All posts by Megajoule

1.1.2

Bullets shred through my jacket, impact against my skin as I absorb their kinetic energy, and fall harmlessly to the ground. I endure the guards’ spray-and-pray for a second until they realize that I’m not going down and once they do, I charge with explosive power in my heels. The cement hisses and glows as I rush into their circle and become a whirlwind of heat and limbs.

Control. I must control it. If I don’t, my punches and kicks will rip through flesh like tissue paper, they will smash through bone, they will end lives. I dance between the guards, pummeling them with lightly strengthened attacks, enough that I break ribs. I restrain the heat I gain from their feeble boxing and gunfire. I restrain the heat deep inside me. If I let that energy out, I’d kill them and the girls I’m trying to rescue.

I walk a tightrope Megajoule never taught me how to walk. Energy coiled like a viper around my core, muscles and power straining. Ironically, this is much harder than just cutting loose and hitting as hard as I can.

The guy in riot gear ushers Pandahead into one of the vans while the guards I haven’t taken down yet grab some of the girls and pull them in. My attention is split between the two groups for a second too long. Pandahead turns his helmet my way and reaches for something at the side of his belt — a gun? No… a thermos. He reaches for the top and I get the feeling that I’m tipping forward over the edge of a cliff.

Riot gear grabs his hand and they rush into the van, the thermos unopened.

Aspect joins the brawl between me and the guards. “Fucking maskhole!” He jeers and swings his wrecking ball arms at me. There’s much more pain behind his attacks, more energy to draw on, but I can’t release it all without hurting the people around me. I feed bits of heat into the air with my power, trying not to be overwhelmed.

The first wave of burn out hits me in tandem with a haymaker from Aspect’s fist. A problem unique to my power: all that tightrope balancing and careful management of my energy strains me, like lifting weights that are too heavy at the gym. I’m gassed for half a second and that’s enough for Aspect to knock the wind right out of me.
I roll with it. I catch a second to breath and launch into a kinetic flurry, peppering Aspect with blows. Restrain the energy or I kill the girls, the guards, everyone nearby—

—one of the guards nabs a girl close to me, beating her around the head. She fights hard. I jump and spin a kick—

—Aspect grabs the collar of my jacket. We tumble together, propelled into a spin by my kinetic launch—

—I shove the gun out of the girl’s face and the muzzle flashes, he was really going to kill her—

—Aspect knees me across the face while I’m gassed. I bite down on my tongue and spit blood out, respond with an elementally charged fist at his chest—

—the guard sprawls as the girl jumps onto him, clawing at his face underneath his armored mask. She throws balls of light from her hands into his face, the colors dazzling and strobing. A welterweight power—

—Aspect drives me away from her but I pull him off his feet by robbing his kinetic energy and infusing my own arms with it, and I throw him into one of the fences—

The girl dashes into the warehouse through one of the doors while the guard that fought her grabs me from behind. I catch a glimpse of Aspect chasing her, metal legs cracking the ground beneath him with each furious step. I see the murder in his steel eyes.

I flip forward and tip the guard over my hip, slamming him onto his back with a burst of kinetic power. I chase Aspect and the girl into the warehouse, unsure of the rest of the battlefield. I sprint after them using my power but I’m not pushing 60 mph anymore.

The warehouse is a dragon’s cavern emptied of the beast and his horde, a huge, hollow space where the girl’s sobbing echoes off the walls, mixing with Aspect’s grunts and heavy footfalls. The soundscape blends into a nightmarish backing track as I bound after Aspect.

I dive into his back feet first and unleash a large portion of the energy inside, confident I won’t kill the girl with the burst of heat from where we’re fighting. Light and roiling heat hiss across the soles of my boots and into Aspect’s back, and the metal thug shoots across the room like a bullet. He catches himself by slamming his hand into the pavement and swings back around. He charges me in rage, screaming and howling across the dark.

I move the heat from my core into my hands which sets them alight like tungsten filaments in a lightbulb. With shining fists I beat Aspect down. Each strike brings me closer to gassing out and still he doesn’t stay down. He gets back up, he gets back up, he gets back up. Man of steel, indeed.

