Two hundred people were displaced during the InfiniTech incident. Their names sat cataloged on Theodore Fellow’s coffee table. He sifted through them in search of this ‘Glimmer Girl’, and matched profiles based on sex, skin tone, height, and build. So far the search bore no fruit.
The doctor collapsed onto the unmade bed. Within days of the phenomenon the adept made had her debut as a ‘hero’. The proximity of the events was more than coincidence. If the incident imbued another with extraordinary ability then it was his duty to know. More than that, he should own the power for himself.
Between liquid meals the doctor downed mugs of coffee. It did little to satiate the nagging in his belly, but kept him from becoming sluggish. With outside forces moving in there was little time for rest.
He considered the folders and the criteria of his chat. Were the subject able to alter her shape his search was in vain. Or the doctor was too discerning. Combing through the files again he searched for any sign of this Glimmer Girl, no matter how small.
It was after the first dozen dossiers that he came across an anomaly. It was the son of a pharmaceutical researcher, the same young man he’d taken as collateral. His features and long blonde hair held an uncanny resemblance to images in the media.
“Glimmer Girl’s a boy,” he said. “Remarkable.” A lesser intellect would fail to make the connection.
Dr. Fellows threw on his coat and braced the device around his arm. His first substantial lead warranted immediate investigation. With a wave of his hand he vanished from the motel room, leaving an eerie absence in his wake.
* * * *
Whoever said that everybody loves a hero wasn’t kidding. On TV, in blogs, and even at school, Glimmer Girl was the subject on everybody’s lips.
Most times I couldn’t care less about the chatter in the hall. They talked about the oddball queer and his/her mountain of a girlfriend. Now the topic was the hot new cape, where they came from, and how cool they were. Imagine their faces if they knew.
“I would kill for those legs,” said one of the girls.
Her boyfriend waggled his eyebrows at the image on her phone. “Yeah, I’d bang her,” he said. I had to laugh.
Tanya leaned close. “There was an article on Friendspace. They called Glimmer Girl a ‘feminist youth icon of the twenty-first century’. One of the commenters put together a cosplay.”
Words fell short. What do you do with that kind of celebrity? Since the fire I’d flown the injured to hospitals, pulled a woman from traffic, and rescued a dog swept up in a river. It was saving the world a piece at a time, and people were taking notice.
One of the juniors gawked a snapshot of Glimmer Girl. “I’d go lez for her,” she said. Her tone suggested it was a joke-but-not-a-joke, and her friends agreed.
They caught my gaze and sneered. Non-committal bi-curiosity was the only acceptable brand of queer. It was exclusive to a certain kind of girl. I fought a smirk. ‘Glimmer Girl’ wanted no part of their clique.
* * * *
Tanya and I found each other after the final bell. We made our way to the beetle and opened the doors to let the sun-cooked insides cool. The security cameras fixed to the main building offered relative safety. That soon shattered with grunts of laughter. I looked up, and back to the gravel.
“What’s he doing here?” Tanya hissed.
Adrian cut through the pack. Fists balled under my arms. They fought against my restraint. Gods, if ever a face needed punching! My eyes darted in the ground, the cars, anywhere away from him.
Tanya frowned. “They’d be stupid to try anything.”
An image flashed before my eyes. Adrian’s collar curled in my fists. We shot to the stratosphere. He kicked and pleaded for me to let go. At thirty thousand feet I granted his wish, and savored the race to the ground.
“Let’s get out of here,” Tanya said. She climbed into the driver’s seat, but I didn’t follow.
The thug locked eyes with his intended prey; with me. He burned with the blame he laid at my feet. It only grew with time. We butted horns a thousand times, and there was only one outcome. This time would be different.
Tanya leaned across the center console. “The last time you you killed his car. If he hated you before…”
“I don’t care.”
Adrian’s posse circled the beetle. His honor, or whatever passed for it, was theirs as well. Having their record tarnished so close to graduation would not stand. You could admire their loyalty if not their taste in friends.
“We need to get out of here,” Tanya said. The engine chugged to life.
Pebbles crunched under Adrian’s steps. A long shadow climbed between us. His lip twitched with a sideways grin. He wanted me afraid, but my fear ran dry. He was to beat it back into me.
