Free Stuff

10/03/2016 10:26:00 AM Lexie Dunne 0 Comments

Everybody in Chicago has a “superhero sighting” story. So when a villain attacks editorial assistant Gail Godwin and she’s rescued by superhero Blaze, it’s a great story, and nothing more. Until it happens again. And again. Now, the media has dubbed her Hostage Girl, nobody remembers her real name, and people are convinced that Blaze is just Gail’s boyfriend Jeremy in disguise. Gail’s not so sure. All she knows is that when both Jeremy and Blaze leave town in the same week, she’s probably doomed. Who will save her now?

Read Chapter One

Read Chapter Two

* * *

Chapter One
When the person throwing the book at you has superpowers, the book moves supernaturally fast. I learned this when, less than a day after I’d been unceremoniously accused of being an accessory to murder, I stood in court, officially charged with the crime.

Actually, stood was a bit of a stretch. Swayed was a little closer to the truth. I was fortunate to be upright at all, thanks to a recent three-story drop headfirst into a mall fountain. A normal human wouldn’t have survived. I was a little luckier due to some enhancements that had made me more than human, but even then, the drop had been a bit much for me. Everything hurt: my ribs, my throat, my head, even the backs of my knees.

None of that changed the fact that I was chained up in the middle of a secret underground courtroom facing a panel of men, and they’d just declared me guilty of helping kill the closest thing I’d ever had to a best friend.

Who hadn’t even been dead a day.

There were five of them—or six. Possibly seven. Definitely not more than eight. My vision swam in and out, so details were a little difficult. Five or six men, each face grayer than the last, each haircut worse than the next, all of them sitting at a table at the head of the wood-paneled chamber. They were lit from above by yellow spotlights that cast their ghoulish features into deep shadow. They’d been speaking for either one minute or ten, but their words had floated in the air, incomprehensible.

One word punched through the haze of agony now: “Guilty.”

I tried to look up. It upset my balance and I tipped forward instead, and the guard who’d been pulling me around all—what was it? Morning? Evening?—day jerked me back upright.

I tried not to throw up on his shoes.

As I stared at the floor, words cut through the dizziness, clear as a bell rung right by my head. “Gail Godwin, for the crime of accessory to the murder of Class B Hero Angélica Rocha by the Class B Supervillain, Chelsea So-Called, you are hereby sentenced to serve twenty-five years in Detmer Maximum Security Prison.”

I forced my aching head up and looked at the man at the end of the table, the only one I recognized. I knew him. We’d only met formally once, but it had left an impression. The second time I’d seen him, he’d arrested me. And now he had convicted me of murder. I looked up in the blue eyes of Eddie Davenport, CEO of the largest company in the world. The light fell in a perfect halo over his blond hair. I squinted at him and I said, “What the hell?”

Or at least I tried to. What came out was, “I don’t like these potatoes. Can I have them scrambled instead?”

And I passed out cold.

Overall, not very inspiring last words. Luckily, they turned out not to be my last.

I’d heard of Detmer Maximum Security Prison.

Even if I hadn’t been Hostage Girl, I would have. It was the place they threw all the supervillains who had committed terrible crimes against society. The woman who tried to take over New York City with radioactive gerbils, the idiot in San Jose who had tried to boil the Pacific. They all ended up in Detmer. And usually, they ended up breaking out of Detmer.

Unfortunately for me, I was usually the villains’ first stop after they escaped. It’s a little difficult being in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Kidnapped Most Frequently,” but for four years, that had been my life. Some of it had to do with proximity, I figured, since Detmer wasn’t that far from Chicago. Simple, really. Escape prison, kidnap Hostage Girl, get your name on the news and a quick fight with Blaze. I’d even made it convenient for them by never trying to fight it.

I never thought I would actually end up in Detmer, though.

Detmer was for supervillains.

I’m many things, but I’m not a villain.

Davenport Industries, which ran most of the world and anything related to superpowered individuals, had not received that memo. I woke up in a prison transport vehicle, my eyes practically crossed from the pain of a metal harness pressing against what had to be at least one broken rib. When I politely tried to scream and let the driver know, a syringe became involved. Which was why I stood now in a line with six other women, hands cuffed in front of me as they marched us down a long hallway that smelled like lemon Pledge, and everything seemed pleasant and disconnected. Just a handy side effect of the fact that I was tripping balls form whatever they’d plunged into my neck.

A chain kept me attached to the woman in front of me. A second chain attached me to the woman behind me, and so it went. Guards in gunmetal gray uniforms walked alongside, fingering the triggers on their stun batons so that sparks rained down onto the tiles.

I frowned at the handcuffs wrapped around my wrists. I didn’t like them. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t like them. I wanted them off.

“Stop fidgeting,” one of the guards told me, sending out a new shower of sparks.

I blinked at him and wondered why my left eye wouldn’t point straight.

After the hallway, we were led into a room with drains set in the floor. Medical equipment, a woman in a white lab coat, another woman in scrubs, and a new set of guards awaited us.

“Face forward.”

I started to turn the wrong way. The woman next to me rolled her eyes. They moved along the line, undoing the chains and cuffs. When she got to me, the woman in the lab coat—Dr. Kehoe, it said in pretty blue stitching above the pocket—frowned. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Reusabital. Driver says she got a little quippy.”

“That’s probably true,” I said. “I have, like, back-talked pretty much every villain this side of the Mississippi.”

Dr. Kehoe frowned and held her hand out for her tablet. “Godwin,” she said, reading the screen. “Gail Godwin. Look at you. That much Reusabital would turn an elephant into Sleeping Beauty, and you, you’re just a bit drunk.”

“Don’t think I am. Drunk feels nicer than this. Plus, I don’t remember any tequila.”

“Uh-huh.” The assistant undid my handcuffs and moved on to the woman next to me.

Salud to you, too,” I said, and looked forward again. This time it was my right eye that felt off. That was going to be a problem eventually.

I kept squinting as they ordered us to strip out of the orange jumpsuits. Some of the women hesitated, but I kicked off the clothes easily enough. Modesty was for people who hadn’t been given Mobium and therefore didn’t have my rather amazing muscles. Those were a pretty new addition to my life, which was why I was proud to show them off. I felt a little less proud when I realized how cold the room was, and that the woman next to me had a fantastic tattoo of Edvard Munch’s The Scream across her upper arm, which definitely put my muscles to shame.

Dr. Kehoe and the nurse in scrubs moved up the line of us. It took me a couple of women to realize that they were cataloguing birthmarks, scars, and tattoos with the tablet. Dr. Kehoe dictated to her assistant, asking for origins on tattoos and scars. With the first few women, this took a couple of minutes at most. Motorcycle accidents, the occasional knife fight, chemical burns. Easy stuff.

When they reached me, they both stopped and stared.

“Hmm,” Dr. Kehoe said. I tilted my head back to look at her. “We’ll start from the top. This scar on your hairline?”

I rubbed it with my fingers. “Dr. Laboritorium was trying to perform brainwave experiments on me. The helmet cut into my head, but don’t worry, Blaze saved me and knocked him out.”

“And this scar on your temple?”

“TongueTwister hit me with a rock when he called up a dirt devil. I was in the hospital for like a week.”

“The scar below it?”

“Can’t remember. That might be Queen Bae knocking me out with a Swarovski honeycomb. Diamonds are definitely not Girl’s best friend.” I grinned at my own joke, though it had been nearly a year since I’d called myself by my own terrible nickname.

