Category Archives: Inheritors

1.1.6

The gang hideout burns so hot that not even those that control fire can handle the heat. The members of Dresden could walk along hot coals and be fine, but I would be unbothered if I stood on the surface of the sun. I radiate heat and work my way through the four remaining members in a flurry of hand-to-hand that even Remise would be proud of, relying on my heat-sense to ambush them through the walls. Once they’re down, I drain the heat and kill the fire so the place doesn’t burn to the ground.

I drag the leader — a thick, burly biker type with a handlebar mustache — out of the rooftop entrance while the rest of his gang scatters across the streets. I shout a defiant challenge to chase them down the alleys: “You tell them! You tell them Home Run’s gonna pick apart any gang that works with Pandahead! Anyone who wants to throw down with me, find me on the streets!”

Kistune quickly tucks a flask into her jacket pouch as I drag Mr. Dresden over to her. She lowers her mask, but not before I catch a glimpse of her chin and mouth, and a flash of golden hair underneath.

“Drinking on the job?” I ask.

“None of your business.” Kitsune nods at the leader. “Has he talked yet?”

“Screamed a lot, didn’t ya, big dude?” I tap the muscled biker man with the tip of my combat boot.

Kitsune looks back and forth between the handlebar mustache and then at my goggles. Her mask bobs back and forth and I realize that she’s laughing. She shakes her head and recovers after a few seconds. “Didn’t scream anything specific, did he?”

“Not yet.” I squat down on my haunches and lean over the leader. He whimpers and pulls back from me. “Listen. The fish will be here soon. Do you want to go with them in handcuffs or do you want to go with them in a body bag?”

Turns out even huge bikers can cry. “H-h-handcuffs.”

“Good.” I slap his chest. “Pandahead. Why were you going to his auction?”

“I’m not a pedo!” The Dresden leader looks very intent on making sure I know that. “We weren’t there to buy kids or slaves or anything. That shit’s disgusting.”

“Agreed. So what were you there for?” I ask.

“We were hired to do a hit on him,” the Dresden leader manages between hyperventilating. “We were supposed to melt his metal man and burn him alive inside his helmet. Totally disintegrate him if possible.”

Kitsune plants her white Converse on Dresden leader’s cheek. “Who wanted you to do that?”

“I dunno, some guy, some guy!”

Kitsune presses her foot harder and one of the leader’s fingers snaps out of place by her telekinesis. “Some guy better get more distinct.”

“Definitely an officer of some kind but I don’t know! Could have been fish, could have been police, could have been a cape.” The leader cradles his broken hand in his other arm and whimpers like a dog that just got kicked.

“You took a hit job from a police guy?” Kitsune doesn’t sound surprised or doubtful. She just wants to be certain.

“I don’t discriminate on buyers, man. Just made sure I wasn’t gonna get pooched by the fish or something.”

“No name?” I ask.

The Dresden leader squirms and whines. “No!”

“Where’s the main Dresden hide-out?” I ask.

“They’re already gone, man! The moment you popped that door I put a call in and they scattered, like we’re supposed to do!”

Kitsune growls. “Names.”

Drone’s voice pops in my ear. “I don’t mean to interrupt your date but you’ve got police and fish inbound. And a very grumpy Flashfire waiting to chew you out.”

“We’ve got police inbound,” I say.

Kitsune groans. “Perfect. What are we doing with him?”

“I know a guy with contacts in FIS and the police.” Technically, Iso is Flashfire’s friend, not mine, but still. I slap the shit out of the dude until his ears are surely ringing, and add, “He’ll sing for them and we can get the names from my friend.” If Flashfire’s not pissed at me after this.

I mold some steel from the railing around his wrists, forming a lovely binding they’ll have to pry him out of later. His power wasn’t heat-generation of any kind, as far as I could tell, so he won’t be getting out of this until someone breaks him out.

I follow Kitsune a few blocks over and we sit down on a nearby roof, watching the police move in on the hideout. She offers me some from her flask, but I decline. We sit in silence for a second “So, got a story?”

“Yes. I’m sure you do, too. Doesn’t mean we have to tell them.” Kitsune turns her face away to lift her mask and take a drink.

“Mysterious.” I grin underneath my mask. “Fine. We don’t have to share our life stories. What were you doing here?”

“Stopping a gang of hired killers that nobody was doing anything about. Just like you, really.” Kitsune lowers her mask and pockets her flask.

“Yeah, but why? Did they kill someone close to you?”

“They killed a cape I know. Not someone I’m close to, but enough that I found out where one of their hideouts were and decided to deal with it.” Kitsune faces away from me.

“You’re friendly with the capes?” I ask.

“More than the masks,” she says.

“How much more?”

“Not much more. I’m not keen on seeing one right now.” Kitsune stares at the hideout.

There’s a loud boom over East Downtown as a figure passes over the city and alights on top of the roof as FIS agents swarm through the door. My goggles zoom in so I can get a clearer picture. The cape is Gyrfalcon. Her helmet has a clear visor shaped like a hawk’s beak, and her brown cape billows behind her as she kneels down next to the Dresden leader. She’s one of the Harris Hawks, probably the second most famous team around town.

“Are you happy?” I ask. “With how this turned out?”

“I wanted to kill them all.”

“Why?” I ask.

“They killed a lot of people.”

I’m not like Flashfire. I don’t have a particularly hard stance on not killing my enemies. What I try to avoid is unnecessary death due to my power. I could kill a lot more people than I help with it. I have nothing productive to say about this, so I just keep my mouth shut.

The topic of powers makes me want to know what hers is, though. “You’re a telekinetic.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s a heavyweight power.”

“Kinda ironic that I only weigh one-twenty something.”

“That makes me feel fat,” I say, slapping my belly.

“Fuck off.” Kitsune laughs under her mask. “I saw you take off your jacket, Mr. Olympia wanna-be. You’re proud of those muscles.”

“Got me all figured out, do you?” I stand up. “Are you part of a group? A mask group, I mean.”

Kitsune sits cross-legged and shakes her head. She pulls her flask, turns away to take another slug. That’s when I notice that this is a second flask with pink leopard print.

“Do you want to be?” A telekinetic could be really useful. “We could use help taking down Pandahead.”

“We? I only see you here.” Damn that mask, I can’t tell what she’s thinking! I’m sure she’s thinking the same thing about me, though. “I mostly work alone.”

I don’t really have an answer to that. I’m not going to try and convince this random girl I just met to team up with me if she doesn’t want to.

Kitsune stands up in the light. She watches Gyrfalcon and the FIS remove the Dresden leader from the roof and then looks up at the downtown skyscrapers. She looks at the OPI tower and watches the rotation of heroes until Megajoule’s face dominates the screen, and she turns away, back to me. “Why are you trying to stop Pandahead?”