Shit, shit, shit. I reel back for one more blazing strike. I summon all of the energy I have and release it with my cross along his jaw, praying that the explosive burst won’t kill the girl. The blast resounds in the warehouse, shaking the walls and windows, rattling the rafters, prying dust from the empty shelves and windowsills.

Aspect punctures through the warehouse wall and doesn’t come back.

I fall to my knees, all the energy I held spent. I try to suck some up but my power doesn’t respond. Too heavy, too fast, and now I’m worn out until I can get some rest.

The girl. I call out to her: “Hey? Are you here?” My night vision reveals the shadows to me and I find her crouched behind a rusted shelving unit, clinging to the frame with trembling hands. She slinks behind it when I catch sight of her. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to help.”

The girl holds out her hand. “I don’t know you.” Her accent sounds roughly Middle-Eastern, but I couldn’t give an exact country.

If she shoots those balls of light again and makes a run for it, I’ll probably lose her, and she’ll be on the streets of Houston alone. A trafficked girl with nowhere to turn on the streets by herself. That’ll end well. I need her to trust me.

“Don’t you recognize my voice?” I ask.

The girl’s hand wavers and falls to her side. “I don’t.”

I do have one surefire way to make her trust me. I share a face with the greatest superhero in the world. I pull off my mask and hold my hands out like I’m cornering a wild dog, and approach with cautious, slow steps. “How about now? Putting the pieces together?”

I can’t make out her face in the dark and without my glasses. But judging by her silence, she’s still not figured it out, yet.

“I really gotta spell it out for you, huh?” I stand up straight and put my hands to my hips, and pray that she’s heard of Megajoule. My entire posture changes, I clear my throat and recite his slogan: “Reach, dream, strive, become!”

The girl tilts her head, and says, “Mega…joule?”

I grin and point my finger at her, even as I feel my soul dying inside from the lie. Or is it the truth? “You’ve got it.”

“He… you… you died, didn’t you?” the girl asks.

“I’ve been undercover,” I lie. That’s easier than the truth, that I’m the only clone left from an insane program that wanted more of him. I step closer and the girl does not retreat. “What’s your name?”

“Maisa.” She steps out from the shelves. “Why are you here? What are you doing?”

“Fighting monsters.” I put my mask back on and the night vision goggles bring the world back into crisp 20/20 in a green flash. “Same as always. Now, listen, some agents are coming, and when they get here, you need to go with them, okay?”

“What do I tell them about you?” Maisa asks.

“Just tell them I was a man in a mask-”

“Freeze! FIS!” Flashlights pierce the dark warehouse as a handful of federal agents rush inside. The lights fall on me and Maisa standing next to each other, and the agents aim guns. The lead man, in a tactical vest of his own that has FIS emblazoned on the chest, lifts his hand up and drops his revolver to his side. The gun glints gold from the flashlight beams. “Sir, you need to take off that mask.”

I hold my hands up. Where the hell are Remise and Flashfire? “Did you rescue the other girls?”

“The mask, sir,” the man says.

“The other girls.”

“They’re safe,” he says. “Take off your mask and surrender yourself. You’ll be treated lightly if you comply.”

Somehow, I highly doubt that. Advantages: they won’t open fire with Maisa right next to me. They can’t risk hitting a bystander. The shelving and the dark provide good cover, and I have back up coming – if they haven’t already caught Flash and Remise – which means I should be able to stall for time. Disadvantages: they are all armed and armored, and they’ve caught me while I’m gassed. If I got a breather I could take them on but I’m not sure if I could avoid killing them.

Drone’s voice buzzes into my ear. “Ran some facial recognition on them. Three career agents and the lead guy is an ex-cape named Mr. Gold.

I reach up to my mask, hoping that the movement buys me some time. “You were a cape once, weren’t you? I think I recognize you… Mr. Gold?”

“Agent Javier Aguellar. We can talk former careers in the van,” Mr. Gold says. He levels his gun. “Keep sliding that mask off.”

I dive for one of the shelves, away from Maisa. One of the trigger-happy agents pops a shot off- bullet impacts arm- Mr. Gold shouts, “You’ll hit the girl-” Maisa throws balls of light at the agents, a snap decision that might save my life-

Mr. Gold fires at me four times and warmth plumes above my hip. Blood drips from my jacket. I roll with a small burst of energy and shove metal shelving at the fish, and they scatter, but one of them takes another shot. I try to absorb the energy but the bullet bites into my shoulder and out the other side, giving me nothing but agony.

