Authors: Michael Bailey
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Bailey
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2014
Michael Bailey/Innsmouth Look Publishing www.innsmouthlook.com
Cover illustrations Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Lupien
Cover design by Patricia Lupien
Book production by Amazon Create Space, www.createspace.com
Edited by Victoria Fullard
Excerpt from “Devil Woman” © 1976 EMI Records Ltd. / 2001 Parlophone Records Ltd.
For the geek girls of the world
You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval
PART ONE: WRAPPED IN AN ENIGMA
When we last left our heroes...
That’s how stories like this start, right? I’m still new to this.
We all are, truth be told — and by
I mean the Hero Squad, Kingsport, Massachusetts’ hot new teen super-team: Carrie “Lightstorm” Hauser (a.k.a. me), Stuart “Superbeast” Lumley, Sara “Psyche” Danvers, Missy “Kunoichi” Hamill, and (ahem) Matt “Captain Trenchcoat” Steiger.
(Yes, I am aware Matt’s super-hero name sucks. Painfully aware. We’re working on him.)
Anyway, when we last left our heroes, we’d prevented a major catastrophe (i.e., a nutjob in high-tech armor blowing up Boston with a small nuke), but failed to tie everything up in a neat little package (i.e., said nutjob escaping, along with the mysterious organization that hired him). More win than loss, sure, but we only scored the win because we got a lot of help from the Protectorate, the nation’s A-list super-team.
So yeah, Inauspicious Debuts ‘R’ Us.
Nevertheless, some good has come out of it. Concorde (super-hero, co-founder of the Protectorate, full-time jerk) has, begrudgingly, accepted that we’re serious about making a go as super-heroes. He’s not helping us, but he’s agreed to take a step back, observe from a distance, and step in only when necessary.
There. You’re all caught up.
Now, hold on tight. Things are going to get real hairy real fast.
“Wake up, Lightstorm. Your team needs you.”
I sit bolt-upright in bed, jumping from
Dead to the World
Holy Crap I’m Awake
in 1.5 seconds. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“What? Nothing...except everyone’s at the restaurant except you,” Matt says. “Where are you?”
“I was sleeping,” I snarl into my cell phone, “like all right-thinking people should be on New Year’s Day.”
“It’s almost noon. Why are you still in bed?”
Well, for starters, I’m a teenager; sleeping late on weekends, that’s our thing. And second, “I stayed up last night to watch the ball drop.”
“Seriously? You do the whole New Year’s Rockin’ Eve thing?”
. Lame televised party is lame. Get dressed and get over here, we’re hungry.”
“I needs to feed!” Stuart says somewhere in the background.
“The gods of Chinese buffet, they taunt Stuart with their bounty. I fear he won’t last much longer. Only you can save him.”
“Okay, I get the hint. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
Pre-lunch prep is nothing more than jumping into some jeans, a sweater, and my sneakers. “Going to meet the others for lunch back later bye!” I shout out to Mom, zipping through the living room before she can corner me to demand my full itinerary. New Year’s Resolution Number One: get Mom used to the fact that I’m within arm’s reach of adulthood and need to fly free.
Speaking of which: remember what I said about being at the restaurant in five minutes? I meant that literally.
The woods near my house are covered in a light coating of winter frost. Frozen leaves crunch beneath my feet in a pleasant New Englandy way. The sky peers through trees stripped naked by the change of seasons. It’s a wintery gray, bright and dark at the same time. The clouds look close enough to touch. All you have to do is reach for them.
So I do.
I’m a few hundred feet in the air when I remember to slip on the ultra-high-tech goggles Concorde gave me for Christmas. I’m not yet in the habit of putting them on before going airborne, but I should make that New Year’s Resolution Number Two: goggles first, flying second, because among their many cool features, they have a transponder that lets the local Air National Guard base know I’m, as they put it, “a friendly” and not something they need to shoot down.
They’re also GPS-equipped, which means all I have to do is say, “Plot course, Silk Sails, Kingsport,” and the on-board computer does the rest. A simplified map appears on the lenses, along with a red line, like in an Indiana Jones movie, showing me which way to fly.
The trick, once I arrive, is finding a place to discreetly land. Silk Sails, which we affectionately call Junk Food because of the decorative Chinese junk sitting in the Koi pond out front, is in the middle of town, which is sorely lacking in green space. I have to touch down in a thicket of trees behind a nearby housing complex, and having to fight my way through waist-deep brush to reach open ground makes me —
“Late,” Matt says without looking up from the lavish buffet. He scoops some tangerine chicken onto his plate, then wags the steel serving spoon at me. “You said five minutes.”
“Happy New Year to you too.”
