Chapter 12: Devolution Finale

Remember before how I told you I didn’t like heights?

Well, it turns out that extreme speed doesn’t actually lessen the fear, the way I’d hoped it would. In fact, it intensifies it.

A lot. It intensifies it a lot.

I understand why Osborn opted for the glider now; this thing is all speed, no control, while the glider is a perfect combination of both. Everything around me is a blur, the sky, the clouds, the city, it’s all one color, a sort of unpleasant grey mess.

I’m going too fast.

I try to use gravity to slow down, leveling out so the rocket is pointing towards the sky, and I’m left squeezing the shit out of the handles. This isn’t working out.

This isn’t working out at all. The little gauge on the rocket says I just passed one thousand feet

I hit the blue button, and suddenly I’m dropping backwards over Madison Avenue, dozens of feet in seconds. The rocket levels out, and then the front plunges forward, so now I’m heading down face-first.

Okay, nix on the blue button.

I hit the green button, and push the lever a tiny bit, but it’s too late. The Broomstick turns upside-down and hits ground level, and, as pedestrians, bikers and cars swerve out of the way, I’m dragged along the pavement at seventy miles an hour.

Thank Christ for the suit.

I push down on the handles a little, and I go tearing through an American flag in front of a bank, just slow enough to see a couple of cameras flash.

That’s gonna be great publicity.

The Shocker: Terrorist?

I level out at about fifteen feet, and it takes me a second to realize that I’m now trailing a cloud of hats, burger wrappers and newspapers.

I pull up, trying to lose the cloud, and push the lever just a little further down; the wind is deafening now, but at this low height the speed feels a little bit more manageable. Everything is a blur, but not a scary blur. Just a kind of hyper-intense blur, like being on ecstasy, but without any positive feeling whatsoever.

So, where am I, where am I … Wilson Avenue.

They said Pacific on the TV. So that’s, what, fifteen blocks east, yeah?

I lean my weight to the left, and suddenly I’m rocketing off down Highmont Boulevard.

A bus flies out in front of me, and I see the screaming faces of the people inside for an instant before I go smashing into the side of it, the impact bending the entire bus in half.

Me, the bus and the flying phallus go smashing into the side of a men’s fashion store, sending pants and shirts everywhere in a great cloud of cloth carnage. We collide with a wall, and come to a stop, the engine of the Flying Broomstick impotently raging away behind me. I hit the blue button, and it shuts off.

Inside the destroyed bus people are screaming for help; I’d guess less than half of them will survive their injuries.

The Rhino goes charging by outside.

I ponder trying to help the bus people for a moment, but then think, fuck’em; the paramedics will handle it. That is their job, right?

I can come back and get the Broomstick later.

I need to stop Rhino before someone hurts him.

That’s what’s most on my mind as I run out onto the street; there must be someone in my immediate vicinity with the means and the method to take down Rhino; that’s what they paid to do, after all.

The black spot on his neck is barely visible on the dark gray skin, but if you’re looking for it, it’s plain as day.

“Gotcha!” the Rhino says in that awkward, high pitched voice, grabbing a dog that’s run free of its master in the chaos. It yowls, and he rips it in half.

All right. That’s enough.

“ALEKSEI!” I scream. No response. “RHINO!”

The Rhino, the Not-Aleksei, turns, a sort of manic grin on his face. The grin fades once he sees me; not exactly the “Oh, Shit” response, but still pretty satisfying, and it takes away from the fact that, covered in the blood of the dead and bits of rubble, the Rhino is a surprisingly terrifying sight.

“You,” he says sourly. There’s maybe fifty feet between us, which means I have the range advantage. But will the gauntlets even work on Rhino’s hide? I’m pretty sure it’s got at least a primitive vibro-dampner, which means he could shake off maybe up to a level three, and do I really want to hit my … Shit, I’ll say it, my best friend, with a level four vibration?

“They warned me about you, jackass,” the Not-Aleksei says, wiping someone’s blood from his face. “Man, I’m gonna smash you up real good.” He flexes a giant gray biceps. “See this? I can tear cars in half.” The Not-Aleksei starts stalking towards me. He swats a parked motorcycle into the air. “I can break through a concrete wall,” he says, and punts a dumpster.

Only thirty feet away now. I need to get this situation under control. I need to start breathing.