I don’t feel like I need to explain myself, though I still do. “He hurts children.”

Kitsune folds her hands and balances on one foot, her gaze under the mask the minute hand turned three minutes off from looking right at me. “You care about that?”

“Yes. Always.” My brothers demand it. Maisa and the children Pandahead abused demand it. Children always get forgotten. Teenagers to toddlers, people make a good effort of looking like they’re helping kids and then let them flounder in reality.

There is a moment of uncertainty bundled up by the hot evening breeze where Kitsune kicks her foot and doesn’t say a single word, her hands still folded at her waist, and a single errant strand of golden hair floats outside her mask. The simple fox face staring at me reminds me of a cork on a bottle that’s close to exploding from the pressure inside. Perhaps it’s the striking uptick in the heat in her face or the soft exhale of warm breath as she sighs.

At last, Kitsune reaches into her pocket and pulls out a phone. “Number.”

I give her my number with a sense of relief.

Kitsune pockets the phone and nods. “I’ll text you.” She steps to the edge of the roof and jumps off, and swings her way through East Downtown, toward the center of Houston.

Drone’s voice crackles into my ear. “Do you think that was a good idea? What if she’s like a cape?”

“Why pretend to be a mask? She was actually killing those gangbangers, you know.” I keep an eye on the hideout in case something goes haywire, but fishy business proceeds as usual. There are dozens of agents swarming the roof. “Not that Flashfire will like that.

“This whole thing reeks, Gabe,” Drone says. “How’d she know that the capes weren’t doing anything about this?”

“I don’t disagree. Someone official tried to have these guys take out Pandahead at his own auction. Then FIS was there to watch that happen? Or maybe the guy just pretended to be official and FIS was a happy coincidence?”

“I’ve been digging into it. Still, be careful, Gabe. I think this Kitsune girl could be bad news.”

“Sounds like somebody’s jealous.” I start my journey back to my apartment.

“Yes, I’m jealous of some rando drunken chick poaching a man I barely tolerate away from me.” I can practically hear her rolling her eyes on the other end of the comms. “Let’s be abundantly clear, she could have you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’d not lose a wink of sleep.”

“I don’t even know what she looks like, so how could I even say she was my type?” I ask. “All I could tell you was she had a nice voice.”

“I know your type,” Drone says.

“What’s my type?” I ask.

Drone does not reply.

“Drone, what’s my type?” When she doesn’t give me an answer, I sigh and shut off the comms, and make my way back to my apartment.

The next night, Flashfire stalks in the backyard and practices his striking, more akin to a caged tiger than my best friend. His hands smoke and glow with small bursts of light, a minor, restrained form of his power. The shards of light reveal an angry man waiting for me in brief flashes, and with each successive image, his face twists more and more into fury, until I escort Maisa inside. I turn the back porch light on and the demon is banished, leaving only my friend in its place.

“Gabe, what the hell was that last night?” Flashfire says. “You were supposed to wait for us. Maisa could have-”

I feel the need to mount some defense to my character. “Maisa was sleeping in my bed. I didn’t take her with me. If anything had happened it would have happened to me and me alone.”

Flashfire paces back and forth, and with each step, his palms and soles radiate white light. Nothing that would blind me but enough that it’s painful to look at him dead on. “That’s great, but if you get caught, and then you’re taken back to wherever they hold you, and they arrest the rest of us!”

“I didn’t get caught,” I say.

“If you keep going on your own, you might.” Flashfire stops pacing and faces me head on, his broad shoulders the foundation of our Underground. He sighs and rubs his nose, shakes his head, and walks up to me. He pats me on the shoulder. “I get it. They’re talking about Home Run now, you know.”

“They are?” I haven’t paid much attention to the news, today.

“Iso told me the police and the fish are whispering about the mask named Home Run, and that the gangs are disquieted by a guy that could out-heat a gang dedicated to fire powers.” Flashfire flashes a grin at me. “Good job on that.”

I answer his grin with my own and clasp his naked arm. “It’s fine. I won’t go on my own again. Sorry.” I rub the back of my neck. “I met a new mask last night, she might work with us.”

“I saw your girlfriend on Drone’s camera,” Flashfire says. “I don’t like that she killed those guys.”

“I tried to stop her.” I shrug. “I know you don’t like it.”

Flashfire looks out at the shadowed yard and walks back into the dark. He looks lost for a moment, a man stumbling in the grass as he searches for something I can’t quite see. The porch light casts his muscled back in sharp relief, like an ancient marble statue, and when he faces me again I’m reminded of the statue of David. His voice is breathy, raspy, almost agonized. “I’ve seen it too much.”

“I know.” So have I. So have I. “I’ll be careful. I’m always careful, you know.”

“I know.” He smiles but I can’t quite see it in the dark. “I know you’re trying to make Home Run into something good. I’ll help you. You just need to be careful.” He walks past me and pats me on the shoulder, and heads inside to plan our next mission. Epione’s happy voice greets him as he opens the door and is cut off as he closes it behind him.

I close my eyes, trying to imagine Home Run in front of me. Trying to imagine myself as him. He stands tall, baseball bat in hand, dressed in my mask and my varsity jacket. Beyond him, there’s another man in my mind’s eye, standing with his hands on his waist in a heroic pose and a white cape billowing behind his back. He glances over his shoulder and I don’t know if it’s me or Megajoule that’s looking at me through the visor of his helmet, but I hope it’s me. I hope it’s me, because if it isn’t—

Well, how do I get there?

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1.1.5

I let Maisa sleep in my bed while I tell her I’ll claim the couch. I don’t plan on getting any sleep tonight, actually. I grab my back-up jacket from the closet – a letterman baseball jacket, how hilarious – and step out into the living room, where Doc still watches TV.

“Where are you headed?” Doc asks, turning his attention briefly from his drama.

“Out,” I say.

Doc grunts, and I leave.

I’m not quite sure where I’m headed. I just want to help, somehow. There’s a piece of me that wants to be like Megajoule; to take flight into the sky and set people’s fears at ease. Another part of me wants nothing to do with him. I don’t want to be defined by who he was. I want to be myself. But lately, I wonder if I’m even a good person. Maisa called OPI’s purpose for me blasphemous. Is that what I am? A blasphemy?

I’m scared, too, I guess. As scared as the internet arm-chair commentators. As scared as this city. As scared as the world.

So I go looking for something to distract from the fear. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and if I keep my head down and my schedule full, I don’t have time to wonder if I have a soul or not. I only have time to help other people.

