Glimmer Girl created and owned by Miranda Sparks.
Bonfire, related characters and concepts created and owned by Crystal Frasier.
Story co-plotted by Miranda Sparks and Crystal Frasier, written by Miranda Sparks.
There was a time I would have asked myself what kind of a school uses giant robots in its classes, but not anymore. The Apex Institute had a lot of answers to questions I never even thought to ask, like how long could a hero like me last in a labyrinth of death?
I ducked in time to avoid a one ton fist attempting to clip me from behind, only to fly into and weave through a gauntlet of blades. Steel ran along my body, inches away from being lethal. It was like one of those obstacle course game shows for kids, dipped in a nightmare and planted in the middle of a classroom.
“You’re doing great, Glimmer Girl,” the headmaster’s voice blared. “Don’t forget to watch your six.”
‘Watch your six,’ he says; not when I was watching my nine to three!
“She has got a lot of confidence for someone so… hasty,” the voice of his companion echoed; they must have forgotten to turn off the PA.
“I can still-ARGH!”
No time for banter; not with piledrivers slamming from the roof. I dodged the blows, but not without a few hits. Where was the exit? There were none in my line of sight.
I could imagine that other girl, Bonfire, smirking in the control room in her tidy little red and blue uniform. Who even wears a school uniform outside of anime? Did she really think she was better than me just because she had more training? I was probably stronger than her, and could do more with my powers than roast some marshmallows.
The robot in my path exploded; it didn’t stand a chance against my rocket speed laser punch. Was this the kind of stuff they taught at the Apex Institute? I smiled at the window; nope, this was all Glimmer Girl.
“Do not get cocky,” Bonfire huffed.
Dr. Geist hummed. “That’s enough for today.”
Immediately the machines powered down, the robots shuffled into their nooks, the blades retracted and the piledrivers disappeared behind the roof panels. Soon it was just an ordinary room, as large as it was bland.
A side door opened for the headmaster. He was a pudgy sort of guy, and short; not at all the kind you’d expect to be a veteran superhero, especially one as noted as Dr. Ghost. In reality his name was Dr. Paul T. Geist, and trust me, the pun was as painful for me as it is for you.
“You have impeccable instincts. There’s a great hero in you,” Dr. Geist remarked, “and I think the Apex Institute could be of great benefit.”
Beside him was the girl with black braided hair that had been looking down on me since I got there. Bonfire; what kind of a name was that? It sounded like she should be out making s’mores with the girl scouts, if she lost the chip on her shoulder.
She didn’t even look at me when she spoke. “She is a diamond in the rough, certainly. Let us hope there’s not more rough than there is diamond.”
“I’ll show you rough,” I murmured.
“Unfortunately I have some business to attend to,” Dr. Geist interjected. “Bonfire, would you do me the pleasure of giving Glimmer Girl the official tour? I’ll rejoin both of you girls before supper where we can talk more about a future here.”
Bonfire nodded; I wasn’t sure what to do.
Only hours before I didn’t even know that places like this existed, at least outside of cartoons and comic books. Suddenly, a guy like Dr. Ghost tracks me down as I’m flying across the city and asks me to come to the Apex Institute. To think, a real life school for superheroes, and they wanted me as a student? It would have been too fantastic to believe if I weren’t actually standing there.
“What you just saw was the high powered training area,” Bonfire sighed, running through a rehearsed script. “We have similar locations around the Institute, but this one is for students with the power of flight, levitation, and so forth.”
“Can you fly?” I pressed.
Bonfire contorted her lips. “No.”
I grinned. “So I bet you don’t see this place very often, huh.”
She inhaled, then released. “It also doubles as a safety bunker in the event of an attack. Also, it is good for peace and quiet if, like me, you are one of the prefects and want to get away from everybody.”
“Who’s there to get away from?” I observed aloud. “I haven’t noticed anyone else since we got here.”
“Most of the other students are at home with their families. It is a long weekend.”
“So what are you doing here?”
You know how sometimes you don’t know your words are insensitive until they leave your mouth? Bonfire’s whip-like glare removed all doubt.
“Sorry,” I managed.
Bonfire sighed and pressed down the hall. “There are students here from all over the country, and some coming from as far as Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Alaska and Guam. Even with access to supersonic jets not everyone has the luxury of going home the second there is an opportunity.”