“I am pure freakin’ power! I can do anything I want!” To illustrate this, he smashes both fists down into the asphalt, sending out cracks in all directions. “And you,” he says, pointing at me to let us all know who he’s talking to. “What can you do?”

I flip the gauntlets up to level four.

“I can shake things.”

The first two blasts hit him in the chest, the next one in the stomach, then two more in the chest, one in the stomach and a last one in the head that knocks him back onto a Mazda, which buckles under his weight.

He vomits, but then smiles.

No way.

This is fucking ridiculous; at the rate the gauntlets made him shake back and forth, he must’ve been pulling about fifteen G in a field of motion only two inches long. He shouldn’t even be moving, let alone smiling and cackling that horrible laugh, that laugh that sounds so wrong coming out of Aleksei’s big, dumb, friendly mouth.

“Jesus,” I say aloud, a little louder than I meant to. I realize, with what feels like grief but might be anger, that some of Aleksei’s bones are probably already broken, but this asshole doesn’t give a shit.

He’s going to keep moving no matter what.

And yet, even as he picks up the crushed Mazda and hurls it at me (an easy dodge at this range; it flips a couple of times and crashes down in the playground of a public school), I’m still searching the area, going over everyone again and again.

Who’s it going to be?

The police officer still crouched behind his squad car, holding a riot shotgun, even after all of his compatriots have fled?

The woman holding, what is that, an umbrella, staring vacantly at Rhino when she should be running?

How about the guy up on the scaffold, who was cleaning the windows, but now is just watching all this like a goddamn mov–

“Hit him again, Shocker!”


I’m so shocked my body literally freezes, and I feel my stomach lurch.

I turn towards the voice, and see that a crowd has gathered, the kind of highly cautious, very mobile crowd that always shows up for a good superhero fight.

Is that what this is?

A superhero fight?

Jesus Christ, am I a sup–


“Shocker! LOOK OUT!” A woman in the crowd screams, and I turn back in time to get a chest full of horn; the Rhino gores me, and then flips me twenty feet into the air. The suit disperses the blow instantly, and I feel no pain, but hitting the ground is going to be a bitch.

But suddenly I realize that isn’t going to be a problem yet; the Rhino leaps up into the air, and nails me with a giant overhand palm slap, spiking me like a goddamn volleyball. Again, the suit takes the hit for me, but doesn’t to a goddamn thing about the stop sign I bounce off, or the sidewalk that comes next.


I roll three times, bounce off a curb, land on my feet and then fall over.



By the time I stand up the horn is already only a couple of feet away, and I don’t have time to do anything but get flipped into the air again. This time he runs up the fucking side of a building to my left, and drop-kicks me at an apartment building on the other side of the street.

If I hit that wall at this speed, I will die.

Hit him again, Shocker.

I spin mid-air and hit two level-threes off the building, two more at an angle on the asphalt, and land on my feet, earning a respectable cheer from the crowd, and hey, I earned it.

That was pretty fucking impressive.


This time I turn to do something about it; I charge my right-gauntlet and catch him with an uppercut that staggers him.

This gets another cheer, and again, I understand; seeing a six-foot-tall guy knocking back an nine-foot-tall guy with an uppercut is just goddamn cool.

I press my advantage, hitting him with six low-power blasts; left arm, right hip, right knee, left shoulder, head, chest. He’s knocked around like a pinball, but it’s not doing any real damage. I just need to keep him busy until the assassin makes their move.

“Son of a bitch, stop it!” the Rhino howls, standing up again. He turns to his left, and appears to talk to himself. “Damn it Mr. Seratta, you said this would be easy! Can I buy extra time?”

Seratta, remember that, Seratta. Keep that locked up.

Rhino reacts to something, grunts, and then turns and screams at me. “You’re ruining everything!” He tears a fire hydrant out of the ground and flings it at me, but again, I dodge, and hit him with three more level threes, all to the head. He topples backwards, tripping over a bicycle.

And again, he does something so Not-Aleksei that I wonder if maybe Russia had been on the right path all along with the whole Rhino-Suit idea. He grabs a tree, cracks it in half and throws both halves at me separately, one to my left and one to my right. There’s no room to dodge, so I choose the smaller half and catch it right in the shoulder.

I fly with it, and for a moment I think that maybe I should’ve just let Spider-Man handle this.


