#Herofail Chapter 2

10/23/2018 11:00:00 AM Unknown 0 Comments





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.”

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.”

Finally.

“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

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Please keep it PG. My mom reads this blog.