Superpowers grow from belief. With only a few exceptions, people who think of themselves as normal are right.
That said, I have no clue where the core of my own abilities lie. "Know thyself" may be a damn good philosophy, but it is not exactly easy. Just like everybody else, my powers have limits. I may be the guy that "knows people," but I'm just as clueless as anybody else when it comes to figuring out what my on again/off again girlfriend Sue is thinking at any given moment.
This particular day, she had asked to come watch me work on my monthly "Are you a superhero?" gig with Johnny Insight and out joint publicist-slash-agent, Johnny's brother Bill.
The gig went pretty much like every other time. I told a whole lot of people what they didn't want to hear, Johnny tried to keep his predictions optimistic without sounding cookie cutter and Bill juggled both the few that wanted their money back and tried to keep Johnny from sharing his latest insights into universal philosophy. Nobody likes to be compared to cogs in a machine or pachinko balls.
Well, this particular day started out well. Very few asked for their money back after shelling out $300 to be told they didn't have extraordinary abilities, Johnny kept his tongue in check, and we even found one person of the several hundred with ability ... If having a naturally limber body increase to rubbery super-contortionism when sexually excited counts as a super power.
So I was a little surprised when I stepped off the stage and found Sue tapping her foot, arms crossed and a glare in her eyes that shot daggers.
"What did I do?" I asked, but she just spun on her heel and stomped off. I turned to Johnny and Bill helplessly.
"I predict that if Bill does after her, he'll find out." Johnny said with a grin.
"And why would I want to do that?" Bill asked with a suspicious look for his brother's grin.
"Because I also predict you'll get laid if you don't do anything to screw it up."
Once upon a time, when Johnny was talking privately with Bill and I about his pachinko balls theory for the hundredth or thousandth time; Bill replied, "Yeah, but pachinko balls don't screw up."
Bill would know better than I about this, having spent more time around his brother than I; but from time to time one of Johnny's predictions just fails to come true. Johnny makes a prediction that something good is going to happen and all the pieces start falling in place. Everything is going well until the object of the prediction does or says something that just screws it all up.
Bill at least had the grace to say "Sorry man" to me as he bolted for the door. I was a little hurt, but I can't really blame him. Sue's a professional model for several popular men's magazines.
Understanding is a long way from feeling good about it, so I wasn't exactly happy when I came back to my office to find Father Conviction waiting for me.
I didn't know the media several states away had nicknamed him Father Conviction prior to meeting him, but when we laid eyes on each other my abilities kicked into overdrive. He must have seen something in my expression because he leapt twenty feet to land between me and the door out.
"You know why I'm here," he said. Not a question. Not a good sign.
"You're here to hear compelling reasons why hurting me is a waste of your time," I lied. "And you don't know it yet, but you are about to find out why talking to me will help with your plans."
He may have guessed I was lying about the first part, but the second part had his interest.
"Go on," he said.
"Well..." I drawled, pausing to light a cigarette so I would have something to do with my hands. Father Conviction was a non-smoker. Maybe I could get him to back up a step or two.
Instead he reached up, snuffed out the cigarette with his fingertips and said, "The more you stall, the more likely I am to think you are lying."
Fair enough. Start with the truth then.
"Your name is Paul Smythe. You are the founder of the Church of Fiery Conviction. Your powers are near-total invulnerability, strength and the ability to rain fire down from the sky - although you haven't discovered that last power yet. You are suspected for the death of several prostitutes stoned to death in the last month. You are planning a grand gesture that will bring you to the obvious attention of the police and correctly suspect they will ask me how to stop you."
He nodded and shifted his stance. I had him listening. Always a good first step. Now to mix things up a bit.
"You believe your powers come from the cross you wear under your shirt. You have a second cross in the same style tattooed on your chest in the hope that will prevent the unexplained occasional loss of your powers," I said truthfully. "I know the real source of your powers and how to prevent them from ever shutting off." Again the truth, but with a bit of varnish. Okay, not exactly the whole truth... "ever" is a hard word to use in a truthful sentence.
Life didn't do guarantees, but I really didn't want to get killed and was doing my best to avoid telling some type of big whopper just to save my butt and causing the very beating I was trying to avoid.
I held my breath and waited. Either he would take the bait or the deadly beating would now begin.
"Go on," Father Conviction said slowly. "Tell me how you think my powers work." He wasn't swallowing the bait, but he was nibbling and a nibble was enough.
I let out the breath I hadn't realized I had been holding and reached for another cigarette, but put the lighter away when I looked up into the Father's eyes. We both knew I was stalling again. I also realized for all his brutal thuggish nature, Father Conviction might be better at detecting lies than I was at telling them. My power wouldn't tell me for sure ... dammit.
Very well - a "devil's deal" then.
"I want an exchange of promises first," I said. "I promise to tell you the truth of how your powers operate and to not testify against you to the police..." I held my breath again. I wanted him talking - engaged in conversation instead of just listening.
"And in exchange?" he replied after a short uncomfortable silence.
"In exchange I get to live until you figure out how to call down fire."
"I only have your word that God has granted me that ability."
"Until the end of the month then," I replied and held out my hand for a shake.
He didn't take my hand. Not a good sign. If he had shaken my hand, I was reasonable certain I could have gotten out of this without a beating. I let my hand hang out in the air until it was obvious he was never going to take it. I let it drop.
I should have tried to run but even without his powers, father Paul Smythe was six foot five, ate healthy food and worked out religiously. I'm a five foot ten inch smoker and consider lifting a mug as my favorite exercise. Running would just mean I had a chance of being tired when I was beaten to death.
But instead of beating me immediately, Father Conviction scratched his chin and said, "I expected that killing you would be doing the world a favor - one less lying weasel who gets his powers from the devil instead of God - but either you're a better liar than I expected or so far you've been honest with me ... So tell me what you think and I'll decide for myself what happens after. No promises."
.... There is more of this story ...