shaved head. The sheer size of his bicep didn't allow his arm to bend very far. Lewis wondered whether he was doing it on purpose, to show off, perhaps to intimidate the little scientist.

 

Maybe the muscle-heads down here aren't all that different to those up there, he thought.

 

The big guy coughed. “Mmm? What? Yes, at first, they were really co-operative. Eager, even, to help out. Most of ‘em, anyway.” A look came into his eyes. The same look that Lewis had seen in Richard’s outside. Determination and…a kind of pain. Then the big guy’s face creaked into a smile. “But how do you take a blood sample from a guy who wouldn’t blink if you shot a missile at him? And saliva and sperm extracts just raised more questions than answers. The men were just…changed. Different. Inhuman. Incomprehensibly powerful.” The grin on his face faltered. “And getting more so all the time. See, the thing that changed them just kept changing them. It’s still changing them. Who did you run into up there?”

 

Lewis’ head span a moment from the sudden change in topic.

 

“Um, someone called Daniel. A Hungarian? And a black bodybuilder. Shawn, I think his name was.”

 

“Daniel Toth and Shawn Rhoden.” Big Adam whistled. “Wow, you’re lucky you got away with only a broken ankle. Between them they must have squashed thousands of little runts like you. How did you get away?” Lewis was about to answer, but Adam raised a huge paw. “It doesn’t matter. What does matter is –Shawn must be about ten feet tall by now, huh? You think he was always that height? Ha! He’s growing, scientist. Getting bigger, more muscular and stronger every week. All of them are. Overnight they went from normal bodybuilders to titans…then demi-gods…then gods. You think any of them gives a shit WHY anymore?” 

 

“They’re not gods,” Lewis protested.

 

A scowl crossed Big Adam’s face that nearly made the little man piss his pants. “What’s the definition of god, scientist? Someone infinitely stronger than us normal, mortal beings with power over life and death. Have you seen that city up there? The smashed buildings? The twisted metal? The corpses? You think men did that? Ha!” He leaned closed, his chair creaking. Lewis felt the bodybuilder’s hot breath on his face. “When I get this damn monitor working, I’ll show you the footage of Juan Morel throwing an oil tanker out of Earth’s orbit. An oil tanker, physicist. With one hand. That sound like anything other than a god to you? And he’s not even the strongest one out there.”

 

There was a moment of silence between the two men. Adam leaned back in his chair, snatched up a canister of water from his desk and took a big gulp. Lewis thought he heard the big man mutter something like “damn, I hate this fucking heat” under his breath, which was odd. To Lewis, the underground station felt deliciously cool after the blazing atmosphere outside. It was all just a matter of perspective.

 

...

 

Which is exactly what he said to Adam.

 

“Perspective? What the hell do you mean?” The big man’s muscles looked fit to burst through his poor t-shirt as he tensed up.

 

“Look, to you these guys are gods. Fair enough. You’ve seen what they can do. You’ve heard their boasts. You were there when they declared this city out of bounds for, uh, Zetas – you were even there when they coined the term Zeta to refer to us normal humans. But to me, who is just experiencing them for the first time, they’re more like bullies.” Adam looked ready to protest, but Lewis stopped him with a raised hand. “Super-strong, hypermuscled bullies, yes, but bullies nonetheless. And bullies – unlike gods – can be stopped.”

 

“You think we haven’t tried? I’ve seen these guys rip apart tanks with their bare hands. I’ve seen…I’ve seen…” His own massive hands were coiling into fists. “That’s why I came here in the first place. The theory about the solar radiation? That was mine. I thought that if I could find a link between that and their power, I could…” He cleared his throat. “I could revert them back to normal or something.”

 

“Wait – you’re a scientist?”

 

“That surprise you?” Big Adam’s knuckles cracked. Lewis noticed a tear in the t-shirt around the huge man’s straining deltoid. Rather than risk saying anything, he gestured for the man to continue. He did: “Anyway, it wasn’t long after I got here that they declared the city out of bounds to us normal folk. The rest of my research team were killed. And suddenly working above ground wasn’t safe any more. But I had to continue my research. Then one day I’m out collecting a semen sample from the street – you would not believe how much these guys cum – when I hear someone crying out to me from some rubble. I was going to ignore it – my trips topside were five minutes, max, for safety reasons – but I couldn’t. So I dug the poor fella out…and before I knew it, there were two of us. Richard’s faster than me, better at avoiding the Alphas...it was a good partnership.”

 

So Richard was the first.

 

“Then two became…a dozen?”

 

Adam shrugged. “The kid’s got a soft heart. At first he just returned with samples for me…then he started returning with people he’d found. Most just wanted our help to escape, so we gave them food and medical supplies, and a map of the underground network – you know you can take the tunnels all the way to the edge of the city? Anyway, some folks wanted to stay, to help like we’d helped them. Before long we had a fully-fledged Resistance movement going on.” The pain was gone from his face now, replaced with a sort of pride. “Some even went off and started Resistance cells in other parts of the city. Amazing what humanity can do in four months, huh?”