I vault up roofs until I’m staring at the blazing, beating heart of Houston, at her veins filled with the warm glow of cars and sky-rail trains, of her cells waltzing around the streets. Downtown is a paradise. The OPI tower presides over this warm utopia, a huge glass and steel brick of a building. Heroes from the different teams appear on the side of the tower. Krater, Houston’s most famous hero, and leader of the Houston Heroes team. He’s a huge dude, with the mass of at least three bodybuilders.

Bedevil appears after him, and she looks almost stern. Recent photo op, I guess. There’s a soft sadness in her eyes and a tension in her jaw. Despite that, I imagine the people walking around downtown feel safe with her image over them.

And then they parade Megajoule’s face out on the screen, with his trademark slogan: Reach, Dream, Strive, Become. As if those words are simple branding to slap on whatever. As if they don’t mean something desperate and heroic.

Outside of the bright downtown streets, Houston is dark. The buildings rise up to meet the skyscrapers at the center of everything like a gentle slope that rolls out to the Loop trussing the entire inner city up into one package. There are no bright capes on the sides of skyscrapers there and there never will be. The dark belongs to the masks, be they vigilante or villain.

I hold my mask in hand. I turn the name Home Run over and over again in my mind. I’ve never had a mask name. I’ve never had a name that I felt like I owned. But what if I did? What if I built this Home Run person into a hero like Megajoule? What if people whispered my name and waited for the baseball jacket to show up and save them from trouble?

The line of questions fogs my mind and puts that familiar distance between my ghost and my body. Maisa’s questions turn in my brain along with the name Home Run, dirty laundry rattling around in a busted washing machine. Am I just a sum of questions? If I answer them, will I disappear?

The name and the mask give me form. I climbed these buildings as Gabe, maskless and formless, and when I descend down into the dark of outer Houston, I descend as Home Run.

“Drone? You up?” I ask.

The watch buzzes to life and Drone’s voice fills my ears. “What’s up? I thought you were watching out for Maisa.”

“She’s asleep at my apartment. I thought I’d do a little scouting out and see if I can’t put some faces to some gangs. How about that Dresden group?” I ask. “Oh, don’t tell Flashfire. I’m not planning on getting into any fights.”

Drone grumbles. “You know I should tell him.”

“Come on, between work spouses? We’re just gonna take a look.”

“Fine,” Drone says. “But only if you just take a look. If you pick up any heat, figuratively or literally, I’m going to tell them.”

“I can work with that. What do we have on Dresden?”

“A rag-tag group of masks with fire based or explosive powers,” Drone says. “And a tasteless name. They actually have a hideout near East Downtown. Flashfire and Remise were going to go scout it out tomorrow.”

“Tell them not to bother. Fire and explosions I can do.” A small map displays on the inside of my goggle, placed there by Drone’s power. She projects her mind into networks and machines, and as such, she can see through my goggles and watch.

“Lead the way,” Drone says.

I follow Drone’s map into East Downtown. It’s a small tangle of warehouses, abandoned garages, and town-homes and apartment complexes nestled just outside of the heart of Houston, and because of that, it’s almost permanently cast in painfully sharp light. How the people that live here ever get a wink of sleep, I don’t know.
Dresden’s hideout seems to be a small dive wedged between two of these warehouses. I see a dude and a lady chatting each other up by a street lamp and kissing up on each other. “Are those posted guards?” I ask Drone.

“Hang on, running facial recognition.” The watch goes dark for a moment. I watch the couple get hot and heavy, and get a little embarrassed before Drone’s voice returns. “They’ve both got rap sheets, and one of them’s definitely with Dresden. I’d bet both of them.”

“Nice act. I’m almost convinced.” I crouch down on the roof and let Drone scan the hideout. “Any heat sigs?”

“The whole place is too hot to pick anything out,” Drone says. “It’s like the house itself is on fire.”

“Weird-”

“Hold up, there’s somebody else,” Drone says.

My goggles light up with a reticle that shows me another figure moving along the roofs. They jump across the gaps between the buildings with ease, spinning and flipping a lot like I do while I use kinetic energy. They careen off the edge of the gang’s hideout, switch direction mid-air like they’re swinging on a rope, and yo-yo down at the two lovers/gangbangers. The light betrays a red jacket and a white mask before all three disappear into the shadows again, yanked up by whatever grappling hook this mask is carrying.

Fire blossoms on the rooftop and the three combatants disappear in the flames.

“Do you recognize that mask?” I ask.

“Never seen them. I’m not even sure what kind of power they have from here,” Drone says.

“I can’t imagine two on one is gonna go well.” I prep myself for a jump. “Don’t tell Flashfire.”

“Gabe!” Drone shouts into my ear.

“They could get hurt. I’m perfect for this.” I bound toward the edge of the roof. “And call me Home Run!”

I soar across the gap with a sonic burst, landing into hell. Out of the plumes of fire roars a creature with black-iron scales and burning eyes, a maw with two fangs longer than daggers, and leathery wings like a gargoyle. The clothes they might have worn have burnt off, revealing a feminine chest and waist, though still covered in metallic skin. Smoke and lava churn from her mouth, her eyes, and holes in her back and arms, shrouding her in billowing smog so that she’s hard to see.

The gargoyle woman screeches and chases the fox mask — who’s also a girl on closer inspection — across the rooftop, but fox girl keeps her distance, retreating in floating steps and strange spins that would only work if she had some sort of force pulling her back. The soles of her shoes squeak on the pavement.

The other Dresden gang member, the male of the couple, pulls the fire from the gar-girl’s back like puppet strings and throws the flames, hissing and screaming, at the fox girl. She tumbles out of the way just in time.

As I told Drone, I’m perfect for this. The pyrokinetic’s flames only feed me energy and I don’t have to hold back as much since both of these enemies can clearly handle the heat. The only person I’m worried about hurting is fox girl and she’s across the roof. I restrain my kinetic energy and slap the dude across the jaw, followed up by a swift, human kick to his ribs.

The gar-girl is gonna be harder to take down because she’s putting off a huge smoke screen. There’s an interesting component to my power, though: I call it heat-sense. I can feel the excitement and energy from warmth, no matter the medium, and so I can feel things around me even with all my other senses disabled. My range is only about ten to fifteen feet, but that’s enough to get into the smoke screen. The differential between the smoke and the fire makes her position, but I’m still at a disadvantage in hand to hand because the difference isn’t enough for a sharp outline of her arms and legs.

I jump into the smoke and hope my heat-sense is enough to win me the fight, and hope that the fox girl isn’t already burned to death. Forgoing beating her with my fists, I drain the heat from the air as fast as I can, hoping to kill her flames by chilling the air. Fire needs heat, fuel, and air, and if you take any of those away, no fire.

The flames on her arms sputter and die and her smoke-screen dies out. As soon as it does, her head snaps to the left and right in rapid succession, spinning around like a top until it pops straight off. The body slumps to the floor, transforming back into a human body as she dies. The head sails off into the dark, flung by an invisible quarterback.