Tanya pounded the horn. “KC! Don’t provoke him!”
I held my ground. We came face to face. I could smell the garlic on his breath. Neither of us flinched. I planted my feet. Funny, but he wasn’t as big up close.
“Remember the last time you grew a backbone?” he said. “Sophomore year, when you landed in compost? We made sure it got in every corner, down your shirt, down your pants. You wore the smell for a week!” His goons laughed like imps for their master. “That’s what happens when you forget your place, queer.” He shoved my chest, but didn’t expect me to hold ground.
My fists tightened. “I’m done playing whipping girl!”
“Girl,” he said. Adrian arched as high as his neck would allow. Hate frothed through ravenous teeth. Each breath was hot mist. “I’m gonna to do more than whip you, fa-”
Tanya plowed into his side. The brute went down like a landslide. He struck gravel with a grunt. She snatched my arm and pulled me to the car. I fought every step.
“Let me go!”
“You’re not doing this,” she said.
Adrian’s league of jocks pulled him to his feet. Tanya fell on their radar. They had no qualms about hitting a girl, but didn’t think of her as one. She dressed ‘like a boy’, so they would ‘treat her like one’.
“I can take him!”
Tanya doubled her grip. “You’re not going to waste your powers on these freaks!”
Adrian rose like bubbling lava. He readied to charge. It was too late to escape his meaty paws. Whatever. I wasn’t running. This fight was happening.
Then a voice cut through the lot. “Gentlemen, please!” Adrian knew the drill. So long as they didn’t catch him in the act he was innocent. Guilt rarely stuck on a star athlete, even one on suspension.
I froze. It was no teacher that broke up the fight. Instead I saw the new face of my nightmares; the middle aged man with receding hair. He trimmed his beard, and appeared wearing a tie and houndstooth jacket.
“Who are you supposed to be?” said Adrian.
“A friend of Mr. Cade here,” the stranger said. “Now if you’ll excuse us-”
I latched onto Tanya. My bravado ran cold and chilled my feet. Powers or not I was helpless again.
The stranger reached into his back pocket. “I can see you won’t be reasonable about this.” His hand returned with a gun. He then trained it on Adrian’s chest. Unlike his target he remained steady and cool.
Adrian and his friends leaped backed. They sprinted between the cars, driven by alarm. Bystanders took refuge where they could. Tanya pulled me to the beetle, but I stumbled. I tried to crawl but only kicked stones.
He lowered his weapon, and grabbed my wrist. He pulled me from Tanya like a ragdoll. “If you’ll excuse us, this is a private conversation.”
The world turned in a blink. The doctor and I were alone. Reality blurred across my senses. The place was familiar. Where once it housed light it then had nothing. Void. Infinity. Death.
* * * *
The ground struck like a frigid hand. It drove the chill into my skin. I crawled to my feet, and into a biting wind. It blew though my clothes like they were nothing. When I opened my eyes there were no cars, no school; only a haze of endless white.
“Somewhere in the Himalayas, on a point of the map with no name.” His voice was clear against the tundra. It brought me no comfort. “We haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Dr. Theodore Fellows and you, Mr. Cade, stumbled into my research.”
Adrenaline surged through my calves. Anywhere had to be better, even the bottom of a cliff. Before I took two steps Dr. Fellows and grabbed me again. I stared into a frosted chasm. He saved me from a cruel fate.
“If you’re so determined to kill yourself I will allow you to do so, but only after our business is concluded,” he said. Was that supposed to be sarcasm? Deadpan locked his expression.
He looked me over dispassionately. “First, allow me to apologize for our initial meeting,” he said. “I was on the verge of a cutting edge discovery, and circumstance forced me to take drastic action. You were an unfortunate but necessary component in that. I am sorry for whatever distress it may have caused.”
Terror froze in my chest. His words came as no comfort. Even if it was a real apology nothing could shrink the horror of what he’d done. Dr. Fellows tightened his lips into a smile, but fell still short of appearing as a friend.
Cold scratched my throat. I shook from more than the temperature. “You put a gun to my head.”
“You… threatened to kill me!”
“Yes,” he said, “but now that’s behind us. I’ve made my apology. We can move forward. It’s important that I talk to you, Mr. Cade, person to person.”