“What else could it be?” Dr. Kehoe asked. Her assistant’s fingers were flying over the tablet as she desperately tried to keep up.

“Might’ve been Lady Danger. She has Great Danes, you know. Big ones. Scary teeth.” I waved my fingers in front of my mouth in approximation of fangs before I touched my forehead again. “Wait, no, this scar? This scar is definitely from that time the Saratoga Kid visited Chicago and wanted a hostage to present to his new bride at Niagara Falls. Sorry. I get them all mixed up.”

Dr. Kehoe sighed. The other women in the line were openly goggling at me now. “Just how many of these scars do you have, Godwin?”

I shrugged. “I lost count years ago. There’ve been a lot of villains. They’re dumb and they leave marks.” I turned to look at the other women in the line with me. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Scream Tattoo Lady said dryly.

“Why don’t we move her to the end, Dr. Kehoe?” the assistant said. “We have a schedule.”

“Good point.”

So I waited, cooling my heels while Dr. Kehoe and her assistant moved down the line. Each woman was handed a box at the end and they were shuffled together through a door that led into the prison. I didn’t like that door. It did funny things to my stomach.

Finally, Dr. Kehoe approached me with a sigh. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”

An hour later, my throat was dry and I wasn’t feeling so pleasantly drunk anymore. “Yes,” I said, answering Dr. Kehoe’s question as she looked at the bottom of my foot and the tiny scar that ran along the seam of my instep. “I was dangled over an active volcano by Melodrama Madam. I really don’t like to remember that one.”

“All done,” she said. “You can put your foot down. You can collect your box and your bunk assignment. Where’s she going?” The last was directed at her harried-looking assistant.

“She’s going in with the Villain Syndrome patients,” her assistant said. She paused and looked at the screen again. “Is that right? She’s not tagged for VS herself. Oh, and that’s even stranger. Her doctor from Davenport’s requesting access to her.”

I felt my spirits inexplicably soar. My doctor from Davenport was a woman named Kiki, and while I wasn’t sure she’d be able to help me, as she hadn’t stopped my arrest, I had some questions. Maybe she could answer them.

“That’s certainly not going to fly,” Dr. Kehoe said, looking at the tablet as she crushed all of my hopes. “Send the denial straight to Dr. Cooper. We look after our own in Detmer. Are you ready to go to prison, Godwin?”

“No,” I said.

“Too bad.”

I was handed a box full of clothes and given an opportunity to pull them on: a green tunic-style shirt, black pants, new black shoes that were surprisingly comfortable. Less comfortable was the needle pushed into the part of my shoulder that met my neck. I only protested a little, though it made my entire arm feel sore. I felt a spurt of nerves in my middle as I was escorted to the door that would take me into the confines of Detmer Maximum Security Prison.

I stepped through.

By some counts, I had been kidnapped over two hundred times by more than fifty villains in a four year period. I had been mentioned by news media so often that I had my own tag on the Domino, nobody remembered what my real name was, and the sight of my face alone had been enough to send people to sidewalks on the other side of the street to avoid being in my potential blast radius. There had been political cartoons, tourist T-shirts, and little plaques around businesses near my apartment talking about various attacks. What I’m saying is I probably clocked in over a thousand hours in the company in supervillains during my tenure as Hostage Girl.

And not a single one of those jerks had seen fit to mention that Detmer Maximum Security Prison was, in essence, a day spa.

Bewildered from the drug and by the bamboo floors, fluting music, and papyrus wall hangings, I followed a guard—“Oh, no, we’re called monitors here! Please, call me Tabitha!”—away from the processing area. Detmer was open and airy. There wasn’t a ninety-degree angle to be found in the entire place. I was shown the recreation areas, a giant cafeteria that looked more like a five-star dining lounge, the most high-class gym I had ever seen (the chrome was blinding), and several lounges that looked like they had sprung fully formed from the pages of a designer magazine.

“Detmer was of course designed with the comfort of its guests in mind,” Tabitha said in a bright, plasticky voice as she bustled along. I followed in her wake in a drugged haze. There was a feeling niggling at the back of my mind, like I should protest this, like if only my thoughts would work together I would be angry beyond belief. Mostly I was mystified. Maybe everything had just been one prolonged nightmare. Perhaps I hadn’t seen a shopping mall ripped to shreds by a man with earthquake abilities, and I wasn’t wrongfully in prison for assisting in the murder of my trainer.

Maybe polka-dotted camels would show up and start dancing the Marimba around the next corner.

“Guests are free to wander around the complex as they choose. There are no mandatory mealtimes or lights out, which you might find in other facilities.” Other prisons, I realized hazily. She was talking about places where people who had committed crimes were held and punished, not other spas.

“And if you ever have any questions, feel free to ask me or one of the other monitors.” Tabitha redefined perky. If she stopped smiling, the Elder Gods would probably descend upon the world and feast on the entrails of the living. “That’s what we’re here for!”

I blinked dumbly at her.

“You must be tired!” Tabitha led me down a new hallway, one lined with glass doors at even intervals. The track lighting along the ceiling made everything appear soothing. “These are the living quarters. You’ve been housed with the Villain Syndrome patients.”

“Huh,” I said now. Did I need to be alarmed about that? Villains with VS were the most terrifying kind: they truly believe they were committing acts of good—usually through colossal destruction and loss of life. Come to think of that, this was probably worrying, yeah. I scratched my nose and nodded. “’Kay.”

“Do you have any questions for me?” Tabitha asked.

I thought about that for longer than usual. “When is dinner?”

“Very soon. You’ll find a schedule inside, and it has all of the movies playing in the cinema. We’re very lucky to have the newest releases. Here we are: room 407! That’s you!” She stopped in front of one of the glass doors, identical to the rest. “Only you and your roommate can enter your room—and the monitors, of course, but we hardly count!—so you’ll have all the privacy you need.”

I looked at it. “With a glass door,” I said.

Tabitha’s smile grew strained at the edges. “In you go. The Reusabital should be wearing off now, which is good. We don’t believe in any restraints, medical or otherwise, in this complex.”

“In prison,” I said, tone never changing.

Tabitha chuckled, like I’d said something extremely amusing. “Enjoy your nap.”

I put my palm on the little panel beside the door and watched it slide open. Apparently Detmer worked just like Davenport. There was probably some irony in there somewhere.

With Tabitha gone, the world seemed a little less plastic. My thoughts began to connect in logical fashion once again as I stepped into my cell. I was in prison. I wasn’t supposed to be in prison. I was in my room in Detmer, which was actually like some kind of demonic day spa, and Angélica—

My breath hitched as everything finally broke. Every emotion under the sun slammed into me at once: fury at the injustice, grief so sharp that it felt like it was cutting into every exposed inch of my skin, confusion and anger and sadness. My hands began to shake. I clenched them into fists, but it didn’t help. Everything built and built, the pressure growing behind my temples until it finally happened: I screamed.

I screamed and I kept screaming even though my throat felt raw and ripped to shreds. What felt like hours ago to me, I’d had everything: I’d been happy, shopping for new clothes at the mall with friends. And now, I was in prison for a crime committed by an actual supervillain and every time I tried to point that out, they drugged me. My friend was dead because of a hit she’d taken for me. The scream went on and on until I couldn’t breathe. I dropped to my knees and hiccupped as tears spilled. I finally did what the drug had been keeping me from doing: I broke down and sobbed.

At some point, I must have crawled over to the bunk beds along the wall and climbed onto the bottom bunk. My eyes were swollen from crying and my throat ached, as I stared at the underside of the bunk above me.

I was in prison.