“What the fuck?” I ask. Is that part of her power? Or did I just accidentally kill her?

The fox girl mask coughs and sputters on the edge of the roof, clinging to the railing. She stumbles to her feet and falls over again.

“Hey, are you okay?” I ask.

Fox girl lifts her mask up a little and vomits onto the roof. Her puke is thin and watery, like she hasn’t eaten a solid meal in a while.
“Uh… are you okay?” I rush over to her side.

She holds her hand out, and an invisible force that feels remarkably like a tentacle wraps around me, squeezing my arms and legs together, and lifts me into the air. “donchu fuckin tush me-” and then she’s back down, throwing up more.

I gag. I’m amazed she has the stomach space for all that. I don’t quite know how to get out of this invisible prison she’s put me in.

Once she’s done puking, she investigates the other half of the couple. He groans and worms around on the ground. He’s hoisted up into the air by an invisible force. She’s telekinetic.

The man floats to the edge of the roof and falls off. I follow him with my thermal sense and feel him crunch awkwardly into a dumpster, and his heartbeat slows, and starts to fade. After a couple of seconds, it stops pumping altogether.

“He- He’s dying. You killed him.”

The chick looks over at the roof and shrugs. “Was aiming for the dumpster. Either way, took out the trash.”

“They’re violent masks that kill people for money.” Her voice wavers as if she’s drunk. Her awkward shamble calls to mind a George Romero zombie, and under the mask, I hear a quiet, constant wheezing. There’s very little heat coming from under her red hoodie or black leggings. “They’d have no issues killing you.”

Her tendrils release me and I drop to the ground. In a flash I’m at her throat, my thumbs hooked into her hoodie collar. She can’t kill me with her powers since I could absorb the pressure of her telekinesis, but she could trap me for a while, judging by her strength. “I needed them!”

Fox girl shoves me back with another telekinetic limb. “Why do you need them?”

“There’s a trafficker named Pandahead. He was supposed to meet with them a few nights ago.” I let go of her collar. “This group knows something about him. Why do you want them?”

“You’re Home Run, aren’t you?” Fox girl turns toward me, studying me from underneath her white fox mask. There are red stripes under the eyes and I notice that her Converse shoes match, red shoelaces and white canvas and white rubber soles. Both the mask and the shoes are dirtied, muddied by heavy use. “Fireproof and bulletproof from what I hear.”

I back off from her. First impressions aside, she’s a mask. Not a thug or a gang banger, but a real honest to goodness mask. We’ve got rules, too. First one is don’t attack someone that might be a friend. “You know my name. What’s yours?”

“Call me Kitsune.” Despite the drunken wobbling, her voice is lovely. Lovelier than Epione’s, even, like she must be a singer of some kind. “And the capes have ignored these dick bags long enough. They kill for money.” It’s discordant hearing that kind of talk from a sweet voice.

“Why would they want to meet with a human trafficker?” I ask.

“Either they were hired to kill him,” Kitsune says. “Or they were actually interested in his stock. Either way, as I said, trash to be taken out.”

“And you’re better?” I have to fight very hard not to kill people. God knows I wish I could let go and hit hard, but Flashfire would never forgive me. “You’re killing, too.”

Kitsune faces me but without being able to see her face underneath, I don’t know what she’s thinking. “This is pro bono work. They would have been paid.”

“Okay, fine,” I say. Some masks don’t kill, some do. That’s not one of our hard and fast rules. Neither is it for the capes, but the masks even less so when we all walk on the wrong side of the law. “Let me keep one. Their leader. Let me get him to talk.”

“This isn’t the main cell,” Kitsune says. “I wanted their leader to talk, too. We want the same thing.”

I take off my jacket. I’m not sure. “How well can you handle heat?”

“Not well,” Kitsune says. “Physically nothing can touch me. Heat is no bueno.”

I chuckle at her butchering of the Spanish language and make my way toward the rooftop entrance into the building, willing some of the heat I’ve got restrained into my hand so that my fingers shine. Kitsune gasps at my molten fist. “Okay, Kitsune. Then, I’ll be right back.”

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1.1.4

Maisa takes to Epione’s McMansion in less than a day. She flits between the rooms, closing doors and opening them, exploring each bathroom and marveling that this one is red and that one has swirly tiles, and that one has the largest shower she’s ever seen. She studies carefully the games that Epione and Drone play together, and she watches Flashfire and Remise spar each other in the backyard.

Kids and teenagers always hit a soft spot in my heart. I’m happy just to watch her be a kid, considering that only days ago she was a product in the back of a box truck.

“What is this painting?” Maisa asks, pointing at a portrait of a strange woman in a blue hair-dress staring out at the viewer over Epione’s grand staircase. When I don’t have an answer for her, Maisa moves on quickly, diving down to the lounging couches in the main lobby of the house, pretend-fanning herself like some pampered noble.

“Who are you?” Maisa asks me as I descend the stairs after her.

“Gabe,” I answer.

“No, I mean…” Maisa pauses and considers her next words. “You told me your name, but you did not tell me who you are. I don’t know Gabe besides his name.”

“Me neither.” I sit next to her on the couch. “I’m not sure how to answer that.”

“Where were you born?” Maisa asks.

“In a lab. In a vat.”

“What did you do when you were a kid?”

“I read a lot of Time’s Magazine.” I remember flipping through the different covers, seeing the one they wrote about the arrival of superpowers, and the one about Foundation and how they saved the American continents from the Anarchy.

“I’ve never read Time’s Magazine,” Maisa says. “Did you have any brothers or sisters?”

The faces of my fellow clones pop into my head and I start to feel the separation between my body and myself. “Yeah. Brothers. The girls… they didn’t let them grow beyond fetuses.”

“What happened to them?” Maisa asks.

I can’t answer that question. But Maisa understands. She understands almost immediately. Maisa knows she and I are two of a kind in that regard, that we’ve both lost the only true family we had. Her brow knits and her lips purse and she shakes her head once. “I’m sorry.”

We fall silent together, not awkward, not melancholic, just… together. She’s a cool kid.

“How long have you been in the States?” I ask.

“Not long. Not long before… before Pandahead,” Maisa looks up. “What all is there, here?”

“You fled Syria, right?” I ask.

Maisa nods.

“Well, there isn’t an occupation,” I say. “There’s ice cream and Captain Crunch. Captain Crunch is amazing.”

“I don’t know why I would like a crunchy captain,” Maisa says. “But I have had ice cream before.”

“Pancakes. There are pancakes.”

“Is there only food in the UWC?” Maisa asks.

“No. There’s places to go, people to see. There’s the capes and OPI.” I think about all of the stuff I’ve seen since I got out of the lab. “There’s Doc.”