I vibrate the tree in half with one hand and brace my impact with the other, then roll and pop up, firing off a single level five that hits Rhino straight in the chest, blowing him into the side of the public school, through the wall, and into a chemistry lab.

By the time I get there, he’s got a kid, pinching him between two giant fingers around the shoulder, the kid’s legs hanging limply, like a lynched man swinging in the breeze soft breeze of a Georgia afternoon and you can hear the slaves singing down on the plantation singing swing low sweet chariot swing l–

I’m panicking.

A hostage situation?

I’m not built for this.

I freeze again.

“Get away from me, man, I swear I’ll crush him into jam.”

So, where do I go from here?

The kid can’t be more than ten years old.

He’s not screaming or shaking or anything, he’s frozen, just like me, little Asian kid, his eyes huge, staring up at the Rhino.

“Uh …” I say emptily. “I … uh …”

Something splashes up onto Rhino’s arm, and he screams, the stuff sizzling straight through the “impenetrable” armor and into the pale skin underneath.

“Rahhh! What the fuck?” Rhino spins towards the source of the splash, hurling the kid past me out into the street.

If only I had fucking webbing, I could —



Time slows down.

The problem is: a child, maybe seventy-five pounds, is flying through the air at an upward angle. He’s going about twenty-five miles an hour, and is around eight feet in the air; he’s going to go slamming into the pavement face-first in less than two seconds, so what do I do. What do I do.

What do I —

And the problem shakes, and vibrates, and tears itself apart.

In one jerky, painful motion I bend my torso into almost a one-eighty, my toes pointing at Rhino but my chest towards the street. I flip the gauntlets down to setting zero (yes, I have a zero setting), and squeeze off four shots under and around the kid, harmlessly flipping him further into the air, then turn back and fire off two level fives right at my feet, launching me backwards like a skyrocket.

I nab the kid by the wrist in mid-flight, turn and fire three level ones at the pavement below us, which cracks it badly, but also manages to slow our descent enough so that the kid and I land with only a gentle thud. I smile, proud of myself, until I notice that the kid’s arm is bent at a weird angle.

“MY ARM!” the kid screams hysterically. “YOU BROKE MY ARM!”

I must’ve grabbed onto his wrist a little tighter than I meant to.

Whoops. Minus another ten for the Shocker, Superhero.

“GRAAAHH! Mr. Cerada, what the fuck is this?” the Rhino shrieks as he stumbles out onto the street; he’s covered in patches of sizzling shit now.

And he said the name differently this time. Seh-Rah-Duh.


Wait. Cerada.

Something wrong with that name.

The Rhino spins and punches me in the head, flipping me to the ground a dozen feet away, cutting off any further thought on the subject. He starts to stalk towards me, ranting about being ripped off and the time-limit being all wrong, but then another splash of the acid-shit hits him and burns into his arm.

“Jesus freakin’ Christ!” he screams, staring at the melting spot on his arm.

And there he … no, she is; the assassin is a woman this time.

A little old lady probably never recognized for anything more than being an above-average grandma, holding a vial of acid in one hand and a snub-nose revolver in the other.

She turns and takes a pot-shot at me, shouting “Stay away! I paid fair and square!”

I shove the screaming kid behind some garbage bags, and the crowd cheers; I’m guessing they don’t realize that I broke the kid’s arm, or, if they do, they don’t care.

And hey, he’s alive, right? That’s a step up from where he would’ve been had I not pulled that neat trick with the gauntlets.

So fuck him if he can’t take the heat. He should be thanking me, instead of screaming and whimpering like a little ki–



Rhino roars and charges at the little old lady, who hits him on the side of the head with more of the acid, and then shoots him in one of the burning patches on his arm; the bullet goes through, and red bubbles out through the sizzling gray.

He roars, and swats her like a goddamn bug, palm hitting her in the head and squashing her entire body down into the pavement with a loud combination “CRUNCH-SPLAT” sound.

So the folks who pay to be heroes aren’t as invincible as they seemed.

Good to know.

Just what I needed: his back is to me.

Time to test a theory.

I jump up onto him, kick off his thigh and hook an arm around that enormous neck, shoving my other arm into the black spot. I sink in up to the shoulder and start waving my arm wildly, squeezing off dozens of level five shots at random.

Rhino lets out an insane scream, and I hear shouting from the other side of the spot, wherever that may be.