I didn’t even know Chelsea, the woman they’d claimed I had helped kill Angélica. We’d met a grand total of twice, and both times, she’d been doing her damndest to kill me. Unluckily for her, I’d had a run-in with a mad scientist who had dosed me with some kind of super-element. The Mobium in my body made me faster and stronger, quicker to heal, and more perceptive. It sped up my metabolism to frightening levels, which was why my stomach currently felt like it was trying to digest itself. But the most important thing it had done had been to enable me to survive Chelsea’s powers, which was why the first time she’d tried to kill me (in a bank, while I’d been trying to meet with a journalist associate of mine), she had been unsuccessful.

The second time, my superhero trainer had knocked me out of the way, and Chelsea had unloaded a full blast into her. I’d watched Angélica seize and die in a hospital bed while I’d been fighting off my own injuries and unable to help her.

I rolled over onto my side and felt another set of hot tears leak out of my eyes.

Why did Davenport believe I knew Chelsea? Why would they ever think I would do anything to Angélica? I liked her. Sure, she’d spent most of our acquaintance attempting to put me on the floor, but she had been genuine and kind, and fiercely hilarious. A tear dripped onto the bridge of my nose and onto the feather pillow under my head.

“Do you plan on knocking that off any time soon?”

I flailed, which was a mistake because pain exploded up and down my side. Angélica’s lessons kicked in: in an instant I was halfway across the room, on the balls of my feet with my hands held in loose fists in front of me.

The woman who’d spoken, who had to be seventy if she was a day, stared at me, utterly unimpressed. She found me so uninspiring that I almost wanted to apologize for my very existence. She leaned one shoulder against the wall and raised a single silver eyebrow.

“Who are you?” I asked, wiping at the tears so they wouldn’t hamper my vision.

“Your new roommate. I’m tired of listening to you snivel.” With surprising spryness for a seventy-year-old, she crossed over and pulled herself easily onto the top bunk. Her legs dangled over the side. “Name’s Rita.”

I eyed her warily for a second. The sniveling comment had made my ears burn, but I didn’t see the point in alienating my roommate right away. “Gail,” I said. “I’m Gail.”

“You smell like fresh meat.” Rita actually sniffed the air. “Hell, you’re still shiny. What’d they get you for?”

I swallowed hard. “They say I helped kill somebody.”

“Only helped? Underachiever, I see.”

“Yeah, thank you for your opinion,” I said. “I’ll cherish it always.”

Rita tilted her head and considered me. It didn’t escape my notice that she hadn’t volunteered what she’d done to get her locked up. “So that’s how it’s going to be,” she said.

“How what’s going to be?”

Rita hopped down off of the bed, landing lightly on the toes of her orthopedic sneakers. She wore an outfit similar to mine. What her arms lacked in tattoos, they made up for in sheer muscle tone. She was only a little taller than me, and her skin was sun-worn and withered like an old nut. But her eyes were bright and hard.

I tightened my fists as the hair rose on the back of my spine. Every sense tingled.

“Hurt yourself, did you?” she asked instead of answering my question. “You’re leaning a little.”

I raised my chin. “What’s it to you?”

“Looks like you hurt yourself right here,” she said, and delivered a short, sharp-knuckled punch to the side of my ribcage.

I immediately dropped to one knee with my hand over my abdomen, air hissing between my teeth. I hadn’t even seen her move. “What the hell was that for?”

“You’re new,” she said, leaning over and twisting her head so she could meet my eye. I had to bite down hard on every instinct I’d ever possessed, all of which were screaming at me to lunge at her face and blind her. Angélica had warned me time and again not to attack in anger. Rita might be old, but she was fast and she was strong. “You seem stubborn, which means you probably won’t learn quickly. That’s fine. The only one you’re hurting is yourself.”

“What is your problem?”

Rita’s smile was so cold it dropped the ambient temperature a couple of degrees. “With you? There is no problem. But there are rules here, and you will follow them. As my new cellmate, you represent me.” She grabbed my chin, hard enough that I swear I heard my jaw creak. “You will not embarrass me, child.”

I hissed out a breath. “Screw you, old bat.”

Nothing changed behind those flat blue eyes. “Oh, you’re precious. I should—”

I punched her. Because I was in pain and still a little dizzy, it wasn’t the precise, devastating punch Angélica would have wanted, but I struck Rita’s wrist, knocking her hand away from my chin. I dropped onto my elbow to try and spin and kick her legs out from under her. She leapt nimbly out of the way. Though I expected her to kick me in the abdomen where I was vulnerable, she did something else entirely: she started clapping.

“So you do have some fight in you,” she said, bringing her hands together hard enough that the sound hurt my ears. It felt like an explosion in the tiny, white space of our cell. “Good.”

I climbed to my feet. “Stay away from me. I’m innocent, but that doesn’t mean I’m taking any crap from you.”

“We’re going to have so much fun together.” She toyed with the hem of her shirt for a second, and I noticed that all of us had DETMER stamped on the bottom of our shirts, as if we would ever forget where we were. She inclined her head like a queen dismissing her subject, and strolled right out of the room.

I stared after her. Great. I’d been wrongfully thrown in prison, my friend was dead, and my roommate was a psychopath. When was this nightmare going to end? And could it get any worse?

Fate really had it out for me, apparently. Two seconds after that disastrous thought crossed my brain, I saw movement in the hallway outside. A flash of green walked past, and back, like the person had seen something and needed to double-check. Just like that, there was only glass separating me from the yellow bug eyes of one Razor X, who had personally kidnapped me seventeen times (a record). He stared at me through the glass in utter puzzlement.

When he removed the silver helmet he’d always worn, I realized I’d gotten something very wrong about Razor X: she was not a dude. Strawberry blonde hair spilled over her shoulders. The bug eyes looked even creepier without her helmet.

She reached up and knocked on the door. I stumbled back until I was pressed up against the wall. All of my old enemies were in this prison, and the only thing between them and me, I realized with a horrible feeling of dread, was a glass door.

“Crap, crap, crap, crap,” I said under my breath, like a mantra. She couldn’t get in, but I felt like a zoo creature, trapped in the room while she stared. I took a deep breath, gave her my best glare, and went to sit on the bed. Surprise crossed her face (maybe; it was hard to tell with the huge yellow eyes) before she shrugged and walked away.

I put my head down and stared at my own lap, at the black pants and the edge of my shirt, with my name on the bottom hem. GODWIN stared back at me. No longer Hostage Girl, Girl, or Gail. Now I was going by my last name.

Rita’s shirt had said DETMER in the same place.

I’d assumed that it had been the name of the prison. It was, but I had forgotten one fact: Kurt Davenport, founder of Davenport Industries and the original Raptor himself, had built Detmer Prison. He’d named it after his wife, the very first prisoner.

His wife Rita Detmer.

My cellmate wasn’t just any random supervillain.

My cellmate was the very first supervillain.

I was rooming with Fearless herself.

I stared at the wall. I stared at the ceiling. I thought about Angélica, and about Chelsea, and that weird secretive council chamber. About stripping naked in front of a complete stranger and having my scars catalogued like library books. How I was in prison with at least fifty people who had ample reason to hate me. How I couldn’t stay in my room forever, not with the way my stomach was beginning to hurt from lack of food.

Thinking about that, I did the only thing I could: I crawled under the covers, pulled them over my head, and stayed there, shaking, until I fell asleep.


Chapter One, Part One

Halfway to the Chinese place, something grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and sent me flying. It was a toss-up over which hurt worse: the landing, or my pride. I hadn’t even heard her coming.

