Pandemic Blogging

This is how I found Darcy on the couch yesterday

Am I writing blog posts because we put Nikki down last week and I want to bury her picture on my feed so I don’t cry every time I look at my website? No, why would you think that?

That aside, I realize I’ve kind of neglected my Lexie Dunne identity online. I’m very active on Twitter (almost too active, honestly), and I check Facebook once a day to make sure nothing is on fire. But I haven’t really been doing any pro writing in awhile and it’s hard to write blog posts when you feel that guilt weighing down on your shoulder blades every time you think about it. So I don’t have a ton to talk about, writing-identity-wise.

But hey, I've been cooking again. Gaze upon this delicious quiche.

Also, there’s a pandemic. It’s severely cut down on my out-of-home activities because I’m still trying to be cautious. So I don’t have cool adventure posts to share either. Would you like pictures from the daily walks I’ve started to take around the neighborhood with Darcy? It’s very not exciting. We get barked at by neighborhood dogs. Occasionally I wave at the mail carrier and she waves back. Darcy is Very Interested in the corner bushes about half a block down and has to be dragged away from them every time. Riveting stuff.

In March of 2020, they sent me home from work with my desktop and a promise that we’d be back in a few weeks. It’s January of 2022, and I’m still 70% work-from-home. I go into the office with the night shift every night for a couple hours to handle a task I can’t do at home1, so I see a couple coworkers and I get to say hi to people and be a tiny bit sociable. I have two siblings that share my house with me and I talk to them every day.2 But it’s a lot of time in my office with first dogs-plural and now dog-singular to keep me company. I talk to online friends a lot, and try not to sound manic when a coworker calls me over Skype to discuss documentation.

So yeah, there’s not a lot here to consistently blog about. Does anybody have any ideas of what they’d LIKE me to talk about? I can tell you about books I’ve been reading.

Right now I’m working my way through Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes as an audiobook while I’m doing the mundane tasks at the office. She narrates the book herself, and it’s been a really fun listen. The book is entirely about saying yes to challenging things and the experience of going through those things, and it's put some interesting ideas into my head. One glaring thing about it is that she assumes the reader (me) is making a lot of judgy assumptions about her, whereas I’m usually laughing along and saying “Yeah, I know that feeling.” But I don’t know how much of her audience is composed of other writers. She talks about her connection to Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh on Grey’s) and the entire time, I was nodding along because I have similar feelings about Gail Godwin (character, not the author).

I’m almost done with it. Nobody spoil the ending. After I finish that, I’m going to attempt another audiobook, maybe this time in fiction. I haven’t really given audiobooks a try in a few years, but now that I’m spending 10+ hours a week doing a very mundane work thing, and I’ve discovered audiobooks are great for doing dishes, I’m going to jump in again headfirst.

What other updates are there? Hm. I’m still bullet journaling, and it’s helping out quite a lot. I haven’t returned to dicemaking yet, but when I do expect more posts about that. My secret project with friends is deep in the works and hopefully we’ll have some announcements for you by the end of the month. I’m still sad over Nikki, but have moved on to allowing my typical morbid humor room to blossom. Her current replacement is the shoulder porg I purchased at Disneyland, that now sits behind me in my room and stares at me all day, just like she used to.

Anybody got any fun updates? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments. I’d love to talk to more people.

Until then, stay sexy!


1 Shout out to my coworker who, after being out last week with COVID, was walking around with his mask pushed down his chin when I came in during regular hours on Monday. Am I going in during the night shift to avoid that guy particularly? Absolutely. What the fuck, dude?

2 One of them is trapped in the basement with COVID right now. The other one and I have been poking our noses with swabs and testing negative in the meantime.

I Did a Thing!

Like my brain, it is empty.

So I started a bullet journal.

I know, I know. Bad idea. I have a habit of running headlong down organization tunnels hoping that a shiny new tool will help me get my cluttered brain in order. And then I’m shocked when it doesn’t. Or not that shocked, really.

So I joke about being ADHD, even though I’ve never pursued an actual diagnosis. My mom has it. My brother has it. So my chances of having it are incredibly strong. And figuring that out as an adult has led to several epiphany moments. Haven’t got a diagnosis or anything1, so instead I run to solution after solution trying to figure out the best way to keep it all together.

My main go-to has been Notion. I love Notion, even though it’s not easy to learn. Designing actual systems in Notion has proven incredibly helpful. I built a database that allows me to track my monthly bills. Another page lets me create a dynamic grocery list that I can lay out in different orders depending on which grocery store I visit. I spent 2020 into 2021 trying and failing at building an entire life wiki system in Notion. But there were drawbacks, so I searched elsewhere, which is how I found Obsidian.

In theory, Obsidian is great! The problem is that it requires knowledge and work to have it accessible in multiple spots. And I…can’t. I need something that I can access from wherever I am, easily and quickly. No double-inputting information. Centrally stored location. I loved it, tried plotting out a whole book series in it, but ultimately I had to walk away.

Enter the bullet journal.

This isn’t my first time with it, just to be up front. I think I saw it for the first time from Kelly Sue DeConnick’s twitter, and it intrigued me.

The creator, Ryder Carroll, first started using this system to deal with his own ADHD. At its basic, core principles, it’s three things: a future log giving a brief overview of the next six months, a monthly log that lists all the date in the current month, and daily logs. These can contain to-dos, notes, observations, etc. All of them clearly marked with their own simple symbols. With the caveat that it’s whatever you make of it, the original bullet journal setup was intended to be easily maintained and at hand.

And that’s the main appeal to me. I have so many random scraps of paper and half-filled notebooks around me at my desk. It’s chaos. So having an analog notebook at hand at all times that I could use as a combination planner/to-do list/scratchpad, well…

Here’s the dark side of bullet journaling, however. Or “bujo,” as the lingo goes.

My Google Search, Folks

It can be addicting as hell to make it look pretty. Partial art project, partial planner. Aesthetic bloggers do monthly “Plan with me” videos and create intricately wonderful “spreads.” They follow themes. They tout expensive stationery and scrapbooking tools and washi tapes and different pens. And I’m a little bummed and trying not to think about how Nikki’s not here scratching at my leg like the needy little jerk she was2, so I’ve been devouring these videos. It’s nice artwork, with soothing voiceover. And it’s like a siren call. Look at how pretty your own “bujo” could be, Lexie. Think of the neat artwork you could make every month.

Two things about that, though:

1. I’m not that talented at drawing or writing. My handwriting is chicken scratch, especially in smaller notebooks.
2. The minute it becomes REMOTELY a chore to maintain this sucker, I’m going to abandon it and it’ll just fall into the graveyard of dead organizational tools.

Because, see, the only thing permanent about dealing with my neurodivergence, whatever it truly is, is impermanence. I’ve learned small ways around it (key ring by the door, dedicated work badge pocket in my bag), but no way in hell this lasts if it loses its shine and becomes more about the organizing than the content.

So I made some rules.

If I want it to look pretty: stickers are great. I can use as many stickers as I want, do as much decorating as I like. Watch as many bujo spread videos as I want, even! But this journal needs to be an aid, not just a pretty art project. So don’t be afraid of messing it up.


I need to carry my bag with me. I really prefer to leave the house with as little as possible: cell phone, wallet, keys. Which can be a problem because I get migraines and have been stranded without my meds before. And the journal’s not going to do me any good unless it’s on me. Ergo: purse.


If something doesn’t fit the traditional format, that’s fine. New page. Worry about aesthetics later, get the information down now.


(This one is hard-earned) Just because I see a thing on Reddit, doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD idea. I need to experiment a little and see what I’ll use the journal for. Cutting some of the page off so I can see a calendar of the month is great and all, but I might need that space.

But now that I’ve gotten that long disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to be one of those annoying people online and talk about my spreads! Because I made some and I’m proud of them, and also this is a pandemic in which I’ve been staying home a lot and taking care of a chronically ill dog, so there’s not really much to put in this blog.

So here’s what I’ve made!

I did a cover page and made it Aesthetic™ thanks to a pack of planner stickers picked up in the clearance aisle on a whim. I cut up a quote and made it the cover page because it felt nice. I have no sense of design and therefore just kind of stuck everything where it made me happy. Everything in here is a little random.

The backside of the cover page is where I put a treasured sticker my friends sent me for my birthday, one I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use. I also did a thing I saw in a lot of videos where I made a fold-out page with the key so I could see it all the time if I needed it.


Next page is blank. Maybe I’ll fill it, maybe I won’t. I made a six-month Future Log that’s literally just some boxes and the words Future Log at the top of the page.

