Ten minutes into my first college party and it already defied expectation. In place of a raging kegger was a spread of pre-twenty-somethings under the fairy lights. They held pre-mixed drinks in hand and chatted to a chill-hop soundtrack. Milestone Academy might not have been a party campus, but I could imagine my parents at a place like this.
A burning stink wafted from down the hall. It drove me toward the rec room. Nobody seemed to mind the smell. Gods, I was already losing my appetite.
I found Tanya by the kitchenette chatting to a random group of guys. She seemed right at home in an old band tee, jacket and her hair spiked. Both she and her new friends laughed as if they’d known each other forever. It was at that moment I realized the nightmare of high school was over for good.
“Hey, you guys!”
Tanya threw up her arms to create an opening between us. She introduced me to her new friends; Matthias, LeShaun, Trayvon, Lucas – what was the first guy’s name again? By the time she finished I’d already forgotten. I found myself drawn into fresher chit-chat about classes, schedules, you know the rest.
They seemed cool enough, not like the guys who used to turn away as I walked down the hall. They asked if I wanted anything to drink; spirits, beer, even soda if I wasn’t into that. Maybe college guys were a different breed, or they didn’t know the kind of girl I was.
It wasn’t until later that I realized I was alone. Tanya vanished to some other corner. Had she ditched me? That wasn’t possible. She was my number one girl and we looked out for each other. I searched the crowd and deflected greetings from strangers. Meanwhile I clutched my orange drink. The lump in my chest swallowed any fun that might have been had. Ten minutes later and there she was at the end of the hall, peering out of a second story window.
“Are you avoiding me or something?” I laughed, but not really.
Tanya clicked her tongue. “Where were you today?” Whatever my answer, it wouldn’t be enough.
“When you’re supposed to be helping me unpack,” she said. “You know I’ll look out for you, KC, but there’s only so many times I can pick up the slack. I can only take so much strained conversation with your Mom.”
Gods, it was like a punch to the gut. “It was important,” I said.
“Like ‘saving the President’ important? Not a lot of people would thank you for that.”
I smirked and decided not to tell her about the donut shop.
Tanya’s frown deepened. “You should have called, girl. This was important. What am I supposed to do when you keep not showing up for stuff?”
“I promise I’ll start showing up for stuff,” I said. Yeah, I wasn’t convinced, either.
“Maybe you should put your alter-ego on a timetable. Give her a certain number of hours a week and the rest of the time you worry about Kaira.”
Just when I’d moved past one secret identity I was making room for another. Which was more scandalous; the trans girl or the superhero? History repeated in the worst kind of way.
I slumped onto Tanya’s shoulder. “You don’t have to cover for me. I’ll get a handle on this. I promise.” That time was convincing.
“Yeah, okay,” she said and pulled me into a hug. Tanya was a great friend; the best, even. Now all I had to do was be worthy of that friendship.
* * * *
It was sometime around midnight that I bothered to check my cell. For lack of messages I checked the news instead. Who knows? It could have been a slow news day and a Glimmer Girl sighting still meant something.
By that point I’d only had one (alcoholic) drink; a craft beer brewed by a lab tech out to make a name for himself. It was raspberry flavored, so I didn’t complain. Regardless, I had to be sober. To be a serious hero then I had to be on call, twenty-four seven. Imagine if Glimmer Girl arrived nursing a hangover.
The party was dwindling. Nobody was in the mood to start a new conversation and there was a vacant sofa chair with my name on it. I threw my legs across the cushions and began to scroll. There were the usual car accidents and politicians opening their ignorant mouths.
No major crimes – unless you counted one headline. ‘SHIPPING MAGNATE SHAKES ARMS DEALING CHARGE.’ And it happened here in Milestone City. That was a problem and a half, but not one I could punch.
I lay my head on the arm and frowned. Gods, I was exhausted. All that work – flying, running, chasing – for nothing. Glimmer Girl only had a handful of wins. Meanwhile guys like – I checked the name – ‘Waylon Dervish’ were walking the streets without a care in the world. Where was the justice?
The words of that giant cop circled in my thoughts. ‘Stay back and leave the hard work to those qualified.’ For all the good they did! I wondered if it was my chance to prove myself.
At a quarter past twelve I downed the last of my soda and shook off the need for sleep. The city was calling for a hero.
* * * *
A quick internet search was all I needed to learn everything about Dervish. Listed were the businesses he owned, subsidiaries and the address of his corporate headquarters. A few results had his cell and social security numbers. In the information age everyone is vulnerable, which was why I chose to wear a mask.
