Part 4

29. Artificial Gravity

Okay, this is it. Attempt number two: kidnapping. And it’s going to be in broad daylight and in public, so nobody can mistake what I’m doing. I scan the street for a likely victim.

There’s a woman pushing a fairly expensive looking stroller; designer dress, designer shoes, designer purse. Everything says money. It’s not like Kate and I need money, but that’s how kidnapping is done. Now to make sure lots of people see me.

“You there!” I point, then float her and the stroller up about fifteen feet. The baby squeals with glee and the mother gasps. I put on my best evil voice. “Now …”

There’s a sudden bang and the light post she’d been standing next to crumples. It’s now one with an SUV. The people start cheering. Oh no, not again.

“Did you see how he saved her?”

“It was awesome!”

“Isn’t that what’s-his-name, the hero that Melanie Chambers introduced last night? Gravity Guy, or something like that?”

“No, Artificial Gravity! Yay, Artificial Gravity! I feel safer with you around!” Nothing like having my own words parroted back at me. I set the woman and her child down and fly over to see if the SUV occupants are all right. This is going to be a long day.

30. Sexy Beast

Kelly meets me after school. Rush hour is just starting and the crowds are starting to build.

“So what’s the caper, Sexy?”

I kind of wish she wouldn’t call me that; she seems to mean it a little too personally. But it is the name I let her choose for me.

“Just a good old-fashioned rampage, Kelly. I’m going to run down the street and scare people. I’ll get to the corner, then go a couple of blocks west on Mallory. Meet me in the alley behind Charlton’s Electronics. If anybody’s chasing me I’ll ‘kidnap’ you. Got it?”

“Sure. Now give me your stuff.”

I hand her my purse then strip off my sweats and sandals. I went commando today because it’s easier. Kelly’s staring again, but she is putting everything in her backpack like she should. I shift to werebear form; once Kelly’s got a good head start toward the rendezvous point I charge out into the street snarling.

I get the reaction I wanted. People are panicking and running. I lunge at several of them, but my bear form isn’t as fast as a scared human. I’ll have to switch forms. Luckily I’ve been working on that. I do a forward tumble that causes my hair to fall over my face as I shift to human, then in a single fluid motion I’m back up and in wolf form.

I spot a couple of guys talking on the street, somehow totally oblivious to me. I think I’ll savage them a bit; nothing lethal, but enough so they know I mean business. I snarl and run at them.

One guy runs; the other drops his gym bag and pulls out a knife. A knife? Are you kidding me? I’m on him in a second and he stabs me. I twist so the knife is pulled out of his hand and snarl right in his face. I can smell his fear mounting as I snap my teeth right near his nose a few times.

When I’m sure he understands how seriously he’s been threatened I head off in search of new targets. I hear a shout and something small and fast moves into my field of vision. Instinctively I catch it and pick it up in my jaws, an instant later remembering to use my hands too.

There’s a screech as a car stops, barely missing me. I snarl at the driver then look down at what I’ve caught.

“Wheeee!” It’s a kid, maybe three years old.

A woman runs up to me. “Thank you! You saved my Jeffrey! How can I thank you?”

Look scared, lady, that would be thanks enough. But she doesn’t. She’s more concerned about her child. I give her back the boy. Clear of that bit of sentimental messiness I leap off to find others I can threaten.

A guy walks out of a shop not looking where he’s going and I bowl right into him. He looks angry for a moment and then throws his arms around me. I smell … wolf?

He keeps hold of me while he transforms. He’s a real wolfman! His shirt breaks open but his pants stretch. He barks at me and I understand him.

“A girl? Fantastic! Wait here while I get you some meat.” He lets go of me and leaps at a woman and child.

I’m on him in under a second. I’m no murderer, and I’m not letting this bastard kill for me. We roll on the ground a bit, wrestling and biting, but neither of us does any real damage.

“What are you doing? They’re just animals! After we eat we can make puppies!”

“They’re people, asshole! And I’m not your mate. I’m not even your species!” I tuck my head into his chest and start to shift. Two seconds and two shifts later he’s wrestling with a rhino.