After that, I made a page for January with some miscellaneous to-do tasks in the month, plus a daily breakdown. Biggest regret is that I didn’t immediately reserve the pages right after for my daily logs because it’s already a lot of flipping between the two sections. But the page following that is actually a really cool idea I hope I use, which is called the Follow Up log. A better name would’ve been “Brainweasels and the Like.” If I hear of an idea or concept and it sounds interesting but I don’t have time for a rabbit trail, I write it down to follow-up on later.

My migraine tracker is something I’m excited about because I only started tracking my migraines in 2021, and even then I missed a few. Turns out when you’re in a lot of pain and miserably tired, the last thing you want to do is undergo multiple steps to log it. So instead I have created a simple dot-based tracker I saw in several spreads online.

As you can guess, I made it 3 days before migraine

Bear in mind, I have no idea if I’m going to actually use any of these pages. I made them in case I want to, and if I don’t end up doing that, well, it was fun. Like my Dice Ideas page where I can list different dice recipes I want to try. Or [Redacted] Ideas, where I can brainstorm topics for an upcoming project. Or the Media to Remember page, which is where I write things I’ve been watching so I can remember to go and finish them someday when I’m in the mood for them.

Right. Vampire Diaries. I was watching that. Whoops.

It's cool but I want that space back
My daily logs for January, I did a nifty little thing I saw on Reddit (see Lesson #4) where I trimmed some of the pages so I could always see a little habit tracker/calendar to one side. Turns out, and I can’t show this page because it’s got work and private info, I need the whole page for my to-do lists. Whoops. But I’m tracking a couple metrics, so we’ll see how it goes at the end of the month.

After that, it’s the wild west. Whatever I need to put in the journal will go into the journal, and marked on the index. I made up a little bit of a rigid system at the beginning with some ideas and stickers, but if I’ve learned anything about myself, it’s that the more rigid the system, the less likely it is to work.

So yeah. That’s my new affectation for 2022. Anybody else picking up anything new? Tell me about it in the comments, I would love to hear from everybody.

1 And there’s something so inherent and darkly funny to me that the thing that makes your brain all distract-y and scattered requires both intense dedication and organization to receive a diagnosis. I’ve taken online tests that put me as borderline, and at the end of the day, I’m like, eh, I’ve developed coping methods. Too much work to try and figure out if drugs will help me.
2 Tuesday was her last day. She went very peacefully, eating and snoring to the last minute in my arms.

About Nikki

Nikki says hi

Having a sick dog sucks.

Back in 2015, Nikki jumped off the bed and started screaming in agony. Real, loud screams. We rushed her to the vet and they sent us to the emergency vet. And the only solution was surgery that cost all of my book royalties from SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS, plus help from my parents and some very lovely internet friends. Which we opted to do because she was seven years old and healthy, and even then it gave her pancreatitis and wrecked her and we had a long few months of recovery where she shook and occasionally we had to clamp down and hold her to keep her from moving while she screamed in pain while we waited for the meds to come in.

And after that, things went back to normal. But we always knew it could come back.

Oh, these were clean? Not anymore.

She’s had bad pain days over the past few years, days where we could give her a cocktail of drugs and she would be okay a couple days later. But in August or September, she started sneezing uncontrollably and it was hurting her neck. So we took her in to her regular vet, who did everything they could, but told referred us to her emergency vet over half an hour away.

It took months to get her an appointment there. I understand. It’s COVID times and vets are busier and crazier than ever. But it was months. The neurology appointment cost hundreds and told us what we already suspected: her neck’s in bad shape. She needs the surgery again. The surgery that nearly destroyed her as a young and relatively healthy seven-year-old dog.

She’s thirteen now. Still pretty good on her good days, but even for a little dog, that’s old.

Along with the neck problems, we were told she had an enlarged heart. The initial appointment was in September. Our first appointment with the cardiology appointment was December 15. Her blood pressure, we were told, was 230. It’s comparable to humans. It should be 120. I don’t even know how they take blood pressure on a dog, but it was bad. She was immediately put on human drugs. Two days later, another call back. The reason her blood pressure was so high was kidney disease, so there’s another drug for her.

I took her back last Tuesday. Blood pressure was 125. Finally, I thought. Things are looking up. She's getting better.

Wednesday she fell over and SCREAMED. Just so loud and in so much anguish. We rushed her to the vet, where she was given methodone. She’d pinched a nerve. The vet told us that we should crate her, keep her on complete rest. He’d send us home with codeine. But sometimes we would just have to bring her back for shots if it’s too much.

Or we could do the surgery.

No wonder she had neck problems, this is how she sleeps

I typed up half of this with her in my lap, resting her giant blocky, drooly head on the back of my hand because that relieves some of the pressure on her neck. She’s behind me now, lying with her head on the floor and breathing just loudly enough to remind me that even though there is a full batch of breakfast in the bowl we elevated earlier this year to make things easier, I have not fulfilled my half of the contract and given her the chewbone which is promised to her by the God of Dogs every morning.

Her brain is the size of a walnut. She loves nothing in this world but food and sometimes me. She’s never met a toy she’ll play with except the garden hose or a plastic bag. She hates being petted, she hates cuddling unless it’s on her own terms. Waking up and finding her curled into my side has always felt like some kind of miracle. She rejects treats from pet-friendly store cashiers and make me feel like an asshole in front of strangers. Her favorite mattress is purses and our winter coats. She snores like the horn on a freight train and the gas from her tiny, tiny behind can clear a room. She hates being picked up and ported about. Her little face somehow manages to be 85% eyeball and 90% tongue and no, we’re not entirely sure how the math works out on that, either. She’s a good, weird dog. We love her to bits.

And lately, there have there been more bad days than good. The codeine keeps her comfortable but I can’t get it for her unless I take her to an emergency appointment while she’s screaming in pain. And when it begins to wear off, she shivers so hard you can see it from across two rooms. If we confined her to the crate and let her do absolutely nothing for months, she might heal this pinched nerve, but it’s only a matter of time until the next one.

She was three in this picture

So on Christmas Eve, a day I typically love, I made the decision. Next week, I’ll contact a service that comes out to our home. They’ll do a paw print impression. They’ll sedate her. She’ll sleep comfortably and we’ll all say our good-byes to this cantankerous furry little jerk I love more than life itself.

We had thirteen really great years with her. She’ll go on to see her best friend, our old lovable doofus Joey, once again in what I’m convinced is a combination of dog heaven and squirrel hell. And even more importantly, she won’t be in pain anymore.

A photo of a brown dog laying on his belly and looking sideways at the camera
Joey, the lovable doof himself
The bros back in the good old days

That’ll make one of us. But this is a deal we make to have these beasts in our lives. I wanted to write all of this down and put it here because it’s kind of a bummer to just announce on regular social media. “Hey, hope you’re having a good Christmas. I’m not because I have to put my dog down next week and have cried eight times already today.” Not the most cheerful of messages, y’know? But we had a great Christmas together. Nikki got to eat lots of fat from the roast and endured cuddles from the entire family, and now we’re back home enjoying our last days together where she pokes me in the leg with her foot and gets mad at me when I won’t give her my bagel. Why? Because it's mine, dog. Your breakfast is in the kitchen.

Hug your loved ones and your pets for me? Thanks for staying to the end, and sorry for this being such a downer post. I just needed to get it off my chest.

My Big Trip Recap

The workers were happy to talk to me and let me know I had food stowing away atop my hat.

Back to the land of the living!

Walking out on our last night.
Or at least away from the land of permanent vacations, at any rate. I returned back to the miserable cold of a St. Louis winter after a week of wearing shorts and overheating in the Orlando sun. That transition was not a fun experience and I do not recommend it for anybody. The week preceding it, on the other hand, was a delightful one.

As I blogged about two weeks ago, my entire family (plus my friend Lucky) went to spend a week living under the same roof in an Air BNB. Every day had some sort of people-filled plan attached to it. For a family of introverts, this sounds like the ultimate version of hell, but we all did our level best to work around it. We’d researched the quiet spots in each of the places we were to visit. We’d packed headphones and books and knew to eat regularly to avoid that overwhelming food-crash that leads to meltdowns. We had lists.

I did not steal this. Did I think about it? Pleading the fifth.
And we also had a blast. I broke 20,000 steps on a couple of the days according to my watch, and have the tired feet to prove it. Coming back on Friday and giving myself the weekend to do very little—some chores, sleep, read, catch up on the pages I’d missed as part of my progress through the Artist’s Way—was an excellent choice. Especially since half of the family seems to have come back with some sort of flu or infection.