“Seriously?” is probably not the correct response to seeing a supervillain standing over you in an alleyway. Most people might scream or run. I chose to glare, even though the woman standing in front of me was armed to the teeth—which she’d recently had capped, apparently. They were a great deal less pointy than the last time I’d seen them. I brushed snow off of the knees of my jeans. “What was that for?”

Razor X, one of Chicago’s up and coming supervillains, probably glared right back at me. It was a hard to see her eyebrows under the visor on her bulbous helmet. Her half-cape fluttered in the icy wind. “I called you three times last week!”

“I’ve been busy. And dodging a phone call is no reason to pick me up and throw me.”

She raised the ray gun at her side and I saw her arm shake a little. The idiot wasn’t even wearing her winter suit. “I had to get your attention somehow. You weren’t going to call me back, were you?”

“I totally was,” I said.


“Raze, I’m trying to get dinner.”

“When you agree to a public battle, it makes me look really stupid when I put it out on the network and I’m the only one that shows up.” Raze stomped her foot.

“Raze,” I said again. “I’ve got a job now, and you know there are complications with the—”

Her voice took on a whining edge. “You need to get a uniform and a proper hero name. What does it say about me as a villain if my nemesis is named Hostage Girl? Huh? Like, that name alone does all the work for me. And come to think of it, ‘girl’ is really a demeaning term when you’re—you’re what? Thirty?”

“Twenty-seven.” I folded my arms over my lightweight jacket. Though I considered myself a native—five years in the city officially as of last week—to most Chicagoans it looked like I was a fool, braving snow-piled November streets without a parka. But I wasn’t exactly a normal Chicagoan anymore. Or, hell, even a normal human anymore, which was why flying freaks in masks and capes thought tossing me into an alley was a situational appropriate greeting. “And I will make it to a battle, I will, when I have an actual identity set up, but you know how the last few months have been.”

“I got out of Detmer so we could be enemies, Gail. I did that for us.” Raze’s lip quivered. She flipped her visor up to give me a pitiful look.

People made of sterner stuff than me would have crumpled under the pressure of those puppy dog eyes, even though the woman in the alley had personally put me in the hospital seventeen times. I reached out and gripped her shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I know, and I’m sorry. Do you want to come over? I’m picking up Chinese.”

She brightened temporarily. “Can I poison it? I’ve got this new formula I’m working on, almost worked out the bugs with the projectile v—”

“Absolutely not,” I said.

“Hard pass, then,” she said. “Answer a text every once in a while, Gail. Show an enemy some love for once.”

“Fine, fine,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to give me a lift, would you?”

“As heavy as you are? No.” She took off with a whir of her rocket-boots and a blast of exhaust that made me cough and wave at the air in front of my face.

“Jerk,” I said under my breath, though she had a point. I might be barely taller than five feet and lean with muscle, but I weighed six times what I looked like I should weigh. Just one of the side effects of no longer being carbon-based.

With my enemy off to sulk in her lair, I stepped back onto the street, hoping that nobody had seen me get grabbed. When you earn the moniker Hostage Girl because villains can’t seem to keep their hands off of you, a witnessed kidnapping could lead to an article on the Domino at the very least. And I was doing my best to keep my face off of the internet these days. I didn’t want people looking too closely at Gail Godwin, Hostage Girl, because they might start to question a few things. Like the new physique, the fact that I no longer had to wear winter coats, or the man I had been spending a great deal of time with lately.

Of course, with my luck, the minute I stepped clear of the alley, my ears picked up the whir-click of a hoverboard. My shoulders sagged. “I just want to get food, whoever you are,” I said without looking behind me. “Leave me alone.”

“Hostage Girl.”

I turned to look: a man in red and blue interlocking armor with a robotic face mask. A giant crack that I happened to know had been caused by War Hammer bisected the helmet. Yellow circles glowed where the man’s eyes should have been. I watched the backdraft from his hoverboard send ripples in a puddle of dirty sludge.

“Captain Cracked,” I said. “It’s been awhile. What do you want? If you’re here to kidnap me, it won’t go well.”

For him, at least. Maybe he was one of the villains who hadn’t entirely gotten the memo yet.

“There are rumors,” he said, the voice modulator making his words sound twice as sinister. I wondered idly what his villain name had been before Sam punched the giant crack in his face-mask. “About you.”

“Buzz off,” I said, as those rumors were kind of a sore subject.

“People think you’re not Class D anymore.” He raised his ray gun, which was not nearly as elegant as Raze’s. “State your class rating.”

I eyed the muzzle, debated if I wanted to run a zig-zag pattern and get my boots wet in the slush, and decided against it. I ran full-tilt at him and hit him like a linebacker instead. My shoulder drove into the midsection of his armor with enough force that I heard the crack of something in his armor breaking. With a shout and a whoosh, we flew backward. His weird computerized voice sounded even stranger when it was screaming curse words as he struggled to dislodge me.

I, on the other hand, was trying to reach the control panel between his shoulder blades. I’d seen it when he’d first held me hostage years ago, and thanks to my enhanced hearing now, I could hear it purring softly. No doubt it held his processor. I scrabbled with my fingernails, trying to wedge my fingers in and pull the wiring out.

He panicked and took off, leaving me with no choice but to hold on.

The hoverboard protested under all of the extra weight. With me clinging to him, Captain Cracked couldn’t use the zappers in his hands without shocking himself too, so he flailed his arms and tried to dislodge me. My grip was too strong for him to knock me off, so we swung wildly through the air. At one point, it would have made me dizzy; now I just tried harder for the panel.

“Everything is not proceeding as I have foreseen,” Captain Cracked said. Panic sounded incredibly strange through the voice modulator.

I finally got my fingers around the panel and he let out an electronically flattened shout. He pitched forward so suddenly that it knocked my equilibrium off enough to send us both careening onto a fourth story rooftop. We landed in a dirty puddle—so much for my boots—and the force of our impact sent me rolling.

I sprang right back to my feet and squared off against him. It was a point of some pride when he skittered back on his rocket sledge in obvious shock. “The rumors are true. You’re no longer Class D,” he said.

“Gee, you think?” I said, and he shot at me.

I jumped in time, landing on the other side of the now smoking hole in the roof. I charged at him once more, ducked under a second blast, and skidded on the ice for the last couple of feet, body-checking him hard. He tumbled backward and I drove my fist straight into his helmet. The crack in his facemask made a crunching noise as it expanded.

“What I am is none of your business. All you need to know is Hostage Girl hits back now,” I said, and tried to punch him again.

He dodged this time, shoving me off of him. While I scrambled to my feet, ready to deliver more pain, he took off into the sky, fleeing in terror. I considered jumping after him, but my stomach growled. I watched the man who usually terrorized Lincoln Park fly away into the slate gray clouds and shook my head.

The supervillains needed a better communication network. When were they going to understand that Hostage Girl was no longer defenseless?

With Captain Cracked gone, I looked around to take stock of my situation. He’d dropped me on a roof close to the Chinese food place, so that was nice, but I was also on the fourth floor and I couldn’t see any rooftop access anywhere. And when I peered into the still-smoking hole left by the ray gun, a very annoyed family stared back at me. “Sorry about that,” I called. “Any chance of—no? I can’t use your door? Okay.”

Apparently I was stranded on the roof.