I was halfway to the Docklands before realizing I was ignoring the law – breaking and entering, without the breaking. Teenage rebellion demanded raise a finger to the police state, even if another felt guilty. Meanwhile Roland Dervish, a criminal in the realest sense, walked free.
Milestone City needed me; not any masked vigilante, but Glimmer Girl. Legal or not, it was the right thing to do.
The more I toyed with my powers the more I learned to do with them. At first invisibility was a fluke. One minute I was shifted up and down the light spectrum. Then a shimmering phantom remained. I didn’t know ultraviolet from infrared, let alone high frequency microwaves. It took some study but I soon made sense of it, both on the page and in practice.
I refracted through the polished window as though it were nothing. Like I said, entering without breaking. I hovered over the abrasive, rust colored carpet. Dervish’s headquarters were situated in a hangover from the nineteen-sixties. The wall was course with paint layered over old peelings. It was rustic but well kept. Only a few scraps with doodles, phone numbers and email addresses littered the desk.
With a press of a button his computer hummed to life. The flat screen offered a username, DERVW0, and requested a password. I didn’t know the first thing about hacking a computer.
Next I moved to the filing cabinets. I pulled the handles. They were locked. A focused laser blast could fix that – okay, maybe some breaking was inevitable.
I pulled folders from the drawers and combed the numbers. It was pointless. I didn’t know the first thing about accounting. But the damning evidence was there and only needed someone who knew how to look.
With a stack of folders under my arm I clicked the latch on the window. It opened it to the twenty levels of thin air. I could refract through glass, but the papers couldn’t. Still shimmering under the visible spectrum I flew into the night. Come the morning Milestone’s criminal underworld would be shaking in their boots.
* * * *
In spite of his crimes Waylon Dervish was a sound sleeper. Once he closed his eyes not even the snore of his on-again-off-again lover, Lisa, could wake him. After the trial concluded in his favor sleep only became more restful.
“Waylon! Get up!”
He stirred, dismissing the words as dream prattle. The woman roused him again, this time grabbing his shoulder and shaking him.
“Waylon! There’s someone in the house!”
Starting awake like a territorial animal he opened the drawer of his night stand. Waylon checked to make sure the pistol was loaded. As part of his parole agreement he wasn’t permitted a firearm, but he was a man with enemies. Waylon would not be made defenseless.
“Stay here,” he said. With calculated steps he pressed into the hall.
At a first glance his home was better kept than most, but in every other sense like any other. It featured a fence, garden, two floors, three bedrooms and a basement. A stranger might not have guessed a gangster lived in upscale suburbia.
A cocktail of fear and fury bubbled through his veins, sharpening his instinct. He slowed at the corner by the living area. Waylon cocked the hammer of his weapon. He could make out a noise, but whether it was one of his rivals or the world’s stupidest burglar was anybody’s guess.
The invader droned. “Put that thing down before you take out an eye.”
Waylon lowered the gun and flicked the light switch. There in the leather recliner Roland was nursing a tablet. He should have known from the smell of cinnamon who it was that defiled his home.
“You want to tell me what this is?” he said. “It’s three o’clock in the freakin’ morning. My lady friend down the hall is about to have kittens!”
“How is Lisa?” Roland didn’t ask. Instead he combed back and forth over the footage in his lap.
“Maybe I will shoot you,” Waylon said.
Roland smirked. “Remember when I asked to take a look at your security?” He turned the tablet around and offered it to his brother. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
He set the gun down and took the device. On it was a video with several dark shapes Waylon recognized from his office. It featured a bright, spectral figure who floated through the window and above the ground. It appeared lithe, female and interested in his files.
“Wh-what is this?”
“It’s as I said; you’ve got a hero problem,” Roland explained. “Your face is all over the news, brother. It was only a matter of time before some vigilante justice warrior came sniffing about your business.”
Waylon’s blood boiled. The nerve of her! Many had tried and failed to bring him down, but none had adept abilities.
“So what do propose we do, kill her?”
Roland grinned like the devil he’d become. “Better. Call your lawyer.”
* * * *
The day started with a boot pressing my shoulder. One eye slivered open. Tanya towered like a giantess over the mattress. She hid behind dark glasses and bed hair and nursed what smelled like a cappuccino with an extra shot.
I rolled into a beam of sun and groaned. Whose idea was it to put a star in view of my bed? With every ounce of effort I had I pulled myself out of its path.
Gods, that coffee smelled good.
“First question,” Tanya said. “How much did you have to drink?” Her voice was devoid of sympathy; maybe because it was still early, or something else.
The room was a blur. Seconds ticked before registering that my old bedroom was gone and this place was my home. Tanya was a mainstay in daily life, but now she was living on the other side of the room.
I shook myself awake. “One beer.”
“That’s it?” she said.
