Authors: Kevin Hardman
Kid Sensation Series
Kid Sensation Companion Series
The Warden Series
The Fringe Worlds
This book is a work of fiction contrived by the author, and is not meant to reflect any actual or specific person, place, action, incident or event. Any resemblance to incidents, events, actions, locales or persons, living or dead, factual or fictional, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Kevin Hardman.
Cover Design by Isikol
Edited by Faith Williams, The Atwater Group
This book is published by I&H Recherche Publishing.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address I&H Recherche Publishing, P.O. Box 1586, Cypress, TX 77410.
Printed in the U.S.A.
I would like to thank the following for their help with this book: GOD, first and foremost (as always), who has continued to be the guiding force in my life; and my family, which lovingly supports all my efforts.
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I came very close to frying another super on Friday night.
The incident occurred in the teen lounge area of Alpha League Headquarters – a break room for members of the League’s teen affiliate that housed, among other things, dart boards, video game consoles, and a billiards table. Bearing all that in mind, it wasn’t difficult to understand why the lounge was a popular hangout spot for me and my peers. That said, I had only been there once or twice in the past month or so – in essence, since my boyfriend Jim had left the planet.
Jim’s maternal grandmother was an alien princess. That, in turn, meant that Jim himself was royalty, and he had been summoned to his grandmother’s homeworld by royal edict. As I understood it, the order to return “home” was not one that could be disobeyed. And so – after a heartfelt goodbye – Jim had left, without a firm idea of when he would return.
Since then, I had basically avoided not just the lounge but a fair number of social events and gatherings. It wasn’t that I was desperately missing my boyfriend and so melancholy without him that I couldn’t function. (I mean, I
miss him, but not to that extent.) In truth, I simply found fending off the questions about Jim to be exhausting.
Basically, while people had taken note of Jim’s absence, few people – particularly in our peer group – knew where he’d gone or the true reason for it. As the girlfriend of Kid Sensation (as Jim was widely known), everyone had initially taken to asking me about his whereabouts: what he was doing, when he’d return, and so on. After dealing with this once or twice, I decided to simply limit my social interactions until curiosity on the subject diminished in general. Thus, other than occasionally hanging with a few close friends (who already knew what was up with Jim), I had become far less extroverted of late.
It was actually kind of a good thing. Fewer social obligations meant more time that I could devote to matters that I had not exactly neglected, but had taken a slightly lax attitude towards. So I got caught up on my reading. I tackled some chores that I’d been procrastinating on. I even studied ahead with respect to my classwork.
More than anything else, however, I stepped up my League training regimen, devoting more hours to practicing the use of my powers, exercise drills, physical conditioning, analyzing threat scenarios, and more. All of which would have dismayed Jim had he known, because he already considers me to be intense on that front. (He thinks I have a chip on my shoulder because I’m a girl, and he’s right to a certain extent. I don’t want people taking me less seriously as a super just because I’m female.)
I probably would have gone on indefinitely in that manner, minimizing my level of social engagement, had not someone pointed out to me that Vestibule had been popping up regularly to inquire about Jim. Upon hearing the news, I had instinctively balled my hands into fists and begun grinding my teeth.
Vestibule was a teleporter – a power that she had in common with Jim. She was also a member of the teen affiliate of the A-List Supers, a team of capes based on the West Coast who generally ranked second only to the Alpha League in terms of power and prestige. In addition, she also had a thriving career as a fashion model. All in all, she seemed to have the world on a string, but had recently set her sights on something she most definitely could not have: my boyfriend.
It was Smokescreen – Jim’s best friend – who had told me about Vestibule’s recent visits.
“She’s been coming by the past couple of weekends,” Smokey had said a few days earlier. “Popping up in the lounge on Friday or Saturday and asking if Jim’s been around.”
That had been enough to set me on edge. As a result, I had spent the rest of the week in something of a funk and made it my business to be on hand when Friday rolled around.
On the day in question, it was all I could do not to race to the teen lounge immediately after school. Instead, I forced myself to first run some errands that Esper, my primary guardian, had requested. As a result, I didn’t get to the lounge until around six in the evening. I immediately parked my butt on a couch that sat against a far wall, giving me a good view of most of the room, which was slowly starting to fill with people.