Chapter One, Part Two

I wandered to the edge of the roof and judged the distance to the ground below. If I screwed up, four stories wouldn’t kill me, but it would lead to a couple of painful days. I wasn’t indestructible, not by a long-shot, but I could take quite a bit more of a beating than a regular human. It was more that I didn’t want to deal with my trainer scolding me.

Sometimes, I wondered what it would be like to live a normal life. Not really the time to worry about that, though. My existential crisis could wait until I was on the ground. I took a deep breath, stepped off the roof, and tried to phase down to the ground, altering my momentum to let me land safely. Instead, I hit the dumpster hard enough for the impact to rattle in my bones. My foot went straight through a trash bag and into something sticky, which made me grimace. “Great,” I said, hauling myself out of the dumpster. “Just fabulous.”

I limped the rest of the way. The fact that my knees weren’t throbbing told me I’d been a little successful at phasing, which was an ability I could mainly only use subconsciously, so at least there was that.

I stepped inside and ignored my growling stomach when the smell of soy sauce and fried noodles hit. “Mr. Shen,” I said. “It’s me, your favorite customer, and I forgot to beg for extra egg rolls, so—seriously? Is it something in the water?”

The robber and Mr. Shen both blinked at me at the same time. I put it down to startling them and not the fact that I looked and smelled like I’d landed in a dumpster. Or it could have been that I was a tiny woman who’d just walked into a robbery at gunpoint and was more annoyed than freaked out.

“Down on the ground!” the robber said, the gun in his hand twitching wildly. He wore a gray hoodie and a ski-mask and even through the eau de dumpster emanating from my shoes, I could smell nervous sweat on him. My ears picked up the rabbit-pulse of his heartbeat.

“Did you hear me, bitch?” he said, and I nearly rolled my eyes. Why that word? Why always that word? “Get on the ground!”

Mr. Shen gave me a panicked look and gestured frantically. I should have been more afraid, but annoyance won out. Why had this guy picked my favorite Chinese food place? The owners were kind, the crab rangoon was to die for, and they’d finally stopped side-eying my orders, which could comfortably feed a family of forty.

“Sorry,” I said, and I took a step closer. “I wasn’t listening. You need to speak up.”

Immediately, the gun swung in my direction. Much better, in my opinion.

“You got a death wish or something?”

“No, I can safely say I don’t. I mean, you could kill me with that thing, you really could.” Probably. We hadn’t exactly tested my healing ability lately. “But you won’t.”

I saw the whites of the robber’s eyes as he took an involuntary half-step back. “Oh yeah?” he said, clearly faking bravado. “And why is that?”

“Because I’m—” Like with Captain Cracked, I struck first, launching into a roundhouse kick so fast that I kicked the gun right out of his hand. I landed and knocked him back, pulling my punch in case he was as human as he seemed. “—going to do that. Stay down!”

I hadn’t actually fought a regular-powered human one-on-one before. Contrary to the evidence from the past ten minutes of my life, I hadn’t actually fought that many people, powered or not. For most of my time in Chicago, I’d been a hostage, not a hero. I cringed when I heard something crack as the man’s back hit the floor, and stepped back.

That proved to be a mistake.

He leapt back to his feet. Instead of charging me, he grabbed a bamboo plant and chucked it at my head. I ducked; the next bamboo plant went hurtling toward my favorite provider of delicious crab rangoon, so I tackled Mr. Shen. He grunted as we both landed on the linoleum.

“I just needed the money!” the robber said. “You just had to give me the money, that was it.”

“Oh, sure, he robs the place and he’s the wronged party here,” I said. To Mr. Shen, I said, “Stay down. I’ll take care of him.”

Mr. Shen looked at me with wide eyes and I wanted to sigh. I’d been hoping to keep him from copping wise to the fact that I didn’t play for the regular human team. Not that he would judge me for it, but it was hard enough to find places to eat as Hostage Girl. Hostage Girl plus what’d I’d become? That was even worse.

“Seriously, stay put,” I said.

When I rose to my feet, the robber caught me in a flying tackle. I tried to stand my ground, but the greasy floor made that impossible. We slid back into the kitchen, a place fraught with danger, open flames, and far too many knives for comfort. I dodged a wild swing toward my face. He ducked the haymaker that would have hopefully knocked him out, and snatched up a knife. It caught the edge of my jacket when he brandished at me.

In retaliation, I threw a handful of dumplings in his face. I blocked the next strike with an elbow to his wrist, spun, and drove my other elbow under his chin. He staggered back, clearly seeing stars, so I grabbed a cooling pan from the metal countertop and walloped him.

He hit the floor a little too hard.

“You might want to call 911,” I said, panting. I looked at the rip in my jacket and frowned. “He needs medical attention.”

While we waited for the police to show up, we left him crumpled up on the kitchen floor and I collected my food, carefully stacking the three bulging bags so that I could trot them back to my apartment. They were heavy, but that was the least of my worries.

“So…who are you really? What’s your mask?” Mr. Shen asked as I pushed a generous tip in the jar. He wouldn’t actually let me pay for the food itself.

I shook my head as we heard the wail of a siren and red and blue lights splashed along the walls. “No mask. Just…a local picking up dinner from the place down the street.”

Mr. Shen gave me a skeptical look, which I supposed was fair.

“Sorry?” I said. “Good luck. And sorry about the bamboo plants.”

“See you next time, Gail,” Mr. Shen said.

“Looking forward to it.”

A noise made me whirl, my arms laden with the bags of food, to see the robber groaning and pushing himself to his feet. Mr. Shen and the rest of the kitchen staff scrambled back in fear. I moved to drop the food, but even I wasn’t fast enough to stop him before he snatched up a knife from the counter and flung it.

I saw it arc through the air, heard it rotate in slow motion, tumbling over end over end toward my face—and then I was sitting on my couch with a headache.

“Oh hey!” My very own superhero trainer and roommate, Angélica Rocha, looked up from her book as I let out a gasp and reeled backward. “You’re back! That was fast. Did you do that on purpose?”

The man on my other side frowned, pausing in the middle of peeling out of his new uniform’s gauntlets. “Gail?” Guy Bookman asked. “What happened?” He finished tugging off his War Hammer glove.

“Why do you smell like that?” Angélica asked.

I groaned and set the bags on the coffee table to rub my temples. “It’s a long story, and you’re going to yell.”

“Why would I yell?” Angélica dove into the bag nearest her. “Whatever happened, you got the food here in record time. This is a miracle. Definitely—” This was said around a mouthful of lo mein noodles. “—something to celebrate.”

“You say that now, but wait until I tell you about the robber,” I said. “And the dumpster.”

Guy wrapped an arm around my shoulders and kissed the side of my head. “I knew I should’ve picked up the food on my way over.”

* * *

An hour later, very little remained of the Chinese food and Guy and I were left alone in the living room, Angélica having ducked into her room after receiving a text message. I stretched out, bones popping in a way that made Guy wince.

“Is that healthy?” he asked, looking up from his tablet.

“I have no idea.”

“I don’t think it’s healthy. It doesn’t sound healthy.” He set the tablet on the coffee table, which was only a little dented from the time Angélica had thrown me into it while wrestling over who had to go grocery shopping. “Maybe you should go to Davenport and get a check-up.”

I popped my shoulders again. It wasn’t to spite him—precisely. “Nope,” I said. “I feel fine. There’s nothing to worry about. In fact, I think everything’s finally calming down.”

“You got in two fights and teleported nearly two miles,” Guy said. “How does your head feel?”

In truth, it felt fine. Applying food to the injury, as Angélica liked to say, was usually the quickest cure for overextending myself and my new abilities. Now all I needed was a little sleep, and I’d be fine. Or I would be if I could stay out of trouble, a forecast that never looked promising.