I am a beautiful butterfly.
But it’s Monday again and we’re back in the real world. My morning pages since I’ve returned have been more about characters and book ideas than whining (though plenty of that remains). According to the lesson this week, I should be suffering some highs and lows. I’m not sure if I’m doing that right because mostly I’ve just been in recovery after the exhaustion of pushing myself to be social and outgoing for a week. Yesterday I lazed about so much that I didn’t even break 1000 steps. I’m a little proud of myself, won’t lie.

Tonight begins some trials. I worried about three things prior to this trip: an unnamed habit that I did falter on a bit during Florida, but seem to have returned to; resuming the Artist’s Way and my morning pages; my newfound habit of going to the gym. So far I’m two for three. Tonight will be the first step in returning to the third habit, if all goes well. I don’t have a yoga class until Wednesday, but I can go get on the treadmill or even attempt to start a weightlifting regimen.

A very nice woman took this picture on my cell phone, but insisted on arranging us. She said she would tell us why and we would find it hilarious afterward. As she handed my phone back, she admitted it: she was a Photopass photographer there on her day off.
Here are some highlights from the trip:

Visiting Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I didn’t see the dragon spew flame, which was one of my top priorities, but I did ride most of the available rides. Including the Care of Magical Creatures, where I did the single rider line and was temporarily adopted into another family. We met up with said family later in line for the Hulk ride, where I discovered my limit for roller coasters and migraines: nothing that goes upside down and bounces my head around!

Expensive lightsabers! And Kimbe!
Seeing Magic Kingdom. Part of my family is from near Anaheim and so I attended Disneyland quite a bit as a kid and feel a great swell of nostalgia whenever I think about it. Magic Kingdom, in addition to being insanely crowded, did not have quite the same feel, but it was close enough that my shriveled lump of a heart felt a tiny spurt of tepid warmth.

Our big family dinner at the Biergarten in Epcot. There was an actual band with alpenhorns, and you really can’t beat that.

Seeing how to condense the plot of a Disney movie for a ride without terrifying small children.

My sister met Stitch, her absolute favorite Disney thing ever.

I got a magic wand, and Lucky got chosen during the wand ceremony.

Seeing the Millennium Falcon in person, riding Smuggler’s Run, and getting to be on the Rise of the Resistance ride. I don’t think my family understood how important it was that we had to be INSIDE THE PARK at opening until my dad looked around and realized that every single person around us had their phone out and was anxiously awaiting the boarding groups announcement, just like me.

The line to Haunted Mansion, which we rode twice on our last day—including being the last people to go through the line for the night. I’m sure the workers hated us and just wanted to go home, but it was a neat experience and a great way to wrap up a trip.

I was not chosen.
There were some less than great experiences, of course. The experience of standing in line has been invading my dreams, both sleeping and lucid, for the past few days. Until this morning, when I dreamed about working for a horrible ex-boss in a position I wasn’t suited for. So…that’s a fun way to welcome me back to work, I guess.

I paid absolutely no attention to social media or politics for an entire week and it was exactly what my brain needed. How was everybody else’s week??

Stay sexy!

Because I took this photo, my sister beat my score.

Hi from 2020!

All Will Be Explained
Next week I’m off to Disney World, where I’m going to do my absolute best to unplug away from the internet and take a true vacation. I’ve never had a problem remembering my parents’ birthdays in my life. The reason? Their birthdays are adjacent and they made it even more convenient by getting married on my dad’s birthday. July 24-25th has been, for all of my life, this block of celebration.

(What’s neater about it is that my mother was born on a Leap Year (as were all of my sisters and myself), so because hers is first, there are exactly 365 days between the two birthdays.)

So now the 365 days between July 25th, 2019 and July 24th, 2020 is something of a special occasion. My dad turned 60 last year and my mom turns 60 this year. To celebrate, they wanted to do a big family trip. They wanted to go to Harry Potter world, as my mom adores that series above all else. And they wanted all of their children with them.

Orlando in late July sounds like absolute hell. As the years go by, I’ve deliberately tailored my life to avoid humidity as much as possible—a herculean task when you consider I live just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. So I suggested splitting the difference. To which I received a puzzled “You want to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at midnight?”

Yes, fam. I want to spend exactly one minute in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But no, splitting the difference meant going at some point between January and March. Dad booked the accommodation and gave us the dates, and we were off. He has a binder. I have a Notion page full of fast passes, reservations, all of the details for everybody’s travel. Everybody else just has notifications turned on through the family text chat.

We’re leaving Friday. Between now and then, I will deactivate all of my Twitter notifications, unsubscribe from the continuously growing number of daily emails I receive, and retool my phone so that only the absolute most important messages get through. My smart watch will be tracking my steps since I won’t be at the gym, but that’s as much as I’m going to think about there. I’m so insanely excited, and also apprehensive. I haven’t really gone on a roller coaster since I received my migraine diagnosis. We’ll see if that’s a trigger! Hopefully not!

This Gallery was empty and very soothing, all things considered.
The only thing I intend to keep up with while on my trip is The Artist’s Way. You might have noticed if you follow me on either a fandom or a professional level that my output in writing has absolutely shriveled. The ideas are still there—ideas are the penny candy of the writing world—but the writing well has absolutely dried up. So over a week ago, I bought a used copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as something of a last ditch effort.

It’s pretentious as hell and I felt so damned self-conscious last week, but I dutifully set my alarm clock half an hour earlier and made myself go to bed on time. And for eight days straight, I’ve showed up at my desk with my SAD lamp blazing to write out my morning pages. I’ve made a promise never to show them to anybody and to avoid rereading them myself—in fact, I’ve extracted a promise from my sister to burn them should anything happen to me—and I can tell you, these pages are absolute dreck. So much whining about not liking mornings and picking apart the strands of neurosis through my brain. And grumbling. I’m very good at grumbling. I can fill whole pages of a college-ruled spiral notebook (the kind you get at back to school sales for 10 cents) with the stuff, apparently. And I have! For eight days now!

70 Degrees on the 2nd of February in St. Louis. Also that's Hercules.

I’ve also taken myself on two artist dates, which are sessions that the book declares to be of a weekly importance. Two hours taking your “inner artist” out and letting them have fun. If you follow me on Twitter, you saw the labor of my first “date,” which was a very colorful page starring my bae Captain Marvel. My second date I had to do early this week since I’m traveling soon, and I took myself to the St. Louis Art Museum. One of the neatest things about living here is that a lot of our museums are free. So you can just walk right in and go stare at a Beckman or a Van Gogh or an Anselm (we’ve got a lot of those). One of my favorite things is really the building itself: it was built for the 1904 World’s Fair, with new additions that are just as neat. My date involved examining the paintings for the strangest and best animals I could find.

The winner, hands down, was a squirrel in a painting by Louise Adeone Drölling. Runners up were Marc Chagall’s Temptation and Franz Marc’s Little Mountain Goats.

Next week my Artist Date will no doubt be something to do with Disney or Harry Potter. Still not 100% sold on the rest of The Artist’s Way, but it’s led to some fun exercises at least. And hey, I’ve returned to my blog after forever and a day, so maybe there’s something to this whole thing.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to one of the most wonderful human beings on the planet. It’s Shen’s birthday today and everybody should go wish her a happy birthday. She’s delightful and clever and immensely creative, and I want her to have the best day (well, evening, by the time I post this). Happy Birthday, Shen!!!!!

See you guys soon! Stay sexy!

Aaron Burr's cousin was...kind of hot???

#Herofail Chapter 3

Jessie beat me back to headquarters, as she had a supersonic jet and I only had a bicycle, but I could tell that she’d barely sat down by the time I solved the logic puzzle at the front door and stumbled in. The narrowness of victory didn’t lessen the severity of my punishment.

One didn’t become the Raptor without also being a hard-ass.

Three hours later, I pushed the final boulder into place and wearily pulled myself atop it. A dark blur swooped at me. I deflected with my forearm guard, only for a sharp pain to bite into my lower back: the first dart had been a decoy. I hissed and tugged the dart out of my back, ducking a third dart and dodging a fourth. She was being mean today.

I knew what she wanted. “I’m not apologizing to Sharkbait,” I said, ducking a fifth dart.

A bolo rope shot out and clipped my ankles, knocking me stomach-first onto the boulder. I groaned as it jarred every single hit I’d taken already.

“If you hadn’t been busy trying to prove a point, you would have been able to dodge that, Ms. Godwin,” Jessie said in my earpiece.

I yanked my ankles free of the rope. “I’d hit him again, so an apology means nothing.”

“Be that as it may.”

