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

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Hint 10. Know Yourself

This time, as I walk into my bedroom, I manage to hold myself with more decorum at Shark’s sudden appearance. He sits on the open windowsill, curtains billowing out around his shoulders. Moonlight trickles down his forehead and over his chest, picking out every detail in perfect silver. I can see every hair on his head, every thread in his mask. His eyes almost seem to glow, watching me with a strong, even gaze.

“I thought I told you not to mess with Docklen,” he says.

“I thought that was none of your business.”

He just shrugs.

“Fine, suit yourself. Don’t come crying to me when he hurts you. And he will hurt you, Maya. Remember that I know his mind just as I know yours.”

Leaning back, Shark closes his eyes. It’s almost as though he’s relishing the feel of moonlight on his skin. I bite my lip, watching the expression on his face, the pleasure, watching the way the light falls over the soft skin of his throat.

"You've been doing your homework?” He asks but it’s not a question, just a politeness. He knows I’ve been doing as he said, paying attention to the way the world works, watching what people think of Sapient+. He can read every doubt in my mind.

Shark laughs, opening his eyes and leaning forwards.

“Good,” he says. “You’re going to help us.”

“No.” I correct him instantly.

He laughs again.

“Maya,” he says, “you can fool yourself if you like, that's fine. But don’t forget that everything you think, I hear. Everything. I can delve as deep as I like, see secrets you haven’t even told yourself yet. You might not want to realise it but I know.” He stands up, walking across the room. He takes my hand, confidently pressing a slip of paper into my lax palm. “You’ll be ready in a week,” he says with utter certainty. “Meet us here on Thursday. We’ll be waiting.”

I expect him to leave then but he doesn’t, returning to the windowsill. He has his back against a four storey drop, straight onto oil-stained concrete, but he doesn’t even seem to notice, sitting as relaxed as if he were at the dining table.

“Why me?” I ask, suddenly overwhelmed.

“That’s an awfully open question, Maya.” He grins. “Not everybody can read your mind.”

“But you can.”

Shark sighs. Standing, he covers the distance between us in four long strides. He reaches down and, very tenderly for a hardened criminal, tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. It does not escape me, the irony: how rough Jack was with his kiss, how delicately Shark brushes his fingers over the side of my face.

Shark smiles, gently.

“It’s because I know you, Maya,” he says. “You don’t understand because you’ve only met me a few times but you think so fast, I’ve already lived through half your memories with you. Jack Docklen is rough. He is who he is, he can't help himself, but I know exactly who you are. I know what you need.”

“Why me?” I repeat and this time it is an open question. Why is he asking for my help, why is he treating me this way? Why is Docklen throwing spanners under every aspect of my working life? They both need my help. They’re both taking over my every waking thought and I want to know why.

Shark still doesn’t answer, stepping away.

“Come on,” he says, “surely you know.”

I don’t know. He tilts his head, reading my mind, and changes the topic.

“We’re going to make something amazing,” he says. “You, me and The Lady. They’ll be writing our names in the history books before the year is out, you wait and see.”

“Shark,” I say quietly, interrupting his vision. “Why me?”

“Wipe that expression off your face, Maya,” he says. “You look so helpless. I like you so much better when you’ve got some fire in your blood.”

I scrunch my face up, insulted, vowing to get the answer out of him if it kills me.

“That’s better,” he grins.

“Why me? Why are you picking on me?”

“Why do you have to be so stubborn, Maya? If you can't see it, then you’re blind.”

“Shark.” I add an air of warning to my voice and he smirks, knowing I’ve done it on purpose, stepping back in faux fear. “Why me?”

He says nothing and I say it again, wearing him down.

"Because you’re special, Maya!” He shouts eventually. “Look at you, standing there, repeating the same thing over and over. Fuck. Even your voice is a force to be reckoned with."

"My voice?"

"Yeah." He says, relaxing back again with a grin. "I'd love to hear you screaming my name."

I smile and in a second, something comes over me. I move without thinking, transporting myself from one end of the room to the other, appearing already pressed up against his perfect chest. I’m used to surprise, most people don't expect me to use my powers, but he just stands there serenely as a puff of displaced air tugs at his hair. His warmth sinks into my stomach, heating my blood, and I lean forward, brushing my lips up against his ear.

"You'd have to tell it to me first," I breathe.

For just a second something crackles between us, something irresistible. But then he breaks it, laughing, and steps away.

"I want you," he chuckles, waving a decisive finger my way. His eyes twinkle in their amusement, as though this entire escapade is funny. "You are exactly what I need."

*****

“What the hell is this!?”

Amber looks over from her desk and together we survey the empty length of table where all my stuff used to be. Even the computer monitor has been taken away, leaving just the stand rising up like bones picked dry.

“They came about an hour ago,” she says, mopey, “and moved all your stuff. Apparently you sit over there now.” She points to the desk next to Docklen’s office. It, too, is empty except for a single cardboard box, filled to the brim with my hijacked belongings.

“This is ridiculous,” I say, marching over to Ripley’s office.

Ripley looks up as I wrench his door open, not even bothering to knock.

