#Herofail Chapter 1

10/09/2018 07:09:00 PM Lexie Dunne 3 Comments




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

3 comments:

  1. GRITSy here. This is so fun!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome, as always!!! So excited about the new book!!!

    ~Lilylai

    ReplyDelete

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