Nearly two hundred individuals had been displaced during the InfiniTech incident, each of whom was catalogued in folders sitting on Theodore Fellow’s coffee table. He sifted through them in search of this mysterious ‘Glimmer Girl’ figure, and matched profiles based on sex, skin tone, height, and build. So far the search had bore no fruit.
The doctor collapsed onto the unmade bed, and scowled at the motel ceiling. Within days of the phenomenon the adept made had her debut as a ‘hero’, and had been active since. Surely the proximity of the two events was more than coincidence. If the opening between worlds imbued another with extraordinary ability then it was his duty to know, and perhaps possess it for himself.
Between liquid meals the doctor downed mugs of coffee almost by the dozen. Though it did little to satiate the nagging in his belly, it kept him from becoming sluggish. With outside forces moving in there was little time for rest; and though it may have taken a toll on his relative short-term sanity Dr. Fellows knew himself to be a reasonable man, always, without question.
He considered the stack of folders once more, and ruminated on the discriminating criteria. Had the subject the ability to alter her shape his search was in vain; or perhaps it was himself who was too discerning. Combing through the files again he searched for any signs of this Glimmer Girl, no matter how small.
It was after the first dozen dossiers that he came across an anomaly; the son of a pharmaceutical researcher, the same young man he’d taken as collateral against his criminal cohorts. How had he not seen it before? The soft features and long blonde hair held an uncanny resemblance to the images in the media.
“Glimmer Girl’s a boy,” he said. “Remarkable.” A lesser intellect would have failed to make the connection.
Leaping from his seat, Dr. Fellows threw on his coat and braced the device around his arm. This was his first substantial lead, and warranted immediate investigation. With a wave of his hand he vanished from the motel room, leaving a sudden and eerie absence in his wake.
* * * *
Whoever said that everybody loves a hero wasn’t kidding. On TV, in blogs, and especially at school, Glimmer Girl was the subject on everybody’s lips.
Most times I couldn’t care less about the chatter in the hall, but that was when 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. Could you imagine their faces if they knew I was there?
“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, much to her chagrin. Had he known who was under the costume he might have different words, considering the kind of jokes he made about people who were different.
Tanya leaned to whisper in my ear. “There was an article on Friendspace calling Glimmer Girl a ‘feminist youth icon of the twenty-first century’. One of the commenters is putting together a cosplay.”
Words fell short. What do you do with that kind of celebrity? Since the fire I’d flown the injured to nearly hospitals, pulled a woman from the path of an oncoming vehicle, and rescued a dog swept up in a river. It didn’t seem like much, but people were taking notice.
One of the juniors considered a snapshot of Glimmer Girl, and mused aloud. “You know, I’d probably go lez for her.” 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 accepted brand of queer, and was exclusive to a certain kind of girl. How ironic they assumed Glimmer Girl to be a part of their club.
* * * *
Tanya and I found each other after the final bell, and shuffled through the parking lot. We made our way to the beetle, and opened the doors to give the sun-cooked insides time to cool. The security cameras fixed to the main building offered relative safety, though it was soon shattered by grunts of laughter. I looked up, and back to the gravel.
“What’s he doing here?” Tanya hissed.
Adrian’s gaze cut through the pack. I didn’t dare to look, but not for the sames reasons as I would have the week before. Fists balled under my arms. It was all I could do to keep from lashing out.
“Don’t make eye contact,” I said.
Tanya frowned. “It’s okay. If they try anything they’ll regret it.”
An image flashed before my eyes of Adrian’s collar curled in my fists. In the daydream we shot to the stratosphere while he kicked, wailed, and pleaded to be let down; at thirty thousand feet I granted his wish, and watched his race to meet the ground. I fought the urge to smirk.
“Let’s just get out of here,” Tanya said. She climbed into the driver’s seat, and waited for me to follow.