I reach for a piece of metal on the floor – out of blind luck, it’s a baseball bat. I heft the bat and charge through the darkness at Mr. Gold.

Flashfire speaks over the comms: “Close your eyes.”

I squeeze ‘em shut. Bright light sears my eyelids, so bright that I’m not sure it was enough to keep me from being dazed. Remise howls with laughter as she brawls her way through the agents. Flashfire hooks his hands in my armpit to help me to my feet, setting a throbbing wave of pain from where I was shot.

“Bulletproof, huh?” Flashfire grins.

“Most of the time,” I manage. “Which is more than you.”

“Yeah, yeah, save the pissing contest.” He throws my arm around his shoulder. Behind us, Remise opens up a can of whoop ass on the blinded agents. “Come on, I brought the van.”

I stumble with his support out the back end of the warehouse, through the hole I put Aspect through. The metal thug is nowhere to be seen. Must’ve booked it after the agents showed up. Smart.

I curse a bit. I pushed myself way too hard, too fast, and now we’ve got nothing to show for it. Pandahead scattered, his men scattered, and we don’t even know who was coming to the auction tonight.

Flashfire notices me grinding my teeth. “It’s cool. We can get more leads.” He presses a cloth against my shoulder, the worst of the bullet wounds.

“Yeah,” I say.

We sneak back to the garage. Remise follows after a bit. “They’ll get up in a bit. I already called for backup from one of their comms. Should be here any second.”

“Okay, then those girls are safe,” Flashfire grabs the med kit from the van, pulls the clotting gel tube and fills my bullet wounds. My forearm and my shoulder have exit wounds, but my hip doesn’t. We can dig the bullet out later, when we’re safe.

Remise nods. “I never lost track of them. Good thinking, Gabe, leapin’ in like that. You probably saved those two runners.”

I sigh. The cold gel soothes my pain. “That’s good.” At least I did that. This could’ve gotten way worse.

Remise turns her head toward the stairs. “Speaking of, we have a guest.”

Flashfire and I whirl around, and Flashfire holds his hand out toward the stairwell. His palm begins to smoke, the telltale sign of his power. There’s no incoming threat, no thugs or agents, or hell, even a cape. Just a young, timid Maisa staring at us from the shadows. She emerges gingerly, glances around for danger or a trap, and approaches our van.

I free myself from Flashfire and meet her halfway from our van. “You should have gone with the fish.”

“They didn’t save me. You three did.” She can’t be older than fourteen, and I’d guess she’s UWC naturalized, because her English is very good. Maybe her family fled the Syrian Supers war. Maisa points her finger at me. “You saved me. The girls that ran for the gates would be dead if not for you, Megajoule.”

“She saw your face?” Flashfire asks.

“Yeah.” I wince. I don’t feel good about lying to a kid.

“Are you going after him again?” Maisa asks. Her eyes are steel black, they are daggers, they hide murder.

“We lost our lead,” I say. “I lost our lead.”

Maisa’s expression darkens. Her shoulders shake, her fists clench. “I know who he was going to meet tonight. I want to help you destroy him.”

VOTE ON TOP WEB FICTION / JOIN THE DISCORD

1.1.1

I sit in a cushioned booth at a diner and wait for my friends to call about the location of a human trafficking auction. While I wait I count out the money in my wallet. One crinkled, stained five, a crisp ten, and five water logged one dollar bills. I set them down and sigh, happy I have enough for a good meal, when I catch sight of a news broadcast about Bedevil. She is moving to Houston.

The former sidekick of the world’s greatest cape, Megajoule, is moving here to Houston.

This bit of news slices through my thoughts and exposes my brain to a chilly dread, because I am a clone of Megajoule; the only living reminder of him on this earth.

There’s no audio but they show a picture of her. In that picture, she’s young and bright; golden hair flowing wildly as she flies, arms outstretched like wings. Then, they cut to an interview with her and the difference strikes me on the skull: she’s in layers of make-up and it’s still not enough to hide the bags under her eyes, the mark on her cheek from a fight, and her natural smile now a fake replica of the real thing. Wouldn’t be hard to convince me they killed the girl and replaced her with a depressed clone.