“Who’s Doc?” Maisa asks.

“Doc is… Doc is…” How do I explain my relationship with Doc? “Doc is the man that saved me from the lab. Kind of like an uncle to me.”

“I see. I like him.” Maisa grins at me, patting her knees, looking pleased.

I chuckle. “That’s because you haven’t met him.”

“Can I?” Maisa asks.

“Meet Doc? You should keep your head low,” I say. “We all should. We were on the news.”

“But I don’t think I know you yet, Gabe. You saved me and I want to know why.”

I could show her the ways I walk. I could show her the city I see at night jumping between rooftops. Those are the times I feel most alive and most myself. “How about we meet Doc and I show you who I am on the way?”

Night falls and I bring Maisa with me to the living room, where the rest of the Underground is gathered. Flashfire massages Epione’s shoulders while she plays a fighting game with Drone, and Remise sips scotch and watches on.

“Does anyone mind if I steal our informant?” I ask.

Flashfire whirls around and points finger guns at me. “What?”

“Maisa wants to meet Doc.” I neglect to mention the leaping around the city beforehand part. Maisa might give us away, though. She bounces and vibrates in excitement. It’s a very quick turnaround from the girl I found cowering in the warehouse, but she might be one of those people that processes trauma very fast, or processes by moving on to more exciting things. Not sure if that last one is healthy, but who am I to judge healthy processing techniques? King of them, I am not.

Flashfire rubs his jaw. “Yeah. Okay. Don’t let anything happen to her, okay? And try to stick to back roads.”

I nod and cross my fingers behind my back.

A few minutes later, I’m masked and jacketed again, Maisa is piggybacked on my shoulders, and we launch through the sparse woods and McMansion yards guided by my night vision. Maisa gasps as hot air shoots from my body with each bound. I’m very careful that the heat inside me does not burn her. I may be immune to temperature but I know she isn’t.

We sail past a frat party, Maisa laughs and stretches her hand out toward the partiers beneath us, and one of them grins and thumbs up as we soar by. Maisa cackles in my ear.

I launch and spin us in the air with kinetic energy, and we rise on warm currents of air into the city bramble of Houston, where I bounce around the buildings and rooftops while Maisa cheers and clings to me as tight as she can. Together we zip through the urban jungle. For an instant, I am suspended in the bright amber of car lights beneath and skyscraper lights above, all I can hear is Maisa’s laughter and the thrumming of Houston’s heart, the smell of asphalt and burning rubber, the feel of summer night on my skin and energy welled inside me.

There are few moments where I feel absolutely in tune with my body and this is one of them, ferrying this young girl through the city by kinetically bounding my way back to Doc’s apartment.

The Third Ward’s a mess of concrete, fluorescence, and poverty. Shells of apartment buildings crowd around the streets like homeless folk gathered around a fire. In the cracks between those there are stalls and food trucks, slapped together out of scraps to make less than a hundred bucks a day slinging food at people. Liquor shops and other vices fill decaying strip centers with lit-up signs that should come with an epilepsy warning. The ambient noise of cars, sky-trains, and hundreds of thousands of poor people bored out of their mind fills the air. I’m supposed to be used to the smell by now, they say.

Maisa notices the shift in mood between the bright downtown and the Third Ward. She sniffs and I can’t help my chuckle as she finds out what the city streets actually smell like when you aren’t soaring above them. Like sewers soaked in beer and piss.

Doc’s apartment complex is no different than the others: sad, old, about twenty stories high, sheer concrete covered in signs advertising who knows what. Maisa wrinkles her nose at the complex. “Doc lives here?”

“Technically, so do I,” I say. “But I bounce back and forth between here and Epione’s place.”

“I would only stay at Epione’s place.”

I snort a laugh. “Be nice. Doc’s a good guy and he’s done a lot with the place. A lot more than a place like this deserves.” We climb the stairs to the third floor, find apartment 387, and I unlock the door so we can get inside.

Our living room’s way more cozy than the outside lets on. Warm, orange light mixes with the gentle hum of our TV, we have soft, leather couches that you sink into, and Doc knows his way around decor. He scrounged everything here from online listings, garage sales, and thrift stores. The only truly fancy item we have is our oak coffee table. Doc sits alone in one of those leather couches, sinking into the cushion and watching a K-drama.

“Hey, Doc. I brought a friend.”

Doc scratches his cheek and turns to face me. Doc was an old man when I first met him, so very long ago in the facility I called home, so by now, he’s basically hugging his tombstone. His eyes have bags, his hair is thin and white, and his mouth is capable of nothing more than a scowl. Each year of his life put a deep wrinkle somewhere in his saggy face, so he’s like some sort of angry Droopy Dog.

“Saw you on the news, Home Run.” He leans into the name just like Drone did. “At least they didn’t see what you were capable of.”

“I was already burnt out,” I say. “I almost-” I shut my mouth. If I tell him about the bullet wounds he’ll try to take them. “I found this girl, Maisa. She’s helping us take down Pandahead.”

Doc studies Maisa. “Hello. Thank you for looking after my idiot.”

Maisa stifles a laugh. “He is not that dumb.”

“Only because you haven’t known him very long. He’ll get dumber.” Doc rises from his chair like an ancient mummy and shambles over to greet me. The only sharp part of him is his glare, which falls on the bandaging around my arm, and the lumps under my shirt hiding the other bandages. “How bad are they?”

I try to wave him off. “Don’t trouble yourself. They’re not bad-”

Doc cuts me off by seizing my hand. His eyes widen. “You got shot? Three times!” Doc swats at my forearm. “You stupid… fuck…”

I rip my hand free with a small burst of kinetic energy. “Hey, Doc, back off. There’s nothing to trouble yourself over. Epione already clotted the wounds.”

Maisa doesn’t look like she knows how to handle this argument.

Doc grumbles and leaves me alone, retreating to his post in the living room. “Why’d you bring her here?”

“She wanted to meet you.” I look down at her, rubbing my wrist where Doc snatched it. There’s no pain but I can’t help it. Feels like my dad just slapped me around a little.

Doc reclines into the couch and fumbles with the TV remote to unmute his late-night Korean drama. I wish I knew what to say to him, sometimes.

“I don’t like this Home Run stuff,” Doc says at last. “It could draw too much attention to you. You could stop this mask stuff altogether. Could just date somebody. Or get a hobby. For my sake.”

I struggle not to scoff and roll my eyes. “Yes, because girls are just tripping over themselves to be with the social black hole of a guy who came out of a vat and learned his ABC’s from people with seven Ph.D.’s and got most of his culture education in the form of Time Magazine’s greatest hits.”

Doc doesn’t say anything after that, content to watch his drama. There’s a gulf between us I don’t know how to cross.

