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The juke-box was one of the old fashioned ones – none of this fancy new micro aural-fabric wall covering surround sound system stuff.

It was Old School. Renovated Wurlitzer. Vinyl. Beautiful. Real. Music you could touch and smell. Tucked in a corner. Take your 165bpm world and stick it on 78rpm.

A love-struck Romeo plays the streets a serenade…

laying everybody low…

with a love song that he made

A ripple of delight rolled up the cloaked blue back. Lois loved this song.

The PA system rudely interrupts the juke-box, and a few bright chords chime out over the heaving hall.

ABBA!!! Jesus.

He winces: just a little. Like The Man With No Name. Love those movies. To one side of the bar, on the wall, a carousel of ‘original’ movie posters flickered up. Le Bon. Le Brute. Le Truand. Everywhere you looked a screen played your thoughts back to you.

Clark sends the last pistachio shell skittering across the bar top. It scuttles and flips on the escarpment of some old bar top graffiti and spins off into space.

His wrist band buzzed. His heart rate must have increased. Substantially. Its glow took on a purple hue. Pituitary aberrations. Weird.

As if by magic, the barman comes and removes the almost empty bottle of sour mash in front of him.

“Sorry ‘Man. You know how it rolls. Can drink yourself to death for all I care. But not here. They’ll shut us down and sue our ass to next Jesus day if you die on the premises”

The irony of this statement, given that not 10 metres away combatants regularly tried to rip each others heads off and squeeze plasma out of each others eyes, was not lost on Clark. But it seemed to have passed the barman by.

Clark fingered and stretched the polymer blue-black tube around his wrist. One day he’d figure out how to turn this thing off. Ugly little spy. But needs must.  No band; no cover; no health and no welfare.

It relentlessly measured his vital signs and a number of secondary organ, enzyme and blood readings, distributing the data at super light fibre speed to everyone from his insurance company to the local hospital to the social welfare office to the barman in front of him via geo-location and face recognition. Latency certainly wasn’t an issue. The information was transmitted so damn fast it may as well have gone back in time.

Maybe he should drink inside the Cage. The bands didn’t work inside it. It blocked the signal. So much for infallible systems.

Hologram Ren belched, scraped back his stool, and stood up, kind of. He was done. Clark nodded, not that Ren really noticed. Wasn’t the same since Stimps got burned. A one man show Ren wasn’t. The music increased in volume.

Su-per trou-per

lights are gonna find me 

shining like the sun…

smiling having fun…

feeling like the No1!

One Eyed Mike thought he was real funny.

The music is Clark’s cue to move towards the tired scruffy wired cage at the far end of the bar hall – to the Cage and its sweaty bloody canvas. Made from triple-strength carbyne wire, it measured 30 feet by 30 feet by 30 feet.

What a circus. Mind you given his Victorian strong-man red-pants-outside-blue-tights look, he wasn’t really in position to comment.

The blue and red had seen better days, and the fabric looked positively ancient.

Clark shook down his shoulders. Christ he ached. He stepped up off the stool, his hand going to the site of his deepest scar, just beneath his right pectoral muscle.

The Cage on Highway Number 9 was jumping. Packed to the rafters with some ‘madness in its soul’. It was now legendary apparently; though how a straight-build tumbledown Roadhouse with a liquor & wrestling license in the middle of nowhere became legendary the gods only know.

The even bigger question was how all the other faded Supers had found him here, turning wrestling tricks for a few bucks and a free meal.

Not that it was bad having them here: just kind of crazy. They all felt happy here. Amongst their own. OK, so the Mutant Super thing kicked off every now and then but most of the time, apart from Parker’s web mess sprayed everywhere, getting on people’s nerves, it was, well, ok.

Being Super didn’t mean shit anymore. Everyone was Super now. With their airborne InfoTech, data bytes the size of asteroids travelling just as fast, virtual experiential sensosuits cheaper than a pair of sweat pants, and headspace 360 real-time vision and cyber implants.

There was time when Super meant something. Before everyone got junked up on tech.

Green Lantern was stretching off in the corner of the Cage. Bless him. Like a huge slightly jaded leprechaun.

ABBA’s super euro pop tune drifts out of the PA across the long room around the tables of assorted friends, freaks, failures.

Note to self. Take said pop song and stick it up one-eyed Mike’s new one, freshly ripped.

One Round. That should do it, Pound the crap out of him and bring a House Of Pain down on his head and then the rest of the night would be sweet.

One final super rumble at midnight and then he was free for another week.

He wondered who today’s Cage Celebrity Smack-down pairing was going to be.

Watching Ronald McDonald and The Pilsbury Dough Boy rip pieces out of each other last week, howling and hawking, covered in their own viscera, tears streaking their stage makeup and dough-eyed faces had moved to a place beyond funny.

He flexed his left arm. Shoots and pin pricks again. The Band griped on his wrist.

Clark’s focus was pulling in and out again. Gone were the days of looking through rock and steel. Could barely see through the edge of the Cage.