I chuckle into my coffee. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

A voice draws my attention to the booth next to mine. “Wait, I can’t find the money Mom gave us.”

The voice came from a pair of kids, both thirteen by the looks of things. The boy’s real street-tired, the kind of tired accompanying greasy hair poking underneath hats, smudges on the cheek, and dirt in the fingernails. The girl’s bone thin and she’s got holes in the back of her shirt around the sleeve seams. The boy looks frantic, running his hands over and over through his jacket and his pants. The plates on the table are empty and sparkling clean, the cups bear a small ring of water at the bottom that must have been ice.

The girl squeaks out a single “What?” as trembling overtakes her.

“I don’t know, maybe I dropped it? Maybe it’s in the bathroom!” The boy gets up from his seat and runs to the bathroom. The girl shakes and stares at the porcelain remains of her food.

A minute later, the boy comes back in defeat, shoulders slumped. “It’s not there.”

The girl doesn’t say anything. She just stares with the glazed over eyes of someone who is not here, who is only along for the ride, and who just wants to have some kind of control, and can only regain it by completely dissociating from her surroundings. An experience I am uncomfortably intimate with.

My waitress comes back, checkbook out to take my order. Before I can stop myself, I lean over and whisper, “How much is their tab?” I gesture to the kids.

The waitress looks through her checkbook. “$15.87.”

I grimace and straighten my glasses. Counting out my money was a bad omen. “And how much is a coffee again?”

The waitress looks at the kids and back at me again. She looks at the checkbook, and says, “For you, Gabe, on the house.”

I smile, kissing the sweet hope of banana pancakes goodbye, and pull out my wallet. I hand her the $20. “Keep the change.”

The waitress nods, and heads off to close their tab out. I drain my coffee, and before the waitress returns to the table, I head out. I hope that made their day. They looked down on their luck.

I slip into the alley behind the diner, activate my watch’s CCTV scrambler, and put my mask on, ready to tackle the human trafficking ring with my friends.

VOLUME ONE: CAPES AND MASKS

ARC ONE: IDENTITY


Art by Elena Ferroli

 

My jacket thermometer beeps to life and my watch displays how much heat I’ve got restrained inside me. 2500 °C, which is just enough that the surface of my skin only registers at about 100°C.

I convert some of that heat into kinetic energy and vault up to the top of the diner, and from there I bound across rooftops until I’ve got a pretty damn good view of downtown.

Say what you will of Houston. Say it is a cesspool of business, oil, and crime. Say that it is a dead end and that the land it sits on is a bog.

But also say that at night, it shines like a galaxy. You can look into the swirling color of blazing projections on the sides of skyscrapers and see something pristine. The skyline pierces the dark of night like radiant spears. When the morning comes, and you’re left with grimy steel, all you have to do is remember the night before when Houston was beautiful.

Each leap pops and stirs up hot gusts of wind. I time my landings so that I absorb the energy of crashing into pavement. I grin and laugh as I spin into another launching blast to the next roof over, alighting for a fraction of a second before I kick off again, kinetically charging my legs. I soar between the gaps in the skyline.

Orange streetlights and the occasional burst of color from Downtown Houston slice apart the shadows, so that one street is near pitch darkness and the next is neon daylight. My goggles automatically adjust between regular and night vision so that my sight isn’t hampered at all.

My watch buzzes. Incoming call from Drone. I answer and her voice bounces from the watch speaker to the earpiece connected to my goggles. “Thought you were sitting down for some pancakes.”

“You ever tried busting up thugs on a full stomach?” I’m not about to tell my work wife that I got taken for a sucker by some poor kids.

Drone’s voice is almost always deadpan and tonight’s no exception. “I am not a violent person.”

“I’ve seen the video games you play.” When that doesn’t earn me a laugh, I press on to the matter at hand. “Do you have the location of the auction?”

“Yeah, it’s a warehouse, corner of Denver and Sampson. East Downtown. You’re about three miles out. Flashfire and Remise want to meet you there. There’s an abandoned garage just south of the warehouse.”

“You told on me?” I mock betrayal and put a hand to my forehead. “You betrayed me? At what price?”