I lead Maisa to my room. It’s not anything special. There’s no decorations or stuff, just a bed, a desk covered in books, and a dresser. A closet full of used clothes. Plain as can be.

Maisa eyes my books. She picks at the pile, pulls a copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions and skims through it before giving up and setting it back down. “He said you would draw too much attention to yourself. Did he mean because you’re Megajoule’s clone?”

I sit down on my bed and nod, and shrug. That’s about all the truth there is to it.

Maisa pauses and looks like she wants to say more.

I wave my hand. “Out with it.”

“Did you ever meet him? Did he ever say anything to you?” she asks.

“I did, once. Through a window. So, actually, no. Not really.” I shake my head. “But he did have lots to say to me. He left me videos. Vlogs, diaries, whatever. They were supposed to help me.”

“Did they?” Maisa ask.

“Not really.” I look down at my boots, notice the lace is undone, and fix that.

“Why?”

“Jesus, kid, you come out of the womb with a crowbar?” I ask.

Maisa snickers, which slowly dies into a sad chuckle, and her face sags into a melancholy. “Mom always said that I put my nose in too many things.” She sinks into my desk chair, her shoulders slumped, her head hanging. “He took everything from me.”

I can’t help but see my brothers in her place. Just kids with their lives stolen from them. No powers, they were liquidated. I’m the only one left. “We’ll get him. I’ll get him.” I stand up and rifle under my bed until I find my laptop, and pop that down on the desk in front of her. “Look. I’ll show you a video. One. And you’ll see why I don’t watch them anymore.”

Maisa gets a kiddish flash of excitement, but she tempers herself and gives me a solemn nod instead. I open the laptop, open the folder on my desktop that says Megajoule Vlogs, and find the video I gave up on. “This isn’t easy to watch.”

The Megajoule in this video is the antithesis to the Megajoule the world saw. The world saw a bright, composed Superman who always had it under control, who always saved the day, and who always had a smile on.

This Megajoule? Unkempt stubble, his short hair matted. Deep bags under his eyes. He scowls at the camera as the video starts.

“I… uh… Gabe…” He falls silent. Then he taps his chin and looks up, lost in thought. Maisa stares at him, but glances at me, probably to do a quick comparison. “You… they tell me you’re doing well, in the physical examinations.” He stops and looks away from the camera, his expression dour. “I don’t know how old you are now that you’re watching this… but you probably don’t have a father figure or anything like that in your life. I just want you to know that no matter what you do or what you become, whether you even master these lessons they make me give to you, I’m proud of you. ”

There’s a hole inside me. My throat tightens and tears well in my eyes, and I feel guilty that part of me despises him. I wish I’d known him. I really wish I did.

“That probably sounds masturbatory to an onlooker, considering we are the same person. But…” He looks straight at me, through the camera. “We’re not, are we? You and I are different people. I’m Julian, Megajoule. You’re Gabe. I want you to find your own path. If that’s as a hero, and I imagine it will be if you’re anything like your old man, then do it. Chase it. Whatever your heart wants, Gabe, all I want you to do is reach out and seize that. Reach. Dream. Strive. Become.” He coughs, and his cheeks glisten with tears. “I’m a very big fan of an old scientist and orator named Carl Sagan, from the 20th century.” He pulls out a little notebook from under the table. “I wrote down a few of his quotes that I’d like to share with you.”

He clears his throat and continues. “For as long as there have been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. This perspective is a courageous continuation of our penchant for constructing and testing mental models of the skies; the Sun as a red-hot stone, the stars as a celestial flame, the Galaxy as the backbone of night.”

Maisa tilts her head, utterly enchanted by the man on the screen.

Megajoule turns the page in his notebook. “And this quote as well: If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” He shudders and puts the book away. Clearly, these quotes moved him. “I beg you, question with courage, and plunge deep to find answers. Whatever path you walk, do so with a healthy mind. Do it with a clear heart. That is how we become worthy. That’s how you fight the fear-”

“Julian.”

A man’s voice cuts through Megajoule’s monologue like a knife. He stops, gasps, and looks beyond the camera. He shakes his head, and the video ends.

I close my laptop. “I stopped watching his videos because I realized that he wasn’t the one calling the shots. He wasn’t the stalwart hero everyone thought he was.”

“What is the fear?” Maisa asks.

I shrug. I know very little about Megajoule’s real life. “Dunno who the guy cutting him off was, either.”

“Are there more videos?” Maisa asks.

“Yes.”

“Will you watch them?”

I put my laptop back under the bed and cover the gap with the blanket, intent on burying the computer for as long as I can. “No.”

“Why?”

“I’ve seen all I need to.”

But in truth, I’m afraid of those videos.

VOTE ON TOP WEB FICTION / JOIN THE DISCORD

1.1.3

Flashfire is the Heroic Underground’s leader, but Epione, our team medic and Flashfire’s girlfriend in that order, is the money. That’s never more apparent than when his raggedy van grumbles up to the driveway of Epione’s house, which is a McMansion on MacGregor near the University of Houston. The McMansion stands in a row of others like it, but only Epione’s lawn is neat and well cared for, and only her house is silent while all the others emit loud EDM music and the sounds of high octane frat parties.

I’ve always been a little confused as to how Flashfire and Epione ended up together. She greets us at the back door with a large, demure smile, prim and proper. She’s drop-dead, too, and I mean that. She could have been a model if she wasn’t a med student. Bright green eyes, brown, voluminous hair, and perfectly sculpted cheeks. Her voice is summer sweet when she speaks: “Hello.” She glances at Maisa and pauses. There’s a second of hesitation before her expression realigns into one of surprise. “Who’s this?”

Flashfire takes off his helmet, revealing his bushy hair matted down by his hat. He’s also strikingly handsome. Could have been a model, too. “This is Maisa. We rescued her from Pandahead.”

“She’s gonna help us nail him,” I say.

Epione stares at Maisa for a second longer before the demure smile returns. “Neat.”

“Also, Gabe has a bullet in his hip,” Flashfire says. “Could you dig that out?”

Epione looks at me. She frowns. “Double neat.”

Maisa stares at Epione’s kitchen like she’s climbed up a beanstalk to get here and now watches giants at work. Glittering marble counter-tops sprawl and golden knobs — real gold — adorn the cabinets and drawers. The kitchen island has a stove top and plenty of room for chopping vegetables, but the marble is stained red from past surgeries, and that’s where Epione sits me. “Off with your jacket and shirt.”

My shirt and leather jacket stick to my skin, slick with blood, but thanks to the clotting gel Flashfire put in my wounds, I don’t bleed more. I strip out of the bloodied clothes and replace my mask with my glasses.

