Don't Date Your Nemesis... And Other Helpful Hints For The Modern Superhero

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Hint 8. Keep Your Cards Close To Your Chest

My eyes flicker open and, for a second, I just stare at the ceiling. I’ve been sitting on the sofa all morning, wondering what to do. I should go for a jog, get some exercise. I like to jog on a Saturday but every time I think of getting up, my mind tumbles, tumbles over Docklen, tumbles over Shark. I hate to admit it to myself but I’m a little scared to go out. What if Shark’s right? What if I go out and I start noticing things about people that weren’t there before?

Alex walks through the front door around eleven. He’s in a state, bags beneath his eyes, blonde hair ruffled.

“Enjoy your night with Amber?” I ask, smirking.

Alex just glares at me.

“No night with Amber,” he growls. “Got mugged.”

He makes to slouch off to his room but I jump up, stopping him from disappearing.

What?

“Had to report it to some bastard on the nightshift. Most embarrassing night of my life. Sat in the station for, like, forever while everybody laughed and filled out forms I could have done myself. I’m going to bed.”

He pushes past me and I remember Shark’s words with sudden clarity. I just arranged for your housemate to get distracted for an hour or two. Don’t worry. As I attempt to swallow the guilt, I decide I’ve had enough. It’s time to get some answers. And if I can’t get them from Shark, at least I know where I can find Jack Docklen.

Docklen doesn’t answer his door immediately, which is lucky really. I just materialised on his welcome mat so I didn’t get the journey over here to get my story straight. In the five minutes it takes him to let me in, I suddenly realise I’m not going to tell him about my midnight soirée with Shark. I don’t know, yet, what the criminal wants with me but I can tell it’s not over, that I will see him again, and for now I’m going to keep those cards tight to my chest. Just until I know exactly which hand I’m playing with.

“Maya?” Docklen’s look of surprise is replaced almost immediately with a smile. “Well good afternoon, Superhero.”

“Afternoon, Jack,” I say, pushing past him without waiting to be invited in.

Docklen’s flat is a lot nicer than ours. I should have known, really. Being the nation’s favourite has got to have some perks.

“Did you want something, Maya?” Docklen asks, confused. He’s picked up on my mood immediately. Someone mugged my housemate last night just so a handsome man in a black mask could appear at my bedroom window and talk in riddles. I’m getting answers today and I’m taking no prisoners.

“Yes, actually,” I say, “A glass of water and an explanation.”

Docklen sighs.

“Yeah,” he says, walking through into the kitchen, “that sounds about right.”

I leave Docklen to my drink, testing doors until I find his living room.

If I was in a better mood, I’d be impressed. This may possibly be the most beautiful room in the whole world. The furthest wall is entirely glass and he’s twelve floors up. I can see the whole city from here, fading into muted blues in the distance. I don’t allow myself to take it in, though. I’m not giving Docklen that satisfaction. Instead I decide to be otherwise, sitting on the only sofa that doesn’t take full advantage of his incredible view.

Docklen arrives later, setting a fluted glass down on a coffee table at my side.

“Here’s your water,” he says, throwing himself on the other end of the sofa. “That other thing you wanted might be a little more difficult.”

“What happened on Thursday night, Docklen? And I don’t mean in the physical ‘we went to an abandoned factory’ sense. I mean the meta. Who are those people to you? What do they do?”

“I thought we’d gotten past the ‘Docklen’ stage,” he says, “How many times do I have to ask you to call me Jack?”

I frown, staring him out.

“Answer the question. Jack.”

“Thank you. Maya.” He snips and I notice suddenly how much I’m irritating him. This isn’t me. This isn’t what I do. I don’t march into people’s houses uninvited and just start demanding things of them; I’m stressed. This whole Shark thing is fraying my nerves.

“Sorry,” I say, waving a hand, trying somehow to encapsulate just how much everything’s managed to mess up in a week, “I’m having a bad day. Alex got mugged last night and I suddenly realised I hadn’t seen you since… you know.”