I tossed the rope away and watched it melt into the boulder. It had taken forever to get used to that. The room had once been a regular gym, but now it was a cavernous space filled with a purple-black polymorphous gel. Nanobots in the gel moved it about, shifting and creating new obstacles at Jessie’s command.

Today’s mission had been to move four boulders to the spots marked on a map that I’d been given a split second to view. The weight of the boulders pushed at the threshold of my strength, and the nanobots made the floor slippery, even with my uniform boots. In addition to the terrain randomly changing, mental and physical traps had been hidden throughout. Exhaustion sang down to my very bones.

Part of working for one of the richest women on the planet was that she came equipped with a lot of toys, and she invariably used those toys to cause pain. The gym was a technological marvel, sleek and smooth with infinity walls, and after months of training inside it, I hated it almost as much as I’d hated being kidnapped on a weekly basis for years.

Just kidding: that had been way worse. At least the obstacle course had a time limit.

“That’s the last boulder,” I said. “Please say it’s over.”

“Stage one complete,” the synthesized voice said, echoing off the craggy surfaces around me.

“Stage one?” I didn’t yelp—until the boulder melted underneath me, dropping me on my feet. I wrinkled my nose, lifting one boot out of the muck. All of the gel had pooled on the floor in a way that reminded me of a tar pit. “Out of how many?”

She wouldn’t tell me. And if she did, it’d only be a lie. I stretched my shoulder, which had taken a nasty hit from a shock grenade earlier. Even if the next test proved to be mental rather than physical, I’d need that shoulder in top form. Jessie’s mental tests required enough focus to cause stress headaches even in the normal superheroes.

And I wasn’t exactly normal. Most superheroes gained their powers after an explosion or an accident. There’d been no explosion for me. Instead, I’d been given my powers by a mad scientist, and I hadn’t had a choice. Dr. Mobius had kidnapped me and dosed me with Mobium, which had replaced all the carbon in my body. In a matter of weeks, I’d become stronger, more durable, and quicker to heal. I also had the rare ability to absorb abilities from other superheroes, even if those powers proved arbitrary and difficult to control. The first six months after the Mobium had been stressful and jam-packed with food, as my metabolism had burned at levels that still horrified my doctor.

Luckily, that had settled. Probably because I was no longer: on the run from being falsely accused as an accessory to murder (long story); part of a plot to save Kiki from her super-healing super-douchebag of a boyfriend (longer story); or attempting to save the superhero world from collectively losing their powers (not that long a story, actually). With Jessie’s training, I’d come to grips with my Mobiumier half.

Speaking of Jessie’s training, it had never taken this long to set up a second stage of training before. The gel remained in semiliquid form under my boots. “Uh, is this part of the test?” I asked.

“No,” Jessie said, clearly frustrated. “The system’s fighting me. Get out of—”

I was already sprinting for the door. I’d had too many nightmares about being trapped in that room.

A sharp buzzing sound cut through the air as the gel in front of me flew upward into a thin column. I skidded to a halt and dropped into a fight stance. Was she messing with me? Was this actually part of the test? I wouldn’t put it beyond her.

The column morphed rapidly into a human. Either the system had lived up to my nightmares and manifested a supervillain, or Jessie had programmed in a training dummy for me to fight. I sprang forward, aiming for the solar plexus area.

The figure yelped and dodged out of the way. “Wait, no, don’t! It’s not calibrated, it’ll hurt!”

Features sprang to life on the humanoid’s blank face—and they belonged to my ex. He held out his hands.

I stepped back. “Hurting you would be the point. What the hell, Jeremy?”

The figure gained clothes, hair, shoes, all belonging to Jeremy Collins. Everything remained monochromatic purple-black until color slowly began to seep into his clothes. “Neat trick, right?” he asked.

“Annoying trick,” I said. “What are you doing here? Why are you messing with Jessie’s system?”

“Yes,” Jessie said over the intercom. “Why are you messing with my system?”

“You’re in trouble,” I sing-songed at him.

“If it’s any consolation, it took me days to get in here,” Jeremy said to the ceiling.

“That makes me feel leagues better,” Jessie said, her voice dry enough to start a forest fire.

Jeremy squirmed, smart enough to be at least a little afraid of the Raptor. The shaped gel shared his features and coloring, but it gave him plastic, unblemished skin. Physically, Jeremy was handsome and fit. He had the same build as Guy and the same eye color, which meant people thought he was actually the superhero Blaze. He did have powers, but those had come along years after the mistaken identity.

And I was getting a deeply unsettling exhibition of them right now.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I repeated.

Jeremy shrugged. He looked like an uncanny computer rendering of himself. “I was bored.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “You broke in just to see if you could, didn’t you?”

“Give me a break. Not everybody gets to see the mysterious Raptor’s lair,” Jeremy said.

“Jessie might actually kill you.”

“She can try,” Jeremy said smugly. The newfound powers hadn’t hurt his confidence in the slightest. “Not much she can do.”

“You really don’t know the Raptor, do you?”

Jeremy grinned. “I’ve taken over her incredibly powerful system. Nobody knows the Raptor better than I do right now.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” I said.

Six feet away, something fizzled and exploded. Jeremy’s avatar body glitched, gel rippling up and down his skin and clothing. He scrambled away from the blast, closer to me. “What was that?”

“Short-range EMP,” I said. I’d expected the blast sooner. “You may want to move. You’re practically on top of another one.”

Jeremy leapt a safe distance away. “Why does she even have those?” he said, shaking out his arm. “It can’t be good for the nanobots.”

“They regenerate,” I said, enjoying the show. “I’m surprised you didn’t know that. I thought nobody knew the Raptor better than you did, Jer.”

“Ugh! Okay, okay, I get the picture. I’m going. Sadists.” Jeremy melted into the floor, a decidedly odd thing to watch. Maybe not as weird as the time he’d literally exploded out of my cell phone, though. His head sank into the gel last, with one final peevish look my way.

With him gone, all of the gel in the room shuddered and retracted toward the walls, returning to the charging bay.

“Your friend is annoying,” Jessie said over the intercom.

“Trust me,” I said, “he knows.”

“I need to digitally disinfect this place. Go hit the showers.”

I hurried to obey. If Jeremy hacking the room gained me early shower privileges, maybe I’d ask him to do it again—where Jessie couldn’t hear me. Half an hour later, I strolled into the kitchen, twisting my pinkie in my ear to get rid of excess water. A modest plate awaited me at the table. In the seat next to it, my trainer slouched with her feet up on the back of the next chair over, her eyes glued to one of the news monitors mounted near the ceiling.

“How’s tricks?” I asked Angélica.

She lifted a shoulder. For Angélica, that was practically a soliloquy. “I heard you mouthed off to Sharkbait at the briefing. You know Kiki’s been dealing with that for a lot longer than you’ve been around.”

“So? It doesn’t make what he said right.”

Angélica grimaced, but she obviously didn’t disagree. She had her arms folded over a tank top that bore her gym logo and her black hair had been pulled back into a ponytail. So, afternoon training would be against a physical opponent rather than a brutal logic puzzle.

Guilt ate at me as I picked at the turkey sandwich on the plate. “Okay, how badly did I screw up?”

Angélica looked away from the monitor. “Kiki won’t thank you for interfering. Jessie warned you to stay neutral in the mask. Defending the Davenport heir isn’t exactly a neutral stance.”

Though it was delivered in a mild tone, the rebuke still found purchase. Thanks to months of training, my first instinct was no longer to rip off the mask at first instinct. But even masked, there were other ways a person could reveal themselves. Body language, vernacular. Hitting an annoying dude with a bottle cap.

“Ugh,” I said, pushing the plate away. “I hate that you’re right. Sharkbait and all those other people are assholes. What good’s being a superhero if you can’t tell people they’re assholes?”

“That’s the spirit,” Angélica said, picking up my sandwich herself.

I looked at the news report, watching shaky cell phone footage of a woman in black and white flying through the air. “Now there’s someone who doesn’t let being a superhero stop her from calling people assholes,” I said. “Is she in Paris? I thought her show was in Milan this week.”

“She’s got to throw people off her scent somehow,” Angélica said.

“Point,” I said. Plain Jane didn’t visit Paris often, but when she did, France braced for impact. I always wondered how they’d react if they found out Plain Jane was in their city more often than anybody knew.

Most of the world had no idea Plain Jane was also Victoria Dawn Burroughs: supermodel by day, superhero by night, and my first mentor at Davenport. Vicki’s idea of mentorship left much to be desired, but she brought me trinkets from her various trips. Supermodels got access to free makeup and other goodies, and Vicki was always willing to pass along the spoils.