“No, wait! Don’t close it!” Rhino shouts angrily. “I can take him! I can —”

The Rhino suddenly lurches forward and falls flat on his face, throwing me to the ground. I lie there for a second, breathing, and then the Rhino slowly pushes himself up.

“Oy, Herman,” says Aleksei. “My arm hurts.”

“Aleksei!” I shout, my voice cracking awkwardly. I hug him around his enormous waist; my arms can’t even get all the way around, and for some stupid reason I’m breathing all hard.

“Hey …” Aleksei says slowly, looking around. “We ain’t on the phone anymore.”

Thank God. Aleksei’s back.

“Aleksei, get underground, now.”

The sirens, as always, are getting louder, but I hear a much worse noise rapidly approaching; the engine of a 1950s muscle car.

That’s probably Luke Cage.

That’d be very bad.

“I don’t understand, Herman, what’s going on? I was at my place and now —”

It’s here that Herman notices the blood all over his suit, and sunken, beady little eyes go wide.

Scared, all white, almost no iris to be seen.

He looks like a cartoon; it’d be funny if it wasn’t tragic.

“Herman, what did I do? What did I …” He reaches around and pulls the black spot off the back of his head, and it crumbles apart like burnt paper. Amazingly, Aleksei immediately understands.

“FPS,” he whispers. “Somebody was in my head.” There’s a quiver in his voice that rattles me a little.

“Aleksei, GO. Get into the tunnels, find a doctor and get that bullet out of your arm, but whatever you do, keep out of sight.”

“There’s a bullet in my arm?” Aleksei says, and I can tell he’s losing it a little. He touches the wound, and winces. “It hurts, Herman. What did I do? What happened? Did I … Did I kill all these people, or —”

The muscle car sounds like it’s practically on top of us.

“I’ll explain everything later, but Aleksei, you need to go before …” A 1959 street-racer skids around the corner up the street; it’s all black.


All black?

Who drives a —

And then I see the white skull logo on the hood.

“ALEKSEI, GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” I scream, my voice cracking all the way now as I squeeze off at least twenty rapid-fire Level Five pulses at the oncoming car; the street around and beneath it explodes in a cataclysmic eruption of asphalt, concrete, car parts, parking meters, street signs and uprooted trees.

The car goes flipping fifteen feet into the air, and comes down with a brutal smash upside-down on the pavement around twenty yards away.

See, now you’re thinking, whoa, overkill.

You don’t know this guy.

With him, there’s no such thing as overkill. I just bought myself forty seconds, tops.

“Jesus, Herman!” Aleksei yelps.

“GO!” I scream, sounding completely panicked rather than cool and in control, but Aleksei, as always, does as he’s told. He smashes those two enormous fists down through the pavement and drops into the sewer, and I hear him rumblerumblerumblerumble away.

The crowd is silent now; they don’t have the slightest conception of what’s going on. I raise my arms at the wrecked car, and wait. Ten seconds. Twenty. I’m sweating like a goddamn ape.

Man, fuck this. I’m gone.

I sprint into the men’s clothing store where I crashed the Broomstick (and the bus), and vibrate the piece of crap out of the wreckage; it’s unharmed, of course. I should expect that anything made by the Tinkerer would be impervious to a collision under three hundred miles an hour.

People are still screaming inside the bus.

I power up the Broomstick and prepare to tear ass, when someone shouts my name; not my real name, of course, but still my name.


Something inside me shifts in a weird way that I’m not used to and not at all comfortable with. I stick my head inside the bus, and immediately regret it.

The crash has not been kind to the passengers. They’re shmeared and shredded all over the place; of twenty-five, maybe nine are alive, all badly injured.

I start acting without thinking, forgetting all about the angel of death who, at this time, is pulling himself out of the destroyed classic sportster outside, bringing all manner of hell with him.

I start pulling people out and haphazardly throwing them out onto the plush carpeting of the men’s clothing store, throwing out a quick “Shut the fuck up” when anyone tries to thank me, or talk to me at all. I think I’ve got them all, when I turn to find a black guy in his forties, his leg pinned between a torn seat-bench and the bent-in side of the bus.

I kneel down next to him, and he doesn’t say anything, just sort of sits there staring at me.

His leg is so fucked that it looks like roast beef, and his blood has formed all kinds of little waterfalls in the crags of the crumpled metal.

“You’re the Shocker, right?” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Shut the fuck up,” I say; it’s becoming my catchphrase.