Flashfire’s voice joins the call: “You thought you were gonna handle this on your own?” I can hear the smirk on his face, but there’s a frustrated edge behind his words. Not the first time we’ve had this conversation.

And it’s not the first time I’ve brought this up: “Yeah, well, I’m the only one who’s bulletproof. Hang on, coming up on 45.” I dance toward the rendezvous. Highway 45 snakes across my path, separating the Third Ward from East Downtown, slicing through the city with a stream of honking, buzzing traffic. The air sings with night-heat for me to absorb and use as more fuel, and with a huge burst of kinetic energy that sizzles the rooftop, I bound over the highway and touch down in the warehouses on the other side.

I check my thermometer to make sure I’m not too hot – I’ve actually gained a bit of heat here and there with landings and gravity, putting my current temp at 2700 °C. I don’t start to radiate light until I top 10k °C in my core, but I’m still wary. A momentary lapse in control could boil my friends and allies alive. My clothing is insular but that only goes so far.

I dive down to the streets and sprint the rest of the way, putting heat into each step. With very careful footing, I dash at about sixty per hour.

The abandoned garage is a four-story shell that bears the mark of a superpowered battle. I’m guessing not from the Anarchy. They would have torn it down if the marks were that old.

Two shadows lurk just beyond the ambient light streaming in through an open rolling door. My goggles switch to night vision as I shoot across the road to the entrance.

Flashfire and Remise give me a thumbs up as I dash into their impromptu hiding spot. “Ten outta ten, my bulletproof bro,” Flashfire says.

Flashfire is dressed in an extravagant costume with a short crimson cape and a mask that always make me think of Darth Vader. A flare gun and flashbangs hang from his hips, and his swat armor, spray painted red, still isn’t even strapped all the way on.

Remise’s outfit is far more inconspicuous. Designed for urban stealth, her leather jacket and jeans are all gray, and a motorcycle helmet covers her face, with special holes cut around her ears so she can hear, and three smaller holes drilled into the dark visor so she can smell. In a thick Scottish accent, she says, “I can smell the breakfast on you. Did ye bring any for me?”

“No pancakes. I didn’t have enough money,” I say.

“Oh ho ho, you said it was because you didn’t want to eat before a mission,” Drone says over the comms.

“Here, I’ll make you pancakes after this is done, then.” I smile through my mask. “Have you seen Pandahead yet?”

“Fuck off,” Drone says. “You can’t cook for shit.”

Flashfire heads up a nearby stairwell, creaky and damp from exposure to the elements from a hole in the ceiling. He ducks onto the third floor “Hearth, up here. There’s a good landing spot directly across from this level.”

“Hearth?” I ask. “Which one of you came up with that name?”

“Maybe if you’d pick a good mask name, we wouldn’t have to,” Remise says.

The mission before this it was Javelin, and before that it was Titan. None of my friends’ names stick. “What’s wrong with Gabe?”

Flashfire leans over the ledge of the garage, studying the warehouse across the road. “Come on, man, that’s just your name.”

No. My real name is a number. My friends know that I’m a clone of Megajoule, but they don’t know that the name Gabe is just a stop-gap over a cold, impartial number: Thirty-One. I almost offered that up as my mask name but just the thought makes me feel hollow inside my chest. “Well, lots of people are named Gabe. It’s not gonna get me pinched by the feds or capes.”

“Remise, you watch out, let us know when the vans arrive,” Flashfire says, retreating from the ledge. Remise nods and takes up a post sitting against the ledge wall. Flashfire continues on lecturing me. “That’s what separates us from the non-masked gangs and the powered thugs, ya know? Really, I wish you’d pick your own name, though. You can’t let other people pick your name. Jerky?”

I sit down cross-legged across from Flashfire, snorting at his sudden turn in conversation. “Is that another name, or are you offering me jerky?”

“Both,” Flashfire says, producing a package from his belt.

“Did ya see that Bedevil moved to Houston?” Remise tilts her helmet toward me. “Do ye think that’ll be a problem?”

I wave my hand. “She lives in a fancy tower and fights super villains and probably travels across the world for missions. She’s not gonna come down to the trenches and fight gangs. What cape does that?”