I locked eyes with the furious jock. He burned with all the hate and blame he’d placed at my feet, which only grew as time went on. Tradition was that I’d keep my head down and pretend he didn’t exist, no matter the cost to my dignity or myself.
Tanya leaned across the centre console. “The last time you crossed paths you killed his car. If he hated you before…”
“Let him try,” I said.
It didn’t take long for Adrian’s friends to clock he’d gone silent. They followed his gaze, and spread like pack animals around the beetle. Adrian’s honor, or whatever passed for it, was theirs as well, and having their record tarnished so close to graduation would not stand.
The engine chugged to life. “We need to get out of here,” Tanya said.
Pebbles crunched under Adrian’s feet. A long shadow climbed the short distance between us. His lip twitched with more than his trademark sadism.
“You should run,” he said.
Tanya pounded the horn. “KC, you’re acting crazy! Don’t provoke him!”
I held my ground. Soon we were face to face, close enough to smell the garlic on his breath. Neither of us dared to flinch first.
“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 were wearing the smell for a week!” His friends laughed with him, like imps cackling for their master. “That’s what happens when you forget your place, queer.”
“That was then, and this is now,” I said, “and I am done being your whipping girl.”
“Girl,” he sneered. Adrian shifted, and arched as high as his neck would allow. Hate tightened in his fists. Each breath was like hot mist descending from on high. “You’re right. This is now, and I’m going to do more than just humiliate you.”
From out of nowhere Tanya plowed into his side, and knocked him from his feet. She snatched my arm and pulled me to the car with all of her strength.
“Let me go!”
“You’re not doing this,” she said.
“I can take him!”
She whispered sharply. “You’re not going to waste your powers on these freaks. Now come on!”
Adrian climbed back like bubbling lava, and was ready to charge. Even if I wanted to run, it was too late to escape his meaty paws. One way or another, this fight was going to happen.
Just then a voice carried through the lot. “Gentlemen, please!” Adrian knew the drill as well as I did; so long as nobody caught him landing the first punch he was home free. Even on suspension he was a star athlete.
I turned to the figure and froze. Instead of a teacher was the new face of my nightmares; the middle aged man with receding hair and trimmed beard. He appeared wearing a tie and a houndstooth jacket, and just as intense an expression as he had when he met me at gunpoint.
Adrian growled. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“A friend of Mr. Cade here,” he said. “Now if you’ll excuse us-”
I latched onto Tanya like a woodland creature. Bravado ran to my feet and left me cold. Suddenly I was back in time, back on that horrible day, when the relative safety of the world fizzled to nothingness.
The stranger huffed, and reached toward his back pocket. “I can see you won’t be reasonable about this.” His hand returned with a gun, which then trained on Adrian’s chest. He remained steady and cool, unlike his target.
Lost in panic, Adrian and his friends backed away and sprinted between the cars. Bystanders screamed and took refuge where they could. Tanya pulled me back, but I stumbled, and kicked stones in an attempt to crawl away.
My friend shrieked under her breath.“What the hell is going on?”
Dr. Fellows lowered his weapon, and grabbed my other wrist. He pulled me like a ragdoll away from Tanya, and leveled his grimace on her. “If you’ll excuse us, this is a private conversation.”
I closed my eyes, and in a blink the world turned. All that remained was the doctor and I. Reality blurred across my senses until the car park was gone.
* * * *
The ground struck like a frigid hand, and drove chilling numb into my skin. I crawled through the stars and back to my feet, and into a biting wind that blew though my clothes. When I opened my eyes there were no cars, and there was no school, but a haze of white that covered everything.
“Somewhere in the Himalayas, on a point of the map with no name.” His voice was clear against the tundra, and then I remembered who it belonged to.
I was prepared to run. Anywhere had to be better than where I was. Before I’d taken two steps Dr. Fellows grabbed me again, and pulled me from an icy drop. It was only as I stared down into the chasm I found there was nowhere to run.
“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? His expression remained as deadpan as his tone.
