Traffic screeched to a halt as I sprinted across the road; no time to say “sorry, buddy; supervillain on my tail.”
I needed cover, I needed to change into Glimmer Girl, I needed to get away from innocent bystanders, and most of all I needed to do it before Dr. Vortex got the drop on me!
My feet were screaming somewhere around the Maxi-Mart; I’d made it a whole three blocks before the stabbing in my ribs made it impossible to run. Gods, how was I going to stand up to him when I was in such bad shape? If I was lucky I could keep my concentration up, and my hologram form could numb the pain.
I slipped into an alley and scoped for security cameras. If there were any I couldn’t see them, and screw it, I was already wasting too much time on my “secret identity.” In a flash I transformed into Glimmer Girl, shot into the sky like a firework and made for the edge of town at ten times the speed I could manage on foot.
The pain died away and made room for rage. “Where are you, you monster?” I spat into the wind and scanned the clouds, but save for the birds I was alone.
From my vantage I could see everything from Milestone Heights to the inner suburbs and to the city, even the dock yards around Portside; nothing. Traffic was smooth, there was no fire, smoke, sirens or destruction; it looked like any other day.
“Come on. I know you’re here!”
Silence continued to linger. What was the point of confronting me if he wasn’t going to fight? My fists clenched, and I was a spring on the verge of snapping.
“Well!?” I roared into the air, “are you just going to leave me here all day!?”
“My apologies. There were some matters that required my immediate attention.”
Dr. Vortex blinked in the corner of my eye, and vanished the moment I turned; then he was to my right, then behind me again, then above, and finally below. He huffed as the wind blew up my skirt, and turned his head away.
I threw my arms toward him and blasted with full force. “I’ll give your face immediate attention!” I growled, letting loose a wave of energy the width of a tree trunk. Every ounce of fury I had poured into it, but it shot through like he was a ghost.
Damn it; he was playing that game again.
“If you’re serious about this female persona you may want to think of a more practical form of concealment,” he mused.
“You son of a-!”
Every time I got close to him Dr. Vortex would shift away like a rat darting between corners; even when I threw myself blindly at him in the hopes I’d land a lucky shot he’d jump away, leaving me to flail.
Finally, I’d had enough. “Are you trying to tick me off!?”
Dr. Vortex paused, and so did I. He wanted me mad, and I was, so I stopped raging; ironically, just to spite him. Gods, I hated every bit of him, from the creases in his brow to the tight lipped frown he always seemed to wear, and that ridiculous purple costume that he probably thought made him look smart. (Yeah, he looked like a real mad scientist; a jerk mad scientist, to boot.)
My fists trembled, and my voice cracked. “What do you want from me?”
“You know what I want, and I know you don’t plan to give it to me,” he sighed. “If you’d been paying attention you might have noticed my attempts to goad you. As if I were so crass as to have a care for your gender presentation, but you’re just so damned sensitive about it that I couldn’t help but exploit it.”
“So you’re doing all of this, what, to hurt me?”
“To prove a point,” he continued. “I am in control of the situation; not you. The way you fled from the school was as if you believed I would follow wherever you would go, as though you stood a chance to protect… them.”
“It took you five minutes to run three blocks,” Dr. Vortex explained. “That time provided ample opportunity to, how should we say, accumulate some bargaining capital.”
The anger in my chest ran cold. “What have you done?”
“Go home, Mr. Cade,” he said. “Maybe you’ll find something left that’s worth saving.”
His body fell back and vanished, swallowed into thin air like a body submerging underwater. Last to disappear was his scowl, fixed firm and assured, daring me to challenge him. I reached out to grab him but snatched at nothing; Dr Vortex was gone, but his threat continued to loom.
“Go… home?” The words played over in my head, and then I was on the move.
Houses skimmed under me as I dived to the ground, rocketed through the streets and followed the turns; it was easier to follow than going by the rooftops. Heads turned and horns beeped, and I didn’t stop for one. I had to make it home, and I had to see for myself that everything was alright; it had to be!
I didn’t bother changing out of uniform; secret identity be damned. I blasted the front door into splinters, landed by the stairs and sprinted up them.
The bedroom doors were closed, and nobody was inside when I charged in, so I continued my search. When I came to the living room my nerves stood on end; the sofa was overturned, pictures were knocked off the wall, and the urn that held my grandma’s ashes lay as a heap of dust on the floor. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out something had gone wrong.
I ran into the kitchen and into the yard; they weren’t there, either. Dead or alive, my parents had vanished, or rather they’d been taken. Gods, why wasn’t I more careful?
Suddenly the phone rang. At first I thought to ignore it, but it wouldn’t stop. My hand trembled as I picked up the receiver. I said nothing.
“Are you listening, Mr. Cade?”
It was him.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Yeah,” I choked. “Yeah, I hear you.” Tears streamed down my mask and burned my cheeks; this was my fault, I knew it.
“Good. Now, I want you to listen very carefully if you want to see your family alive.”
To be continued…