“I want back in the game.”
The only response to this was silence.
“Yeah, Pete. I'm here.”
“Did you hear me? I said I want to get back in the game.”
“I heard you, but the game has changed. And you're no spring chicken.”
Pete sighed and leaned back in his easy chair, letting the heavy, plastic handset fall away from his head for half a breath. He reached under his glasses to rub his brow. He had to remember this was what he expected from Sal.
“I know Sal. But have you seen these kids today? They hardly know a time rift from a dimensional tear. The worst thing they deal with is the occasional alien invasion. When's the last time any of them fought a god-planet single handedly?” Pete idly glanced around his den, spinning his heavy recliner slightly as he did so. To the untrained eye it looked to be a collection of odd bits of art and history from around the world, but most of it was from other worlds, other dimensions, and other times. “I may not be as fast as I was back in the day, but I know more about being a cape than anyone.”
“I'm not debating that,” Sal said defensively. “I just mean...do you know how much a headquarters costs these days? Or the old sky-jets? Well no that we'd want to use those death traps anymore, but you know what I mean, right?”
“It's never about the money, Sal.”
“Right, for you it's not. I'm just your manager. I'm just the guy who made sure your chemo was paid for by booking all those convention appearances, all those mall openings. I've got a vested interest in keeping you alive and signing 8x10 floppies for the fans Pete.” Sal stopped and took a deep breath to prepare. “And what happens if you get killed this time? Sure when we were in our twenties and had no cares, that didn't matter, but what's going to happen to Charlie if you die? Or the grand kids? Or hell, the dog?”
“The dog can stop a tank with one kick,” Pete said. “Remember, from Pluto. I think he'll be fine.”
“Okay, Charlie then. You really think she's going to keep on going if you die? You want her to have a heart attach every time she see's you on the news fighting some two bit hood who stole a power suit?” Sal's voice was growing more plaintive, more desperate. “Don't force me to make that call, 'cause if you die you know it'll be me doing it.”
“Sal, I'm not going to die. I've still got all the powers I used to, and more experience to boot.” Pete stood up from his chair and began to pace around his den, the phone cord stretching out behind him as he did so. “Look, Sal, Charlie and I were mugged last week-”
“Holy shit Pete, is she okay?”
Pete stopped. “Sal. Really. You think I can't handle a mugger? Would I be asking you to get me back in the game if I couldn't handle some teenager with a knife and an inflated opinion of his tenacity? Hell, Charlie could have kicked this guy's ass. I just gave him a quick throw into the nearby garbage, but really, it felt good. It felt better than I've felt in a long time.” Pete stopped, breathing deeply to stay calm in the memory of the moment. “A hell of a lot better than signing pictures at some convention.”
“Okay, Pete, you took down one kid. One kid is not a member of the Destruction Circle... hell, it's not even a Scorpion Soldier. You can't just come back after being out for a decade and expect it to all work out. I mean-”
“Sal, I've got a year to live. Tops.”
The line went silent, as Pete expected. He gave Sal time to process as he paced slowly by his trophy cases, idly running his hand over alien scepters and weapons of long lost civilizations. He'd had weeks to deal with it, and figured Sal would need a few minutes.
“What do you mean, Pete?” Sal's voice was no longer pleading or exasperated, only solid. Determined.
“Apparently that run in with the Kelhh back in 92, when I got bathed in that cosmic radiation and Primator told me not worry about it? Yeah, well that crapsack was wrong and it gave me cancer. Brain tumor, size of a golf ball at this point and completely inoperable. Docs say I've got six months most likely, a year best case scenario.” Pete rested his hand on the handle of the Antifinity Sword, remembering how he had taken from the champion of the microverse so long ago. How Shrinking Violet had used it to try and cut the tumor out by shrinking into his skull. “I've tried everything; every mystic, every tech, every psychic, and its no good.”
“But what about-”
“Yes, I even called the Dominator. Nothing.”
“So, you want to go out with a bang? That what this is about?”
“No, Sal. I want to provide Charlie with a future. Since that Kelhh attack where she loss the use of her legs she relies on me for a lot, and without me... I don't know what she'll do. I'm her husband. It's my job to provide for her, and I'd get a lot more money for the conventions and appearances if I was back in the game.” Pete turned back to his chair, careful to swing the phone cord so it didn't knock anything over in the process. “If I went out swinging instead of dying in a hospital bed, well, that wouldn't be so bad. Would it?”
“There's no talking you out of this, is there?”
“No, Sal. And good man for recognizing it.” Pete sat back in his chair, smiling for the first time in weeks. “Now can you get me back in the game?”
“Sure, I know some people, but Pete, like I said it's not cheap. Costumes, gadgets, vehicles. I mean it's not like you're a flier, we have to get you to the trouble somehow. And that costs money, especially since it will likely get destroyed every week. Plus we need a headquarters as we sure as hell don't want you working out of your house and putting Charlie in more danger.”
“But we can do it, right Sal?” Pete said with a sigh. “You're the man that once organized the evacuation of the entire city of Saint Louis in three hours to avoid a demonic invasion, you can get me back to be a superhero.”
“Well, may be your luck day.” Sal said with a level of irony that concerned Pete. “See Lady Rocket called me the other day; seems she went into television after that incident with the sasquatch arc-champion back in Oregon. Anyways, she's got this reality show thing she's working on she's calling “The Next Sidekick” where a bunch of mundanes spend a few weeks competing to be a sidekick for some big name superhero. Only problem is they don't have a big name superhero. All lined up with a network, facilities, the works. But no hero.”
“You want me to go on television? You want me to do reality television to get funding?” Pete was at least partially at a loss for words. Or at least the big words. “What the hell Sal? I sell my signature and shake some hands, but I am not some dancing monkey.”
“I can get you ten million for the season with a bonus if the ratings go up. And a percentage of licensing returns.” Sal replied. “How many costumes is that? How many jet packs? You want visibility? You want back in the game? This is back in the game Pete.”
Pete dropped the phone to his chest, glancing down the hall to see his wife maneuver her wheel chair through the hall. She smiled and waved at him, melting his heart as always.
“Okay Sal, I'll be your dancing monkey. Call Lady Rocket. Let's do this.”