“And a heck of a lot of pop.”
“That must have been some sugar rush.” Tanya puffed her chest and steeled herself. “Check the news, KC. They’re talking about you.”
I fumbled for my cell and scrolled the news app. The first story flashed in bold caps. ‘TEEN ADEPT GLIMMER GIRL SUSPECTED IN DERVISH CORPORATE BREAK IN.’ I blinked to make sure it was real. How could they know? I was invisible!
Tanya took a long slurp of her drink. She lowered her glasses toward me. “Tell me it wasn’t you, KC. Tell me this is some sort of a set-up.”
What could I say? I was guilty as sin. Worse, I only regretted it because I’d been caught. But how?
Linked in the news article was a video of a man in a gray suit standing behind a podium. He spoke from a prepared statement. “It is my sad duty to inform you that in spite of yesterday’s court decision my client, Mr. Waylon Dervish, continues to face public persecution.”
‘Persecution’ – the word tasted sick. He couldn’t be serious!
The lawyer continued. “Security cameras fitted with thermal sensors captured a woman entering Mr. Dervish’s corporate office. Evidence suggests the actions of an adept consistent with the abilities of one so-called ‘Glimmer Girl’.”
How could I have been so stupid? In the cold light of morning I wasn’t so sure of the right thing. At least the files were where they needed to be, on the desk of a police captain.
Tanya leaned closer. Even in my bleary state the silence spoke volumes. “So what now?” she asked.
“There’s only one thing I can do,” I said. Neither of us liked it.
* * * *
Some folks would do anything for money. The faster they could gain it the better. It was as true in Milestone City as it was anywhere else. Though Roland Dervish considered himself above such things it was a fact he could rely on. The human sheep were convinced that printed notes with the likeness of dead men held some kind of value.
The sun was high when a crowd gathered in a dirt lot. It was the third such locale he visited that day, clad in black with his face concealed. None had refused his offer thus far.
“One thousand dollars! All you have to do is stand for twenty minutes wearing this.” He gestured toward a cardboard box. Inside it was a stack of bright red hoodies of various sizes. “And holding one of these.” Next to the clothing sat a shipping palette. On it were stacks of unopened digital tablets.
“They’re programmed to stream a live event,” he said. “Your job is to share the good news with as many people as possible. What happens after is your business. Keep the device and the money. Your job is done!”
There were doubts, of course. Some folks had reservations about such golden opportunities. Some were wary of a catch, or believed themselves unworthy of advancement. Some thought the smallest degree of effort was not worth the reward, no matter the sum. Yet for all who questioned the proverbial gift horse equal number were eager to earn their place. A thousand dollars was a lot of money, especially in certain corners of the city.
One young man slipped the hoodie on. Receiving a bundle of hundreds he smiled from ear to ear. “This is awesome,” he said.
Roland Dervish smirked under his coverings. Poor, predictable sheep. They needed a touch of chaos in their lives.
* * * *
It was the second time in as many days I’d flown to Number One Police Plaza. The lot was filled with news trucks, ready to snap at a scandal like sharks tasting blood. No sooner had I appeared than their cameras out pointed to the sky.
I flew into the lobby where the same blond haired secretary watched the barricade. Guilt slapped me with the knowledge that her job had become much more difficult. It was all my fault. I winced as I came up to the counter. I ignored the activity behind the door.
“Sorry,” I said. “I… don’t have an appointment-”
“Wait here,” she said. She picked up the phone on her desk.
Gods, just when it couldn’t get more embarrassing.
It took less than a minute for the riot squad to swarm from the wings. They formed a perimeter of visors and Kevlar. Each idled and stroked their baton. A designated pair broke formation and converged on either side of me. One grabbed my shoulder and shoved me to the elevator.
So much for turning myself in peacefully. “Do I need a lawyer?”
“Only if you’ve done something wrong.”
They pushed me without restraint. The show of force was meant to rattle my nerves. It was working. Any one of them could have reached over and peeled away my mask. One move against them and an entire department would come down on my head. So much for being on the same side.
Things were no less hectic on the thirteenth floor. Gawkers peered over heads to catch the adept. My wranglers kept a fast pace and yanked arm to make sure I was on my toes. The deeper into the building we moved, the stronger the instinct to run.
A voice bounced from over the human blockade. “Is that her? That’s her, isn’t it? You tell that little witch that not only is she doing time, that we’ll also see her tried as an adult! And after that we’ll sue for damages!” Dervish’s lawyer was practically frothing at the mouth. He was soon an echo down the hall.
I peered into the nearest visor. “Where are you taking me?” No answer. The squad just kept walking, dragging me with them.