He takes off like I was a teenage girl who’d just told him she’d missed her period. I bellow and run off; luckily I’ve reached the alley.

What now? I can’t see too much in the way of details, but it looks like Kelly is being harassed by a bunch of overweight hippies in leather. I move a bit closer and she calls out.

“Sexy Beast! Help!”

I get the impression they’ve turned towards me. Damned rhino vision. I hear a gunshot; a big one. The characteristic ka-chunk afterwards tells me it was a shotgun. I barely felt it, but it still pisses me off. And what does an annoyed rhino do? I charge.

Something big, several somethings actually, are in my way. I run through them, smashing them aside with my horn and my bulk. Motorcycles. Mister shotgun bounces another slug off me, and his friends are firing small arms. I ignore them. The shotgun guy is bodily lifted and flung when I hit him. I thrash around and a couple of more bikers get knocked into things.

They seem to be out of fight. Even with my lousy eyesight I can see them running away. There’s only one target left, and she’s talking to me. “Thank you Sexy Beast! You saved me!” It’s Kelly’s voice.

I stare at her and snort. She whispers, luckily my hearing’s pretty good. “There’s people with cameras coming. We’d better get out of here.”

She’s wobbling a little so I pick her up and run. It didn’t quite go the way I planned, but there was plenty of mayhem.

31. Artificial Gravity

Okay, how about property damage? I can do that. My powers can probably smash anything. I fly down the street looking for something suitable to destroy. It has to be valuable, but I don’t want to actually kill anybody. Dad always told me that threatening was good, but if you kill non-combatants you cross a line that you can’t return from.

The Anderson Building. It’s an architectural landmark but it’s been condemned. Blasting it wrecks some of the city’s history, and it’s instantly recognizable.

I fly up to the building and activate my power. Bits of masonry start falling off the building. There’s a crack and a pop and I can see it starting to come apart. People are looking at me as the five-storey structure starts vibrating, windows cracking and shattering.

“Look, the Anderson Building’s collapsing!”

“That hero is trying to contain it! Yay!”

What the heck does it take to be seen as a villain in this town? I’m about to start actively crushing the place when I hear screams. They’re coming from inside the building. Shit!

I try to stabilize the place a but it’s coming apart on its own now. The fire escape lets go; there are three people on it and a kid is thrown free. I catch him and start him floating down. Then I float the other two off and down. As the wall falls away I see a woman with a baby inside. I get them out of the wreckage but can already see more.

This isn’t working; there are too many people. I float a section of roof about fifteen feet square and begin ferrying people onto it. That’s a lot faster than lowering them to the ground.

By the time I’m done I’ve pulled over two dozen homeless people and runaways of various descriptions from the wreckage. The building is totally destroyed. I help the firefighters contain the destruction and I can already hear the people praising Artificial Gravity for all the good work he’s done today. Who knew it was so hard to become public enemy number one?

32. Leandra Moon

We break the pattern tonight and Sandra comes over to my place to study. Mom’s happy enough about it and gives Sandra some dinner too. When we get up to my room she visibly relaxes.

“It’s nice to be able to talk without eavesdroppers.”

She seems to have gone weird on me. “What are you talking about, Sandy?”

“Have you ever noticed that cell phones don’t work in your house?”

“Yeah. It’s like we’re in a permanent dead zone.”

“You are. Your Mom uses her power to stop all radio in or out. The place is as close to unbuggable as you can get on this planet.”

“How do you know that, Sandy?”

“Because Hawk whines about it all the time and won’t let me come here unless forced to. I’m Peregrine.”

“You’re Peregrine?” I would have been less surprised if she’d said she was from Mars. Peregrine is mostly a name people have heard; people know she’s a girl and that she’s Hawk’s sidekick, but there aren’t many pictures of her. No good ones.

“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, please. You, Jake, Hawk and I are the only ones that know. And I know who your parents are and who Jake’s dad is. You and Jake are both on my Watch List.”