“I hope she doesn’t miss her call time,” I said, watching the TV as Plain Jane landed hard in the middle of an intersection, leaving a dent behind.

“Knowing her, it was hours ago.” Angélica checked her phone when it beeped. A sly grin crossed her face. “That’s an update on your Ack-Man villain from last night.”

Obligingly, I rolled my eyes at her.

“They don’t think he has any powers,” Angélica said.

“Good. No Villain Syndrome warning signs?”

Angélica shook her head, and I did my best to keep my sigh of relief internal. During my brief stint in Detmer Prison, Villain Syndrome patients had gotten a little too close and personal for my taste. My own cell mate had been the first recorded case, Rita Detmer herself. It keeps you up at night, being roommates with the woman the prison is named after.

“So Ack-Man has no superpowers, no VS,” I said, getting up to refill my water. That meant he’d be going to jail with regular humans—Class D, as we rated super abilities like school grades for some reason. “I really hope he doesn’t wander back to supervillainy. The field’s a little overcrowded lately.”

“Overcrowded, but with no real organization at the moment,” Angélica said around a bite of her sandwich. “So we can thank our lucky stars for that.”

“True. But I wonder why there’s no third option.”


“It’s either join Davenport or take the evil route and wind up in Detmer. Why’s there not, like a low-key support system for people who want to go on living their lives without all of Davenport’s stupid rules?” I thought of an ex-coworker, the world’s vainest woman with the ironic power to turn invisible, and wondered how she navigated the day-to-day aspects of her life. Portia McPeak had never seemed particularly good or evil, and she hadn’t wanted anything to do with Davenport. “Why’s there not, like, a super-but-not-a-superhero support group?”

“I don’t know, but I’m certainly too busy to start one, and you are, too.” Angélica finished the sandwich and carried her plate to the sink. She plucked something from the counter and dropped it in front of me. “Speaking of Davenport.”

It wasn’t hard to guess what the heavy, cream-colored envelope in front of me held. Sure enough, two tickets to the Davenport gala flitted out when I opened it. “What? No! Hostage Girl’s a has-been. Even the news doesn’t care about me now. I thought I was safe. What possibly could the Davenports have in common with Gail Godwin?”

“Nothing, which is why the tickets are for that rich boyfriend of yours.” Angélica clapped me on the shoulder and laughed. “Congrats, Gail. You’re the plus one.”

I put my head down on the table and groaned.

#Herofail Chapter 2

It turned out being a superhero didn’t save anybody from the worst evil: meetings. The current reason why my alarm clock shrilled in my ear far, far too early.

Guy flicked my shoulder and I begrudgingly thumped the alarm clock a little harder than necessary. The plastic casing creaked. More importantly, the beeping stopped.

“Eddie Davenport sucks,” I said into my pillow before lifting my head to glare at the darkness outside.

“Yes, so you’ve said,” Guy said without opening his eyes. He had an impressive case of bedhead. And he’d shucked off his shirt, which even half-asleep and grumpy me could appreciate.

“The man knows I’m training to be the Raptor, who operates under the cover of darkness. And you know what darkness requires? Lateness. As in late at night.” I faced my fate, setting my feet on the cold floor. “He knows I need to be out late and he still sets briefings at the ass crack of dawn, solely to get back at me.”

“I think you might be feeling slightly self-centered today,” Guy said, far too amused. “Not a criticism, just a note. Eddie doesn’t even think about your schedule.”

“Eddie takes sadistic pleasure in making my life hell, there’s no way that man doesn’t have my schedule memorized,” I said. Ever the considerate girlfriend, I let Guy go back to sleep and finished dressing in the dark, snatching up my water bottle before I climbed onto the fire escape. I checked to make sure nobody was around before I collected my bicycle, glanced at the ground four stories below, and hopped the railing.

The trip downtown by bike would’ve taken anybody else a lot longer, but I’d absorbed the ability to phase from Angélica. It was a little like a slingshot, where I could alter my own momentum, throw myself across long distances, and land safely with a puff of air to release the force from the phase. On my bike, I could easily hop six blocks in an instant. I wore a helmet with a mirrored visor as a concession to Jessie. It really wouldn’t do to let the world know that Hostage Girl no longer counted herself among the regular humans.

Before I reached the Willis—or Sears, as true Chicagoans still called it—Tower, I swapped the helmet out for my Raptorlet mask, tracing my finger along the tufted ears hugging the line of my skull. The mask let me bypass the security guard at the way station altogether—a good thing, as Marsh and I’d never gotten along—allowing me to walk straight back to the ʼporter lounge.

Jon took one look at me and laughed as he folded up his magazine. “How will you miss me if you don’t go away?”

“What can I say? I love spending time with you. New York, please.” We’d seen each other less than four hours before, when he’d ʼported me back to Chicago after my fight in Battery Park. I’d been tempted to sleep in New York after I finished apprehending Nefarious Norman, but I hadn’t felt like sleeping on a cot in the main headquarters.

Jon put his hands on my shoulders; reality squeezed itself into nothingness for the briefest of seconds, and I opened my eyes to find myself in an identical room eight hundred miles away. I blinked away an ocular migraine. “Thanks for the lift,” I said, waving as I stepped out into the lobby for the Davenport Tower way station. “See you in another four hours, probably.”

“Looking forward to it.” Jon returned his attention to his magazine.

Davenport Industries had invested millions of dollars into creating a network of ʼporters between all the major cities. ʼPorting took both natural talent and a lifetime of training and dedication. Untrained ʼporters couldn’t intentionally hop even a single foot: I knew that from personal experience. No matter how many times I’d inadvertently ʼported myself out of danger, if I wanted to travel from Chicago to New York City on my own, I’d need a plane ticket or a car. And it’d take a hell of a lot longer than a blink.

The convenience of the travel involved didn’t make me feel any better about being summoned to Davenport Tower. Aboveground, Davenport Industries—worldwide leader in technology, mining, real estate, and whatever else made money—operated like any regular business. Only traveling below exposed any of the strangeness: in addition to pretty much running the normal world, Davenport kept watch over the superhero community. They employed, protected, guarded, and sometimes exploited those with powers. Any superhero willing to pull their weight and stay on the mostly right side of the law had a guaranteed place at Davenport Industries—for better or for worse.

My own experiences with Davenport tended to fall more on the worse side.

Most superpowered business took place in a secret facility belowground, but HEX meetings always met on the seventh floor. I hated it, as reaching the briefing room meant a trip through the Annals, a creepy portrait hallway full of (mostly) dead superheroes. It felt disrespectful to phase inside the Annals, so I walked on past the portrait of Kurt Davenport. He’d been the original Raptor, so it was only fair that I saluted him and his judgy face as I passed.

I gave the same salute to the portrait of Guy’s older brother, Sam, aka War Hammer. They had a sister in the family wing, and I didn’t want to be late. I stepped out of the hallway and into a small, nondescript waiting room. The coffee station in the corner held three full pots that I ignored for the water cooler, filling up my bottle.

Quiet footsteps approached. “Raptorlet,” said a voice behind me.


Rodrigo Calles had dressed for the meeting in gray sweats. The man didn’t own anything that contained color, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was color-blind or because he simply detested any hue not found on the sea creatures he modeled himself after. Without another word, he reached around me and picked up one of the full coffeepots. He tilted his head back and poured the scalding liquid straight from the pot into his open mouth. It splashed a little, spattering my sleeve.

“What the—hey! You’re not actually a shark, have some manners. And leave some for everyone else.” It was like the man had never worked in an office environment. Come to think of it, he probably hadn’t.

Rodrigo wiped his mouth on his sleeve and pointed at a little piece of tape on the pot. “FOR SHARK-MAN ONLY” it read.

“Still gross,” I said.

“It’s three o’clock in the morning in San Francisco, need I remind you. I hate the East Coast.” Rodrigo refilled his pot from another one—without making up a new pot—and padded after me as I moved into the conference room.

As I stepped inside, a computerized voice announced my code name to the room at large, which was dominated by a single table. Most of the chairs were occupied already, meaning I was one of the stragglers. I wasn’t late, but Eddie Davenport still gave me a cold look as I found my seat. Next to him, Jessie, his twin sister and my boss, nodded in greeting. Most everyone had tablets or laptops open in front of them. I had only my water bottle.

Right before the clock hit six, a familiar figure hurried in with a tablet under her arm. I sat up straighter. I’d never seen Kiki Davenport at a HEX briefing, even though she ran Medical and seemed like an obvious choice for it.

She took a seat on Eddie’s other side without glancing my way.