Terror froze in my chest. I was stranded in the middle of nowhere with a violent man, with no clue how I got there. What was I going to do?
He looked me over dispassionately, and nodded. “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, and I am sorry for whatever distress it may have caused.”
Even if the apology was genuine, no words could scale down what had been etched into me that day. Dr. Fellows tightened his lips into a smile, but somehow fell short of the benevolent genius he said he was.
My voice rasped. “You put a gun to my head…”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“You threatened to kill me.”
“Yes,” he said, “but now that’s behind us. I’ve made my apology. Now perhaps we can move on. It’s very important that I talk to you, Mr. Cade, person to person.”
Frost settled in my lungs and made them hollow, but that was nothing to the cold aura radiating from the doctor. He slipped off his jacket and threw it to my feet; a gesture of goodwill from a man who acted out of necessity. I snatched up 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! I don’t know what you did, but-”
He gestured for silence. “Tell me what followed after we parted company.”
There was something in his eyes that made my stomach turn. More than a studious gaze, he was searching for something. I pulled the jacket tighter. Could he have known 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 easily 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 to look at. “Nothing. Just light.”
“Are you sure?”
Dr. Fellows marched around me with long, considered steps. I buckled with every crunch of the snow, until finally he stopped.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Cade,” he said, and in a blink he was gone.
Next thing I was standing in a local mall on a level above the food court. Some people stopped to gawk at the kid with the houndstooth jacket, who for some reason was covered in frost.
I fell to my knees, clutching my arms under the coat and trying to regain warmth. The nightmare wasn’t over.
* * * *
When I returned home it was in the back of a police car, and everyone was on high alert. For all they knew I was an ordinary kid who couldn’t explain why there was a fugitive on my tail. They had questions, and I played ignorant; Glimmer Girl had to remain secret.
The moment the door opened my Mom flew across the yard and scooped me up. Dad came after, and wrapped himself around us both. There had been countless tears, and so long as Theodore Fellows was out there no end was in sight.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Dad said. He was beyond exhausted. How did he find the strength to keeping moving?
We curled together on the sofa, though I couldn’t remember setting down. Painful as family was I was thankful they were there. Even staring idly at a blank screen while playing the role of ‘son’ it was more time we’d shared since I was small.
My father reached over to flick my ponytail. On most days he’d joke about needing a haircut, but at that moment he didn’t have the heart to tease. Instead he smiled gently, tucked a strand behind my ear, and offered a weary nod.
“Does this mean more time off school?” I asked.
The blue and red lights continued to flash outside our front window. Nobody was leaving anytime soon.
* * * *
The rooftops of suburbia proved an inadequate vantage regardless of where he blinked. However, there was no mistaking the flashing sirens in front of the Cade household, and what passed as protection by its owners. Bullets posed no threat to him, and with some minor calculation Dr. Fellows could bypass the police entirely and appear in the family living room.
Unfortunately such methods would create undue complication if they were to draw Glimmer Girl from hiding. The doctor paused, and considered an alternative path to help meet his goal.
He blinked into space, and left no trace of his presence behind.
* * * *
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, and sat upright.
“Honey, what is it?” Mom asked.
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; only that it coincided with the passing of a commuter train during peak hour. Officials are estimating around three hundred passengers and staff were inside; around sixty have been rescued by… oh my god, what is…?”
Metal twisted on the monitor, barely captured by the lone camera. The sounds of screams were unmistakable.
Both parents covered their gasps, and held each other. News of such disaster had always been distant, but now it struck close to home where they could no longer remove themselves. It seemed even more cruel at a time we were all raw.
“I can’t watch this,” I lied. “Maybe I should have an early night.”
They wouldn’t let me go without a hug, which in the scheme of things was probably best. After climbing the stairs I didn’t stop at the bedroom, and in a burst of light crossed the city toward disaster. There was work to be done.