“And that’s why you’re being nice to me?” At least the betrayal is out in the open.

“No. I’m nice to you because I like you. My job for the last three years was to rat out anything you do that looks like super villain activity. I haven’t seen any yet, so I report on the mundane stuff.”

“But you don’t trust me.”

“You? I trust you; if I didn’t trust you I wouldn’t be telling you this. It’s Hawk that has me worried. He’s so damned paranoid he tries to watch everyone! He’s implanted listening devices in my body! The only time I get any privacy whatsoever is when I’m in a dead zone or when the damned things are doing diagnostics.”

“I suppose you’re right. It’s just that I’m finding out about so many secrets recently.”

“That’s because your powers are awakening. Hawk is terrified of that but won’t even tell me why.”

“Mom told me something about that. She says I’m related to Mistress O’Payne.”

“Duh. You could be her clone. But rather than make guesses without information, why don’t we try to find out who gassed you last night?”

“Okay. What do we do?”

I have no idea what to do at this point; I never even watch CSI or any of those crime shows. It’s good for me that my friend is apprenticed to the greatest detective ever. The first thing she does is put a drop of lemon juice on my sheet. Nothing.

“Why isn’t there a reaction?”

“Dad changed the sheets while I was showering.”

“That was convenient. Anything he didn’t change? Laundry? Anything else silk?”

I was a bit embarrassed to show her my laundry, but the specific mention of silk gave me another idea. “Would a silk plant do?”

“If it’s real silk.”

I hand her the plant and she presses a cotton swab into it several times. After that a drop of lemon juice on the swab turns brilliant emerald green.

“That means they used it, right?”

“Right. In fact, that means they used a lot of it. Two or three times the normal dose.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Either they thought you were resistant or they wanted to cause permanent damage.”

“Permanent damage?”

“Overexposure to the gas can trigger post-traumatic stress.” She jumps down and lies face first on the floor. “Pass me a flashlight, please?”

“What?”

“A flashlight. There’s one in my backpack, left side upper pocket.”

I open the indicated pocket and there’s a flashlight. I guess it’s kind of like a purse; a girl knows where her stuff is. I pass her the flashlight and she starts shining it along the floor.

“Crouch down and follow the flashlight beam. Let me know if you see anything strange.”

“You mean aside from a girl lying on my bedroom floor waving a flashlight around.”

“Ha ha. The capsules might still be here. If so, they’ll case a long shadow in the light from this angle. Watch for it.”

I actually spot one. It’s sticking up out of the hardwood floor. Sandy taps it a few times but it doesn’t budge. Her expression gets grim.

“It’s actually stuck into the floorboard. Only one person can do that, Leandra.”

“But why would Dad want to hit me with fear gas?”

“I can think of a bunch of reasons, none of them good. You’d best have some heavyweight friends around if you decide to confront him.”

“What about Mom?”

“That assumes she’s not in on it.”

The gas has nothing on the fear that grips me now.

33. Kelly Nakamura

I wake up on a hospital bed with my hands and feet restrained, wearing nothing but my skin. What the hell? I wish I had video of me, that would be kinky. I struggle a bit, then look around. There’s a bunch of medical equipment, all neatly mounted and labelled with little white cards. I’m in an emergency room.

There’s a bandage on the left side of my abdomen. That brings it back. I was helping Sexy Beast with her rampage when I got surrounded by bikers at the rendezvous point. That’s the problem with that area of town. They pushed me around some, but nothing too bad.

That all changed when Sexy B arrived. She was a rhino and they panicked. Their enforcer, a guy called Brute (really original) fired a shotgun at her and got her angry. You wouldn’t like Sexy B when she’s angry. They sure as hell didn’t. She ripped into them and their bikes. Their bikes were trashed but the bikers got away, though not without some bumps and scrapes. And not without one of them sticking a knife in my side.

The door opens and a robot comes in; it looks like the one I saw at the old couple’s house a couple of nights ago. Not the old lady with her detached head on the coffee table, the white plastic one. Its optic sensors look at me.