My breathing was shallow. There wasn’t enough air to fill them. The doctor slipped out of his jacket and threw it to my feet. It was supposed to be a gesture of goodwill. I snatched the extra layer and pulled it tight.
“Something happened to you the day of the accident,” he said.
My teeth chattered. “Accident? You took me hostage and dragged me into the basement!”
He gestured for silence. “Tell me what followed after we parted company.”
His eyes made my stomach turn. More than a studious gaze he searched me for something, I don’t know what. I pulled the jacket tighter. Did he know about Glimmer Girl?
“I… I landed in a ditch by the highway, in the next county,” I said. “They gave me a sandwich. Then I talked to some some lady, and I went to hospital. The end.”
Dr. Fellows circled like a predator. I wouldn’t meet his eyes, but that fear was natural. What he did once he could do again, and more. He leaned close. “What did you see when the portal opened?”
I closed my eyes. Even in memory the brightness burned. “Nothing. Just light.”
“Are you sure?”
Dr. Fellows marched with long, considered steps. I buckled with the crunching of the snow until he stopped. At any moment I expected a knife or an ax or a gun to fall on my head, but it didn’t.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Cade,” he said. In a blink he was gone along with the chill and the tundra. Gravity rolled in a tumble dryer with no sense of direction.
Next I stood in a local mall on a level above the food court. The warm air burned my frigid skin. The icicles sweat piercing my skin melted. People stopped to gawk at the kid with the houndstooth jacket covered in frost.
I fell to my knees and threw that stupid coat across the tiles. The nightmare continued.
* * * *
When I returned home it was in the back of a police car. Family, friends, everybody was on high alert. For all they knew I was an ordinary kid. I couldn’t explain the fugitive on my tail, except that he was ‘crazy’. They asked questions, and I played ignorant; Glimmer Girl had to remain secret.
The door of the police car opened. My Mom flew across the yard and scooped me into her arms. Dad came after, and wrapped himself around us both. There were countless tears, and no end was in sight.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Dad said. He was beyond exhausted.
We curled together on the sofa, though I couldn’t remember sitting. Family was painful, but I was still glad for them. Staring at a blank screen and playing the role of ‘son’ it was more time we’d shared since I was a kid. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing.
My Dad flicked my ponytail. Most days he joked about my needing a haircut, but he didn’t have the heart to tease. Instead he tucked a strand behind my ear. He smiled, and roughed my hair all over again.
“Does this mean more time off school?”
Red and blue flashed outside our front window. None of us were leaving anytime soon.
* * * *
The rooftops of suburbia proved inadequate vantage. Sirens shone from the Cade household. That, he supposed, was what passed as protection. Bullets posed no threat to him. With some minor calculation Dr. Fellows could bypass the police. Though such methods would create undue complication. The plan was to draw Glimmer Girl from hiding. The doctor paused, and considered an alternative path to his goal.
He blinked into space, and left no trace of his presence.
* * * *
The buzzing in my pocket pulled me from a nap. It was a text from Tanya. ‘Turn on News 5,’ she said. Reaching for the remote I switched the television on, and raised the volume. Mom and Dad stirred.
“Honey, what is it?” Mom said.
The picture scrolled across the rubble where emergency services were trawling. A reporter spoke over the image. “This is the scene now under what was the David J. Thompson Bridge on the outskirts of Milestone Heights. Nobody knows what caused the collapse. It coincided with the passing of a commuter train during peak hour. Officials estimate three hundred passengers and staff were inside. Around sixty were rescued by… oh my god, what is…?”
Metal twisted on the screen. It was only captured in part by the camera. Screams fizzled through the mic.
“I can’t watch this,” I lied. “I’ll have an early night.”
They wouldn’t let me go without a hug, which I could understand. I climbed the stairs but didn’t stop at the bedroom. In a burst of light I crossed the city toward disaster. There was work to be done.
* * * *
The traffic backed up for miles. It got ugly closer to the epicenter. I flew heads above and followed the main streets. My flight drew the attention of gridlocked drivers. A couple of road workers tried to follow but fell flat on their butts.
“Sorry,” I said, but they were already blocks away.
I closed on a more grizzled picture than television could convey. Mortar and iron lay twisted, curling into brick and billboards. Power lines snapped and spat like snakes across the street. Running through the debris the evening express lay rolled on its back. Despair echoed from the carriages.