“Let’s begin,” Eddie said, shuffling the papers in front of him. Monitors along the walls lit up with the word HEX, like we’d forgotten where we were. “My assistant will be taking the minutes and copies will be made available to everyone later today. Before we begin, is there any old business to cover?”

Shark-man raised his hand. “Motion to move the time of these meetings to sometime other than the middle of the night.”

“Seconded,” at least three of the costumed heroes on his side of the table—which represented the West Coast—said in unison.

“After this, briefings will return to the regular time, but this is something of a special circumstance,” Eddie said.

“What circumstance?” Radar Roxy asked, fiddling with her visor.

“We’ll get to that in a moment. Any other old business?”

I had no idea why Eddie insisted on running these briefings like a board meeting, as nobody ever really brought up old business or requested the minutes. I’d seen photographs of the original HEX briefings, where everybody either wore uniform suits or actual suits, but casual Fridays had hit pretty hard since the days of Kurt Davenport. Most of us rolled into meetings in a variety of costume states, some completely masked and others in sweats and street clothes. Judging from the aggravated look on Eddie’s face, he likely would’ve preferred a return to a formal dress code over a bunch of slouching, sleepy superheroes lounging around a table, and Shark-man guzzling coffee in the corner.

Still, business moved along. Seattle had been set on by a rash of oddly organized supervillains, which posed a problem. Supervillains were encouraged to look out for number one first, as that made it easier for the HEX network to take them down. When they joined forces, that spelled bad times for heroes. Pike Place Market still smelled a bit like burning from the attack, apparently. “Almost an improvement over the fish,” someone said, and Rodrigo looked offended.

Different groups had attacked the Alamo, the Bean, and the Brooklyn Bridge in the past couple of days, making it a bad week to work at landmark sites. In a final order of business, TNTeen was aging out of his hero pseudonym and would need a new name soon. We didn’t come up with one, but everybody did agree that TN-Early-Twenties didn’t have quite the same ring.

Throughout the squabbling, Kiki kept her gaze on the table in front of her. I sent a psychic push in her direction, but she ignored me. What was she doing here? She had minor psychic powers (I knew how minor because I’d inherited them from her), but her department didn’t take much interest in these meetings. And why was she sitting by Eddie and Jessie? She was their niece, but they usually did their best to ignore the family connection; there’s complicated family history, and then there’s the Davenports.

My answer came forty long, dragging minutes later. After the Maine superhero contingent finished detailing the latest attack by mutant lobsters—“cursed-aceans,” as Radar Roxy put it—Eddie cleared his throat. “Any other business?” he asked, and everybody shook their heads. “Then let’s get into why this meeting was called so early.”


“I called you all here to let you know there will be a change in management at Davenport Industries. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing my niece to a more prominent position within the company leadership, with the intention of her taking over a third of Davenport’s interests. I’ve made the announcement here because unlike Jessie and me, Kristiana will take an active role in both the superpowered and the aboveground sections of Davenport Industries.”

I looked up sharply. Kristiana? We shared a mental connection and I’d had no idea Kiki was a nickname.

Around the room, people began to shift in their seats, a few of them frowning. It took me a stupidly long time to realize they weren’t reacting to Kiki’s full name.

“The announcement will be made to the general public at a press conference shortly,” Eddie went on, either not noticing or not caring that people had begun to rustle with hostility. “We’ll be hosting a gala in two weeks’ time to welcome my niece to company management. Invitations will be sent to those with a justifiable reason to attend.”

Mentally, I poked Kiki, who had yet to look up from the table. She glanced swiftly at me, apparently surprised enough to let a flicker of actual emotion leak through our bond. You had no idea this was coming, I thought at her, puzzled.

Eddie told me yesterday.

Do you even want this? I thought at her.

She returned her gaze to the table. Jessie looked up from her phone to peer at us suspiciously. Using psychic abilities during a HEX meeting was explicitly forbidden, but it wasn’t like Jessie could prove anything.

It’s complicated, Kiki said. I don’t want to talk about it here.

Fair enough. People trusted Eddie and Jessie, as they hadn’t inherited their mother’s powers and were immune to Villain Syndrome, a disease that made one want to save the world by destroying it. Eddie and Jessie’s younger brother, Marcus, hadn’t been so lucky. He’d been killed while attempting to destroy Grand Central Station. As his only child and somebody with power herself, Kiki lived every day under the umbrella of everybody’s suspicion. Would she develop Villain Syndrome like her father and her grandmother Rita? If so, when?

It was bad enough that she was already close to the inner workings of the most powerful company in the world by running Medical. Now it looked like she would be put in charge of a substantial part of Davenport Industries. Pretty much the last thing anybody with Villain Syndrome needed, really. I could partly understand why nobody looked exactly happy with this decision.

It didn’t help that her maternal grandfather was also a mad scientist. Thank god nobody knew that; there would be rioting in the streets.

“Any questions?” Eddie asked, obviously ignoring the suspicious looks everybody shot at the young woman on his left.

“So will she be turning evil and killing us all before or after the gala?” Rodrigo asked. “I need to decide whether to rent a tux.”

Kiki flinched. Jessie’s face shuttered. I twisted the cap off my water bottle and flicked it. Even before my powers, my aim had been solid; now it was pristine. The cap hit Shark-man in the throat. He jerked forward, hands on his neck and eyes bulging, before his healing factor kicked in. His head swiveled toward me, the promise of retribution in his eyes.

I stroked my chin with my middle finger. Kiki covered her mouth with her hand, which could hide either a smile or a frown.

“Ahem,” Eddie said pointedly, and I waited for a scolding. Eddie only said, “Any actual questions?”

Shark-man glared at me, but remained silent.

“Good,” Eddie said. “Dismissed. Hopefully those of you that can get back to sleep will, and for everybody else, have a good rest of your day.”

Rodrigo slunk from the room, shooting a vicious glare over his shoulder at me and taking my bottle cap with him, the jerk. The other heroes in the room filed out, giving me a wide berth.

“That wasn’t necessary,” said a quiet voice, and Kiki appeared at my side.

“He’s lucky it was me and not Angélica,” I said. “She would’ve punched him.” Which he deserved.

“Sharkbait’s an asshole, news at eleven,” Kiki said with a sigh. “What did you even hit him with?”

I showed her the bottle sans the cap.

“I should’ve guessed.”

Since flinging a beer bottle at a psychic villain had gotten me into this whole superhero mess once upon a time, it wasn’t surprising. I smiled back at her and popped to my feet. “Congrats on the promotion.”

“Thanks. It’ll take everybody some time to get used to it. Maybe in the meantime you could refrain from damaging employees over it. Even Sharkbait.”

“I make no promises,” I said, and Kiki gave me a look. “All right, fine, I’ll leave him alone. It doesn’t matter anyway because I’m not sticking around. I’m going back to bed.” Back to my warm blankets and warmer boyfriend.

“Enjoy,” Kiki said. “But let me leave first, in case Sharkbait’s outside waiting to enact vengeance.”

I could take Rodrigo in a fight, but it was sweet of her to look out for me, so I held back until I got a mental confirmation of all clear before I headed for the door.

“And where,” said a voice behind me, “do you think you’re going?”

I swiveled. “Home?” I said in a hopeful voice.

Jessie Davenport stood with her arms crossed, her eyebrows high. “I was planning to give you a few hours off until your little stunt with Mr. Calles,” she said.

“In my defense, I didn’t use any powers to hit him with that cap. I’m naturally that good.”

“Doesn’t matter. Your restlessness tells me you need some time on the obstacle course. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get to headquarters before I do.”

I sighed. “Something tells me you took the Raptorjet to work this morning, too.”

“Would you look at that, it appears I did. You might want to hurry,” Jessie said, walking for the door with a slight limp. She’d fallen off a roof last week.

I cursed under my breath and leapt, phasing out the door. As I raced by, I swore I heard her laugh. It was foolish to expect that I would be able to go back to bed. After all, the first rule of being a superhero was you never got the day off.

Continued in Chapter Three

#Herofail Chapter 1

Chapter 01

I still hadn’t learned to fly.

For most people, that wasn’t unusual. Less than one percent of the population developed superpowers and among those that did, not many actually flew. And not everybody needed to fly, really. Contrary to popular belief, there were more useful powers out there.

But given that I was dangling from my fingertips off a rooftop more stories up than I cared to count, flying would have been stupidly helpful right about now.

If I could fly, this wouldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t have a supervillain chuckling his sparkly little head off across the roof. He’d surprised me with a concussive blast, and I hadn’t realized I was so close to the edge. I’d caught myself, but my startled reaction had unfortunately traveled back to the command center loud and clear.