“Good evening Miss Kelly, feeling better in the belly?” It has a contralto voice with just a trace of electronica.

“Pretty good, I guess. Can you untie me?”

“Stay right here, my little dear. You’re not allowed to get away until the Lady’s had her say.”

“Why are you talking in rhyme?”

“My speech routine contains a quirk Nineteen won’t fix, the little jerk.”

“That must be awful!”

“Do not be sad, it’s not so bad.”

“I guess. But where are my clothes?”

“Do not fret for missing clothes; they’re in the laundry I suppose.”

“Can you get them for me?”

“No.”

“No? That doesn’t rhyme.”

“A simple statement, I confess, but I can answer no or yes.”

“Okay, I can work with that. Was it Sexy B’s idea to take my clothes?”

“Yes.”

“Is she going to do something weird to them?”

“No.”

“Is she going to do something weird to me?”

“Sqwork! Zzzt! Zzzt!” It grabs the spot on its face where a mouth would be and runs out.

A few seconds later Sexy B comes in with a guy. He’s a little on the skinny side, but fit looking, and he has cute unruly ginger hair and really pretty eyes. He looks about the same age as B.

“Hi, I’m Derek. You already know Kate.”

“Sorry I didn’t dress for the occasion.”

Kate chuckles. “Kelly, I realized today that you need protection.” She lifts her finger. “Not that kind. I mean something to prevent you from getting hurt in combat. Derek is my husband, as well as the one with super villain experience. He has a device here that might help you.”

Derek holds up something that looks like a cross between a disco ball and a gumball, about an inch and a half across. “This was in the trophy room. According to the notes on file it radiates an inversion field to protect the wearer from nearly all forms of harm. That should keep you safe.”

“How do I make it work?”

“It’s automatic. All you have to do is get it under your skin.”

“Where are you going to find an opening in my skin big enough to … ooh, can you get Sexy Beast to put it in?”

He stuffs it in my mouth.

The thing dissolves like a sugar cube, running quickly down my throat. It doesn’t make my stomach, though. Instead it seems to be going directly into my body.

“What’s to prevent me from just digesting this? Aaagh!” I suddenly feel like somebody pounded a tent peg into my heart. There’s a knot in my chest that hurts worse than anything I’ve ever felt before. Luckily it subsides after about half a minute. “You could have told me it would hurt!”

“I didn’t know. That’s not covered in the notes, just that it binds to your heart. It’ll stay there as long as you’re alive.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t think you’ll care about after that.” Derek walks out, leaving me alone with Sexy Beast.

“You really care about my safety, Sexy?”

“Of course I do. I got you into this, so you’re my responsibility. And no, before you ask, there’s nothing homoerotic about it. I just don’t want to see you hurt.”

Darn.

The robot brings in my clothes and sets them on a table. Sexy B gets up to go.

“Uh, Sexy B, could I ask a favour from you?”

“What is it, Kelly?”

“Um, I suppose this is kinda fun and all, but could you untie me?”

She looks a bit sheepish, then smiles playfully. “Sure thing, you little exhibitionist.”

34. Hawk

Peregrine’s late reporting in tonight. And she’s spent too damned long in Lightning’s dead zone. Once again I wish her implant had some recording capacity. Trouble is it’s already so big that sensitive scanners can detect it. No room for anything else. Finally her signal comes back online.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Working on math homework. My cover, remember?”

“Fine. What did you find out? Did you take the opportunity to watch Lightning and Phantasm, too?”

“Well, Lady Lightning makes a great tuna casserole.”

“Noted.”

“That was a joke. But she does. And I found out who hit Leandra with the fear gas last night. It was Phantasm. One of the three capsules was stuck partway through the floor.”

“And the other two?”

“Didn’t find them. But Phantasm is the one who cleaned up the scene.”

I thought that through, checked it against his profile. “Doesn’t make sense. Phantasm is too thorough. He’d have noticed a capsule missing. You’re going to have to go back in tonight and get a sample of that capsule. If he did somehow get sloppy he’ll make it disappear.”