Manning the barricades were police, firefighters, electrical workers, and a thousand blaring horns. They struggled to navigate the carnage. Their eyes turned as I descended. One officer sprinted toward me, and waved me in to land.
I placed hands on hips. Classic hero pose. “What’s the situation?”
He turned to the receiver. “Captain, we’ve got Glimmer Girl on scene.”
The radio squawked back. “Glimmer Girl is a civilian. Get her the hell out of there!”
With every ounce of authority he pressed me back toward the barricade. “You heard the man. We’ve got it under control,” he said. “When we need a cheerleader and fireworks we’ll let you know.”
The air split with an almighty boom. The force sent people flying. It shattered windows. Every car within a hundred feet hopped from the ground. I grabbed the cop to save him from a rough landing and dropped him on the other side of the barricade.
He rasped. “Get out of here here, kid!”
I couldn’t run. A figure appeared in the heart of disaster. He stood atop the rubble like a conqueror. I knew him immediately; that creeping widow’s peak and unkempt beard. He wore thick, tinted goggles.
“Hello, Glimmer Girl. I’m sorry it had to be this way,” he said. “On the off-chance I was wrong about your identity I decided to leave your family alone. Given your current stature this seemed far more appropriate.”
Dr. Fellows gestured to the chaos like an artist seeking appraisal. He was neither proud nor ashamed of the body of suffering he wrought. For a reasonable man he was quick to adopt violence as a solution.
Light radiated as I pushed from the ground. “You’ve got the wrong person, friend.”
He marched down the wreck and kicked the tails of his long, purple coat. It buttoned to his neck, was and fitted with armor plates. The device fixed to his arm was the same he wore in the Himalayas, and shimmered with a mirage of dancing colors. His smile was the same, with no presumption for what passed as polite. And something else; determination hard enough to shatter any obstacle.
A pair of arms wrapped around around my shoulders. The uniformed limbs pulled me to the ground. Then the cop disappeared. I turned to Dr. Fellows and his outstretched arm. It was the same trick he pulled in the parking lot.
Frenzied humanity scrambled through the scene. Behind the barricade a cop lay in the windshield of a car, though still in one piece. The EMTs ran to him, but were hesitant to get close.
Gods, I’d never seen so much blood. I paused. “Did… did you do that?” I knew he could, but why? Did he feel nothing for others?
Dr. Vortex sneered. He stretched his arms to address police, commuters, everyone. “My business is with ‘Glimmer Girl’ and nobody else! Leave us, or face consequences you’ve never dreamed!”
I steeled myself and inhaled. “Okay, Fellows. I’m here. Let’s talk.”
His lip curled. “Real names are somewhat vulgar at this point. If this is the game you want to play, then ‘Dr. Vortex’ is the title I prefer. It may be gauche, but that’s typical for the subculture.”
Wails filled the air. Some were stifled by the layers of destruction. There were people inside, injured or worse, and all it was by design. A human being with no regard for others stirred a world of suffering. Why? Because it served him. I had to do something.
“How many more do you have to hurt?”
Dr. Vortex turned up his nose. “That depends on you, Mr. Cade. Lend me your power and I’ll leave well enough alone.”
The name caused me to flinch, but that was the least of my problems. There were people in need of medical attention. Time grew short, and Dr. Vortex knew it. He was still, no doubt ready to drag it on all night.
Rage coiled into a fist, and snapped in the villain’s face. Light exploded and propelled me to the top of the hill. It was the first real punch I’d ever thrown, backed by strength I didn’t know I had.
Hot breath brushed my knuckle as Dr. Vortex blinked from my path. The blow swatted the air. The enemy appeared a few yards away. I lashed out like a woman possessed, but fell short a second time.
“I have no objections to doing this the hard way,” Dr. Vortex said.
“One way or another, you’re going down!”
Dr. Vortex huffed. “I should think as a ‘hero’ you have more pressing matters to attend.”
With another wave of his hand the landscape changed. Thin air swallowed tons of debris. The path to the train became clear enough to move survivors. A slab of concrete struck the road. Screams cut through the tremors. I looked to the sky. Brick and beams fell like rain. In moments they would impact an already broken scene.
To be continued…