“I really admire you for doing this,” he says as I struggle to fit my fingers between his leg and the seat-bench; maybe I can vibrate it apart, or … Wait, what the fuck did he just say?

My face must give me away, because then the guy says:

“I know you’re scared. And I admire you staying here and trying to help me.”

“What?” I say in a small voice. He smiles a strangely calm smile.

“I know you’re a villain, and I know you don’t have to do this, but you staying behind and helping me, risking yourself, it shows character.”

I have no idea what to say to any of this, so I just keep trying to get my fingers between his leg and the wreckage.

“I’m a journalist,” he says, and for the first time I hear the pain in his voice; the guy is in total agony, and is still … well, what the fuck is he doing? Just praising me for the sake of praising me. “I’m with the Daily Bugle. My name’s Robertson, Robbie Robertson.”

He holds out a shaking hand.

“Look, dumbshit,” I say to the first person aside from Aleksei who’s given me a compliment in fifteen years. “Just, just shut up. I’m in a hurry.”

“Do what you need to do, Herman.” Robbie Robertson, Daily Bugle Journalist Whatever says. I hate that he knows my first name, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Inspiration strikes, and I dip my fingers into a pool of his blood, and then slide them into a crack in the seat-bench.


“Try to stay still,” I say, and vibrate the bench to pieces. Robertson laughs a weak laugh, then his face goes white, or at least as white as it can go.

“Castle, wait!” he shouts at something behind me.

Castle wait? The hell is he talking about n–

Something knocks me hard in the back of the head, sending me face-first into the bent metal, and, for the first time since I was a kid —

I dream of Felicia, her hair glowing white in a world of darkness, and the name, Cerada, echoes around in a strange, sing-song voice. And for some reason Max is there, my old friend, Max Markham, posing in the center of a wrestling ring, holding up a golden championship belt.

“Do you see, Herman?” he says. “Do you see what I won?”

“You didn’t win, Max, you died. You died a horrible, painful death.”

Max grins, revealing that the entire bone-structure of his face is shattered as it slides around soupily under his skin.

“But, Herman, look, I have the belt.” He shows me the belt; it’s engraved with the letters FPS.

For some reason I say “All the pies in the world still won’t cure cancer.”

“Yeah,” Max says. “But I’ll eat ’em anyway.”

We laugh as Max’s skin melts off.

It lights up high above the ring, in vibrant neon:


The ring is empty.

And then I see it, slow but fast, quiet but deafeningly loud.

A devolution, from man back to ape, from ape back to rodent, from rodent back to lizard, from lizard back to fish, from fish back to amoeba, from amoeba back to slime, and from slime to nothing.

Aleksei, Max, Mac Gargan, Professor Crawford, devolved from people into a toys, action figures to play with.

Tools of destruction.

My ear devolved into a mangled lump.

My nose devolved into a warped mess.


Spiders everywhere, laughing at me.

“I’m the freakin’ Rhino!”

Then I’m in the basement again, inside of the safes, unlocking them one by one, and I come out to see my father standing on the cool sand, his face a plain white skull with no jawbone.

And he’s laughing at me, laughing and laughing and laughing and I want to take him by the throat and vibrate him until his face melts off from the heat, vibrate him until he’s dust, devolve him into nothing the way he devolved me into this shit of a human being I am today.

All his fault.

Nobody’s fault at all.


My fault. Nobody else’s.

But I will evolve.

I will change.

Felicia’s lips, whispering “Wake up, Herman.” That strange, sexy growling R.

And I wake up.

I look around.


I’m out of the suit, face-down, wearing only my boxers, hands cuffed behind my back. I’m in the trunk of a moving car; it’s hot, sticky, and dark. It smells like vomit, blood and sweat; I’m not the first tenant, not by a long shot. I try to move my legs, and find they’re separately handcuffed to something that looks like a shotgun; if I’d moved them an inch more, my head would’ve been history.

Sweet Jesus.

I’m hogtied in the Punisher’s trunk.

I am totally, unequivocally fucked.

But the name still echoes in my head.


The name of the man behind FPS, or at least one of the men behind FPS.

Something definitely wrong with that name, even worse now that I’m concentrating on it.

The problem starts to shake.





The problem starts to spin.



The problem tears itself apart.

Oh, shit.


Man, if I ever get out of this trunk, I might be in some serious trouble.

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