Epione tsks me when she sees the wounds are filled. “You know I’m going to have to remove the gel. It’s gonna hurt.”

“Yeah.” I grit my teeth. “Let’s get on with it, chief.”

Remise takes off her helmet, too. She’s Scottish as Scottish can be, from her straw red hair to her freckled face like God got generous with the spice shaker. Her grins are wide, friendly, with an undertone of stark raving mad. “Right. Let’s hear it, kid. What ye got for us?”

I hold my hand out. The poor kid’s been traumatized, and despite her earlier resolve to bring Pandahead down, I can’t imagine she’s ready to hit the pavement already. “Give her a sec.”

Maisa whirls around to Remise. “One of the guys was talking that Pandahead was going to auction us off to a couple of gangs. He said they had buyers from the Storm Knights, the 2nd Amendment, Shortfin, El Poder, and Dresden.” The fervent look is back and she whispers the names again after she says them, the automatic response of someone who repeated a list over and over again until it was burned into their memory.

Well, what the fuck do I know? Epione pulls her med kit from the storage room behind her fridge and starts preparing a lot of sharp, steel implements that I really shouldn’t be afraid of anymore. I grimace as she brings them over. To keep my mind off it, I say, “One of those is a cape, right?”

“Yeah, Shortfin,” Remise says. “Famous here for a while, before Krater and the Houston Heroes. He retired right around the time I moved here, actually. The rest are gangs I’ve heard of, usual Houston fare.”

“Can’t imagine what 2nd Amendment wanted with them, though.”

Epione pauses and furrows her brow at the mention of the 2nd Amendment.

“I don’t think they were there to buy slaves. Saw Off hates that shit as much as we do,” Remise says. “Probably they were gonna light the place up.”

I chuckle. I’ve never met them but everyone knows about the 2nd Amendment’s lack of trigger discipline. “Yeah, that sounds like them.”

Epione shakes her head at the bullet hole in my hip. “Burn out again?”
“I went a little hard on them-” I start, but as I talk, Epione digs a scraper through the clotting gel in my hip, pulling it out in one clean blow that sends shockwaves along my nervous system. “….ffffffuuuuuuccckkkkk.”

“Big baby,” Remise says, grinning.

“How did those bullets hurt you, Megajoule?” Maisa asks. “And how did you end up here?”

Ah, shit. Time to pay the piper. “Listen, Maisa? I’ve… thanks for telling us which gangs were going to be there. I’ve got to be honest with you about something and I totally get it if it upsets you.”

Maisa scrunches her face up and I’m not quite sure what she’s thinking. After a moment, she nods.

“I lied. I’m not Megajoule.”

“Why did you lie?” Maisa’s expression darkens.

“To get you to trust me. I’m sorry. I didn’t know if that metal guy would come back and hurt you, so I’d hoped you’d follow me and I could get you somewhere safe until I was sure he was dealt with.”

Epione digs around more in my wound and changes out her scraper for a scalpel. “I’m going to soothe you, now. Otherwise, this is going to hurt.” She places her hand on my shoulder and the deep ache in my hip, shoulder, and arm fades away to a pleasant warmth.

Maisa’s brow furrows, and she kneads her pants with her hands, very lost in thought. After a moment, she says, “Explain. Why do you look like him?”

Thank God, I figured she’d want to leave right away. I heave a sigh. “Very few people know what I’m about to tell you. I’m not Megajoule: I’m his clone. Do you understand what I mean?”

Maisa shakes her head.

“It means they made me to be like him. I wasn’t born. I’m like lab-grown chicken.” I smile a little at my own analogy. I can feel the pressure from Epione’s knife but not the bite.

“That is very strange.”

“You’re telling me, kid,” I say. “Anyway, that’s it. I’m sorry you got mixed up in this.”

Maisa is lost in thought. Her brow wrinkles and tightens more. “Why?”

“Why what?” I ask.

“Why did they make you?”

I rub the back of my neck with my good hand. “Megajoule was really important to them. They made me – and quite a few others- as a back-up. When he died, they asked me to take over his job.” And his name, his marriage, his life. Pretend to be a husband, pretend to be a father. Maisa would never understand that kind of thing.

“Fraud,” Maisa says.

Well, I guess she does.

“Yeah, fraud. Identity theft. I couldn’t do that. It’d be wrong.”

“Blasphemous,” Maisa says.

“Yeah.” I start to recede again, slipping away from my own body. The longer I think about him the more distance there is between me and everything else. The wider the gulf, the more hollow I feel. Every second of him is one less of me. “Yeah. Blasphemous.”

Flashfire returns from the other room with Drone, laptop under one arm and sloppily dressed in pajamas. She’s got little care for her appearance in general, actually. I’m not even sure she owns makeup, unlike Epione who applies it with all the skill of a genius artist. Her curly afro is flattened on one side, an almost permanent case of bed-head.

Drone yawns and shakes her head as she sees me sitting on the counter shirtless and bloody while Epione tears into my hip. Her presence draws me out of the void and plants me back in my body.

I grin at her and flex one of my arms. I’m a fairly muscular guy, I work out a lot, and I keep in shape for mask work, and sometimes it’s nice just to hit a flex when you’ve got it. “Like what you see?”

Epione’s knife suddenly bites hard, making me hiss from the pain. Epione’s face does not betray her but I can just tell she’s stifling a smirk.

Drone cackles. “Yeah, I love it.” She trudges up to the counter and opens her laptop. “Dear husband, you’ve made the news tonight.”

“Oh, really?” It’s not rare for a mask to make the news if they do something noteworthy, like, say, attacking a squad of fish. I haven’t had my fifteen minutes of fame yet, so it’s a little exciting.

“You two are married?” Maisa asks.

Drone grins back at her and shuffles black curls out of her eyes. “Only on the clock.”

Maisa doesn’t look like she understands the concept.

“We’re work spouses.” I laugh. “When I’m wearing my mask, Drone’s practically my wife.”

“Why do you not actually get married?” Maisa asks. “If you get along so well.”

Drone chuckles and nods. The girl doesn’t know about the concept, so she’s just moved onto the next topic. “Where you from?”

“Syria,” Maisa says. “Until recently.”

“You a refugee?” Drone asks, her expression softening. “Do you have family?”

“Yes.” Maisa frowns. “I don’t wish to talk about that.”

“We can get you back to them,” Remise says.

“No. You can’t.” Maisa trembles, her eyes water and her nose reddens, and furious tears wet her cheeks.

The friendly atmosphere of Epione’s kitchen chills from that comment. No one misses the implication, not even Epione. Pandahead took everything from this girl. Drone’s smug smile vanishes, Remise locks eyes with the tiles, and Flashfire makes a sound like someone punched him in the chest.

Maisa wipes her cheeks and changes the subject. “If you are made like him, why are you bleeding?”