“It’s in Leandra’s bedroom. So’s Leandra.”

“Stop calling her that stupid made-up name. You can sneak past O’Payne, she’s not very observant. Put more effort into sneaking past Phantasm and Lightning Lady. They know what they’re doing. Now get your little ass back in there, girl, and do your job!”

Sidekicks. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em. Not often, anyways.

35. Leandra Moon

I’m not going to sleep tonight. Dad, and possibly someone else, zapped me with fear gas last night. I wish I knew why they did it. I wish I was somebody else who didn’t have this problem, rather than the daughter of Mistress O’Payne. But I am me, regardless of what I wish for.

I would really like someone to watch over me. Jake could do it – NO! If Jake was here, he’d protect me from other people but who would protect me from him? He’d be here with his hands all over me, touching my … I SAID NO! Stop thinking about that, brain! Leave me alone!

It doesn’t, though. I remember standing face to face with him that first day. Only I don’t feel mad. That jock sweat is somehow attractive and I just want to reach up and kiss him and draw him into my world. NO! I sit up in bed and try to force myself to calm down. The cool breeze from my window helps, but not as much as I’d like.

Wait a minute. Why is my window open? I never sleep with my window open more than a crack, but it’s fully open right now. Fear grips me suddenly. It’s not gas-induced this time. Everything is still, but I’m certain it’s wrong. There’s someone else in the room with me.

“Hello?”

Nobody answers. I reach over to the bedside table and turn the lamp on. Now I’m sitting in a pool of light feeling even more vulnerable. Whoever is in here can see me a lot better than I can see them. I pull the blanket up over my chest and scan for movement.

“Who’s there?”

I swing my feet down beside my bed. My right foot hits the slipper but my left finds only the hardwood floor. I look down but my other slipper is gone. I sit there praying something will happen that makes this all a dream, all the result of an overactive imagination.

Finally I gather the courage to stand. I pull my housecoat off the bedpost but I’m too nervous to put it on; I just hold it against my chest. Only a supreme effort is keeping me from whimpering.

I grab the first weapon that comes to hand and threaten the room.

“Okay, show yourself! I’ve got a …” I look at the object in my hand “… hairbrush. And I’m not afraid to use it!”

The total incongruity of the statement causes me to giggle nervously. I take a few swings and it builds just a bit of confidence. I walk over and turn on the light.

My room is normal, except for the open window. I must have just forgotten to close it. The missing slipper has shifted so that it’s under the edge of the bed. That’s why I couldn’t find it. I put the housecoat on properly and drop down to fish my slipper out.

I’m staring into a hawk mask.

With a supreme effort of will I don’t scream. Instead I hiss quietly. “Sandra! What are you doing here?”

“I’m looking for the capsule we found embedded in your floor. It’s gone.”

“Gone? Who would take it?”

“Phantasm.”

“What was Dad doing in here?”

“From what I saw, making the jump from ‘adopted father’ to ‘dangerous pervert’. As soon as you sat up he ducked out through the wall. He wasn’t in costume, if you get my drift.”

“Why didn’t he see you?”

“I was already hiding when he came in. The capsule was already gone and I was trying to find a way to sneak out without alerting you.”

“How’d you sneak in?”

“It was pretty easy. You’ve been drifting in and out of sleep all night.”

She scoots out from under the bed, then shuts off the room light in a quick move. “People staring in your window shouldn’t really see that I’m here.” She puts her arms around me and I’m surprised how soft and supple the leather feels.

“What am I going to do, Sandy?”

“You’re going to get some good sleep. I’m pretty sure pervert number one is scared off for the night, and pervert number two is probably at home trying to get gas residue out of his clothing. I’ll watch your window to make sure nobody else tries anything.”

She helps me into bed and tucks me in, then gives me a kiss goodnight. After that she slips out the window and pulls it closed to its normal setting. A little voice in the back of my head asks me, “What if she’s pervert number three?”

I sleep easily anyway, knowing somebody’s watching over me. Like a hawk.

