#Herofail Chapter 3

11/06/2018 11:00:00 AM Unknown 0 Comments



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.”

“Hmm?”

“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.

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Please keep it PG. My mom reads this blog.