“I’m a bit disappointing, huh?” I chuckle. “He could do a lot, but so far I’ve only managed to control thermal and kinetic energy. If I go too hard I risk hurting people with shockwaves and the heat stored in my body, so I hold myself back, and it takes a lot of effort. So much that I gas myself faster than I would if I was just cutting loose.”

Epione pulls the bullet in my hip out in one piece and ends her soothing touch, leaving me with a painful throbbing sensation in my gut. “Strange. It’s gold.”
“Mr. Gold,” I say. “Did you find out what his power is, Drone?”

“Aurekinesis. Gold manipulation.” She returns to the island and opens her laptop up to the internet.

“Clever,” I manage without rolling my eyes. Cape names are always cute.

“More importantly, check out your mug, Home Run.” She leans into the last words hard with a smirk and turns her laptop around so I can see. Front page of Houston news media is a waist up shot of me with a bat in my hand, sprinting out of the darkness. From the angle, I’d guess they got the image from a body camera, probably on Mr. Gold.

“Home Run?” I read the article associated with the picture.

Earlier this evening an unknown group of masks interrupted an investigation by the Federal Investigative Services. The team were on site as part of a sting operation on a human trafficking ring and had hoped to make a bust that was thwarted by the masks.

The article also has a picture of Flashfire, Remise, and worst of all Maisa, who had no mask on at all.

The leader of the group, currently dubbed Home Run by FIS, attacked federal agents when ordered to take off his mask, according to an FIS representative, and was backed up by the other two masks seen here. The group is believed to have abducted the young girl in these photos.

“Ouch.” That’s gonna be bad news. We might have to keep our heads down low.

“They think you’re the leader,” Flashfire says. “That’s cute.”

“Only because I’m taller than you.” I grin at him. “Whatever. There’s so many masks in Houston, we’ll drop off the radar in a week or two.”

“It’s the abduction part I don’t like.” Flashfire shakes his head, and strikes the pose of the Thinker while fumbling his helmet around in his free hand. “I think we need to drop you off at a fish center, kid.”

Maisa scowls and shakes her head. “No. You’re fighting Pandahead, right? You’re the one who will bring him down, right? I want to see it happen myself. I know how these things go. I won’t see justice if you take me to these agents.”

I turn the name Home Run over in my head. Maisa is desperate to see Pandahead brought to justice but I wonder if we’re the ones to do it. Really, I wonder if I’m the one to do it. Megajoule could’ve swooped in there, saved those girls, and apprehended Pandahead in one go. I barely managed to save the girls.

Flashfire, in the meantime, is clearly deep in thought over Maisa’s plea. I don’t blame him for being cautious. He is our leader and he’s got to think about the entire Heroic Underground, not just Maisa’s thing. After a moment, he puts his helmet on the counter, gets down on one knee in front of Maisa, and smiles at her. “Here, let’s talk about it in the morning, then? I’m sure you’re hungry and tired.”
Maisa looks at me, and at Drone, and then back at Flashfire. She nods. “Mostly tired.”

“There’s plenty of soft beds,” Flashfire says. He walks her out of the kitchen.
Epione fills the bullet holes with clotting gel and covers them with bandages for extra support. “There you go!” She smiles her demure smile and stands up.

“Thanks, Ep.” I shuffle off the counter and stand on my own two feet. The clotting gel works its anesthetic magic and fills my stomach with a minty cool sensation. I roll my shoulder and it responds without complaint. In a few days, I’ll have a couple of scars and little else to worry about. “Are we pursuing this stuff?”

“I think we should keep our head down a bit,” Remise says. “But at the very least, I’d love to kick the Storm Knights’ collective teeth in.”

“I’m all for you bashing some neo-Nazis.” Drone closes her laptop.

Flashfire returns in casual dress. He’s got a fresh shirt for me to wear, but it’s one of his, so it ends up that if I move my arms around my midriff shows. Still: “Thanks.” I grab a beer from Epione’s fridge. Flashfire opens the door to the backyard. Remise grabs both of them beers and the three of us head outside, while Epione and Drone dip out to play video games together.

The streets are dead, the lamplights flicker, and the air’s heavy with a thick glaze of humidity. There’s no better climate for a cold beer, even if that beer is pig shit. I turn to Flashfire and Remise. “So. Home Run. What do you think?”

“I don’t like it,” Flashfire says. “That’s a villain’s name.”

“I didn’t even attack them,” I say. “Besides, don’t you want me to have a mask name?”

“They think Home Run is a bad guy.” Flashfire drinks more of his beer. “The name’s got a ring to it, I’ll give you that. But that’s the name of someone they’re scared of.”

Names come and go for me. Water flowing over a gaping wound, meaningless without something to knit the damn thing closed. Home Run feels like knitting. None of the names the Heroic Underground tried to give me have stuck, but a name the media and FIS gave me just might. “What if I make it a name that people are happy to hear?”

“Your first impression’s gone.” Flashfire takes another swig and then shrugs. “But man, it’s your name. I’d be happy for you to have one at all besides Gabe or maskhole.”

Remise grins. “I’ve always been fond of maskhole.”

We drink with steady pace and chat for a while but after a bit Remise retires, leaving Flashfire and I alone after a bit. After a second we fall into companionable silence.

“Kinda want another beer.” I stand up.

“You’re gonna get fat,” Flashfire replies.

“Pot meet kettle. You want one?” I ask.

“Nah. Got a lot on my mind.”

I pause for a minute at the door and then return to his side. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, really. Just this girl and Pandahead. Did it strike you as weird the set up for tonight?”

I shrug.

Flashfire finishes his beer in one big gulp and tosses the bottle into the yard. After a second he goes out and picks it up. “The guy was beating them in the truck. I saw the blood stains. He had like… what… a dozen girls? For three gangs and an ex-super. That’s not a lot, you know?”

“Yeah, that does seem weird.” I take his bottle for him and put them in Epione’s recyclables. “FIS was there, too. Maybe it was a sting?”

“You mean Pandahead working with FIS?”

I shrug.

“Yeah, I could see it.” Flashfire sits down. “Back when I served, they always did shit like that. Fishy shit. Wanted to negotiate with guys torturing my brothers and sisters because those guys could get them bigger guys that OPI or the UWC wanted bad.”

I snap to attention. It’s really rare for Flashfire to talk about his time in the military. He served absolute minimum as far as I know.

Really rare. Flashfire shakes his head and I know that’s all I’ll get out of the story.

“You sure you don’t want another?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “The name. Be careful, man. Names are important, you know?”

There’s not much for me to say to that, so I fall silent and sit next to him, and we watch the moon travel slowly amid the stars.

VOTE ON TOP WEB FICTION / JOIN THE DISCORD

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!