36. Doug

“Hello, Douglas.” The man in front of me spits my name. “How lovely to see you again.”

He’s dressed in a black tuxedo, perfectly tailored. His shoes are polished to a high gloss. He could have stepped out of a 1940’s detective movie with his thin features, slicked-down hair and pencil thin moustache. But he’s not a detective. His name is Protocol, and he’s the Justice Sentinels’ valet.

“C.E., what’s going on? Why is Protocol here?”

“Because it’s my home, Douglas. Justice Sentinel Headquarters. Didn’t the Cosmic Ego tell you he would be bringing you here?”

“C.E.? Ego?”

“I’m afraid he’s not speaking to you right now, Douglas. You see I figured out his little plan, and I couldn’t let it go any further. He’s very patient, but so am I. It took years to develop a weapon capable of shredding ectoplasm, but I’ve done it. The first test is right behind you.”

I turn slowly; it’s not wise to turn your back on Protocol, but it’s also not wise to ignore what he says. At least this way I’ll be partly appeasing his sociopathic desire to show off what he’s done.

Glowing blue slime has been sprayed all over the far side of the room. Ectoplasm. Usually it pulses, but that’s not happening here. Instead the glow is slowly fading.

I turn back. “What have you done?”

“Isn’t it plain to see, Douglas? I’ve freed you from the horrible fate of being possessed by a spirit. In fact, the Cosmic Ego won’t be possessing anyone ever again. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“You’ve killed him?”

“No, no, Douglas. The Cosmic Ego can’t be killed because he was never really alive to begin with. I believe the technical term for what I’ve done is ‘destroyed’. For practical purposes there’s no real difference, but precision is important.”

“Why, Protocol?”

“Why? Why? Because he would have done the same thing to me if he had the chance! In fact, doing the same to me was one of the cornerstones of his Great Plan!”

“What are you talking about? His Great Plan was to redeem the hero community!”

“Precisely. And that is why he felt I must be dealt with. I stand as a symbol of what’s gone wrong. What do those who know the secret call me? A homicidal psychopath? Wrong on both counts! I am a sociopath, not a psychopath, and I am not homicidal. I’m genocidal, but doing it one creature at a time!”

“Oh, shit.” There can be only one reason he’s doing this. It’s deathtrap time. But Protocol isn’t the kind to allow even a miniscule chance of escape. I am freakin’ dead.

“Oh, I see you’ve worked out what comes next. You always were a clever one, Douglas. I don’t think the Cosmic Grease Stain ever realized how smart you are. Well, you’re free of him now for the rest of your life.” He looks at his watch. “Which shouldn’t be long now.”

He raises some something that looks like a cross between a ray gun and an octopus. “This is the weapon I used to splatter the Cosmic Ego. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder what effect it has on a living human?” He levels it at me.

I start backing away. The door to the room is behind him; there’s no escape. I prepare for the end, wishing there was some way I could run.

He fires. Beams of rainbow-coloured energy lance out from the weapon in spiraling arcs. They slam into me, bathing me in multicoloured light. And do about as much harm as a flashlight.

“Aww, too bad. That one didn’t work.” It’s obvious he knew it wouldn’t; he was just doing it for my reaction. He tosses the weapon behind him and pulls out an ordinary automatic pistol. “How about this one?”

They say that stress can help you think of solutions quickly. In my case it does. There’s no way to run past him that doesn’t involve stopping bullets. So I count on the fact that Ego didn’t take intercity rail here and activate the emergency return stud on the teleporter. I see the muzzle flash just as the world blinks out to be replaced by Cosmic Ego’s – now my – lair.

37. Tyler Morrison

I’m woken up in the middle of the night by a sudden weight on my chest. It’s not that it dropped on me, it just sort of suddenly was there. As I come to my senses I see pale green cat-eyes looking into mine. Cal. I reach up to push the cat off me and end up grabbing a handful of breast.