“Not one I’ve seen,” Flashfire says. “It’s probably fine. I mean, even if she did come down here, you look way younger. Your beard, too. I don’t think he ever wore a beard.”

I pull up my mask and rip open the packaging with my teeth. The tangy-sour spray of preservatives shoots up into my nose. I hack and drop the jerky to the dirty garage floor.

“God, that is offensively disgustin’,” Remise says. “Where the fuck did ye buy that, Flash?”

“Walmart, it’s just beef jerky. Five second rule,” Flashfire says.

“Ah, wait, wait,” Remise says. “Vans incoming.”

I forget the beef jerky and crawl over to the ledge with Remise. Flashfire joins us and we poke our heads up over the wall to get a peek of the auction caravan.

Three box trucks roll up to the warehouse gates, which open automatically to let them inside. Flashfire sucks in his breath, the traffic from 45 fades out into the background, and I watch the box vans wheel around each other in a circle. Men stream out of the vehicles, dressed in black armor and helmets, and carrying assault rifles.

“Yeah, that’s Pandahead’s crew,” Flashfire says.

“This is really him, then?” I ask. “Where is he?”

“Ah… there!” Remise says, pointing her finger over the ledge. I follow the traced line in the air to where she’s pointing and see a man, shorter than the armed guards around him, strutting around with his hands buried in his pockets. He wears a full motorcycle helmet like Remise does, but his is painted black and white to resemble his namesake. His leather jacket swallows him alive and his pants billow, suspended by a very tight belt. He’s got to be 120 pounds soaking wet.

“Really?” I ask. “He’s the big hoss of human trafficking?”

“Yes,” Flashfire says. “Iso says he’s been muscling a lot of the other gangs out of town, and the fish and capes won’t do a damn thing to stop him. They say he has some power over fear.”

The men get the trucks open and drag out young girls of all ethnicities out of the dark interiors. The girls are battered, bound around the mouth with cloth, and the men carry them like sacks of potatoes.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Remise breathes. “I can smell the blood from here. He’s been beatin’ ‘em hard.”

Flashfire growls under his helmet. “We’ll get him tonight. If the feds and the capes won’t, we will. He’s only got half a dozen men.”

A man in a simple tactical vest and camouflage pants exits the back of a truck, and his metallic skin glints under the street lamps. “Who is that?” I ask.

“Aspect,” Remise says. “I’ve heard of him. I think you should take him.”

“I got it.” I’m the only one of the Heroic Underground with anything resembling super strength. “The usual?”

Flashfire nods.

“Can do. I’m on tank duty, then.” I throw them a thumbs up.

“Oh, hang on,” Remise says. “We got company. The feds.”

Flashfire and I peer above the ledge again. Sure enough, an unmarked van rolls down the perpendicular road to the one we’re on and stops by one of the other warehouses. Flashfire whistles. “Holy shit, they’re actually moving in.”

“Or maybe they’re just monitoring the buyers,” I say. “They do that, right?”

“Yeah. Keep track of the buyers, and whatnot.” Remise shakes her head. “It does make it easier if we manage to grab Panda. We just drop him in front of their van. They’d have to do something then, right?”

“Yeah, like arrest us for being masks.” Flashfire groans. “I dunno. Should we just wait?”

One of the girls puts up a real fight, kicking and clawing as Pandahead’s men drag her from the back of a van. A guard butts her across the head with his rifle and she goes limp. Her resistance inspires another girl to make a dash for it, and another. They sprint toward the gate, still open, and the guards aim to kill.

My body responds without my permission. There is a lag between my decision to jump and the action, only in that the decision comes afterward this time. I jump the ledge and rocket across the street, leaving an explosion of hot wind in my place. I crash like a meteor into the warehouse lot between the fleeing girls and the guards, and rise into a crucible of gunfire.

VOTE ON TOP WEB FICTION / JOIN THE DISCORD

Author’s Note

Hello! You may be wondering where Episode One is! Well, I recently did a rewrite of the first arc, which will follow this post on the navigation! However, if you’d like to read the original version, it’s still available to you here: https://inheritorsserial.com/original-arc-one/

Much love 🙂 And unfortunately, the restructure means I lost a lot of comments and likes, so if you’re really enjoying Inheritors please feel free to comment and like 🙂

Click here to begin the rewrite!