But Guy, bless his kind and considerate soul, would always be a worrywart. He wasn’t overly pushy about it, so I didn’t mind. Besides, he was really easy to distract. Which I did now by putting down my magazine and crawling straight into his lap.

He leaned his head against the back of the couch. “I know what you’re doing,” he said as I settled on his thighs.

I pushed his hair back so that the forelock wasn’t falling into his eyes the way it usually did. “Mmhmm. I’m not subtle. It’s something everybody loves about me. Is it working?”

Guy lifted his hand and wiggled it in a so-so gesture, but I could hear the way his heartbeat had picked up and I could see a smile twitching at the edges of his lips. He had the barest hint of a five o’clock shadow going on and his skin was a little gray with exhaustion, but even tired from a long day in the office and foiling a few bank robberies, he was still pretty gorgeous.

I laughed when he finally broke, grinning and tugging me closer. “Thought so,” I said, kissing him.

His hand slid under the back of my shirt as the other tangled in my hair, which was still messy from my Chinese food encounters. He kissed me like we hadn’t just seen each other the night before, like we might never see each other again—

Or he did until we both heard thumping on the wall. I sighed, my head dropping onto Guy’s shoulder. “What is it this time?” I called through the wall.

“I have an early meeting tomorrow and have no interest in listening to your sexual shenanigans. Take it to his place!”

Which would involve going downtown. Granted, his place was a lot nicer than mine, closer to work, and he loved cooking so there would be breakfast, but it would also require moving and I was perfectly happy to remain right where I was. “Just put some headphones on,” I said back, not bothering to raise my voice. Angélica could hear me perfectly.

Just like I could hear her muttered Portuguese insult in reply perfectly as well.

I left my forehead resting against Guy’s shoulder. “Why did I agree to move in with the bossiest woman on the planet?”

“Because you can’t afford both food and rent.” he said. “What’s her deal right now?”

“She’s got investors coming in tomorrow,” I said. “I normally wouldn’t care—” I raised my voice for emphasis, “—but since I know it’s a big day for her, I’ll be nice this once.”

“You can have the apartment to yourself this weekend,” Angélica said.

I turned to Guy. “See? She’s being nice in return.”

He shook his head, his eyes amused behind the glasses. “You know I can’t hear her when you guys talk through walls at regular volume like that’s something normal people do.”

“She says we’ve got this place for the weekend,” I said, and dropped next to Guy on the couch. “She’s probably spending it with that mystery boyfriend of hers that she refuses to tell me anything about. And I heard you call me that, Angélica.”

Guy put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. “I guess we could watch the news,” he said.

Watching the news invariably meant that he’d get alerted about some catastrophe in progress and feel obligated to rush off and defend against it. Or there would be another story wondering what had happened to Blaze, which would only make Guy frown. His brother Sam had quit being War Hammer and had literally driven into the sunset on a motorcycle. Not that I blamed him: discovering that his ex-girlfriend—originally thought to be dead—had instead been experimented on and tortured for years had to weigh heavily on the soul. With Sam off on his spiritual journey, it had made sense for Guy to take over the identity and the Chicago territory. Heroes went on hiatus and switched masks more than even I knew, so all of us were surprised when the media had latched on. As far as the rest of the world knew, Blaze, Guy’s previous superhero identity, had simply vanished from Miami. And his whereabouts were the biggest mystery apart from the identity of the villain who had turned the Statute of Liberty into a disco mirror ball. Where’s Blaze had become a catchphrase tossed around by media pundits everywhere. They refused to let it die, so the last thing I wanted to do was watch the news right now. I raised an eyebrow at him.

“Or…I could fly us to my place?” he offered.

I grinned. “Let me get my stuff.”

Chapter Two, Part One

Every superhero has an origin story. Every supervillain, too, but that’s not as important since I don’t hang out with as many of those these days.

Take my roommate, Angélica. Her bus to a soccer game had crashed outside of her hometown and she’d woken up with the ability to hurtle herself across distances in the blink of an eye. Her soccer career was over before it had started, but she’d found work as a trainer at Davenport—the umbrella corporation that secretly controlled all superhero interests. Guy and his siblings had gotten their powers from an explosion. For my friend Vicki Burroughs—yes that Victoria Burroughs—well, I didn’t actually know her origin story because it changed every time she told it.

Only three people on the planet could claim they were given their powers intentionally. Two of them lived in my apartment (Angélica’s origin story hadn’t ended on the soccer field—she was later dosed with the same superpower-inducing serum I had been hit with, in order to save her life after she’d been poisoned). The third was in prison. Synthetic superheroes, which made us pretty interesting in our own right. The fact that Angélica and I had cut ties with Davenport made life a little difficult. The corporation and I were still on vague speaking terms, but Davenport had been responsible for throwing me in prison for a crime I hadn’t committed. Now I wanted nothing to do with them, even though they were primarily responsible for helping those with new powers acclimate. It made finding a balance and trying to live my life very difficult, as I was no longer normal.

The new powers were pretty cool, though. All of the carbon in my body had been replaced by a synthetic isotope called Mobium, named after the scientist who had invented it. My metabolism had sped up to ridiculous levels, and I’d been enhanced: stronger than the average human, faster, theoretically more intelligent, with the ability to absorb superpowers from others. Which was why I could involuntarily teleport and why I technically could use Angélica’s original powers to shift my momentum and cross distances faster than the eye could follow. We had no idea how the Mobium worked or why I picked up the new powers that I did, considering that I spent a lot of time with Guy and he had a passel of intriguing abilities I wouldn’t mind having for myself, and I had nothing to show for it.

Judge all you like, but flight would be a useful ability.

Unfortunately, there were downsides. Dr. Mobius had been inadvertently killed when I blew up a Lodi Corp building, which meant that Angélica and I had no idea how any of our powers actually worked. And cutting myself off from Davenport meant I had fewer resources. It led to a lot of nights sitting up in my room, wondering what I had become. Mad scientists rarely wrote instruction manuals for their crazy inventions, even when those inventions were actual people.

But still, being kidnapped by Dr. Mobius and changed into a superhero had almost been a blessing. My life before getting superpowers wasn’t all that enviable. But the thing I’d hated the most had been my job at Mirror Reality Magazine, which was why I couldn’t explain to my friends now why I’d chosen to go back.

The main office for all of Angus P. Vanderfeld’s many magazines hadn’t changed much in the couple of months I’d been away in Detmer supervillain prison and on the run from the law. It was still in the Shrewsbury building downtown, and, thanks to my history of being taken hostage, it still had a great deal more security than the surrounding buildings. Several of the same workers were even still present, though there was a rotating roster of pretty faces hoping for a break—that one day Angus might declare them perfect for a modeling gig. I estimated about seven people actually kept the office functional, and even then, not well.

When I had come and asked for my job back, I’d almost seen something like relief in Angus’s patrician, closed-off face. For a man who prided himself on getting as many Botox shots as possible, it was rare to see an actual expression from him. He’d jetted off to Fashion Week the next day, leaving me with a gigantic docket of backlogged work the wannabe models had left undone.

Two months later, I had things under control. When the call from security buzzed up to my desk, I was between tasks, debating what to eat for my seventh morning snack.

“Ms. Godwin, there’s a Ms. Gunn requesting access.”