The slap across my face finishes the job of waking me up. There’s a girl sitting on my chest wearing some kind of rough cotton robe. Her hair is white with black and orange-brown highlights. She’s about my age, which is to say sixteen, and has Cal’s green eyes.

“Who the hell are you? Where’s Mistress O’Payne?”

“Who the hell am I? Who the hell are you? And who are you calling a pain?”

She looks around the room. “Hmm. Judging by the looks of this place, and who’s on which side of the covers, I owe you an apology. I am Sister Callisto, mistress of mysticism.”

“No way! Sister Callisto vanished like twenty years ago, and even then she was a lot older than you are.”

“Twenty years? I’ll kill him. I will kill him.”

“Kill who?”

“The Cosmic Ego. He betrayed me into the hands of Mistress O’Payne. She kept me prisoner for days, using the most degrading tortures on me. Then she enacted some kind of mystical transformation on me. I spent the next twenty years craving tuna and mice.”

“So you are Cal. You were turned into a cat.”

“You’re not surprised?”

“No, my Mom was one of your apprentices. We’ve always had magic in the family.”

“Who are you then?”

“I’m Tyler Morrison, Heather’s son.”

“Heather didn’t have a son, or even a boyfriend.”

“Duh, I’m sixteen. You’ve been a cat for twenty years. A lot can happen in that four year gap.”

“Point taken. All right then, Tyler Morrison, you are now my history teacher. Where is Mistress O’Payne?”

“I dunno. She disappeared years ago.”

“Disappeared? Not died? Hmmm. All right, where is the Cosmic Ego?”

“Nobody’s seen him in years either. The story is he retired.”

“Hiding, is he? We can deal with that. What of the rest of the Justice Sentinels?”

“Well, Guardsman, Lady Lightning, Phantasm and Bombshell are all active. So are Hawk and Peregrine, though they aren’t seen much. And Protocol minds the headquarters.”

“I assume Bombshell, Peregrine and Protocol are all new. What happened to Feralina, Shift and Powersuit?”

“Powersuit and Feralina were both killed in action; Shift just disappeared one day about eight years ago. They launched an investigation but never found out what happened to him.”

“And who are these new heroes?”

“Bombshell is the newest member; she has the ability to explode and reform. Protocol is the group’s butler; he’s a master of weapons but he spends most of his time watching the base. Peregrine is Hawk’s sidekick; he’s been training her for about five years.”

“She? Hawk is training a woman?”

“Girl, actually. She’s about my age.”

Sister Callisto looks stricken. “But what about his record? What about the provision?”

“What record? What provision?”

“Because of his skills, Hawk was secretly granted a conditional pardon during the Galani invasion. One of the conditions was that he was NEVER to be left alone with a child, especially not a girl.”

“What was he in jail for?”

“Torturing, abusing and killing nine children. We’ll have to rescue Peregrine. Or what’s left of her. But that will come later. Right now I am severely weakened. The spell that made me human again also drained most of my energy. You are related to Heather Morrison; do you have any magical talent?”

“I know some sorcery.”

“Ah well, parlour tricks will have to do. Can you conjure my old outfit?”

“I don’t really know what your old outfit looks like. I can get you some normal clothes, though.”

She sighs. “All right, then.” She gets off my bed (and my stomach) and stands still. “Remember to put it on forwards, not backwards.”

“I’m not that inexperienced.” I concentrate on the feel of the magic and building the anagram. “Cluster sildanso” Her robe vanishes like smoke on a breeze. “Shormu filcono!” In a cascade of rising sparks clothing forms on her – underwear first, then skirt and blouse, finally socks and runners. One school uniform, as sort-of requested.

“Did you really have to make me nude in between?”

“Sorry, one effect per spell.”

“Did you like the view?”

“Damn! I was concentrating on the magic!” Now I wish I’d taken the time to appreciate my work.

“Good answer. You show a certain basic ability, Tyler. Would you like to be my apprentice?”

I think about it for a second. More like a nanosecond. “Yes!”

Contents - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - [ Part 4 ] - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9

(c) 2013, Tim Smith. All rights reserved.