They came upon a corner office and brought me to the door. It opened to the same mountain of a man I’d met with the day before. He appeared unimpressed by what stood in front of him. His mustache bristled with annoyance.
“Is all this necessary?”
The squad leader nudged me into the room. He and his grunts had marched away, leaving me alone with the man-tree. I read the plaque on his desk – ‘Captain Salvador Ortega.’
His was one of the nicer offices I’d seen. It was stylish and modern with a wall of accolades to one side. Ortega’s brutish dimensions seemed ran counter with the space he filled. Brown eyes rested on me like boulders. The rich color carried the weight of the man and his experience. “Sit,” he said and I did.
The silence rattled my nerves worse than the riot squad. With incredulity devoid of surprise he spoke. “What did I tell you yesterday, kid? Go home. Live your life. Don’t go sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Then something like this happens.”
“You don’t speak,” he said. “You’re lucky that there’s no concrete evidence who broke into that office. If there was we’d be having a whole different conversation.” Ortega leaned closer, never blinking. His breath was dry and bitter like a smokers. “Now, I’m going to ask you a question and you’re going to answer ‘no.’ Do you understand?”
“This is your final chance,” he added. “You keep going and you graduate from ‘misguided youth’ to ‘violent street punk’. Now…” Our eyes grappled like arena fighters. “Did you break into Waylon Dervish’s office at the early hours of this morning?”
I paused, but did as instructed. “No.”
“Can anybody verify your whereabouts between the hours of one and three o’clock?” he asked. “The answer to this question is ‘yes’.”
“Is this some kind of a trick?”
“Answer the question,” he said. His brow lowered like a harbor gate.
Again, I did as I was told. “Yes.”
Ortega leaned in his chair. “Good. This way if I’m asked I don’t have to lie. Now, what are you going to do?”
My fists crunched the faux leather gloves. Was he blackmailing me into giving up the hero life? I slammed my palms on the desk the same way you’d slap Godzilla.
“I don’t need this. I told you, I’m here to help!”
The Captain remained undisturbed by the outburst. “You’ve got heart, but that only goes so far. There’s collateral damage, insurance, third party liability. That’s for starters. We can’t in good conscience let an unsanctioned adept loose on the street.”
“Then sanction me!” It hadn’t meant to sound like pleading, but that’s exactly what it was.
“Maybe I will,” he said, “once you’ve finished puberty.”
It was a crack about my age. There was no way he could have known about my hormone treatments, but it stung all the same. A part of me wanted to lash out, but I knew better. This man needed to be an ally.
“If I see you one more time I will take that mask,” he said. “People will know your name – your real name – and you will do time. Now go home.” That was meant to be that.
I started for the door. “We’re not done.”
“Don’t break into any more offices,” he said.
Every eye turned the moment I stepped from the office. Even among detectives a Glimmer Girl sighting was the subject of hot gossip. I shot out the nearest window like a golden firework. It had been a rocky start, but Glimmer Girl wasn’t going anywhere.
* * * *
Once upon a time Roland Dervish was a nobody. He was the son of a small time con-man, wannabe wise guy, and the product of a broken foster system. The violent alteration of his anatomy was a well-deserved end. How ironic that the end of his first life became his greatest blessing.
He had a new name these days, spoken only in whispers by those who crossed him. Of course it was only superstition that its utterance would summon him. Those wise enough knew better than to take the chance. Only Waylon dared to speak his former name. It was familiarity that kept the older brother from quaking in his presence.
The life of a villainous adept had taken him far. He’d traveled from one continent to the next, to Paris, Moscow, Johannesburg and more. Yet it was in Milestone City, a place of no global importance, where he chose to make his stand. It was for his brother’s stake; how sentimental.
Roland peered off the top lip of a skyscraper and absorbed the cubic landscape. Even as an ordinary man he scoffed at his cohorts. It was their great conceit that order could be applied to the world. Hell, they could hardly keep order among themselves!
A voice grunted over his earbud. “On your mark, Red.”
Not even he was prepared for what followed, despite his guiding hand. Roland’s breath caught as he looked down from high. The world was at its most beautiful the moment before it shattered.
The flow of traffic ground into screeching. It was soon followed by rumbling in the street. Superhuman force shook the asphalt. The first screams cut the air.
One, two, three, four; the melody of humankind shrieked out of time to the others. His underlings had more power than they had precision, but such things were overrated. Though his view was obscured he did not need to see to be aware of their impact. The fear was palpable.
Roland kicked his legs over the ledge like a carefree child basking in the sun. Tremors and torment stretched his grin from ear to ear. It had been far too long since he’d cut loose.
“You better hurry, Glimmer Girl,” he sang, “while there’s still somebody left to save.”
To be continued…