Naomi was here? That was interesting. I checked my phone, which apparently had been set on silent, and scrolled through the text messages that I’d missed.

u there?

gail cmon

gail gail gail

plz be there need to talk to u

whatever dropping by anyway

tell security to buzz me up already

For somebody who wrote prize-winning articles for the Domino and other respected publications, she certainly believed strongly in text-speak. “It’s okay,” I said to Roland the security guard. “Can you give her a guest pass? She should be on my okay list from now on.”

“Got it.”

Roland and I went way back, given how many times we’d nodded tiredly to each other getting off too late. I tugged my shoes on from where I’d kicked them off and peeked into the cubicle next to me. I had to stand on my tip-toes. “Your favorite reporter’s here,” I said.

Portia McPeak grumbled and didn’t look up from her solitaire game. “She keeps turning me down for coffee. She’s missed her chance.”

“Her loss.”

I headed for the elevator to wait for Naomi, figuring she’d be a minute chatting with the guard. She talked to everybody if she could get a chance. It made her a good reporter, but it also made going anywhere with her a little annoying.

I was wrong this time. She stepped off the elevator almost immediately, which meant whatever she was dropping by for had to be important.

“That was you at the Chinese food place on the news, wasn’t it?” she asked right away, skipping greetings.

“No comment.”

“So, yes?”

“I hear the guy’s going to make a full recovery. I didn’t even hit him that—I mean, the woman in the video didn’t hit him that hard, and he still had the strength to throw a knife at her afterward.”

Naomi grinned. Her hair, which had been in dreads the last time I’d seen her, was now crimped and gathered in a twist at the back of her neck. “You need better media management skills.”

“Or not to talk to the media, but she keeps texting me. You’re not actually here about the Chinese food robber, are you?”

“Luckily for you, nope. Got a spare office or something? We need to talk.”

We went to one of the glass-walled conference rooms. It didn’t afford that much privacy, but at least none of my coworkers could listen in. They weren’t used to me having visitors, so I spotted a couple curious looks as we walked past the cubicle farm. Luckily, only Portia knew who Naomi was, as she’d helped me break Naomi out of a Davenport facility a few months back.

“What’s so urgent?” I asked, digging in the cabinet for snacks. “Is something literally on fire? New threat of apocalypse?”

“Only in San Francisco, and I bet Sharkman has that under control.”

I raised my eyebrows. Sharkman never had anything under control.

“There aren’t any listening devices in here, are there? I would have told you to come to my office, but—” She waved a hand in my general direction, which was fair. Hostage Girl walking into the Domino headquarters would have raised a few eyebrows. “And I’m pretty sure they’ve got the place bugged. Part of the gag order.”

“Yes, how’s life as a shill?” I asked. As part of Naomi learning the identities of several of its major superheroes, Davenport had pulled a few strings to get her a better job. Unfortunately, she had to follow a certain set of rules. She chafed at them constantly. Usually through long text message screeds sent to my phone at two a.m.

“It sucks, but what can you do?” Naomi pulled a battered red file folder from her hipster messenger bag and dropped it on the table. “This isn’t going to be pleasant for you.”

“Is it about Jeremy?” My ex of over a year had been electrocuted while saving the day. It had been heroic and downright stupid on his part, but it had led to powers. I hoped. Jeremy’s situation was a new definition of limbo for me, and I didn’t like it.

“No,” Naomi said, shaking her head. “This is something else.”

Armed with some of the fancy crackers we kept stocked for meetings and peanut butter that I hoped wasn’t expired—not that it would matter against my own special biology—I sat down at the conference room table. Naomi flipped the file open. It only took one glance at the top page for me to grimace.

“You look like you smelled something awful,” Naomi said.

“It’s not that far out of the realm of possibility, not with him.” The top page was photocopied from what looked like some kind of official dossier. Christoph Mobius, it read across the top, and it showed a picture of what could either be a man’s face or a Halloween mask that had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Since I’d met the man, I knew it was the former, but some days I still had my doubts.

Chapter Two, Part Two

I scowled at the picture. “Where did you g—wait, what are you doing?”

“What are you talking about?” Naomi began spreading out pages.

“Are you supposed to be looking into this? I thought Davenport cut you a very specific deal, and that deal included no snooping on Lodi Corp.” Lodi had once been a competitor of Davenport’s, but when I’d blown up their building and revealed they had a mole inside one of Davenport’s offices, Davenport had dismantled Lodi Corp with frightening efficiency. I got the feeling they wanted all of this buried quietly and deeply in the past, which meant Naomi was treading on dangerous ground.

She proved it by nodding. “I’m not supposed to be looking into this, duh.”


“Gail.” Naomi stole a cracker and popped the whole thing in her mouth.

“This is why we’re both always in trouble,” I said, rubbing my forehead.

“It’s not like Davenport would ever tell you any of this. And this has everything to do with you.”

Well, when she put it that way. I looked at the cornucopia of information she’d spread all over the conference table. It shouldn’t have surprised me that she would look hard into Lodi, considering how closely she was connected to it. Lodi had—via Mobius and his serum—created Brooklyn, alias Chelsea, the superpowered woman who’d hired Naomi to find Guy and his brother Sam’s weaknesses. When Naomi had discovered her new boss was a supervillain, she’d refused to turn over the information she found, and Brook had then tried to kidnap her. The circumstances behind Mobius’s involvement with Lodi, however, were still a mystery. And Naomi, with her nose for information, would never rest until she had answers.

Given that her hunt for answers had dragged me into trouble before, though, I didn’t feel like the caution on my part was overrated.

“All right, all right, fine,” I said.

Naomi grinned. “You cave too easily.”

“Shut up. What’s so important that you had to blow up my phone and then race over, anyway? And ugh, get this thing out of my face. I hate that guy.” I turned the page with Mobius’s face on it over. I’d spent long enough staring at his ugly mug when he’d strapped me to a table and dosed me with his serum. “Where’s the fire, anyway? And is it literal?”

“Not literal. This,” Naomi tapped a page, “is where the fire is.”

I picked up the page and skimmed the page. “Lodi’s lab results for Mobium? Davenport’s going to want that.”

“They can get it the same place I did, if they really want it. But here, take a look at this one, and this one.” She shoved two more pages over, and I read those just as quickly. “Chels—Brook’s lab work. Some of it.”

“This means nothing to me,” I said, frowning. “Lodi was experimenting on her for years. So there are test results, so what?”

“Look at the notes section at the bottom of the page.”

“What about it?”

Naomi reached into her messenger bag and pulled out a little leather-bound notebook. Somebody’s personal journal, I realized, and then the smell of it hit my nostrils. Mobius’s personal journal. “Add the notes to this,” Naomi said, waving the journal at me, “and it says some things.”

I took it warily. “Where did you get this?”

Naomi waved a hand. That was fine; I hadn’t actually expected her to tell me.

I flipped through the journal. Mobius’s handwriting wasn’t easy to read: spiky and cramped like he’d been thinking faster than he could write, it filled every page to the very edge. “Do you want me to read all of this?” I asked, feeling a little sick. Apparently my issues over what he’d done to me hadn’t vanished. Oh, joy. “Is there a CliffsNotes or something?”

“Once you get through the science and ravings about the Bears, it boils down to him ranting about the thing he hated.”

“Lodi?” I asked, since they’d kind of kept him captive and used him for his giant brain.

Naomi shook her head. “Superheroes.”

I scrunched my nose up. “What?”

“I know, I thought it was strange, too. If the man hated superheroes so much, why make more?”

“Lodi made him do it?”

“I don’t think even Lodi could get past this level of mania, Gail.” Naomi took the journal and flipped through the pages, a frown etched into her features. “He really hated you super types. On a deep, visceral level.”

