Growing up, I was always a bit ahead of where children my age were supposed to be. I had taught myself to read both English and Spanish before I entered school, and by the time the other kids were starting to learn to read and write in their first language I was working on my fifth.
I never got anything but the best grades in any subject, and would eventually be the valedictorian of my high school class--no contest since I'd had perfect grades all four years.
I was never sick, and never even hurt. I was the star of every sports team I ever wanted to join. There were people who didn't like me, or who dismissed me as a show-off or a glory hound, but none of those people ever knew me well. Anyone who took much time at all to talk to me generally liked me.
I was, to put it simply, good at everything up to and including making people like me despite being good at everything.
This was my normal. I never knew anything else. I never really understood just how different I was from everybody else around me. I never knew just how much my abilities exceeded those of every other person.
I had been offered good scholarships at many different universities--any that I had asked--but my mother did not have the money to pay the remaining costs of schooling. I could have taken a loan or applied for financial aid, but she was not ready for me to leave.
I decided to stay at home for one year, taking basic classes at the local university where I did not have to pay for room and board and could cover my tuition through scholarship. I was just taking basic courses at the time, but I took a part-time job at a department store to help pay for my next year when I moved on. I could have been promoted to a manager position at that store if I had dropped my classes and had the hours available. I could have been promoted all the way up and lived comfortably, but I didn't.
So I took my meager paycheck to a bank one day, and that's where this story really starts.
Three people in ski masks with guns came in. I don't think they really knew how to pull off a bank robbery, but they were desperate and they were trying it anyway.
They all fired into the air, and most of the people got down. As I was moving, I saw a teenaged girl, too frightened to do anything.
They could have just left her alone. If she couldn't even drop to the floor, what else could they do to stop them?
But the woman in the ski mask, she was scared, too. And this wasn't part of her plan. She ran over to the girl, shouting at her. She raised her gun to strike her, and I moved to intercept. "She's just scared!" I said, "Leave her be and we won't do anything to you."
There was a pause. Then she shot me.
It was pain like I had never known. I ripped away my shirt, tears streaming and the pain screaming at me. I was dying, I knew it. I could not bear this pain... but then, I had never had to before, had never had a chance to build up a pain tolerance.
The only wound was a small bruise on my chest. I looked at it. The teenager looked at it. The bank robber looked at it.
And then I hit her. I knew instantly that I had hit her harder than I should have. That this ordinary woman was no match for my strength and that I didn't need to punch her so hard to take her down. I had risked hurting her more than I had really wanted to do--but she had tried to murder me and I didn't feel too bad about it.
But then her two partners were paying attention now. They raised their guns. I really didn't want to get shot again, even thought I was mostly uninjured. Even more, I was afraid that they would shoot somebody else.
I had never actually pushed myself before, y'know? Never tried to find my limits. In that moment, I closed the distance between me and the men in masks faster than they could finish raising their weapons.
I hit them, but not so hard as I'd hit the woman. Now that I'd done it, even just once, I'd learned exactly how to do it right. They were down, but unlike their partner they wouldn't need the medical care.
A cheer rose. Later, a reporter called me "Exemplar, the Ultimate Man," and at least that first part stuck.
And that's why today I'm a superhero who doesn't keep my identity secret--just because the whole thing started by accident and I didn't know I should.
I don't recommend it. If you ever become a superhero, wear a damn mask. After staying here for her, I suddenly had to cut off all ties with my mother, publicly and faux angrily, with the implication that I didn't care what happened to her and wouldn't bother protecting her if she were in trouble.
Thus far, no villain has called my bluff. But the public separation is real; if she were in trouble, I wouldn't know it any sooner than if it were somebody else, and I couldn't take it any more seriously than I do even when the victim is a stranger...
But that's a tangent. The bank robbery story is pretty lame, yeah? You wanted to hear about my first adventure as Exemplar, and that story is it, but... I think you really wanted to know about my first encounter with a real supervillain. Right.
Yeah, okay, let's talk about Kaos.