And I also wouldn’t have two women absolutely losing it over my earpiece.

“What even was that noise?” Angélica Rocha asked. She sounded like she was wiping away tears, the jerk. Easy for her to laugh when she was chilling in an underground base hundreds of miles away.

“Hold, please,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Gail.” Jessie Davenport, who’d probably never let a single supervillain knock her off a roof, took over the line. “A note for the future: the Raptor does not say ‘ack.’”

“He surprised me!”

The supervillain called, “Who are you talking to?”

I almost rolled my eyes at him. He wanted to talk? A properly evil foe would’ve simply vaporized me where I dangled, or at least stomped viciously on my fingers. This guy only shuffled toward me. My ears picked up every nuance of the way his boots—polished to a mirror shine—tread on the gravel. I decided to stay put. At least he’d picked a nice night for supervillainy. Chicago was experiencing a mild October this year. The wind off the Lake wasn’t even that cutting yet.

“Are you still there?” he said, finally stepping into range.

I hauled myself up, lunging forward over the edge of the roof. My fist slammed into his jaw at just the right spot, and his body thudded onto the gravel.

Without at least a little invincibility, he needed better armor.

I crouched and took his ray gun, and clipped it to my own belt. He had a few nasty tricks in his satchel, explosives and the like, but the shiny outfit and the toys seemed to be all he had going for him as a supervillain. Sorry luck to run into me, the Raptor’s apprentice, on his first villainous foray.

I pulled a zip tie from my pouch and pressed a tracking beacon on the front of his helmet, which I left on as a measure of respect. Time for me to book it: in this neighborhood, it’d take less than ten minutes for the cops to get here.

Time to go. I strode to the edge of the building and hopped over the side. A split second later, my boots landed without a sound on the pavement below.

I couldn’t fly, but I wasn’t entirely without tricks.

I darted to my motorcycle, careful to stay out of sight. Not that it mattered: my uniform had been chosen for its lack of character. It caught the light in some shade between bronze, dark gray, and black, and served to be absolutely unmemorable. When I pulled my motorcycle helmet on, it looked like any other full bodysuit cyclists wore. Nobody on the road would have any idea how many thousands of dollars I was wearing, and how much R & D had been put into my outfit.

My mask split away under the helmet as I swung my leg over the bike. The data stream switched to the visor, displaying a list of the local dispatcher reports. I ignored that and kicked the bike into gear. Angélica would alert me if anything came up. Since she’d been my trainer and we’d faced death together multiple times, I trusted her.

That didn’t mean she liked to take it easy on me.

“I thought you said that would be a one-punch bad guy,” she said as I merged into traffic.

“I mean, he technically was,” I said. “It only took one hit once I got around to it. He wasn’t much of a villain.”

“He knocked you off a building.”

“Everybody gets in a lucky strike once in a while,” I said.

In response, she played my own voice back at me, which made me groan. I really had said “ack” when he’d hit me.

Best to let that one go, I decided. “Anything else in progress?” I asked.

“Nothing others can’t handle,” Angélica said. A pause followed, and I imagined she was conferring with Jessie. “The boss is heading home. Go ahead and patrol.”

Patrolling meant driving around waiting for a supervillain to attack. Kind of boring, but also relaxing in its own way. It hadn’t always been like that. Before I’d been dosed with a radioactive isotope and turned superhuman, I’d have given anything for some relaxing boredom. Days had consisted of waking before the sun, working long hours at a job I hated, going home long after the sun had gone down, and falling into bed. Lather, rinse, repeat—with occasional bouts of pants-wetting terror mixed in as every supervillain passing through Chicago tried their hand at kidnapping me.

And years later, here I was, actively looking for those same supervillains. Patrolling for them, even.

Back then, they’d been after me because they thought I was dating Blaze, Chicago’s main superhero. I hadn’t even known his true identity, and had told them so repeatedly. Not that they cared. The kidnappings had been unfair, but the media had been even worse. They’d stopped using my real name and had dubbed me Hostage Girl instead, demoting me to a cheap human-interest headline. Like I actually was a superhero, only with the world’s lamest powers. Unfortunately, the name had stuck. I was so famous for being publicly kidnapped that people to this day ran through traffic to walk on the other side of the street if they saw me approaching.

“The police picked up the Ack-Man,” Angélica said, breaking into my reverie as I drove along the river.

“Let’s not make that his name.”

“Too late. It’s already logged. He’s in custody, they’re taking him in.”

“Hurrah, the day is saved,” I said. “Hopefully he’ll take the humiliation as a sign that he should pick any other path but villainy and not as inspiration to kick off a vengeance quest.”

“It could go either way at this point. Speaking of excitement, there’s a new dispatch. Something’s going down at the aquarium.”

Blue words scrolled across the corner of my visor. It took only a glance before I bit back a laugh. “I guess that’s for me,” I said. “Nobody else is around to interfere, right? She gets testy if that happens.”

“I’ll warn them off.” Angélica’s voice darkened as details from her monitor joined the feed in my visor. Nothing surprising: one hostage, one villain in purple and red, at least three traps (two of them explosive). The villain in question had brought along a portable spotlight. She had the hostage dangling in some kind of spider web-rope contraption from the trees in front of the aquarium.

Rather than scoping out the situation or preparing weapons, I parked in the visitors lot and made my way through the fleeing crowd—tourists—and the ambling crowd—locals—toward the building. Behind a low wall, I shucked the rest of the armor, stripping to the yoga pants and tank top I wore underneath. Even Chicago residents used to the lake’s wintry ire would side-eye the outfit, but I wasn’t cold. The Mobium in my system saw to that.

“What’s the plan?” Angélica said as I fitted my earpiece back in and shouldered the backpack now holding my uniform.

“I don’t need a plan.”

“You should have a plan.”

“Please. She’s like a pussycat.”

“I don’t—” Angélica broke off in obvious frustration. “Fine. Do it your way. It’s your call.”

“I’ll let you know if I need backup.” I trotted toward the front of the aquarium, staying Lakeward because I liked the city lights flickering off the surface.

She’d prepared for our encounter, I saw. An arrow pointing the wrong way had BAD GUYS THAT WAY painted on the sidewalk in shimmering green chalk beside it. I gave the sign a wide berth and continued on.

Around the corner, green luminescent paint covered the entire sidewalk, enshrouding everything in a faint glow. It had been splashed onto the trees, benches, trash cans, and the little awning for visitors outside the front doors. I hoped it wouldn’t be difficult for the city workers to clean up. Or cancerous, really.

In the middle of the tableau was the hostage. He’d been trussed up, ropes wrapped around his torso and suspended from a tree, dangling horizontally a good ten feet off the ground. Red marred one of his temples, darker than his hair, making my heart jolt. But when he lifted his head and raised an eyebrow at me, he didn’t seem to be in any pain.

I smiled and gave him a little wave. “Hi, Guy.”

My boyfriend, six foot four, the strongest man in Chicago, and currently hanging from a tree like a helpless kitten, gave me a look that clearly said we would be discussing this later.

I opened my mouth to reply, but the concrete planter to my left exploded. I dodged a chunk of granite the size of my head, cursing. Plaster dust plumed, filling the air and glittering as it settled into the glowing paint.

“It’s about time!” a familiar voice called.

My ears rang from the explosion, making the words sound tinny and far away, but I ducked forward. Rocket boots soared over my head, singeing the hair on the back of my neck. Their owner landed, skidding over the green goo, and spun around to jab a finger in my direction. “Did you take the long way? We’ve been waiting for hours!”

It had probably been ten minutes, at best. “I was in class,” I lied, since the backpack and casual clothes made me look like a student. “What do you expect?”

“I expect battles.” Razor X, premier supervillain, drew herself up to her not-very-impressive-yet-still-taller-than-me height and flicked her half cape over her shoulder with a practiced move.

It flopped right back down. Overhead and out of her line of sight, Guy rolled his eyes.

Raze aimed her ray gun at my chest. I hadn’t seen this one before, which was a little worrisome. “Why aren’t you wearing the armor I sent you?”

I’d never had the chance. Jessie had absconded with the armor down to her workshop. I hadn’t seen it again, though my own armor had mysteriously improved not long after. But I couldn’t tell Raze that. “Because I’m not going to fight you,” I said instead.

“Ugh.” Raze whined and tapped a button on her gauntlet. I immediately braced for whatever she might throw my way, but a spotlight kicked on instead. Guy squinted miserably against it.

“Is that necessary?” I asked.