“And yet he created a serum that’s added three of us to the population,” I said. “I still say Lodi made him do it.”

Naomi groaned. “You’d think you of all people would embrace conspiracy theories.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Did you somehow miss the part where I was kidnapped over and over again for four years and never really wondered why?”

Naomi paused. “Okay, point. But something’s hinky.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed. I’d done my time—literally—and even if I had doubts about what I was now, life had reached at least a minor equilibrium. I didn’t want to poke at the Jenga pieces and send the tower toppling over. Not for a man who was definitely dead. “Where’d you get all of this stuff, anyway?”

“That’s not important.”

“Oh, but I bet it is.”

Naomi’s smile showed most of her teeth. “Not revealing my sources. I feel like this is significant. Mobius gave you your powers for a reason, right?”

“Right,” I said. The reason I’d ended up with superpowers was so convoluted that some days I didn’t even understand it myself, not even with the enhanced intellect. I’d become the very important but powerless piece in a large game of chess, meant to get Mobius’s granddaughter, my friend Kiki, away from a Lodi spy within Davenport. We’d been successful in the end, but it gave me a headache to think about how it had all panned out. Jeremy had been the one to pay the biggest price. “Mobius did it so I’d help save Kiki, sort of. I still don’t see why it’s significant.”

“I just think it is, that’s all. I made copies for you.”

“Really? You aren’t worried I’ll take them straight to Davenport?”

Naomi just gave me a long look.

“Point,” I said, and took the sheaf of papers she passed over. “I’ll look over these. If nothing else, maybe they’ll answer questions about the Mobium.”

“Started growing a tail yet?”

“Ha, ha,” I said.

“I’m just saying, it could happen any day now.”

“You suck.” My phone screen lit up with a call from Guy, which was surprising. He rarely called during office hours. “Hold on a sec.” I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Gail. Hey. Are you busy? Like, is there anything you can’t miss?”

“Uh, not particularly, why?”

“How soon can you get to Davenport Tower?”

I blinked. Davenport Tower was in New York City. “With or without a ’porter? Because I’m not exactly cleared for that.”

“I’ll get you cleared.”

“Guy, what’s wrong?”

“It’ll be easier to explain when you get here,” Guy said, sounding frustrated. “Hurry, though. Nobody’s hurt, exactly. Just—yeah, hurry. See you soon.”

And I was left with a dead call.

“Cryptic,” I said, shoving the phone in my pocket. “I have to go.”

“Is it trouble?” Naomi was already gathering her papers and shoving them back into the file folder. “Superhero trouble? Can I come?”

“Yeah, Davenport would take one look at your credentials and laugh.”

“Their loss. I’ll walk you out.”

Which would only give her a chance to badger me, I knew, but whatever. “Let’s swing by my desk on the way out. I have a feeling I’m going to need better shoes.”
* * *

Because Guy had sounded urgent, I skipped the ‘L’ and took a cab. In the Willis Tower—which I still wanted to call the Sears Tower—I took the elevator to the 47th floor and stepped into a lobby I’d once helped decimate with a close enemy and some even closer friends. It said Dartmoor Incorporated on a large sign over his head, but this was a Davenport facility. Everything was laid out exactly the same at each waystation, down to the grumpy guard blocking the way to non-Davenport personnel.

The security guard gave me an uninspired look. “ID?”

“Really, Marsh? We go through this every week.”

“State your business.” He made a come-on motion with his fingers, holding his hand out for my ID, which I passed over with a sigh.

“I’m going to Davenport Tower,” I said. “Do we really have to go through the whole routine? I’m kind of in a hurry.”

Marsh gave me another unimpressed look.

“Fine,” I said. “Not my business if you want to waste time giving Abbott and Costello a run for their money.”

“State your business,” Marsh said again, reaching for the taser on his belt.

“I’m traveling to headquarters,” I said. “I’m on the approved list.”

Marsh handed my ID back and looked at the screen in front of him. “Step up to the scanner.”

I’d already stepped over, which made him glare at me. I held my palm over the scanner and let it prick the side of my finger. GODWIN, GAIL flashed over the little screen, listing my stats. I winced a little at my cholesterol count. The body scan and Marsh poking through my bag took a few seconds longer. I’d already learned to ditch anything he could find remotely suspicious, like the really cool looking compact mirror I’d bought. Apparently gold lamé was a terrorist threat these days. Today, he shoved the bag back at me with a dissatisfied look.

“You’re cleared,” Marsh said, looking grumpy about the prospect. He handed over the same flimsy badge I wore every visit. “Go on through.”

“A pleasure as always, Marsh.”

Not even a single grunt from him in reply. Rude.

The ’porter responsible for zapping me from Chicago to New York, at least, was polite. ’Porting over long distances always left me buzzing and gave me a small headache, but I was able to pay attention when the receptionist instructed me to head straight to Medical. Oh, that was not good.

The first time they’d brought me into Davenport, I’d been taken straight there. My appointment had been with Cooper—a man who, it turned out, was a Lodi Corp spy and was trying to find a way to discreetly kill me the entire time. Which partially explained the reason I always wanted to drag my feet on the way to this department.

The secretaries at the front waved me past. “Kiki said to send you straight in.”

I nodded at them and headed back to Kiki’s office. Seeing no sign of her, I moved on to the examination rooms.


“Gail, hi.” Guy, who was sitting on the cot with his elbows propped on his knees, looked up to give me a tight smile. He, Angélica, and Kiki were all gathered in the room, looking tense. “You made it.”

“With only minimal harassment from my favorite security guard. What’s going on?”

I looked at Kiki, as her heartbeat had elevated above the others. She wore her typical uniform—the white polo shirt that sneered at wrinkles, the dark blue Davenport pants—but unusually, her hair was down from its athletic ponytail. It hung over her face now as she sat at the computer, body bowed forward as though somebody had punched her in the stomach. It made me belatedly freeze in my tracks.

“Is Jeremy okay?” I asked. The entire trip over, the only conclusion I had come to was that something must have changed with Jeremy’s situation. Why else would they have called me to Medical?

Kiki raised her head, and the sight of her red-rimmed eyes sent a bolt of fear straight through my gut. “He’s fine. Or there’s been no change, at any rate,” she said, wiping at her eye with a thumb. “This is something else.”

“Has somebody died?” I asked.

Angélica, who was watching Kiki’s face carefully, said, “The opposite, actually.”

Somebody had come back to life? There could only be one culprit, and it sent a curl of fear all the way down to my soles. The instinct to run came on surprisingly strong, considering I was surrounded by multiple people that I would trust to save my life in a heartbeat. “It’s Cooper, isn’t it?” I asked. “He’s back?”

“No,” Kiki said, shaking her head fervently.

I breathed out in relief.

“No, it’s not Cooper,” Angélica said. “But you won’t like—”

She was interrupted by the hiss of the door opening behind me. Already on edge, I whipped about, my fists going up.

“Oh, Roomie! You’re here, too.”

I looked up into the face of my mortal enemy as she was dragged into the room by two men in Detmer Prison uniforms. Brooklyn Gianelli—known to the world as the pink-and-white clad supervillain named Chelsea—looked like the time in prison had actually done her some good, if the smirk and swagger were anything to judge by. She had her hands clasped palm-to-palm, locked in plastic cuffs of some type.

I turned and looked at my supposed friends and significant other. “Explain,” I said.

Read the rest in HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD, available October 4th in e-print from all major retailers!


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