“Why are you moving all my stuff?” I shout. You don’t need to be Sapient+ to hear this, the whole station is listening in. “This is the stupidest punishment ever!”

“I didn't move your stuff, Kurtis!” Ripley roars, pushing himself to his feet. “That was courtesy of your new commanding officer. I don't get a say where you sit anymore.”

“He’s not my commanding officer!” I yell, realising this might be the most childish strop thrown in the history of this station. I don't care.

“Yes he is,” Ripley replies, walking over to where I stand in the doorway to his office. “You made your choice.” I step back instinctively and Ripley takes hold of the handle, slamming the door in my face.

“I didn't choose him!” I shout, slamming my fist against the glass. Ripley picks up his pen, pretending he can't hear as I continue to pound the barrier between us, shouting. “I didn't get a choice!”

I turn, refusing to be ashamed of my behaviour.

“I don’t even like him,” I whine, addressing the thirty pairs of eyes that peer at me round monitor screens and over shoulders.

“Cheer up, May-May,” Alex grins, standing. He gestures over the top of his computer screen at my new desk directly opposite him. “At least now you get to look at my beautiful face all day.”

“Shut up.”

I march over to my newly assigned desk, throwing myself into my chair. I look over my shoulder, catching Amber’s eye, and she throws out an arm, reaching for me. I mimic the gesture and she smiles.

‘I love you.’ She mouthes, still reaching.

‘I miss you.’

I spend the rest of the next hour just emailing Amber in petulant defiance, refusing to get any actual work done. At one point, Alex tosses a paper aeroplane onto my keyboard. I don’t even bother to open it up, scrunching it into a ball instead of reading the message inside and throwing it at his head.

“Ow, Maya,” he complains, “stop being such a child and get your job done. Why are you trying to distract me?”

“You’re the biggest hypocrite in the world, Higgs,” I spit, angrily sending Amber an email in italics now, complaining about his stupid face. She heartily agrees although I know it’s only because she still hasn’t managed to sleep with him yet.

“Morning, Kurtis.” I jump as Docklen’s voice appears at my shoulder. He links his hands behind his back, leaning down to skim his eyes over the grand total of my morning’s work. “Whilst I thoroughly agree that Mister Higgs is something of a ‘cocksucker’, perhaps you would care to pop into my office for a minute? I have something that may indeed be a more valuable use of your time than emailing your old desk buddy.” He stands up, giving Amber a quick wave. “While I’m sure she’s heartbroken, you are in fact only an extra three metres from her.”

I lock my screen with spiteful efficiency, following Docklen into his office. He holds up a hand, stopping me before I can give him a piece of my mind.

“We found another one of Shark’s labs last night,” he says, “recently abandoned. And I mean really recently: things were still warm.”

I nod, dropping into a chair.

“So we can ascertain one thing at least,” he says, “he doesn’t know how to use that serum yet.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” I say, “perhaps that’s what he was doing in there: activating it.”

“No,” Docklen shakes his head, “I got some Facility guys on it, they said they saw no evidence of anything that would suggest that. The lab wasn’t even half kitted out with the necessary equipment, apparently. Besides, I know Shark. If he could have used that stuff, he would have done something dramatic with it by now.”

My hand falls to my pocket, playing with that small scrap of paper. It simply states a time and an address, nothing more. I wonder if I should show it to Docklen, give away that I’ve seen Shark twice now and not said anything.

“Do you think he has something dramatic planned?” I ask, wondering what I might be asked to do. It’s only now, suddenly, that I realise I am absolutely going to go. I won’t do anything bad, I’m just going so I can find out what Shark’s planning.

“Who knows.” Docklen chuckles. “By this time next week, we might have a whole army of super strength mutant warriors to contend with.”

I shrug.

“At least then they might give you some back-up.”

“Nah. Docklen against the mutant warriors.” He waves a dramatic arm in front of his face. “I can see the movie titles already.”

“Kurtis and Docklen vs the mutant warriors,” I correct.

“It could be a romance.”

He catches my eye and we share an awkward moment, both remembering what happened the last time we were alone in this room. To his credit, Jack doesn’t push it, returning to his desk.

“I want my desk back,” I say.

Docklen leans back in his chair, just looking at me.

“Why?”

“It’s my desk. You’re alienating me from the rest of the station.”

“Kurtis… I’m giving you an opportunity. How can you not see this? Now that I’m your superior officer, you don’t have to go through Ripley anymore. I can push your career. I can help you get into the special services, get you somewhere where they’ll actually use your abilities to their full capacity.”

I roll my eyes heavenward, praying for strength.

“Jack, I’m trying so hard to like you as a person but every time I think that maybe you’re actually decent underneath it all, your arrogance flattens me.”

Jack’s eyes narrow dangerously.

“I’d be offended, Maya, if you hadn’t shown me how you deal with your anger. Should I close the curtains again?”

I shout something wordless, throwing my arms up in despair.

“I’m leaving,” I say, marching back to my desk, “before I kill you.”

I get halfway across the station before I have to turn back, realising I’ve made a mistake, and make my way to my new seat instead. Alex leans round his monitor and grins.

“Check your email,” he says, “Amber and I are starting a sweepstake on how long it takes you to marry him.”


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