 

“And your research?”

 

The big bodybuilder gestured with a meaty hand at the equipment in the room, the move causing the muscles beneath the t-shirt to bunch and swell and the material to tear another couple of inches. Lewis could clearly make out several striations in the meat of the man's pectoral muscle through the rip. "Well I haven't exactly got the same resources down here that I had topside." He huffed in amusement. "Remind me to show you the ticket office that I've converted into a lab sometime. A two year-old with a Fisher-Price chemistry set would be better prepared."

 

“Can't you get more resources from the city? Or contact the people who sent you here in the first place?" Or leave, he almost added. Get the hell out of this armageddon nightmare and pick up your research in another city where, I don't know, YOUR LIFE ISN'T IN CONSTANT PERIL FROM HUGE IMPOSSIBLY STRONG BODYBUILDERS WHO WOULD RIP YOU IN HALF ON A WHIM WITHOUT BREAKING A SWEAT?

 

Does the Resistance, pondered Lewis, really mean that much to you?

 

"My, aren't you full of questions?" Big Adam snorted, his handsome, gruff face contorting into a sardonic smile. "There were no 'people'. My team and I came here by ourselves. Ha! Just our luck that the one city with this solar phenomenon is the one city the Alphas decided to claim for themselves, huh?" He regarded Lewis for a moment. "What an odd coincidence, eh?"

 

"You don't think its a coincidence?"

 

The big man's wolfish grin grew larger. "This city is where it all began. The only time the Alphas have ever been in one place, at one time. ground zero. The Mr Olympia bodybuilding competition, over one year ago. THAT's when it all started.”

 

NOW we're getting somewhere, thought the little scientists excitedly, leaning closer.

 

*

 

Lewis knew he wasn't the only one getting excited. He could smell Big Adam's testosterone from across the room. Whatever the bodybuilder had taken - or possibly, was still taking, he mused - it had clearly amped up his masculine attributes. It wasn't an unpleasant odour, and certainly not as overpowering as Daniel Toth's from earlier in the day...just odd, seeing as the pair of them were sitting in a crumbling underground station.

 

Usually just smells of sweat and rubbish, Lewis thought. Now it's like someone has sprayed Eau D'Homme in here. And it's definitely getting thicker. Is Adam really THIS thrilled to meet another scientist?

 

The bodybuilder grunted, animal-like. “My theory goes that whatever happened to them at Olympia...whatever they were exposed to...must have gestated inside them, slowly altering their DNA, for several months after the competition. That’s why there seems to be no correlation between them – by that time they were scattered across the globe. Germany, the US, Brazil. The only thing they have in common is that competition, this city, 400-odd days ago. It’s what led me here in the first place. Well, that and the weather.”

 

“I tried asking Richard about that. Why is the sun so extreme here? And what makes you think it is connected to the, um, Alphas?” The word sounded odd on his tongue.

 

Adam pursed his lips. “I’m a biochemist, little scientist. I’ve tried looking at this whole thing from a biological point of view, to see how their DNA has changed and tracing it back to the cause…but I’ve told you, that stuff is indecipherable. Even to me, and I’m probably something of a leading specialist in increased muscle mass and strength...as you can see.”

 

Lewis wondered briefly whether Big Adam's size had something to do with his research into the men's sperm, but brushed the thought aside. He realised now why Richard had brought him to see the big man. Why Adam had taken the time to share information with him, answering all his questions. Out of the kindness of his little Resistance-fighter heart? No.

 

“You want me to look at it from the other side. To study the solar radiation. The cause. In theory.”

 

Adam snorted. “We’ve rescued students and thespians and cab drivers and plumbers and nurses and librarians and even – twice – hookers, but you’re the first physicist I’ve seen in over four months. Stu – the guy I brought with me – had his neck snapped pretty early on. And the rest of my research team...well, corpses don't make very good assistants. But...you’re here, right? Like...like a gift from God or something.”

 

“I thought you said there were lots of gods,” Lewis retorted, gesturing up at the ceiling and the apocalyptic landscape beyond.

 

The big man shrugged his huge shoulders, the tear in his t-shirt widening about his deltoid and spreading halfway down his monster left pectoral. Was he...growing? He brushed at the tear absently, like that sort of thing happened all of the time. “Those guys? Nah. Like you said, they’re bullies, right?” His big wolfish grin returned. “And bullies can be stopped.” He reached a big paw across to Lewis. “If you’re in.”

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wow. building up tension. very well writen!

cant believe I missed such a gem of written muscle art.

the slowly growing adam is a delight to read. thx!

plz continue!

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The writing of this story is outstanding. It is very intense and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

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