“Makes sense.” Did she really think I was buying it? There was an accent, if you listened, but there was more Jersey behind her a-little-too-formal enunciation than subcontinent.
Suddenly the alarms screamed. Even with hands over my ears the siren cut through my skull, leaving me off balance as doors slammed along the corridor. Lights flashed red, casting Bonfire and I in a dim shade as the echoes grew in their claustrophobia.
I yelled to be heard. “This is a test, right?”
Bonfire didn’t look so sure. She turned back and forth, jogging us down the maze of hallways only to be confronted by the barriers. Finally there was only one way for us to go, and if her tentativeness was anything go by following didn’t seem such a good idea.
Finally the blaring stopped.
“That was not supposed to happen,” she hummed. “The alarms are not supposed to go off if there are students in the training area; unless there is a real emergency!”
“Then what are we waiting for?”
Bonfire snatched my wrist and pulled back. “What do you think you are doing?”
“We’re superheroes,” I told her. “There’s an emergency. It’s our job to save the day.”
“We do not know if there is an emergency, or if we are even qualified to handle it,” she reasoned. “If Dr. Ghost needs our help he will ask for it. Until then we wait.”
She furrowed her brow and turned away. “This is why you need the Apex Institute. If you were a student here you would know better than to rush into situations where you were not needed.”
“If I needed the Apex Institute,” I laughed, “it’d be so I could better throw myself into situations like this.”
Bonfire huffed. “That is really arrogant of you,” She paused a moment bother muttering. “And dangerous.”
The intercom crackled before I could answer, and my host was immediately at the panel. She pressed the button by the flashing light and leaned into it.
“Ah, good, you’re there,” Dr. Geist sighed. “Are you and Glimmer Girl safe?”
She turned to me and frowned, then turned back to the intercom. “Yes, sir. We are fine. What is going on? The security system has us sealed in the sub-basement.”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps there’s a glitch, unlikely as that seems,” the headmaster said. “I’ll get back to you shortly. In the meantime try and remain calm, and try to be a good host to Glimmer Girl. I’m sure this is very startling for her.”
Yeah, if by startled he meant ready to kick some butt. I stared at the walls and knocked at them; they were thick. A hard blast would probably kick up enough dust to make breathing a chore, or maybe I could cut through with a focused laser…
“ATTENTION, APEX INSTITUTE,” a digital voice hummed. “THIS IS YOUR NEW CAPTAIN SPEAKING. MY NAME IS HAXX0R, AND I HAVE CONTROL OF YOUR SYSTEM. WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE.”
Bonfire planted her face square in palm.
“Who the hell is this guy?” I pressed. “Arch-enemy or something?”
“More like a spoiled troll,” she groaned. “Naturally, HaXX0r would pick THIS weekend, when all the other prefects are away. He has been bragging for months how easy it would be to take over; nobody thought he would actually try it.”
“GIVING THE NEW GIRL MY BIO STATS, BONFIRE?” he laughed. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE ME.”
“Is it bullying if I want to hand this guy’s ass to him?” I hummed. “Because I feel pretty threatened, and technically he started it.”
Bonfire arched into her shoulders and nursed her brow. “No. We are not doing anything like that. Nobody is handing any a- butts! We are going to sit here, like Dr. Geist asked, wait until the situation is contained. Then HaXX0r can spend the rest of the year where we don’t have to think about him.”
“That,” I told her, “is the weakest excuse I have ever heard in my life.”
“SHE’S GOT A POINT,” HaXX0r snorted.
“Shut up!” she roared at the ceiling, and I felt a hot wind kick up my hair. Girl had some lungs when her hackles were up.
“You’re not helping!” I added.
My host ground her teeth and leaned back to the intercom. “Sir, HaXX0r is the one in our system. He is taunting both Glimmer Girl and I over the PA.”
“Dr. Ghost, with your permission I could take him out,” I called over her shoulder.
“No,” Bonfire growled, “you. Are. Not!”
“Actually, that may be best given our options,” the intercom said. “Bonfire, I task you and Glimmer Girl with correcting this situation. I’ll assign punishment to HaXX0r when you’re done, and remember; I expect you to act with the cadence and restraint becoming of a prefect at the Apex Institute. Are we clear?”
Of all the times to be without a camera; her face was priceless!