“We started without you,” Matt says, pointing out the obvious.
he means them,” Sara says. She and Missy were thoughtful enough to wait, but the boys? No such courtesy. In fact, Stuart is already on his second plate of food.
“Hey, man, Junk Food doesn’t go all-you-can-eat except on special occasions,” he says, “so I gots to grab the bull by the horns while I can.”
“Or the crab by the rangoons, as the case may be,” Matt says.
“The rangoons are the tastiest part of the crab.”
“Knock it off,” Missy says. “I like crab rangoons and you’re making them sound dirty and gross.”
“Of course they are,” I say, “they’re boys.”
“Who are also dirty and gross,” Sara adds.
“Say that again and I’ll flick a booger at you,” Matt says. Ah, the witty repartee of the American teenage boy.
Plates piled high with food, we sit in a corner booth and gorge like piranhas, pausing only to slurp tea and attempt something resembling conversation.
“Wharweegondodishwikind?” Matt says through a mouthful of steamed pork bun.
“Could you repeat that?” I say. “Perhaps after swallowing?”
“I said, what are we going to do this weekend? We should think of something epic. We have tomorrow plus the weekend before we have to go back to the drudgery factory.”
(Translation: back to school.)
“We could watch the entire
Lord of the Rings
trilogy — extended editions, of course. Or get in a killer game of
,” Stuart suggests. “Ooh! I bet we could tackle all of
Temple of Elemental Evil
“Whatever we do, you’ll either have to start without me or wait a little bit. Yes, again, you poor thing,” I say to Matt when he gives me a disapproving look. “I’m supposed to see Mindforce tomorrow morning.”
“What, does he need to interview you again about the Archimedes thing?” Matt says.
Time to make a tough decision: come clean and embarrass myself, or execute evasive maneuvers and lie about why I’m seeing Mindforce.
No, I’m blowing enough smoke at my mom. I can’t do it to my friends too. Honesty, best policy, yada yada.
“It’s a therapy session,” I say into my lo mein, and the Great Chinese Food Massacre grinds to a halt. Stuart is frozen in time, a chicken finger hovering in front of his open mouth.
“Therapy?” Matt says, like the word itself is unfamiliar.
“Why do you need therapy?”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know,” Sara jumps in. “Might have something to do with Manticore maiming her.”
“You got better.” Sara punches him in the shoulder on my behalf. She’s a good friend. “What? She did.”
“I think your first New Year’s resolution should be to stop acting like such a thoughtless ass all the time.”
“Sara, it’s okay, let it go,” I say.
“I will not let it go. What Manticore did was...it was torture,” she says to Matt. “It was cruelty for the sake of it, inflicted on your friend, and for you to blow it off like it’s no big deal —”
“So there we were,” Stuart says, “in the Congo.”
“Were there monkeys in the Congo?” Missy says.
“Yes. And they were all wearing hats.”
“Huh?” Am I missing something here?
“That’s our signal that a conversation is getting awkward, so we should change the subject,” Matt explains. He resumes eating as if nothing had happened.
“Going to get more food,” Sara says, forcing her way out past Matt. I say I need more rice, even though I have plenty, and follow.
“What was all that about?”
“It was about Matt acting like an insensitive jerk. Again,” Sara says, angrily scooping barbecued pork onto a fresh plate. I put a hand on hers. She stops, but she won’t look at me. “I felt it.”
“You felt what?”
“...I felt what Manticore did to you,” she says. “I don’t know how or why. Maybe we have some kind of subconscious connection because we’ve, you know, been in each other’s heads so much, I don’t know.”
She remembers the day as well as I do, she tells me. It was the day I was going to try and smooth things over with Concorde, maybe undo some of the extensive damage we’d done in his eyes by — well, simply by existing, by daring to call ourselves super-heroes. Sara was on her way into town to meet the others at the Coffee Experience. They were going to wait for me while I made my well-rehearsed pitch for a truce. She remembers feeling a rush of fear, unprovoked and pointless, and then, out of the blue, an invisible fist punching her in the side. She crumpled to the sidewalk as a wave of vertigo washed over her.
“It felt like I was falling. A jogger stopped to ask me if I was okay,” Sara says. “I couldn’t answer him because all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. I felt terrified and angry at the same time, and then...”
Sara fumbles her plate onto the edge of the buffet counter. Her hands are shaking. So are mine.
“It was like he did it to me, too,” she says. “I know what you went through. Matt has no right —”
“Stop,” I say, taking her hands in mine. “This isn’t how I want to start the New Year. No more fighting amongst ourselves, no more dwelling on the bad stuff we can’t change, okay? I want to spend the day with my friends having fun and being happy.”
“Okay,” Sara says. “Okay. A day of fun and happy.”
“Followed by a year of fun and happy. Right?”