His vision tightened. Time to get busy. Washed up he may be in the flying universal policeman stakes but he could still rumble with the best of them.

That’s what they could smell. That’s what drew them from all over the US.

This scruffy aggregate of pseudo-super human beings with their fancy tech sophistry were here to see one thing. Good old school violence. The parochial, outside the beer-hall, looking at my girl kind of violence. Blood. Spit. Ugliness. Pain. The possibility of watching a creature suffer.

For all the experiences they could virtually replicate, the one they hadn’t nailed was the sheer excitement, the delicious thrill of seeing another creature, weakened, terrified and humiliated; buckling and writhing with the metallic taste of its own blood gurgling in its throat. Motorway pile ups, public hangings and terrorist beheadings. They just couldn’t help themselves.

And no avatar can replicate that expression: the one that flickers across a creature’s eyes when the bleak finality of knowing that its time has come in the gene pool survival game.

For all their peacocking about their virtual nirvana; and even in the face of the genocidal scale of their virtual battling and gaming, this super-human race had lost the ability to feel anything – pain; pleasure; and fear; especially real fear. This counted as a really big evolutionary Uh Oh in Clark’s book: the reverse Darwinian nature of a smart animal using its smartest inventions to make it the dumbest animal on the predatory block.

Divine obsolescence didn’t strike Clarke as a sensible plan for a species.

He scuffed around the bar, frozen for just for a moment in the light of an Ad wipe (highly annoying kinetically activated advertising curtains that mapped you and ‘robed you’ in some kitsch new designer apparel, took a pic and then immediately sent the pic to all the contacts in your band contact list across every social network in the world – With a ‘Hey doesn’t Clarke look sharp – tell him you like it’ button.)

Changing outfits was something Clarke was kind of done with. Half the telephone boxes disappeared and the ones that were left came with a drug dealer and a splash of voluptuous and rather inappropriately dressed ladies’ calling cards.

The crowd are cheering him in; but he has become deaf to it.

His gaze swings to the right of the path between the tables.

At one of the ring-side tables sits the crazy woman with her young boy. The boy was about 4 years old Clark reckoned; dressed in a forlorn super-suit from some gas station. The boy was fingering his game bar frantically.

Baby Superman. With bits of old hotdog and ketchup stain down the front. The truth always hurt.

As he walked past the boy he saw over his shoulder that the boy’s avatar was in flight mode hovering above the screen.

Christ.

Anyone can fly now. Not like the old school. At least they tried. At least planes actually understood what it was to move through the fluid air under their own power. At least a sky dive flight suit put you up there and out there for a moment, like some deranged flying squirrel. At least it was… …real.

Now everyone knew what it felt like to fly. Right. ‘Felt like’. The actual sensation. Even a so so mid range sensosuit could replicate the exact physical sensation of flying by firing millions of tiny charges across your skin, with different pressure sensors expanding and contracting the grasp of the suit on you to mimic dynamic movement in flight and G pressure. And the MeSq power implants in your head activated the relevant endorphins and adrenalin surges just to make sure you ‘felt it’.

Everyone could do everything. Everyone could see around the world in a second. Through steel and concrete. Everyone could see the future. Everyone could destroy anything with the flick of a finger. Everyone could be in 5 places at once. Superpowers was just so …everyday.

No-one needed the strength of 1000 men to topple a tall building. They could call up the strength of millions and topple a country.

The boy fingered the game bar furiously.

Could do without Diana seeing him that’s for sure

She’d looked a little shook up last time Clarke saw her. He always knew: when she played with her bracelets something was up. Like a change in the weather. When her heart was heavy, the scars on her wrists ached under her Indestructible bracelets.

She hadn’t mentioned the kids thing for awhile. He thought that maybe the pain had faded a little.

All she wanted was a kid. A normal, un-tampered with, straight DNA strand, in body baked baby. But for all the technology in the world it just wasn’t to be.

Anyway. They were cool. Clarke and Dian. Hanging out. It kind of worked.In fact the mundanity of it was a blessing; sweet liberation.

Life was simpler when you were less Super. Less wonderful. Something the new super humans with all their gadgets and advances needed to figure out for themselves.

He was in front of the Cage now. Green Lantern was looking wired. The tell tale pulsing temple and grinding jaw told Clark that he’d junked up on nano-oxgenators – small pieces of in blood technology that multiplied the effect of oxygen and adrenalin into your blood stream to boost resilience, strength and stamina.

Jesus even the Supers were at it now.

This wasn’t going to be quite as simple as Clark had previously though.

Screw it. He just needed to man up. Anyway. She’d be here soon. And everything would be alright.

The Princess and Clark: living the ditty; the Jack & Diane of the 21st Century, growin’ old in the heartland.

Clark steps up into the Cage. As he does so the sheer blue fabric of his suit catches the edge of the jagged wires. Rip.

Su-per-trou-per

Lights are going to find you

Shining like the sun

Smiling having fun

Feeling like the number 1.

Funny.

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