Raze waved her arms about. “You should be mad! I kidnapped your boyfriend and I held him as a hostage. You hate it when hostages get involved. He’s helpless. Fight me!”

A muscle flexed in Guy’s jaw, but he stayed put.

I folded my arms over my chest and simply stared at Raze. “What have we talked about?”

Raze stomped her foot.

“Raze,” I said. It’d be handy to know her full name for a proper scold, but in the year we’d been “dedicated enemies” (her words, not mine), I hadn’t gleaned much more than a few gun and armor designs from her, and the fact that she liked raspberries and lemons. “What have we talked about?”

Her glare deepened, but eventually her shoulders sagged, her cape rippling at the movement. “I need to stop kidnapping Boy.”

“His name is—”

“Guy. I know. I need to stop kidnapping Guy.”

“This is the second time this month. Go on, let him down,” I said.

Raze kept her arms crossed over her chest for a long, considering moment, a pout firmly in place. I blinked, and her entire demeanor shifted. “Sure thing,” she said.

“Razor-whatever-your-middle-name-is-X, don’t you—”

She gleefully disintegrated the rope holding Guy up.

I put on a burst of speed and dashed across the courtyard. Catching Guy was pretty awkward since he was so much bigger than me, but I could cushion the blow somewhat. Not that falling from that height would hurt him, but Raze didn’t know that.

Freed from the ropes, he yanked the duct tape off. “I’ve told you a thousand times I’m not going to scream,” he said to Raze. “You don’t have to use the tape.”

“But it’s my favorite.” Now that Guy was on his feet, Raze looked like somebody had taken her favorite death ray away. “You know, we wouldn’t have to go through this if somebody would just be a damn hero for once and fight me.”

“Any other hobby,” I said, an old refrain. “Any other hobby we could pick up together, and I’m in. We could take a ceramics class and make things for you to shoot with your guns.”

For a second, she looked tempted, but the sulk settled back into place. “No thanks. It’s called fight or flight for a reason. If there’s no fight, I take flight.”

And true to her word, she took off on her rocket boots, streaking toward the skyline and leaving the mess splashed all over the aquarium steps. I really hoped it wasn’t dangerous to the fish inside.

Scowling, Guy ran both hands through his hair, making it stand up in spiky red tufts. He swiveled to face me. “Don’t even start.”

I couldn’t help it. I looked at him and the giggles overflowed.

“You’re a terrible girlfriend,” he said.

“She’s half your size! And you could flick your finger and—pow, she’d go flying. But—” I broke off laughing. After another minute of scowling, Guy finally shook his head and smiled. “Sorry,” I said. “I know, I know, it’s not really that funny, but if she only knew. What’s that on your head? There’s no way she could’ve hit you hard enough to draw blood.”

“Mango barbecue sauce.” He gave me an aggrieved look when I reached out to brush it out. “My hair’s all sticky. It’s awful.”

“You just happened to have that on you?”

“Since I was eating when she grabbed me, I did!” The aggravation only deepened. “She didn’t let me finish my sandwich.”

“That’s probably what he’s most upset about,” Angélica said in my ear, speaking up for the first time since I’d seen Raze. “And with good reason. He doesn’t have any more of those sandwiches, does he?”

I relayed this message on to Guy, who shrugged. “Take me back to the restaurant? I’ll make up a few for her.”

“He’s now my favorite,” Angélica said to me. “You’ve been demoted.”

“Please, he was always your favorite.” I toggled off my mic and turned to Guy. “Angélica’s probably already got the cleanup crew en route. We should scoot. Are you sure you have to go back?”

“Raze snatched me on my break. I’ve still got a couple hours left on my shift.”

I grimaced. Raze had been a repeat kidnapper back in my Hostage Girl days. Little had I known that she’d been doing so in hopes that I would develop superpowers and become her rival. In her mind, we were destined to be the next Fearless and Raptor. She was half-right, though she had no idea. The day I’d shown up in prison (wrongfully convicted) with superpowers had probably been one of the greatest days in Raze’s life. Since then, she’d done everything short of standing outside my apartment with a boom box held aloft to convince me to fight her. And when that hadn’t worked, she’d escalated to hostage taking. As Guy was the only one she’d ever seen me with, that made him a target. Which, if he’d been a regular human, might have been alarming.

Since he was the former superhero Blaze, it was more of a nuisance than anything else. And a real role reversal from our Hostage Girl days, though Raze didn’t know that either.

“Maybe I should just fight her,” I said as we headed for the parking lot.

“You give her an inch . . .” Guy shook his head. In addition to the barbecue sauce on his temple, he had a streak of something orange-red across one shoulder of his chef’s tunic. “How late are you patrolling?” he asked me.

“Until Angélica gives me the all clear. So much for hoping that Jessie would let me off early for the briefing tomorrow.” The official superhero emergency response briefing, called the Hero Emergency Connection—how X stood for Connection I didn’t know—was scheduled for 6 a.m. the next morning, east coast time. That meant 5 a.m. for me and 3 a.m. for my unfortunate west coast brethren. “What about you?”

“Lowry will probably ask me to stay late.”

I paused by the bike and chewed on my lower lip. Thanks to his redhead complexion, I could see the smudges of exhaustion under his eyes. Superhero invincibility didn’t necessarily come equipped with the ability to fight ordinary fatigue. “You could go home and get some sleep, you know,” I said.

But Guy shook his head. “I need to finish out my shift.”

“It’s one shift, Guy—”

“I need to be there,” Guy said. Not harshly, but firmly enough that I took a slight step back. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed at himself. “Sorry. But we’re serving flounder tonight, and he may be the master at it, but it makes Lowry grumpy. It’s better if I’m there.”

I looked down, ostensibly to open the compartment and retrieve the helmet, but really to hide my frown. “Want to drive?”

Guy took the helmet. “You sure? I thought Jessie had rules about who drives the bike.”

“She’s not here, and like my esteemed trainer and compatriot, she likes you more than she likes me.”

“In that case.” Guy strapped the helmet on and offered me a hand as he climbed onto the bike. “Thought you’d never ask.”

I gave him a smile and leaned against him while he drove away from the Lake. The minute I knew he was more focused on driving, I let the smile drop. The Mobium in my system had honed my senses to the point where I could hear somebody’s heartbeat or check the dilation of their pupils, if I chose. My brain could sort out any number of stimuli most humans ignored. In the field, it sped up reaction times and sharped my fighting skills. In my personal life, I wished I could turn it off.

Sometimes it sucked to know when people were lying.

When I was trying to get to the bottom of some mystery? Incredibly helpful. When it was my boyfriend and I couldn’t figure out the severity of the lies? Not so much.

I didn’t mention it when I dropped him off at the restaurant. An old fear nibbled at the back of my throat. Guy’s strange behavior could have been any number of things, most of them harmless. He’d retired from superheroism the year before to follow his dreams and become a chef. Though he hadn’t actually said anything, I had the suspicion that climbing the culinary ladder was more difficult than he let on most nights.

But why not simply tell me that? Why act like he had some kind of secret, if that was the case?

Guy pulled into the fire lane behind the restaurant and swung one of his ridiculously long legs off the bike. “Coming in?”

“If this thing gets towed, Jessie’ll have my head,” I said, taking the helmet from him. I glanced toward the doors. “Last chance to ditch, Bookman. I bet Angélica would cover for me if I decided to play hooky, too.”

“I really wish I could,” Guy said, and at least that felt genuine. So did the grin he shared as he scrubbed at the barbecue sauce on his temple. “But the two of us calling off work at the same time? That’s practically begging for a supervillain uprising. We’d better not risk it.”

“Once again, your logical side wins out.” I batted my eyelashes at him. “Your loss.”

For a second, he paused, then ruefully shook his head. “Stay here, I’ll get the sandwiches.”

I let the bike idle, hoping the silence on the comms meant that all the criminals in Chicago and New York City had maybe decided to call it an early night so I could go home and get enough sleep before the HEX meeting.

I should have known better than to even think it. Ten seconds later, my comms beeped. “Yeah?” I asked, toggling my mic back on.

“A friend of yours showed up in Battery Park,” Angélica said. “I bet you’re dying to catch up.”

“Of course I am.” So much for an early night.

The door to the restaurant swung open, haloing Guy with light from the kitchen for a brief second as he jogged out with carryout boxes in a plastic bag. “Can you at least stay and chat while you eat?”

“I wish I could,” I said, rising up on tiptoes to give him a quick kiss, “but as it stands, danger calls. I’ll see you later. Angélica, I’m on my way.”

And, sandwiches safely tucked away, I drove off in the night to fight another supervillain.

Continued in Chapter Two