Smokey showed up about an hour after I did. We hadn’t discussed hanging out, but – perhaps sensing that I was planning to confront Vestibule – he was putting in an appearance when he probably should have been on a date with his girlfriend, Sarah. A few minutes later, we were joined by another friend, Li.
We made small talk for a few moments, discussing the latest episode of a popular television show, and then Li – in customary fashion – pointed out the elephant in the room.
“Is this a wise course of action?” he asked out of the blue. “Choosing to confront Vestibule?”
Smokey rolled his eyes in exasperation and groaned. “I could have sworn I said to be subtle.”
Li’s brow crinkled for a moment. “You said to engage Electra in idle chatter, and then we should try to discern her intentions towards Vestibule.”
“Yes, but I meant that we should gently segue into that conversation,” Smokey replied, “not hit her over the head with it like a blunt instrument.”
“My apologies,” Li said, lowering his eyes.
“It’s alright,” Smokey said reassuringly. “I should have realized that you might take me literally.”
What Smokey was alluding to was a fact that was not immediately evident at first blush: Li was an android. Consequently, although he looked human, he had certain traits and characteristics that didn’t always suit the norm (such as occasionally taking things that were said in a non-figurative manner).
“So what is this?” I asked, glancing from one of them to the other. “Some sort of intervention?”
“Not exactly,” Smokey said. “But you have to admit that you’ve been known to lose it on occasion.”
“Not in a while,” I clarified. There was a time when losing my temper meant an indoor lightning storm, but that was when I was much younger. More recently, however, I hadn’t so much as ionized the air unintentionally, and I stressed that fact to my friends.
“True,” Smokey agreed, “but when’s the last time you were really mad at someone?”
“More to the point,” Li interjected before I could answer, “would it have been before or after the incident at the Academy?”
I frowned, understanding what Li was getting at. The Academy had been a special school meant to train fledgling superheroes in the use of their powers. While there the previous fall, almost all of the students – including me – had become infected with a deadly virus. Most of us survived, but in the vast majority of cases, the virus had seriously amped up our powers. (And on a side note, the Academy itself had been destroyed.)
Take Smokey, for instance. Prior to being infected, he had only been able to create smoke. Afterwards, he was actually able to take on vaporous form.
My abilities had been magnified as well, and it was pretty clear that was the focus of my friends’ questions.
“If you’re asking whether my powers have grown beyond my ability to control,” I said, “the answer is that I’ve had no more problem controlling them now than I did before they were amplified.”
Smokey gave me a skeptical glance. “Even when you’re mad?”
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Look, I’m not here to get into a fight with Vestibule. I only want to talk to her.”
“Limiting your interaction with her to simple discourse would indeed be ideal,” Li chimed in.
“Yeah,” Smokey agreed. “The last thing we need is some beef with those guys on the West Coast.”
“Beef? West Coast?” I repeated quizzically. “Why are you talking like we’re a couple of gangster rappers?”
“I’m just saying that we’ve been getting along well with the A-List Supers of late,” Smokey stated. “There’s usually just a friendly rivalry between our team and theirs, but every now and then something happens which escalates that rivalry into conflict. I don’t want some face-off between you and Vestibule to be that
“It won’t be,” I assured him, “but if you’re so worried about it, you guys are welcome to stick around.”
“Maybe we will,” Smokey replied. “Just to keep you grounded.”
“Funny,” I said sarcastically. “You’re a real comedian.”
Smokey just smiled and gave me a wink, then sat back on the couch. “You know, there’s no guarantee that she’s going to show up tonight.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m patient.”
“So how long are you planning to hold this vigil?”
“Let’s just say that I didn’t pick this particular couch at random,” I answered. “It happens to be a sofa-bed.”
As it turned out, it didn’t take all night – just another thirty minutes. Roughly half an hour later, Vestibule appeared, simply popping up out of the blue as teleporters are wont to do.
I didn’t see her immediately. There were about thirty people in the room at the time and – despite being in an advantageous spot – the number of bodies present (and the fact that I was seated) meant that I couldn’t observe every single thing that happened.
The first indication that I had of her presence was a sort of collective silence that seemed to envelope a large number of people in the room, followed by a fair amount of head-turning. I leaned slightly to the side to see around a couple standing nearby, and that’s when I saw her.