“Sir, are you honestly giving an inexperienced hero permission to-”
“Inexperienced, but not incapable,” the doctor injected. “Remember, she started her career before she set foot in this school, so we can’t hold her to absolute ignorance. She might have as much to teach you as you do her.”
Was I hearing things? I couldn’t be, because Bonfire was beside herself! An upstart like me having something to teach her; who would have thought?
“Glimmer Girl, I know you’re eager to show off your prowess, but I’d advise you to lean on Bonfire’s wisdom,” the headmaster continued. “In terms of raw power you’re superior, but there’s a reason she’s a prefect at this school. Don’t underestimate each other, but don’t overestimate each other either.”
“Yes, sir,” Bonfire sighed. The prefect stuck her tongue out at me.
“PLAYER ONE AND PLAYER TWO HAVE ENTERED THE GAME!” HaXX0r laughed at his own brilliance. “ARE YOU READY?” Gods, was he going to keep talking all day?
“This way,” Bonfire said as she gestured to the door. She lingered by a panel and entered a series of code. Moments later the door lifted and granted us entry.
“I am a prefect,” she spelled out in that tone of voice Tanya and I used to talk to Angie. “I know the security overrides. Now come on.”
We ran down the corridor and ducked around odd turns, every so often stopping at a panel so we could enter the next area. What was this place? It was so huge; did Bonfire even know where she was going?
“Not much further,” she said.
Meanwhile, HaXX0r’s voice had been following us since lockdown. “SO YOU’VE GOT YOUR HANDS ON A FEW CHEAT CODES. BIG DEAL. YOU’RE FORGETTING THAT I’M PLAYING ON GOD MODE!”
As far as we’d come on foot the sudden appearance of robots told us we were at the end; yeah, right. They were the same attack droids that were in the training rooms, as in the kind I’d put down with a tap.
“I’ve got this.”
“Glimmer Girl! Do not-”
Too late. My feet sprung into action, and I was flying through the narrow passage. One, two, a dozen machines doubled back as I charged past, and even more fizzled to a heap with each blast I landed.
“God mode, huh?” I cackled at the cameras. “Are you sure you’re not a casual gamer?”
“Are you an idiot!? Do not try to piss off the bad guy!”
If I wasn’t fighting my way to freedom I would have laughed. ‘Don’t piss off the bad guy?’ I thought she was supposed to be the expert. Surely pissing off the bad guy meant getting under his skin and forcing him to make a mistake; even Saturday morning cartoons knew that much.
“FAKE GAMER GIRL, LEARN TO TROLL HARDER,” HaXX0r sighed. “I WAS TAKING IT EASY ON YOU. LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TURN UP THE DIFFICULTY. EASY, HARD… RAMPAGE MODE.”
“Rampage mode.” The color drained from Bonfire’s face.
The ceiling opened and vomited small, flying machines. They filled the air like fat bees, circling and stinging with tiny shocks. Soon the wall was so dense that not even I could fly through them.
“You just had to tease him!” Bonfire roared. Casting her hands in the air she licked the scene with flame, but it wasn’t enough to keep the swarm at bay. “He’s a sexist jerk! We could have walked right up to him so long as he kept thinking we were weak, scared little girls!”
My own attacks were too direct; an enemy like this was able to dodge with ease and converge.
Okay, maybe she had a point; I liked HaXX0r better when he just wanted to annoy us.
“Glimmer Girl, look out!”
Before I could whip to see the brace clicked over my wrist, and gravity yanked me back to the ground. It struck with the force of my surprise, and through the daze couldn’t quite work out where I was. How come I wasn’t flying?
Bonfire snatched my hand and pulled me in the other direction. “They got me too,” she hissed and showed her own matching brace.
“Power inhibitor,” she explained. “For new students, or students with dangerous powers. So long as we have got these we are not special.”
I looked back to the wall of robots buzzing from behind. They weren’t very fast, but in these quarters they didn’t have to be; catching us would only be a matter of time.
“If we can get to my locker I can take them off,” Bonfire continued. “We just have to make it past-”
That’s when I saw them.
Around the next turn there were more robots; larger robots, armed with flamethrowers, machine guns and rotating blades.
“-them,” Bonfire murmured.
We stumbled back, matching our retreat with the android advance. Rampage mode; HaXX0r wasn’t kidding. “I hate rampage mode so much.”
“Welcome to being a prefect, blondie.”
To be continued…