“Is Alex OK?”

“Yeah.” I laugh, remembering his face this morning. “His ego’s taken a beating though.”

Docklen’s grin widens.

“Cocky little shit could probably do with taking down a few pegs,” he says.

I lean over, landing a solid punch on Docklen's arm.

“Ow!”

“Be nice,” I say. “I don’t know why you don't like each other.”

“I don't dislike him, I just don’t want anything to do with him. I’m sure he feels the same.”

I shrug. I know that Alex dislikes Jack and I know why - the news report - it’s the same reason I dislike Jack.

Except, as he stands, rearranging the sofa pillows before dropping down again, just a little closer than he was before, I realise I don’t quite dislike Jack as much as I thought I did.

“You know what, fuck it,” he says, “I’m tired of keeping secrets from you.”

“Perfect,” I say but he doesn’t reply straight away.

Docklen leans forward, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. For just a second I fight the urge to touch his shoulder. My hand moves without intervention from my brain, fingers hovering just centimetres from the material of his shirt when he sits up suddenly. I snatch my hand back to my side immediately, praying he didn’t see anything.

“I didn’t just come here for a promotion,” he says, “although I think that one’s hardly a secret. Things have been happening. Here, in this city specifically. And they've just thrown me in the deep end: it’s slightly supernatural? Oh, let’s get Docklen on it. That’s his thing. Don’t let him tell anyone, though, don't let him ask for help. He can handle it.”

“What kind of things?” I ask gently.

Docklen rolls his eyes, shrugging.

“I don't know. The usual stuff but jacked up.” He looks at me out the corner of his eye. “Talk, rumours, busted labs in abandoned buildings. Except every time we get there, everything’s gone. Cleared out… That’s how I knew it was Shark. He’s always one step ahead. It was only a matter of time before he got his claws into Sapient+.”

“It was only a matter of time?” I ask, “Why?” I want to find out if Docklen knows that Shark’s Sapient+ but I can’t give anything away if I want to keep our meeting secret.

“Of course it was only a matter of time!” Docklen exclaims. “Shark’s… He’s… He’s a psychopath! He’s got all these delusions of grandeur. Except they keep turning out to be not quite so delusional after all.”

“Who is Shark?” I ask softly, trying not to upset him any more than necessary. “Who is The Lady?”

It doesn’t work.

“They’re people I never thought I’d have to see again, that’s who they are.” Docklen lurches to his feet suddenly, shouting something wordless and taking the edge of the coffee table in both hands. Before I even realise what's happening, he has flipped the table in one smooth movement. His furniture travels halfway across the room, spinning slightly as it lands. I watch my glass fall to the floor, shattering on his pristine laminate woodwork. Docklen doesn’t care. He’s breathing heavily, watching me instead, and then he just walks away, leaving me alone.

I look down at the floor again, considering picking up the broken glass before it hurts someone, and then I follow him into the kitchen.

Docklen’s leaning back against his granite kitchen tops, eyes closed. Every muscle in his body is tensed but I don’t even question his overreaction. I knew there was something between the three of them from the first words Docklen spoke to The Lady. I’m not surprised that it’s an upsetting past.

This time I don’t hesitate as I did before. “Are you alright?” I ask, calmly wrapping my fingers around his forearm.

Docklen’s eyes open slowly, taking me in.

“Card Shark,” he says. “Only The Lady knows who he really is but he calls himself Card Shark, not just Shark.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s not a gambler, Maya, he’s a cheat.”

I lean in, resting my forehead on his shoulder, and sigh.

“Ok, so he’s a psychopathic criminal cheat with the a van full of serum and the Sapient+ program in his sights. What’s he going to do next?”

Docklen just shakes his head.

“Can’t work that out until we know why he wanted it in the first place. Why Sapient+, Maya? Why now?”


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