* * * *
The traffic was backed up for miles, and only got uglier the closer it was to the epicentre. I flew heads above, married to the main streets and drawing the attention of gridlocked drivers. A couple of road workers tried to follow as I passed, and fell flat on their butts.
“Sorry,” I said, but they were already blocks away.
I closed on the scene, and a more grizzled picture than television could convey. Mortar and iron lay twisted on its side, curling into brick and billboards. Power lines snapped and sparked like pythons twisting across the street. Running through the debris was the evening express, rolled onto its back with cries echoing from inside.
Manning the barricades were police, firefighters, and electrical workers, who in the face of a thousand blaring horns struggled to navigate the carnage. Their eyes turned as I descended. One officer sprinted toward me, and waved me down.
Placing my hands on hips I projected my most trusting smile. “What’s the situation?”
He glared as he spoke into his radio. “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 puffed, and 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.”
Suddenly the air split with an almighty boom. The force sent people flying, shattered windows, and made every car within a hundred feet hop 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 at me. “Get out of here here, kid!”
I couldn’t run, and was fixated on the figure at the heart of the disaster. He stood atop the rubble like some kind of conqueror. Even before I could make his face I knew; that creeping widow’s peak, and the unkempt beard. He wore thick, tinted goggles to accessorise the intensity of his gaze.
“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, but regarded it with matter-of-fact acknowledgement. For a reasonable man he was quick to turn toward violence as a solution.
Light radiated as I pulled from the ground. “I think you’ve got the wrong person, friend.” My voice caught at the back of my throat; he was menacing enough before this started.
He marched down the wreck, kicking the tails of a long, purple coat as he did. It was buttoned to his neck, and fitted with armor-like plates. The device fixed to his arm was the same he wore in the Himalayas, and shimmered like a mirage with dancing colors. His smile was the same as it was, with no presumption for what passed in his world as polite, and something else; determination, and an ironclad hard enough to shatter any obstacle.
Suddenly, a pair of arms wrapped around around my shoulders and pulled me to the ground. Next I knew the cop disappeared, far from the the sounds of smashing glass and car alarms. I turned back to Dr. Fellow’s and his outstretched arm.
Men and women scrambled nearby. Behind the barricade the cop lay bloody in the windshield of a nearby car, thankfully in one piece. The EMTs paused as they ran to him, hesitant to get close.
“Did you do that?”
He sneered over the gathering; police, commuters, everyone. “Nobody interfere! My business is with ‘Glimmer Girl’ and nobody else! Leave us, or face consequences you’ve never dreamed!”
My chest contorted. Of course he was there for me, but why? Suddenly it was up to be to stop him, but how?
I lifted my hands, slowly. “Okay, Fellows. I’m here. Let’s talk.”
His lips 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.”
Wailing carried through the air, stifled by the layers of destruction turned over the passenger cars. There were people inside, injured or worse; and all of it was by design. I had to do something.
“How many more are you going to hurt?”
Dr. Vortex turned up his nose. “That depends entirely 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, and time was growing short.
Rage and desperation coiled into a fist, and snapped in the villain’s face. Light exploded and propelled my movement. It was the first real punch I’d ever thrown and backed by strength I didn’t know I had.
Hot breath brushed my knuckle as Dr. Vortex blinked from my path. The blow swatted impotently at the air as my enemy reappeared just a few yards away. I lashed in his direction like a woman possessed, only to fall short a second time.
“I have no objections to doing this the hard way,” Dr. Vortex said.
My jaw wound tight. “One way or another you’re going down!”
Dr. Vortex huffed. “I should think as a ‘hero’ you have more pressing matters to attend to.”
With a wave of his hand the landscape changed, and tons of debris were swallowed into thin air. The path onto the train was suddenly clear enough to move people out.
Just then a slab of concrete struck the road, prompting a fresh round of screams. I looked to the sky where brick and beams were falling like rain, and in less than moments would impact an already broken scene.
To be continued…