She was wearing a black bodycon dress that looked tight enough to crack a few ribs. Her eyebrows were neatly arched and she was sporting long, luxurious lashes. She had on a glossy shade of jet-black lipstick and had her hair done up in an intricate fashion. All in all, I had to admit that she was strikingly glamourous and looked every bit the fashion model that she was.
As if in confirmation, I heard a muted “Wow” come from Smokey. I punched him in the arm to remind him of whose side he was supposed to be on.
“Oww!” he yelped, rubbing the spot where I’d hit him. “What was that for?”
, it’s for Sarah, since she isn’t here to do it herself,” I replied softly. At the mention of his girlfriend, a more somber expression came across Smokey’s face. “And
, it’s to remind you to root for the home team.”
“As if I could forget,” he mumbled, still rubbing his arm.
The sound of footsteps clumping across the floor drew my attention. Vestibule, in high-heeled black sandals (designer, of course), was making a beeline for Smokey, whom she already knew to be Jim’s best friend. (Apparently our chatter had drawn her attention, although I seriously doubted she’d have been able to understand anything we’d said.) As she walked, she sashayed confidently, like she was strutting down a runway. (And, given her appearance, it was quite likely that she had just come from a photo shoot in some exotic locale.)
When she was just a few feet away, I stood up and stepped into her path. Vestibule was so surprised that she almost skidded to a halt. Apparently, she’d been so focused on Smokey that she hadn’t really noticed who was sitting beside him.
“Oh,” she said, clearly surprised. “It’s you.”
I didn’t waste time pondering the implications of what
meant. (Presumably it was something she hadn’t meant to say out loud.) Instead, I cut straight to the chase. “If you’re here about Jim, he’s unavailable. He’s basically on assignment. We can’t reach him, and we don’t know when he’ll be back.”
Vestibule crossed her arms and gave me a skeptical look. “So I’ve heard. But it would have been nice if he’d told me himself.”
“Were you even listening to what I just said? He’s incommunicado – none of us can reach him.”
“Is that a fact?” Vestibule asked, her voice full of disbelief.
My eyes narrowed. “What are you implying?”
“Kid Sensation is a shapeshifter. He could be anybody in this room.” She then briefly scanned the crowd, most of whom had seemingly attempted to go back to what they had been doing before Vestibule appeared while trying to listen in inconspicuously.
“Ha!” I guffawed. “You think Jim would stoop that low – to trying to trick you? He’s not like that. He doesn’t have a duplicitous bone in his body, and if you knew anything about him at all, you’d realize that.”
“All I know is that your boyfriend owes me a date.”
“An outing,” I corrected.
“It’s not a
,” I emphasized. “It’s an
, at best.”
Vestibule waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever. But just in case he’s simply avoiding me, I thought he’d like a good look at what he’s missing.” She leaned to the side, sticking one hip out provocatively, at the same time rubbing a hand enticingly against the nape of her neck.
Now I understood her game. She didn’t just happen to show up tonight looking seductively beautiful; it was intentional. Now I felt my temperature starting to rise.
“Look, Jim – whenever he gets back – won’t be taking you on an outing by choice,” I said insistently. “You forced his hand.”
It was true. Shortly before Jim left, we’d been faced with a crisis that threatened the entire planet. We’d needed Vestibule’s help to save the world, but it hadn’t come for free. The price of her assistance had been a “date” with my boyfriend (although I still refused to label it with that term verbally). Jim had been called away to his grandmother’s homeworld before fulfilling that commitment, but Vestibule obviously didn’t know any of that and I had no intention of enlightening her.
“Moreover,” I went on, “it wasn’t even Jim who made that deal with you. It was Smokey.” I tilted my head in Smokey’s direction, who seemed surprised at being sucked into the conversation. “If anyone owes you a date, it’s him, not Jim.”
For a moment, Smokey looked as though he wanted to say something. He had indeed been the person who had recruited Vestibule’s help, and he’d acquiesced when she’d demanded a date with Jim. However, he apparently thought better of the notion of speaking up and instead stayed silent.
Vestibule gave me a smoldering look. “Do you understand the concept of agency?”
I shook my head, confused. “What?”
“An agent is someone authorized to act or speak for another. For instance, I have an agent who finds modeling gigs for me.”